In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Prasad Nelliparthi, Chief Human Resource Officer at Matrimony.com talks about his journey so far, the changing landscape of HR over the years, and the advantages of having diversity and effective succession planning in place. He also shares how Matrimony.com is transforming into a technology-based platform using AI to drive business growth.
Mr Prasad Nelliparthi is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Matrimony.com. A seasoned HR professional and a dynamic leader with an overall experience of 30 years in HR & IR Roles, Prasad has worked in different sectors viz. Engineering, FMCG, Agrochemicals, Telecom in both MNCs and Indian Corporates. He is known to drive business deliverables by leveraging the people resources in the organisation and leading various initiatives of building organisational & individual capabilities, organisation restructuring, improving productivity etc to help the organisations become cost-competitive. He has played a major role in restructuring & rationalization of the workforce and brought about major changes in the organisation culture and building a positive workforce. Prior to Matrimony.com, Prasad was with Murugappa Groups, M/s Tube Investments of India Ltd as Executive Vice President HR. He has also held HR Leadership positions in organisations like, Bharti Telecom, Fenner (I) Ltd, Zeneca ICI Agrochemicals Ltd., Areva T&D Ltd., He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from R.K.M.Vivekananda College and a Masters degree in Social Work specializing in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from Madras School of Social Work (University of Madras).
Q. You are a veteran with 30 years of experience in the industry, how would you describe your journey in HR so far? As an HR leader, what are the top three challenges you face at work and how do you overcome them?
A. My professional journey over the last 30 years has been truly enriching, inspiring and rewarding. I had the privilege of working across different sectors, different eras, different mindsets, different geographies, and different competency requirements and of course different challenges that came along. From a phase where people valued building careers in organisations to today’s millennial generation who change jobs at the first given opportunity; I have witnessed it all.
In fact, HR as a function itself has changed over a period of time. It all began with personnel management involving compliance, wages, welfare administration, disciplinary handling, industrial relations, etc. HR has truly evolved from passive personnel management to more dynamic HRM. HR is playing a crucial role in resource planning, acquiring the right talent, building the individual and organisational capabilities, driving engagement and building a facilitating work culture. Today it is all about Human Capital Management (HCM). HCM is all about getting the right people, managing them, fostering innovation collaboration, agility, developing the human capital and optimizing the performance.
The biggest disruptor I have seen is the impact of technology at the workplace – be it in the manufacturing or service sector or any other sector. Technology is changing the way we work and in many places, technology is replacing human beings or reducing the dependency on human resources. The technology shifts happening in HR is also compelling HR function to be more adaptable and change with the times. The demand for good talent and people with critical skill sets/specialist roles is increasing.
What does that mean for today’s HR professional- Set up systems and processes to recruit right as well as retain the right talent? So what are the factors that attract prospective candidates? The immediate answers that come to mind would be compensation, title, recognition, etc. Yes very important however you may be surprised to know that there are other criteria, some of them even softer ones like- basic work environment, opportunities to learn and grow, how well the employees are engaged & challenged, culture of the organization, commitment to people processes and development, profile of the leadership team, employer branding , etc .
To sum up, I believe the top 3 focus areas would be-
Attracting & retaining talent
Building leadership pipeline
Building a positive work culture – Cohesive team, challenging & engaging environment, innovation, learning organization, agile
Q. The gender pay gap is real, and it gets worse as women move up in their careers. Do you think the lack of pay parity between men and women is a consequence of the lack of gender diversity? To what extent is it deliberate?
A. India has traditionally been a patriarchal society for the longest period of time. With the advent of liberalization as well as the impact of western culture, the role shift amidst genders is happening gradually. Women today are out there occupying key positions, seated at the centre table and making a mark for themselves.
Indra Nooyi and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are surely names to reckon with. As an HR professional, I would surely want to highlight that there are many such roles that demand sensitivity, EQ and empathy, where companies prefer a female candidate over a male candidate.
Today many organisations have clear policies and guidelines on workplace diversity and run workshops and programs on Diversity & Inclusion. My own organisation today has a 50:50 ratio which I am proud of.
