In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Shashank Bhushan, India Head & Vice President-HR at BMC Software gets candid about his journey thus far and shares his thoughts on HR making the leaps to become a true partner to the CEO. He also talks about various initiatives that BMC Software is undertaking to build the best-in-class talent capabilities and the evolving practices of HR that are redefining the workplace.
Shashank Bhushan is the India Head & Vice President-HR at BMC Software. He is a seasoned HR professional and a transformational leader with over 20 years of professional experience in various industries. He has extensive experience of handling multiple HR domains including Business Leadership, People Dynamics, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching. Shashank’s role has been instrumental in leading transformations at BMC Software and helping drive the next level of growth for the R&D & Engineering Centre, which is a strategic competitive differentiator for BMC’s success in the global market. He has led teams of HR partners and professionals across the Asia Pacific and played a major role in building over a third of the BMC employee base. He has been instrumental in implementing major changes in the organisational culture and building a positive workforce. Prior to BMC, Shashank has held HR Leadership positions in organisations like ITC Infotech and IBM.
Q. Looking back at your career to date, you are a veteran with over 20 years of diverse experience in a wide spectrum of industries like the Media & Entertainment, Consumer Electronics, Engineering and Information Technology. How has this roller coaster journey been like? What were the key elements in your journey that helped you get where you are today?
A. I consider myself to be a destiny’s child to have joined the workforce post economic liberalization which opened up growth opportunities for the youth. This fabulous growth story continues in India and for me. I was also fortunate to have been in diverse industries, from media & entertainment – right when electronic media was finding its roots in the country, to one of the largest consumer durables company of its generation, then on to an engineering company followed by my first software services company, which I enabled getting spun off from being an in-house IT division. This is where the seeds of my leadership profile were sown, following which I experienced working with a very large IT services company that gave me an opportunity to explore different businesses within the same organisation. The last 9 years in this world of Software Solutions & Products Company have been wonderful. I started with heading the HR function in India, went on to holding some global roles, and then was appointed as the Head of Indian Operations.
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” This powerful quote by George Bernard Shaw defines my ability to bring a different perspective to every role and assignment I have taken up and is therefore instrumental in whatever success I have had across my professional and personal life.
Q. You have been leading teams of HR partners and HR professionals across geographies for many years now. According to you, how can HR leaders adapt to an ever-evolving, highly competitive global marketplace; master cross- cultural relationships and build the capabilities to lead across national and international boundaries?
A. Being aware of the rapid changes happening around us is instrumental to success. It is important for the HR leaders of today and tomorrow to be adept with the emerging technology change paradigm, the transition from monitoring to facilitating, and understanding business like never before.
With the increasing “social” world order, which has made the universe much smaller and ever- connected, the need to collaborate, innovate and drive change has grown manifold. The ability to build and nurture relationships and leverage technology effectively, including social media, would be critical.
Q. In your experience how has HR evolved as a function in these 20-30 years? How did your career transition with the changing paradigms of HR?
A. When I started my career in the mid-nineties, this function was called the “Personnel Department” in most organisations and as the name went, it had its focus on basic employment-related tasks of recruiting, documentation, compliance, payroll and, in some larger organisations, training & development. There were more job seekers than jobs and a larger part of the industry was still in the manufacturing space. Hence managing Industrial Relations was a big part of the role. The evolution of the Services Industry thereon spawned an era of knowledge workers and soon we found that the demand-supply status with regards to skills and its availability became adverse to the organisations driving the growth of the “Human Resources” or the “People’s” function. Further on the function evolved from being controlling to enabling and facilitating by becoming more partnership-oriented. With the business and the role of its managers as the fulcrum, HR took on the hat of a partner, advisor and facilitator to hire, train, engage, and retain employees, who now had a significantly greater option of employment. This also meant that the function focuses more and more on helping create a culture that defines the success of the organisation. Technology has also been a key driver of change, which has fundamentally changed the way we live and work. Therefore work is no longer a place to go to, rather it’s something that you carry in your devices that gives you the ability to work from anywhere. Today, HR has built a completely new muscle memory to be able to cater to this millennial oriented workforce which looks at employment as a means to life and not an end.
Q. Can you tell us what’s your favourite aspect of your job, or about human resources in general? On a personal level, what are the most challenging aspects of your work?
