In a tête-à-tête session with All Things Talent, Nihar Ranjan Ghosh, President- Human Resource at Emami Group, discusses how business is transforming into a digital and technology-based platform. He further reveals how core values powers a successful business and builds a strong company culture.
Nihar Ranjan Ghosh is the President- Human Resources at Emami Ltd. He is a seasoned HR professional with nearly three decades of diverse experience in MNCs, family-managed conglomerates, and academic institutions in India, Asia Pacific and the Middle East region. He has also held HR leadership roles in Johnson & Johnson Medical India and Asia Pacific, Alghanim Industries and Human Soft Ltd in Kuwait and Profiles International in Dubai. Mr Ranjan is a gold medallist post-graduate in Social Work from the Indore School of Social Work.
Q. Looking back at your career to date, you are a seasoned HR professional with nearly 3 decades of rich and diverse experience in the industry across geographies. What were the key elements in your journey which helped you soar professionally? Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
There are two things that helped me gain professional capabilities. One is the curiosity to learn and second was a sense of adventure.
Whenever something new was thrown at me and whether I knew enough about that space or not, I looked at it as an opportunity to learn and I took on the challenge and moved on rather than seeking comfort in that space where I was already well versed and conversion quick. Therefore, the sense of adventure and curiosity to learn something new basically drove my career which is why I also had the opportunity to work across eight-nine different industry segments. Unlike many others who chose to stay within one industry domain, I decided to work across various industry domains.
There are many people who inspired me throughout my career while at the same time I have no role model. I have always believed that every individual is unique and the moment you find a role model for yourself you are actually trying to limit yourself. I firmly believe that even though one doesn’t have a role model yet one can learn from every single individual whether he is your boss, your subordinate or your peer.
Every individual that you come across in your life can teach you and inspire you to look at things from a different perspective.
Hence, I am grateful that there are many people who inspired me to do better in my career. Certainly, most bosses that I’ve worked with were extremely supportive. Most of my bosses had more belief in my capability than I had in myself. Also, I was very fortunate that I had extremely encouraging colleagues and very supportive team members which basically formed my support system in my journey and inspired me to move on.
Q. As the future of the workplace draws near, so do the changes that come with it. According to you, how is technology redefining the workplace and the businesses?
A. Workplace always had a future. With technological changes taking place rapidly, the industry process systems also evolved over time. In the last few years, the speed of that change has become even faster. Technology has changed all spheres of business, therefore, I don’t think there is something unique or special happening to HR specifically. Today technology has become all pervasive. It is going to have the same kind of impact on HR as it is going to have on any other function whether it is marketing, sales or research. Everything related to business is transforming into a digital and technology-based platform.
We need to understand that because of technology there is a huge sociological and psychological change that
is taking place with the set of workforce we work with, both with the existing workforce and the new generation of workforce that will come in.
Firstly, we need to understand the purpose of technology. We need to understand why to bring technology. Should we bring technology because everybody else is bringing it? Understanding the purpose of bringing technology is an important aspect. Therefore, every time you want to talk about a technological solution that you want to bring in you need to show an arrow line as to what advantages do we have in terms of output, speed, time and quality.
Secondly, we need to understand that because of technology there is a huge sociological and psychological change that is taking place with the set of workforce we work with, both with the existing workforce and the new generation of workforce that will come in. Information is no more power; Google is accessible both to your maid and to your boss. Therefore, knowledge has become an open and readily available resource at everybody’s fingertip. This is the fundamental change that technology has made over the last few years and this particular change is going to be significant.
People are going to be much more aware of their rights. The way you calibrate your responses to situations and to your set of employees need to be grossly re-evaluated and re-calibrated. The way you used to respond to situations in the past is not the way you will respond to the situations in the present. And as for us managers across all functions and verticals including HR we will have to unlearn a whole lot of things that we have learnt across the last several decades and adopt and learn new ways to respond to situations.
Thirdly, technology changes tend to create huge business disruptions which can change business realities overnight. The moment that happens it would call for a large scale knowledge, skill and capability transformation that organisations would require to undertake. The organisations need to face these challenges and then decide on what they should do as an organisation. Therefore, technology, policy and regulatory changes will become major disruptions and becoming part of the global market is also going to become a disruption. Redundancy is going to become a reality of business life and organisations need to be prepared for these changes.
Q. A strong foundation of core values powers a successful business. According to you, how can organisations create a company culture that embodies their core values?
A. Every business has a very distinct culture whether it is being defined and documented or not because at the end of the day an organization is like a social organism. Wherever a group of people come together knowingly or unknowingly a culture gets created. And what is that culture?
The culture is visibly the way people of that organization behave and act on their everyday transactions that they do both within and outside the organisation. That is what the culture of an organization is.
In many organizations where I had worked previously, conscious efforts were taken to define core values; they were widely discussed and debated, then crafted and refined and finally disseminated for a wider understanding and adoption. Successful businesses establish and follow their core values.
These values guide decision-making and define what your business stands for. Business values can heavily influence your brand identity, or how outsiders view your company. There were similar efforts that were taken in some of those interventions where I had worked with in the past where groups of people were brought together and they were trained to how to move towards these aspirational values and synchronize the everyday behaviour with those values and make them conscious. Every organisation has a culture and there is no absolute scale which would tell which the right culture is and which culture is bad. But at the end of the day, it is always driven by what you cherish and what you value.
Q. What are some of the biggest HR initiatives you worked on in your previous organisations? How do you ensure that these initiatives align with the strategic goals of the company?
