People Function: The Paradox Navigators in Startups 0

People Function - The Paradox Navigators in Startups
In this special interview with All Things Talent, Rohit Hasteer, Group CHRO at Housing.com, PropTiger.com, Makaan.com, talks about how the Covid-19 pandemic is changing the future of work, the critical lessons that businesses can learn from it, and the importance of having a people function in startups. Further, he also shares his insights on how technologies will be pivotal to reimagine work structures.

JOURNEY 

Q: Having worked as an HR leader in the industry for many years, how has this journey been so far? What was the turning point of your life as an HR professional?

A: The journey has been evolving. Despite years of experience, I still try to learn something new every day. Surrounded with multitudes of human sentiments and complex business challenges day in, day out; I find my thrill in enabling and empowering people to become their best versions, achieve their goals and most importantly, enjoy the journey. The turning point in my life as an HR professional has been many, it will be tough to single out only one. Each time I thought things were getting monotonous and steady, an exciting turn was awaiting me. Fortunately, I have got many opportunities to work on transformation projects on organization culture and employee experience and every success on those got me newer challenges and veered my career in another direction.

My journey over the last 10 years of building passionate and efficient workforces that enable the business to grow exponentially and boast of the highest level of employee experience has been testified over and over by the Great Place to Work Institute that conducts the best employers’ study. This accomplishment and affirmation made me realize that business success is not possible without having people at the center of its strategy. People make or break organizations and it is them whom we need to take along if we want to succeed. Ever since then, I have been working on building highly engaged workforces and organizational culture that is woven on a fabric of trust.

CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Q: From small startups to large corporations, the COVID-19 crisis has led to the most rapid transformation of the workplace. According to you, how has the pandemic changed business dynamics and what does it mean for the future of work?

A: I see a positive shift that this pandemic has brought to the workplace. Notwithstanding the struggles each one of us had to face due to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, the biggest change we witnessed amidst the crisis was the shift in mindset. The future of work as I see is going to be more adaptive, flexible, high on innovation and digitally transformed. Today, organizations have realized that age-old established norms that they held close to their heart may not anymore yield the results they desire. Concepts like remote working, dynamic goal setting, short-term reward mechanisms, job rotations, part-time work arrangements, etc. are being explored to keep up with the dynamism and volatility in the external environment.

However, I do fear a lack of connection and human touch that this new normal might create if the employees continue to work remotely for a longer period of time. Human beings are fundamentally social animals in need of trust, generosity and care which technology alone (read Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, etc.) in a socially distanced environment may not be able to fulfill.

Today, organizations have realized that age-old established norms that they held close to their heart may not anymore yield the results they desire. Concepts like remote working, dynamic goal setting, short-term reward mechanisms, job rotations, part-time work arrangements, etc. are being explored to keep up with the dynamism and volatility in the external environment.

Q: Furthermore, what has the pandemic taught Indian startups about pivoting and problem-solving? What are 3 critical lessons startups/small businesses must learn from the COVID-19 to grow in the postpandemic world?

Indian startups work on the philosophy of ‘fail fast and fail often’ and are courageous to test and alter their business strategies along the journey. They are nimble at pivoting their plans and solving problems if they see that their business plans are not well accepted by the consumers.

A: Indian startups were already prepared to face the pandemic, as they have known since beginning how to ‘do more with less’, ‘adapt to change’, and ‘thrive in ambiguity’. Indian startups work on the philosophy of ‘fail fast and fail often’ and are courageous to test and alter their business strategies along the journey. They are nimble at pivoting their plans and solving problems if they see that their business plans are not well accepted by the consumers. Having said that, no business is perfect and knows it all, the pandemic definitely gave us some important lessons to learn.

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1. Build an agile organizational structure. Having a lean and agile organization structure helps organizations to adapt to change faster and pivoting business plans is a lot easier for them.

2. Be frugal. Be wise in your spending and treat investors’ money as your own money. Be responsive while deciding where to spend and how much.

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3. Establish short-term goals and review constantly. Annual operating plans do not hold relevance anymore. Make quarterly plans and review performance constantly. Course-correct wherever needed.

