Nimisha Rana Pathak is a human resource leader with nearly 15 years of diverse experience across HR functions. She is currently serving as the Director-Human Resources at Alvarez & Marsal. Prior to this, she was associated with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where she headed key functions in Human Resource for India Consulting. She has also held HR positions in various organisations like Accenture and Tech Mahindra. She has a rich blend of line and consulting experience that enables her to develop a pragmatic approach in building HR solutions. She specialises in - Talent Management, Talent Acquisition, Compensation and Benefits, and Organisation Development.
As organisations across the globe are working towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on business and economy alike, we spoke with Ms Nimisha Rana Pathak, Director – HR at Alvarez & Marsal to understand how it impacts the workforce. She talks to us about the major shift in working styles brought about by the pandemic, especially in India, and if this change is here to stay. Nimisha also addresses the need for leadership to step up in this hour of crisis and focus the well-being of employees more than ever before.
Q. Having worked as an HR leader across various companies for many years, how eventful has been your journey? What were your main challenges when you started out? How did that help you evolve into a leader?
A. I have been fortunate to work in the consulting industry which is very people-centric. The industry appoints its people as experts to its clients and hence they form the core of any organisation. The journey has been quite enriching through various learnings of different consulting firms I have been part of. From a large to a premium to niche consulting firms, I have been part of almost all kinds. The most rewarding experience has been undoubtedly building teams from scratch and contributing to the growth journey of these organisations.
Ours is a generation of professionals that has witnessed the transition from manual to automated and eventually digital ways of working. Initially adapting to the change and getting others to adapt to it was one of the main challenges. The challenge was just not limited to adaptation but also optimization of this transition. But as every challenge makes you better and stronger, it did the same to my learnings and honed me as a well-rounded HR professional. Today as a leader, I think one of the most important traits to remain relevant and successful is the ability to embrace change and be the trendsetter. I get bored with complacence. Change and evolution are what keeps me energized.
“While digiwork can become the new norm post lockdown, we cannot take away the culture that a company creates when employees come to a common workplace every day. People develop interpersonal skills, comradery and a deeper sense of belonging when they work from an office. Personally, I feel a combination of both is what works best.”
FUTURE OF WORK
Q. The recent coronavirus crisis has transformed how we work and spurred the growth of online work. Do you think this sudden switch to en masse remote, digital work has the potential to accelerate changes in how work is performed and the way we think about working arrangements?
A. Absolutely. Remote work or work-from-home culture has been accepted at a global level by MNCs. It is one of the most effective ways of retention as well. However, in India, unfortunately, we are still not sure of how effective employees can be if they work from home. Though, there is enough data to prove that employee’s productivity increases when they work at their convenience. People feel more accountable and trusted when the company allows them to work from home. The current COVID 19 crisis, has changed the perspective of many organisations and they have started trusting their employees instead of testing them.
A very relevant example of how the current arrangement has made companies change their long-term plans is TCS. Before lockdown, 20% of TCS workforce worked from home, now due to the lockdown the company has moved 90% to work from home.
75% of TCS workforce will continue to work from home permanently by 2025. This is a big shift of mindset. In my current company, we are beginning to identify roles that can work effectively remotely, as even when the lockdown is lifted, it doesn’t look like we would be able to work from the office in full capacity.
Q. Furthermore, remote working will likely become the new normal including a shift in employee preferences– and the expectation of a more virtual workplace. Is your organisation ready for such changes? In your opinion, how can organisations plan smoothly for a future of ‘decent digiwork’?
A. My organisation did not have limitations pertaining to work from home. Most of our people work from client sites so working from home can never be the norm in consulting. Unstaffed people had the flexibility of working from home and reporting to work within two hours if required in the office. Consulting typically works in a team environment, hence remote working as a norm may always not be the preferred option. In terms of having a virtual workplace, it always existed though has not exercised that often due to these reasons. I also see a shift in employee’s mindset when they work remotely. The current crisis has definitely made them plan their work and home life much better.
While digiwork can become the new norm post lockdown, we cannot take away the culture that a company creates when employees come to a common workplace every day. People develop interpersonal skills, comradery and a deeper sense of belonging when they work from an office. Personally, I feel a combination of both is what works best. The ability and option to work from home and office is a balance I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has helped me and several others like me live a balanced life. I know so many professionals, who work four days from the office and stay back at home for one day in a week to work from home. I see such arrangements happening a lot more post lockdown.
We also need to understand that most of us not just go out to work to earn money, but also build relationships, meet new people, experience a change from mundane life at home so on and so forth. Remote working also requires a certain standard of infrastructure and support at home. The right kind of workstation with minimal disturbance, no household chores that may hinder smooth functioning, fast, uninterrupted Wi-Fi service and so on. Not everyone would be able to achieve that. Hence, I feel it will take some more time for digiwork to become a norm.
Q. In today’s digitalised corporate world AI and cognitive computing are not options anymore, they’re a must. Do you think advanced technology has the potential to transform both recruitment efficiency and effectiveness for the better? Where do you see the biggest challenge for heads of HR?
A. Yes, it has the ability and it has already started showing results. Our interface with technology in our personal and professional lives will always be an uphill journey. There is no way we can succeed without leveraging technology. As I earlier stated, the challenge is the adaptation and later optimization of such interventions. HR heads also need to build their teams smartly and effectively. They need to weave in technical interventions gently into people’s lives while ensuring, they do not take away the personal and human touch of the function.
