In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Joji Sekhon Gill, EMEA &Asia HR Director/MD DuPont Singapore talks about implications of AI in HR arena, understanding cultural nuances, the relevance of employee engagement programs and the need to upgrade learning and development systems in order to encourage critical thinking within the organization.
Joji Sekhon Gill has a rich experience of over 24 years in the field of Global Human Resources and various other business-related areas. Currently, She is the Strategic Human Resources Director at DuPont Singapore. Her work experience spans across North America, India, Europe, and Asia. She has been a NonExecutive & Independent Director of SBI Life Insurance Company Limited. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a Masters in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from Punjab University.
Q. Having taken the position of a director across several businesses, what would be your most important piece of advice for women who want to make it to the boardroom seats?
A. First and foremost, women shouldn’t join a board just because the board needs a woman. I have been called a few times to be on a board just because I am a woman, and honestly, that offended me but I politely said “no”. One should join the board only if you believe in the business and can add value to the organization.
Not just for women, but for anyone who wants a seat in the boardroom, the goal is to be able to make a clear business impact. You must also bring deep expertise in any one or two areas that are critical towards running a business.
Understand competition, product offering, and financial metrics very well, they underpin any business. Have a strong affinity to ethics and compliance, be willing to challenge without fear when you see anything amiss or illogical, and also be able to guide companies proactively towards the pitfalls of non-adherence etc. Too many companies these days have paper boards; strive to be a member of a “real” Board.
“HR needs to be an expert in its field and understand business, competition, numbers, the psychology of human mind and know how to synthesize it all and link it to the agenda of a company”
Q.Over the past decade HR roles have changed from being generalists to specialists, what are those few new roles that you feel will be the next big hunts in the HR industry?
A.The generalists and specialists will continue to co-exist because we need both types. But the bigger issue here is that HR profession in general needs to undergo an upgrade. I think there is confusion about our function. We call leaders and employee we work with our “clients”, in some cases we call them “stakeholders”. The relationship between a customer and a function are vastly different than between a “stakeholder” and a function.
HR should decide on how to engage and what role to play in the company. CEOs and leaders are looking for ideas, solutions and strategies to run successful companies in this new age of fast moving/ever-changing environment (socio, economic, political) of which employees are one of the key assets.
These leaders are not necessarily looking for “yes people”, sometimes they want someone to help them think differently, it is a great opportunity for HR professionals to play that role. Thinkers/analysts/solutioners/sounding boards across the business is what companies will need more of.
Q. AI is here to change the face of talent acquisition, what role do you see technology is playing in most functions of HR, and are we prepared for this change?
A. AI is here to stay and is almost everywhere. Many people emphasize only the positives, that AI will make our work and lives easier, faster, and less error-prone. However, AI will also bring complexity as many tasks that are done by a human today will be done by a machine in the near future – and we cannot yet trust the technology to address the ethical and legal complexities of HR work.
Already, AI has been shown to succumb to existing biases in data and to be capable of easy manipulation. The technology has a long way to go to incorporate ethical judgment, and no country has regulations in place that covers the potential issues.
There are nascent efforts by computer scientists and policymakers, but they are still immature. I don’t think we are prepared fully for the change AI will bring to HR and to the world in general. It’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. As HR professionals, we need to be at the table in setting policy, but to do so effectively, HR function needs to build or borrow the capability needed to understand technology much better.
Q. Working across geographies brings in cultural differences and requires adaptations at several points. Please share what were some aspects that became roadblocks in managing talent acquisition across cultures and geographies, what measures were taken to cross the barriers?
A. While cultural nuances are certainly very important and should be actively understood and adhered to, it is my belief that inherently people are the same everywhere with largely the same set of desires, motivations, and needs. That’s how Maslow’s theory came into being and is widely accepted across cultures.
We live in a very global world, however, we still see expats being sent across the world to do roles, not for developmental purposes but because companies cannot find someone “locally”. Filling a critical role is probably one of the key decisions you will make as a leader irrespective of geographies. The biggest challenge faced is finding talent who will fit and adapt to the company culture.