4. Foster an environment of constant learning and innovation. If organizations are not learning, they are at the risk of redundancy, especially when they are surrounded by massive competition and a highly demanding and informed consumer base.

HR PRACTICES

Q: Startups at the nascent stage focus mostly on generating revenue and in the midst of this they don’t prioritise HR and recruiting practices. In your opinion, why should people function become a critical part of a startup’s core team from day one and how it can help in carrying the founder’s vision forward?

A: We have heard the saying ‘well begun is half done’, and this is apt for a Human Resources function in an organization. To build a successful and distinguished organization, it is critical that the founders have a clear understanding of the value system they want to foster in their organization. A company’s value system becomes the guiding light that helps them make the right choices for their people, customers, and shareholders. This also shapes the culture of an organization. I have observed that some founders and leaders focus more on cash and burn without realizing the upside of building an organization strong on values and culture that eventually helps manage costs in the long run.

People function helps build this value system into the organization structure and design and bake in people practices around it. Hiring the right talent, functionally and culturally, is essential to set the foundation right. Competent and culturally aligned people give the required impetus to a startup and eases the efforts on skilling and engaging them further. Likewise, having a structured framework around people development and engagement, right from the start ensures that your available talent is not disengaged and job-hunting while you’re placing your bets on them. Another undervalued aspect by startups is having the right compensation philosophy in nascent stages, which often leads to poor retention of talent.

The HR business partners play a key role in enabling business on these finer nuances and become strategic partners in the organization’s success. Thus, I feel it is worthwhile for startups to have people function from the start.

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TALENT MANAGEMENT

Q: How is Elara Group (HousingPropTiger-Makaan) managing its people function during the COVID-19 pandemic? How are you reimagining talent, employee engagement, and strengthening your organisation during these unprecedented times?

A: Our people philosophy – ‘Feel at Home’ – has been the driver for us to navigate through the current pandemic. We have always striven for giving our people a secure, engaging, and open work environment where they can be themselves and flourish. We strongly believe in open and transparent communication. However be the situation, we have never shied away from being front and center with our people. When the pandemic hit the world, everyone was insecure about the future; and hundreds of questions were hovering in our minds. At that point, we flung into action and created various avenues for our people to hear from their leaders. All the business leaders and HR did multiple virtual connect sessions to address their queries, offered them all the help they needed in these turbulent times and assured them of the future. This reinstated their confidence and their efforts at work accelerated.

The other thing we lay huge emphasis on is collaboration. Even before the pandemic, we provided our people with multiple avenues to share feedback and suggestions and made all efforts to integrate the same in our policies and practices, both people and business. This has instilled a lot of trust in our people and assured them that they are a critical part of the organization. During the pandemic too, we sought frequent feedback and suggestions from people on their idea of engagement, their wellbeing, their learning, etc. Being in a new normal, it wasn’t easy to adapt to remote working and we wanted to do everything possible to keep our people motivated and connected to the organization like before.

The pandemic also led us to recreate some of our policies and practices for the future, which is going to be more dynamic, highly dispersed, and largely digitized. Click To Tweet

HR TECHNOLOGY 

Q: With mass virtual work being in place for several months now, digital working has been redefined like never before. With the accelerated pace of tech adoption, how will work technologies be pivotal to reimagined work structures? 

A: Organizations that had been wary of work from home, have now become extremely comfortable and confident of the same and businesses that were run traditionally are forced to catapult to digitization. That said, coronavirus left no choice for anyone anyway. With a majority of the workforce operating remotely for several months now, a lot of technology adoption and digital transformation came into existence lately. Organizations adopted technology for better collaboration amongst their people, to provide secure data over cloud for seamless operations and started to digitize several manual processes to ensure business continuity.