Q. We are experiencing VUCA 2.0 in the form of COVID-19 outbreak in the global business world today. According to you, how do we navigate this current VUCA situation? What should be an appropriate strategy for steady leadership in an unsteady world of VUCA?
A. Embrace the change. I think we all have risen to the situation and navigated well so far. Even in the current crisis, most companies have held on till now and have devised strategies that are employee friendly and relevant for current times. It is a proven fact that evolution and change have helped economies, countries to grow. When the ethos or foundation of any company or country is intact and makes sense to a larger set of population, then the leadership can build on that foundation and keep taking the system to the next level. Hence, I feel steady leadership can still ride along in an unsteady VUCA world if they are supported with strong values and culture. Additionally, awareness acts as a catalyst to navigate through any crisis. Awareness about technical advancements and our behavioural limitations. Both will enable us to plan our combat strategies accordingly.
“I feel steady leadership can still ride along in an unsteady VUCA world if they are supported with strong values and culture. Additionally, awareness acts as a catalyst to navigate through any crisis. Awareness about technical advancements and our behavioural limitations.”
Q. How important is it for you to continuously motivate and empower your team members? In this era of disruption, what do you think is a leader’s role in delivering a great employee experience?
A. It is extremely important to keep your team motivated and empowerment is the best tool to achieve that. I personally do not like to micromanage my team and prefer trusting them with the responsibilities they have. A leader’s role is to make its team realize its full potential and push them to achieve greater heights.
In my current organisation, one often hears the term entrepreneurship. It is when you work in a company thinking it’s your own company. That is the kind of trust, freedom and responsibility a leader should bestow to its employees in order to deliver a great employee experience. A leader who leads by example and believes not just in leadership but also in apprenticeship.
Another equally important trait for a leader is to have high emotional quotient. Have empathy for people in general. What could be the difference between a disgruntled, low-performing workforce and one that is high-performing, balanced, and productive? The answer is EQ.
Doing business in the new economy will require leaders and teams to focus on developing new competencies. It is impossible to build new ways of operating by relying on the old ways of doing business. The competency that will lie at the heart of the new organisation is emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotions drive everything we do.
One should also keep taking feedback from its employees to be in touch with the on-ground reality. Employee surveys help in making relevant people agenda and track progress. It creates a sense of democracy within the organisation. Hence, as leaders, we should always check the pulse of our employees and course-correct wherever required.
“Doing business in the new economy will require leaders and teams to focus on developing new competencies. It is impossible to build new ways of operating by relying on the old ways of doing business. The competency that will lie at the heart of the new organisation is emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotions drive everything we do.”
Q. In these unprecedented times, with office closures happening all around the world and a shift to remote working, how is Alvarez and Marsal ensuring its employees remain productive when working from home? Also, how are you increasing your focus on supporting the wellbeing of your employees?
A. Communication is our key lever. We are literally over-communicating with employees across all levels, all the time, about everything. Employees should feel the confidence and trust in their leadership. It is important for people to feel valued and even more when there are times of crisis. It gives them a sense of security and instils confidence to rise to the occasion. The first 1.5 months of lockdown have proven how a firm can come together and hold each other in times of crisis. A&M is a firm that is known to work effectively in crisis and we just did that. Employees across Business units came together and build case works, proposals, view from the ground POVs which lead to winning new projects during the lockdown. This was a great confidence booster for all of us. Moreover, we really upped our employee engagement program during the lockdown. Our work from home series- Quarantimes became a huge hit. From showcasing people’s talent to creating music videos to organizing virtual musical shows, we got all elements together. Honestly, the firm got closer during lockdown due to this program, where they started knowing more about their fellow colleagues.
In addition to running a highly effective engagement program, we have created teams that are working on specific initiatives namely:
- Business Continuity- team with an objective to ensure remote working is not impacting our deliverables
- Health Committee- To create COVID-related guidelines with a Doctor onboard for giving medical advice
- Getting Back to Work Committee- To create a plan with all measures and guidelines to be followed once the office opens
We also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) aiming at the mental well-being of employees. This program offers free confidential counselling to employees and their family.
We are also running Conversation Circles where a group of individuals come together and share their feelings about how they are feeling currently. Conversation circle is a platform where sessions are facilitated by external facilitators and are conducted with different themes, such as; Work from Home – my pains and gains, Experiences during COVID 19- Reflection of a story, Speaking the Unspeakable, Insider & Outsider and more.
Q. Lastly, what are some of your tips for achieving work-life balance in today’s challenging times. What are the biggest challenges you are up against at Alvarez and Marsal?
A. Prioritization and planning is my mantra. I do not like to be very disorganized with my work. This should be followed by demonstrating respect for people’s time. If we do that then we don’t change schedules and wriggle out of our commitments. We give time where it was supposed to be as planned and not make abrupt changes. We should also learn to say NO. If we are overflowing with work, we should not take more. The quality of the deliverable, our productivity, everything gets impacted. At the same time, making time for personal life is one’s right and one should not feel embarrassed to do that. So, spending time with family and Me times should also be part of your daily schedule that would keep you energized.
Currently, in this crisis, my biggest challenge is to maintain the rhythm and not let people slow down. Positive energies are in sync and creating a great working environment even while everyone is distanced. We need to keep this momentum on. Retain my top talent and make everyone feel trusted and valued, and not insecure and unsafe.