A. I have worked with 8-9 companies and more than half of them were startups. It involved starting everything from scratch which would mean that you had to set up the basic infrastructure in terms of systems that needed to be put in place, processes that needed to be defined, SOPs that needed to get created. Initially, you start with a handful of people but it is important to define what kind of talent is required to deliver the organisational objectives. Second is the kind of talent that you would like to grow from within. Therefore, you have to have a very healthy mix of internally developed talent and laterally hired talent. Therefore, I have been part of many such people initiatives in my last 22 years of being an HR leader.
There were certain initiatives that were undertaken to define a very distinct culture which was in line with a company’s objectives. There were also experiences where we played a significant role in a turnaround situation where business was not doing well and employees were leaving. For this, we got creative processes in place, design interventions were addressed, worked intensively on building the morale of the employees, created confidence and belief in the team and finally worked along with the line business managers to revive the business and get it back on track.
A good organizational strategy can help align your team, address your vision, mission, and goals, and help you implement strategic initiatives organization-wide.
Q. In the context of transforming an organization, we often see business or line leaders leading the charge – not HR leaders. In your opinion, how will HR be able to earn and secure a strategic seat at the transformation table?
A. There are many situations where HR leaders have led the change. For you to be able to earn that seat on a strategic table there are certain requirements which every HR professional must fulfill. Firstly, the moment you get a seat on the strategic table, you are no longer a functional leader but you become a business leader and you need to understand what that actually means. That simply means you need to have a complete understanding of business like any other line manager has.
Secondly, you must be somebody who is ready to take up any responsibility without being a naysayer. You must partner and take responsibilities outside your own functional domain. If you are able to do that then you earn the respect of others on that strategic table. If you do not demonstrate any of these qualities and just by the virtue of being a functional head you are assigned a seat on that strategic table, you would then never be the chosen one to lead a strategic change in the system.
Now the other important part is- all HR leaders who have led change or who wish to lead change must have a much evolved ability to manage stakeholders across the board (within and outside the organization). They need to have a very high degree of EQ. If you have all these qualities then there’s no reason why you would not have the ability to meet change. But over and above this, there are certain personal qualities that are required to assign a change initiative leadership role for securing a seat on the strategic table. First is that you need to have the courage of conviction because any change process requires risk-taking and courage. If you don’t have the courage of conviction then you will not be able to move ahead while taking that responsibility. The second is there must be a very clear honesty of purpose. If you are trying to drive the change process with an agenda which is not transparent, then you will never be a successful change agent or a change leader.
You must partner and take responsibilities outside your own functional domain. If you are able to do that then you earn the respect of others on that strategic table. If you do not demonstrate any of these qualities and just by the virtue of being a functional head you are assigned a seat on that strategic table, you would then never be the chosen one to lead a strategic change in the system.
Q. According to you, what skills are essential for a top career in HR? What is the best piece of business advice you would give to HR professionals to imbibe these skills into their careers?
A. From my understanding, the core of HR still continues to remain the same. I personally believe that there are four or five things which still form the very core of what HR needs to focus at. And what every professional working to excel as an HR leader must try and understand is that management is looking for meaningful work. In other words, do I make a contribution to the organisational process? Does my job make a significant contribution to the success or failure of the organisation? That’s the first quality organisations look for in the prospective professional. Secondly, HR managers require an orderly approach since they act as liaisons between employees, department heads and CEOs.
Strong organizational skills are key to HR effectiveness.
Thirdly, it is important for an HR professional to be a good communicator since HR professionals with good communication skills smooth over issues before they escalate and convey company standards clearly. The fourth is that for an HR professional it is very important to understand two aspects. One is discussion and second credibility.
Discussion is a quality that needs to be homed and honed very quickly because most often as HR folks you will be privy to information that your boss would also not have. So you need to understand where to open your mouth and where to keep it shut and with whom you need to share and what.
As for credibility, it has to be earned by actions. Your position and your role will not give you credibility. The fifth and final thing is having adaptability skills.
It is extremely important for an HR professional to be flexible since unpredictable circumstances can shake up an HR professional’s daily routine.
So broadly speaking, if an HR professional is able to focus on these four five things then he/she will be on a solid foundation to move forward.
Q. In this #MeToo era, as our attention is being raised around issues of power, gender and diversity, how can ethical leadership pave way for ethical governance in the organisations in order to fix behaviour that society no longer finds tolerable?
A. You may have an organisation where there is a high degree of balance as far as gender diversity is concerned. But without any diversity of thought, there is no diversity in terms of many other parameters – whether it is a ratio of different age groups, a ratio of ethnicity, race, language and religion etc. Therefore, diversity is a much broader subject. Now if you really want to create a diverse place of work all this must not be factored in only gender diversity. Gender diversity is a very small aspect of overall diversity that would also include the diversity of thought.
Coming to the issue of MeToo and gender diversity, an organization is a subset of society and whatever is happening inside the organisation is exactly reflective of what is happening in the larger world. Therefore, a systematic effort has to be made at a much larger scale, at a societal level to change the mindset where society needs to respect women. We need to commit to upholding the dignity of women. The important question here is- As an evolved organization are we talking about compliance or committing? Committing only happens when people come with a framework of mind where individuals treat women as equals. In compliant behaviour there is simply the fear of the punishment but fundamentally it is not going to change the individual. It will only try to train the beast. If you need to transform the beast that transformation has to start at home and in an educational system.
There is a lot of social change that is required. And this transformation can happen through the right kind of upbringing that a child gets at his home, school, college and society till they enter a working organisation.
One has to ensure that wherever such type of incident is happening one should be vigilant, one should not be hesitant in bringing that individual who is perpetrating this crime to the books.