The goal is to find someone who will be successful, however sometimes getting into the intrinsic cultural nuances is tricky but also the key. Behavioural interviewing questions have always worked for me. In company cultures where hierarchy is almost a taboo, I have taken candidates to a lunch or breakfast and observed how they treat the staff and restaurant employees; it helps you understand who the candidate is as a person.
I don’t believe in personality tests etc but having the candidate meet a diverse set of interviewers gives you an almost 360-degree view. When working with search firms it is important the search firms have a deep understanding of who will be a good fit and who won’t be.
Q. Employee engagement is becoming critically important for every organization. From a leadership perspective what strategies make a significant difference in building a workforce that is engaged?
An authentic leadership at all levels leads to higher employee engagement. Employees aren’t naive, they look out for the truth and seek transparency making it a foundational element of employee engagement. In the day and age of social media, fake news, overload of information, people just want to know that you are telling them the truth and being honest.
So be transparent with your employees and tell them what’s going on with the organization, at all times…. use technology, do regular town halls, coffee morning, fireside chats to dialogue and engage. Of course, you cannot forget the usual elements of employee engagement like career progression, salary and benefits, L&D, culture and need to constantly focus on those as well.
“Finding the right talent from different cultures is a process that helps amalgamate candidates’ key competencies, personal values, and adaptability to company’s culture.”
Q. Learning and development have undergone a sea change in the last decade. With micro learning becoming the new norm, and the learner taking the center seat, please comment on what changes should the L&D leaders invest into?
A. L&D has moved away from the traditional model of a classroom, in-person training to on-demand training. Newer skill sets are cropping up every day. If we look at education models, they are changing too; “critical thinking” and “self-led learning” are two key areas for kids (future workforce) are being taught. An organization’s ability to skill employees who will deliver in an ambiguous environment, who can adapt and change quickly, demonstrate critical thinking will require a capability building model that caters to self-led learners.
There will be no time and money to always deliver learning, tools will need to be accessible at speed. Return on investment for L&D has always been a question, not in terms of dollars but in terms of the impact it creates and how it shifts some of the metrics. I have seen this gap for many years as being one area where there is limited credible fix. Companies spend millions of dollars, there is euphoria, lots of marketing on a new program/s and then two years later it all gets scrapped because the value didn’t get delivered or impact was missing, or the program is unaffordable. L&D practitioners must link the business needs and impact needed to what it wants to deliver.
Focus on a strong learning needs assessment system….as with, any other function, new fads and technology should never undermine the basics. Once an LNA system is in place, use technology to determine how learning is delivered, where it is delivered and in what form. Attention spans are lesser these days, so bite-sized offerings and self-paced offerings work well. If at all there are in-person facilitators, try and get them from different backgrounds so that the facilitation is interesting
“Employees who feel invested in the organization have a higher sense of ownership. If you’ve got most of your employees feeling like they have a stake in the company and know how it is doing, you have an engaged workforce.”
Q. Performance management has been an age-old responsibility of the HR function, with pulse surveys and regular feedback systems, do you feel the normal curve will see the doors. Do we have another model that can sustain this important function for mid-size and larger organizations as well as multiple generations alike?
A. Performance Management has been an HR thing; there will never be a system that will make every single employee in a company happy. It’s intrinsic link to increments and pay makes it a very sensitive topic for most employees and leads to rising passions and tempers when anything goes wrong. Leaders need to own it, understand it, embrace it and make it successful. HR practitioners should be available to facilitate, guide and advice business if there is a deviation from the framework.
To make it so, suggestions for a working performance management system should come from business themselves, instead of HR prescribing a framework. If the normal curve does not work in a sales team because everyone on that team is delivering top results, and everyone needs to be rewarded highly, then follow that path, as long as this is backed up by results that have clearly impacted the bottom line. Build in checks and balances into the system, to ensure it is foolproof.