SPECIAL FEATURE – The ‘Flex’ Imperative: Building Flexible Talent Strategies for the Win 1827

In this exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Saurabh Sharma, Head of Talent Acquisition - Asia and LATAM at OLX Group talks about personal challenges to managing virtual teams, prioritising skills learning in employees, and building flexible talent acquisition strategies to meet both the needs of the business and the workforce.

ATT: With your rich work experience of 15 years in Human Resources, how has your journey been so far? Please tell us about your career and your current role?

Saurabh: I had a rather unusual career, which helped me gain a much broader perspective about work and organizations that I worked with. I started out as a software engineer, moved to human resources early on in my career and worked through IT services, Management Consulting, Telecom, and the Internet industry focusing on Talent Acquisition.

I have had the opportunity to work with organisations that have been there for 100+ years like American Express /Ericsson and startups like OLX, which is a little more than 10 years old. I worked for organisations with over 1,00,000 employees and also at organisations that had less than 1500 employees. These experiences have helped me evolve as a leader and add value to wherever I have worked. Having worked as a Talent Acquisition Business Partner and setting up COE (Centre of Excellence) across 11 countries with multiple business units has helped me explore the depths of business understanding and functional understanding.

In my current role, I lead Talent Acquisition for Asia and Latin America where I help build and grow our businesses across 8 countries. We have a unique business proposition in buying and selling used cars. We aspire to be the most trusted partner for car consumers and offer them peace of mind on every transaction they make with us. We are bringing the online and offline world together to make it very convenient for all our customers.


ATT: You have experience in managing and leading teams virtually in distributed set-ups across geographies. What is your advice on effectively managing virtual teams? Could you share some personal examples when you’ve struggled in work with a virtual team and the way how you overcame this?

Saurabh: Thanks for this million $ question :). Currently, my team is spread across 6 countries (and supporting business across 10 countries). This isn’t the first time I am working with remote teams in my career but this is the first time I have started working with them during the pandemic and hence, I am learning to work with them/ know them only virtually. Frankly, this hasn’t been easy.

We come together representing so many different cultures and languages. Also, there are changes across the way we operate on the business side and the human resources side. All put together is a lot, but then we all are on the same page when it comes to supporting business.

I have struggled with many aspects – first and foremost being language. In countries where English is not the language for business operations, it makes it difficult to drive a big change. You’re never sure if everyone has got the intent right. The second has been the time zone. When you work in an opposite time zone to your business, that is a limiting factor. You have a limited opportunity to interact with your teams and business leaders.

What worked for me, is having a clear intent and explaining it to business and re-iterating to teams. Second, it is empowerment and trust. As a new leader sitting miles away, you need to join the team to listen, support and trust them. Only then they will rally around and make things happen!

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ATT: Furthermore, what kind of mistakes when working with a virtual team, project managers may be especially vulnerable to?

Saurabh: The number one being – assuming not being able to express means team members haven’t done the job. Due to language barriers and different cultural contexts, they may not be able to communicate and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they are not committed or don’t have desired skills.

Secondly, there are so many differences between cultures and local laws. Assuming, what works for most countries may not be what works for ALL. You will have to deal with it individually understanding the local context.


ATT: How has COVID-19 set the stage for reskilling in the corporate world? How can organizations harness agile learning techniques to effectively future-proof employees, while also reskill and upskill employees for digital transformation?

Saurabh: Whether Covid or not, workplaces are changing faster than ever. Technology is influencing the way work is done. The workforce is changing. There is a gig economy catching up where you build short-term project teams task forces and then move on.

Organisations need to take a learner-centric approach, which means if they want employees to prioritize learning new skills they need to repeatedly and clearly state that it’s okay to take time to learn new skills and ensure it’s easy and convenient to do so.

Organisations need to be creative and be realistic when upskilling and reskilling their current talent pool. They need to keep in mind when planning for learning opportunities that employees have a lot on their plates right now – they are overwhelmed with family and home stresses while working from home – and can hesitate to spend working time on training. Thus, organisations need to take a learner-centric approach, which means if they want employees to prioritize learning new skills they need to repeatedly and clearly state that it’s okay to take time to learn new skills and ensure it’s easy and convenient to do so.

Employees need to be prepared for dealing with ambiguity and hence it becomes important for employees to gain valuable and high-demand digital skills. Also, this is a good time to rethink existing agile practices and training programs for the current employee experience. A special focus should be on finding learning opportunities in everyday meetings.

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ATT: To get highly skilled quality talent in the door, HR and recruiting leaders will need a new talent acquisition strategy post-COVID-19 crisis. How can organizations rethink, remodel and revamp their talent acquisition strategies and make sure their talent strategies align with their innovation strategies in 2021 and beyond?

Saurabh: Simply put, the candidate has to be brought to the centre stage as an equal partner in this process. Organisations need to be clear on what the role is and whom they need for this role so that they can pass this clarity to the candidates. We need to get rid of template job descriptions and build more specific/focused job descriptions.

At the same time, we will need candidates who have a fair assessment of their skills and are aware of their development areas. This will bring an honest conversation to the table and make this exploratory journey worthwhile for the candidate and the organisation.

ATT: In your opinion, how can HR leaders build adaptable talent acquisition strategies to meet both the needs of the business and the workforce?

Saurabh: In the current world, business strategy is agile to be very responsive to the market and customer needs. Your talent strategy should be equally flexible. You recruit for today’s role keeping in mind the organization’s long-term objectives.

We may have a very clear business plan but as an HR leader, however, it’s very important to have a view of the market talent landscape and marry them at the workforce planning stage. Any discoveries on the labour market later will cost the business additional time and money.

We may have a very clear business plan but as an HR leader, however, it’s very important to have a view of the market talent landscape and marry them at the workforce planning stage. Click To Tweet


ATT: Lastly, what are some major lessons that you think will come out of this crisis and how do we make sure that we learn from this experience?

Saurabh: I think this crisis has pushed people and organisations to think about how they can innovate and deliver. It has also catalysed futuristic innovation that was always slated to happen “tomorrow”. I believe it will be a hybrid working environment in which people will come to the office on certain days and on others they will work remotely. This opportunity has helped both genders to work from home and work at home.

Certainly, this has given us an opportunity to reexamine the status quo and build new work and family dynamics.


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Saurabh is a Talent Acquisition leader with 15 years of professional experience and a demonstrated history of working in the Internet Industry, IT Services, Management Consulting & Financial Services. He graduated in General/Global Business Management from IIM-Calcutta. Saurabh started his Talent Acquisition journey with Infosys and since then he has been part of large enterprises and startups like Ericsson, American Express, ZS Associates, and OLX Group. He has a wide experience of understanding the talent needs of the organization and developing capabilities and solutions to infuse the best talent for the organization’s growth. Over the last few years, Saurabh has played a vital role in managing Talent Acquisition for the South East Asia region (across 11 countries) and leading teams virtually in distributed set-ups. His role has been instrumental in building the Talent Acquisition Center of Excellence and rolling out end-to-end RPO programs across 11 countries with multiple business units. He is passionate about public speaking and has been a key speaker at National & International HR Summits/Conferences and also at top Engineering & Management Schools (Including IIMs).

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