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The future of work is going to be tech-led and socially distanced, this means that the HR practitioners must focus on the upcoming needs of the organization to cater to this change. A few immediate focus areas:

  1. Investing in tools that constantly gauge engagement levels of people using data or AI and provide ways to keep collaboration amongst the organization going.
  1. Reforecasting and striking the right balance between automation and workforce planning. Investment in various work technologies that can reduce manual labour today, can give cost advantage over the long term.
  1. Use of technology to set short-term objectives and track performance in real-time. This will be key for a dispersed workforce connected only through a common objective and hence keeping a constant eye on where we are headed will be supremely important.
Our people philosophy - ‘Feel at Home’ - has been the driver for us to navigate through the current pandemic. We have always striven for giving our people a secure, engaging, and open work environment where they can be themselves… Click To Tweet

SKILLING

Q: How do you see skills needs changing in this changing world? Can you tell us any three skilling trends that post Covid-19 workplace will require?

A: Leveraging technology and becoming technologically adept is going to be the most critical skill now and post-Covid-19. The nationwide lockdowns during the pandemic forced organizations to digitally transform themselves, not only to save costs but also to sustain a physically dispersed world. However, even after we come back to normalcy, organizations may still prefer to automate as much as possible, because it is a safer and cost-efficient route in the long run.

The second skill that is going to be essential is creative problem-solving. Thriving in a VUCA vortex requires the ability to solve problems creatively. Organizations would like to employ people who can find creative solutions to complex problems and not those who would turn to others for solving them. The value creative problem solvers bring to the table are two-fold: self-sufficiency and innovation, both of which are extremely valuable traits in today’s time.

Ultimately, it all boils down to learning agility. It is the ability and willingness of an individual to learn from experience and then apply that learning to perform successfully in new situations by acquiring the necessary capabilities. Learning agility focuses on potential, motivation, and adaptability to learn and each of these components is critical for an individual to harness this key competency.

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AGILE PRACTICES 

Q: Lastly, what do you think will be the biggest workplace struggle going into the future? Any advice on how we can capitalise on opportunities emerging out of current challenges and use unpredictability to our advantage to ride the changes and get where we want to go? 

A: One of the biggest workplace struggles in the future, in my opinion, will be a lack of agility. The current pandemic taught us to thrive in unpredictability and hence make fluid short-term plans. Even people policies and practices, henceforth, will need to be agile. HR professionals will need to develop competencies to thrive in ambiguity and become Paradox Navigators.

If your practices are not encouraging and rewarding innovation, then it is time to change them. If your practices do not nudge your people to collaborate, it is time to change them. Just as it makes business sense to base your business strategy on consumer needs, it also makes equal sense to base your people strategy on employee needs.

The world around us is forever going to change, and for those who dreaded change management, this pandemic was a big eye-opener. Organizations should get nimble in everything they do, failing fast will be more critical now than succeeding slow. Openness to change will come to one’s advantage big time now. At a time when profitability is tougher to achieve, continuing with an existing business strategy will be detrimental. Experimenting and setting new trends may be a smarter idea than using successes of the past as a proof of concept to come up with something new. Businesses that understand consumer sentiment and respond to their needs faster are going to sustain and succeed.

In the realm of people practices, it is a good time for organizations to question if their policies and practices are eliciting the required employee behavior or not. If your practices are not encouraging and rewarding innovation, then it is time to change them. If your practices do not nudge your people to collaborate, it is time to change them. Just as it makes business sense to base your business strategy on consumer needs, it also makes equal sense to base your people strategy on employee needs. Organizations should refocus on employee well-being, employee engagement and digitization of their processes, as these are key requirements to sail through this wave of change.

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Rohit Hasteer is a seasoned HR leader with nearly 20 years of rich and diverse experience across HR functions. He has led HR functions in various start-ups and fast-paced organizations across industries. Currently, he is the Group Chief Human Resource Officer at Housing.com, PropTiger.com, Makaan. com. He is a proficient catalyst and an enabler in handling multiple HR domains including Change Management, Performance Management, Employee Relations, Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, etc. He is also skilled in building and creating Great Places to Work, finding and building talent, setting up robust policies & processes, honing talent through learning and development and talent management, building a results-oriented and metric-driven HR team. In the last 10 years, each of the 3 companies that he has worked with, were ranked amongst the top 100 Best Companies to Work for by the Great Place to Work Institute.

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