A. Helping create a culture in an organisation through different interventions that help the organisation in building skills for the future, driving innovation and building sustainable partnerships with the different parts of the business to create a wholesome experience for the employees, is my favourite part of the job. This in itself is extremely challenging in the current context, where the skills requirements change rapidly with technology evolving so quickly. Building skills for today is challenging. Crystal gazing for future skills, building them ‘now’ and keeping them ‘current’ would be amongst the toughest of challenges.
Q. With the CHRO role evolving so much in recent years across recruiting, compensation, talent and performance management, training and more, how is the role of HR in general expanding and making the leaps to become a true partner to the CEO?
A. If the CEO is the pilot of the organisation, the CHRO is a co-pilot and that means this relationship is extremely crucial for the success of the organisation. The role of the CHRO is to be a partner who is like a friend, coach and a guide all rolled into one for the CEO. The CHRO is expected to be the conscience keeper for the CEO making sure that there is alignment to the core values of the organization while being a trusted conduit to other CXO’s by virtue of strong two-way relationships. This era of digitalization has made every enterprise to be a technology company and the force behind the technology is that of the people enabling the same, hence the advisory from the CHRO to drive business is that much more important.
Q. Can you tell us about various initiatives that BMC Software is undertaking to build the best-in- class talent capabilities? Also, how can companies reduce the effect of lost talent or under-performing employees through a multilevel succession roadmap?
A. Firstly, we have a very intentional focus on managing talent more effectively. We use the 9 Box program to segment the talent and drive actions, which is an offering customised for the employees. Fundamentally, what could happen is that there could be top talents working in the same technology or area of work but may have completely different drivers for their careers. For example, one may entirely be driven by the passion and where the industry is leading him, while the other may be driven by financial well- being or someone else’s driver could be an entrepreneurial setup. So, the way they are treated will be different and the pat given to either one of them will differ. The talent management at BMC tries to differentiate between different aspirations of people and meet up with that.
Secondly, we invest heavily in learning and development. We have a program called “BMC Pathshala” in which we cater to the current learning requirements of people, both technical and non- technical, as well as those that are more future-oriented. The current learning opportunities are available to everybody. Future learning requirements that we are positioning are meant for people with higher abilities within our own assessment and align with advanced learning requirements. Therefore, they are more by invitation than by nomination.
Reducing the effect of lost talent or under-performing employees is a very complex topic and a very hard one to crack in this era. The concise answer to the question is essentially making sure that there is a contingency plan in place to tackle this issue. Only one person cannot be invested in as a successor within a certain role and it is necessary to focus on creating possibilities for multiple successors. In this way, the role can be relooked at when the senior person exits the organisation and the role can be split amongst the multiple successors. Additionally, investing heavily in the retention of talent is an effective solution where our 9 Box program is very valuable.
Q. According to you, how advances in digitalization, artificial intelligence, communication and bots can help in creating growth opportunities and generating new insights? How much do you think technology will change HR over the next five years?
A. Undoubtedly, new technologies will have a significant influence on how work will get done in the future. This would also then imply how HR is going to react and respond to work. Today a lot of work in HR is tactical and transactional or mundane and repetitive. For example, responding to a lot of employee queries and file documentation or other processes that are repetitive in nature. Even within the strategic process of hiring, there are many low-level activities that consume a lot of bandwidth, like screening of resumes, scheduling interviews, routing of offer letters, etc. and there isn’t anything particularly complex in these tasks. These tasks will not require a human interface once the bots and machines take over. In turn, the HR folks would be focusing on establishing better connections with people, something the machines, in the foreseeable future, would not be capable of doing. The emotional element would be brought to the table only by the HR folks. Therefore, the role of the HR will become higher in its level, more strategic wherever feelings and thinking are concerned – that is where the HR work process will head. In five years, a significant change will occur and a lot of these repetitive jobs will no longer exist. Even with bots and machines being increasingly incorporated in the HR processes, some things are irreplaceable from a functional perspective, the engagement of people being a big part of this perspective. We can’t expect bots to engage people, at least not anytime in the near foreseeable future even if AI is becoming stronger by the day. AI can become as strong as it has set out to become but it can never replace real intelligence completely. A bot may understand what one is saying but it may not necessarily understand the underlying emotion or thinking that may be necessary. Two people may say the same thing, but human thought execution is not the same and hence the human interface makes it easier.