So, yes the situation is changing. Do we have scope for improvement? Yes. And it’s not only about pay parity; there is a lot more. As organisations, what policies do we have for women returning to work post-maternity? What are some of the benefits/ perks that we offer to make her job easy? For e.g. flexi-work policies, crèche at work, work from home, etc.
In my career with corporates, I didn’t come across gender pay gap as an issue. The Corporates are willing to pay for the right talent irrespective of the gender. The real problem is getting the right talent irrespective of gender. Companies are taking conscious efforts to recruit more women in managerial and leadership roles. Over the last decade, the gender pay gap has reduced considerably. The gap also varies from industry to industry. But overall there is a movement in a positive direction towards gender pay parity. As per Grant Thornton’s Women in Business Beyond Policy to the Progress report, there has been a steady growth in women holding leadership positions in India from 14 percent in 2014 to 20 percent in 2018.
Having said that this is just the beginning and we have a long way to go. Could we see a day where gender is not even mentioned on the resume; candidates are evaluated based on their skills & competencies? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves.
Q. What about age diversity? It’s quite evident that age diversity in the workplace is disrupting HR practices. So what’s your experience of how organisations manage and promote a diversity of different ages and experiences?
A. Yes, I agree. One of the main challenges facing an organisation today is managing the diverse age groups. And trust me when I say that age is not just a number here. We have practically four generations working under the same roof- baby boomers, Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z. It is critical for any organisation to have systems and processes and culture in place to attract and retain age diverse talent. We need diverse strategies and initiatives to keep them engaged and connected to the organisation.
Conceptualizing ideas and executing them at great speed becomes very critical in today’s biz world where customer needs and other business dynamics are constantly changing. Agility and speed of execution is the key for sustaining and growing business.
Diversity is vital for the survival for growth of the organisation – the more experienced lot carry with them wisdom and the millennial bring in the freshness of ideas. So the questions you may want to ask yourself are- Does my organisation has the right culture, systems and processes that provide for work-life balance, do we have good HR policies & benefits, does my organisation provide for ample learning opportunities, do we recognize and value performance, do we provide a culture that stimulates creativity and innovation, does my organisation provide for stability?
Diversity clearly has its advantages. One can only imagine the amount of mentoring /coaching opportunities that the young audience could be exposed to. In fact, these are the days of reverse mentoring where older executives are mentored and paired with younger employees on topics such as technology, social media, current trends, etc. Also, when this diverse group is assigned to a cross-functional team, it could unleash magic- I would say a perfect blend of experience and freshness.
Hence, the need of the hour is for organisations to recognize and appreciate this diversity and design plans and benefits to suit their diverse needs. For e.g. Medical Insurance benefits could be highly attractive for the seniors whereas flexibility in job titles is the way to go for the millennials. How dynamic, flexible and sensitive is the organisation to this fact would be a critical success factor.
Q. Effective succession is vitally important for ensuring the continued success of any business, in identifying and developing the right talent. What is HR’s role in succession planning? In your opinion, who should be the owner of a succession plan in an organisation – the CEO or the HR?
A. A good succession planning program helps in many ways- for the organisation, it provides a ready pool of talent for future leadership/niche roles thereby retaining key resources. Organisations need to invest a lot in grooming the talent pool in terms of building their knowledge, competencies and providing the exposure required to take up new roles and responsibilities. In short, they are the ‘chosen’ ones.
From my experience, I would say that the CEO as the captain of the ship needs to own it up and demonstrate his / her commitment to the people processes and succession plan is one crucial element in an organisation.
HR needs to play a crucial role in driving and implementing the process of succession planning viz- identifying the critical roles, high potential performers through a structured process, identifying their strengths and areas of improvement, driving their developmental plans and tracking and in the end communicating on the effectiveness of the program. A key lever in the success of the program would also be the Leadership team viz. Biz and Functional Heads. They should co-own the process, should play an active role and be completely involved right from the identification of talent, reviewing developmental plans/IDPs, mentoring the team members.
Q. At Matrimony.com how are you connecting to a pool of diverse candidates? Do you think the talent pipeline can help close the skills gap? Also, how do you plan and manage your talent pipeline?