Q. Furthermore, how well can technology be used to inform, transform and empower HR decisions? Will technology and evolving practices of HR redefine the workplace and the definition of desirable talent?
A. Significantly! There have been four phases of industrial revolution. Each subsequent revolution has been at least 50% shorter than the previous one. Each one of these phases demonstrated significant technological evolution that consistently increased the speed of the various related processes and consequently reduced the revolution duration phase after phase. Machines to mainframes to desktop and then to digital, new technologies were making things faster. Hence HR would have to be extremely involved with the evolution of technology to be able to deliver what is required. Data analytics will become very important along with a strong understanding of human behaviour. We are moving into an era where newer models of employment will be in practice. The location will no longer be a restrictive criterion, which means we could have someone working in Jaipur and delivering value in London. In the current gig economy, models of employment are going through a transformation where people work part-time, on contract, on a consulting basis, and full time. Currently, most of the organisations don’t have the capacity to entertain differing models. However, with the evolving practices, HR would have to cater to this. One may not want to work eight hours at a certain job and may want to divide the work time with other areas of work that are closer to their passion. This norm of working is soon going to become more normal than today and the HR would have to evolve practices that will be able to support this.
Q. As an HR leader, how important is it for you to continuously motivate and empower your team members? In this era of disruption, what do you think a leader’s role should be in delivering a great employee experience?
A. It is of course, important to empower and motivate team members. This reason is rhetorical because increasingly the teams will be dealing with the unknowns and handling situations that do not have precedence. This means that we have to allow them to make mistakes, learn from them and then do the right thing. That is why it is very important to keep the team members motivated so they don’t hesitate to make decisions. Another change that is taking place is that, say 15 years back, as a manager of the team I was perhaps the smartest person in the room. I was a subject matter specialist in the function.
Today I am not. Today my team members know far more in various areas than I would know. Hence, if I don’t motivate them and if I don’t empower them to take decisions then everything will bubble up to me, for which I may not have the required level of necessary skills or confidence. This is important to understand as a leader.
Therefore, leaders will have to depend so much more on people to do the right things rather than being the ones who will be taking all of it up. It becomes essential, as a leader, to delegate the work as per expertise. The leader should not be the one who is taking all the calls, rather he should become more of a facilitator and an enabler and be still the one who provides the support when things go wrong and help fill the gaps.
This is an era of experience. Today when you go to a restaurant, it is not just the quality of the food but the quality of the experience that makes a difference. The décor, the food service, the ambience, the general service of the staff, the collection of the customer feedback, etc. makes the requisite difference. The same applies to the workplace. Each organisation is dealing with a shortage of skills; hence the attractiveness quotient of an employer is largely dependent on the uniqueness of the employment experience it provides. Be that of hiring, on-boarding, learning & development, fun at work or community development projects. The Quality of Work is given and the above-mentioned experiences are the differentiators.
Q. It is a time where the world around us is always changing and handling change becomes critical to an organisation’s success. According to you, what is the right strategic approach to ‘change management’ and how can one ensure preparedness and stability for change by empowering the human resources department?
A. As I said earlier, change today means entering the era of the unknown. This means that we need to empower the people to make decisions for which there is hardly any precedence or an experience. Preparedness for the unknown comes from establishing the right contingency plans, thinking of possible outcomes, thinking of the areas where things could go wrong. These approaches were considered 20 years ago as well, but the difference is that change is far more rapid today than it used to be. There used to be more time to establish plan A, B, C; however, today there is much less time to prepare and execute. For example, in case of a company take over, which is a massive change, there are several stages of the change that need to be handled efficiently in order to make the employees comfortable and understand that the change is occurring for a value add.
Q. Let’s talk more about knowing your work philosophy. Any advice you would like to convey how do we find purpose in the work we do?
A. I think I can ask questions and motivate people to think differently. I hate templates and doing things the way they were done traditionally. This essentially drives my work philosophy. In terms of ethics, for me integrity is non-negotiable. This is irrespective of the era of work; I think integrity is the baseline of all. One will not find purpose in the work if the work is work. The purpose is seen when work becomes one’s passion. Therefore, it is important for every youngster and every adult to really think about what is it that excites him or her and to then go and do that. Fortunately for everyone today that there are so many different opportunities and one does not need to work only for the sake of earning money. In an era of rapid change, the risk of burning out rapidly is quite stark and that can be countered by working in a profession that aligns with one’s purpose and passion.