A. Before getting to the part where we connect to diverse candidates, I would want to reinforce that our talent requirement is truly diverse-on one end we speak about hiring front line customer interfacing young dynamic sales force, to niche software developers and finally hiring senior leadership at the other end. Right from the start of this interview, I have stressed on the fact that attracting talent as well as handling diversity have been our top challenges. Being a consumer e-commerce company, constantly innovating and adapting to new technologies, and hiring for niche talent is surely a daunting task. The dynamic sales force that I spoke about also clearly means that we are speaking of hiring millennials to a very large extent which brings along higher attrition levels and given both these scenarios, having a talent pipeline is surely a wise strategy.
Talent pipeline could be looked at from two perspectives: Firstly, constantly having a pipeline of candidates to manage attrition and secondly, identifying talent in the market knowing the future requirements/asks of the organisation be in on product /technology or leadership front.
Matrimony.Com is relatively a young company and we have just initiated the journey of building a talent pipeline. As a first step, we are in the process of identifying critical positions, HIPOs and successors for critical positions. The journey of building a talent pipeline has just been initiated at Matrimony.
Q. If companies are to pursue their plans for stability and growth they need to place project management at the core of their business processes. How can project management provide stability in an unstable business world?
A. In today’s VUCA world the only thing constant is change. Technology is rapidly changing, industries are changing; we have new industries and we also have some industries which have disappeared with time. It’s the need of the hour to keep evaluating our business models, revisiting strategies and constantly keeping a check on what’s next.
Conceptualizing ideas and executing them at great speed becomes very critical in today’s biz world where customer needs and other business dynamics are constantly changing. Agility and speed of execution is the key for sustaining and growing business. Given this perspective, project management provides many answers to the prevailing business challenges. However, the more intelligent question would be what should the team focus on? Well, right from gathering customer insights to idea generation to outlining technological changes as well as streamlining processes, cost reduction, etc the team has to focus on it all. The project management primarily needs to be an internal cross-functional team and they could seek support from external agencies to beef up ideas or validate processes.
Creating an internal project team would motivate the members to add value to them whilst on the project as it would be a constant learning process. Creating a project team is only one part- it is imperative that organisations build a culture and provide a platform for project teams to ideate and work on various projects. The organisation should also recognize that these teams need to be trained on project management skills along with other leadership and managerial skills. Yet, another critical factor for the success of the project team is a senior leadership sponsor for these projects whose primary role should be to review, guide and mentor the project teams.
Lastly, on the point of project teams, recognition forums are a must for continuously motivating the teams and also encouraging others to join project teams in the future.
Q. Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are flourishing in dating apps the world over. How long is it going to take for Indian matrimonial websites to bring artificial intelligence into play to modernize match-making?
A. Matrimony.com is a successful consumer e-commerce company in the matchmaking biz and a market leader in the online matchmaking business. We at Matrimony.com have been working on Artificial Intelligence projects for the last year or so. This is one of our mission-critical business projects and we have started seeing good results and impact on the organisation. We have been working with technical experts in this area and building capabilities. The scope of application of AI in a consumer e-commerce company/business like ours is enormous. As an organisation, we will be prioritizing some of the areas and our ultimate objective would be to provide better customer experience and delight them.
AI would surely give us an edge to understand our customers better and provide them with more customized relevant solutions, thereby driving business growth.
Q. As someone who holds experience of working across all HR functions, what general career advice do you have for all professionals to succeed in their careers?
A. Based on my experience and looking at the current competencies required, I wish to reinforce on 3 important skills:
Strategic or thinking skills– Knowledge of business, finance, industry, analytical skills etc.
Execution skills– which includes planning, goal setting, prioritizing, delegating.
People Management– how to work with people, constantly communicate with them, motivate them, inspire them to perform beyond potential.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “Once you stop learning you start dying.” Therefore one must be willing to explore and learn new things. A quality that is crucial for any individual to succeed is to have an open mind and keep learning constantly. And today learning is not just restricted to training programs; it could happen across a cup of coffee or at a networking forum. The key is keeping your mind open to learn anytime, from anyone and anywhere.