In an exclusive interview with Prashant, we caught up on his journey and his thoughts on the emerging HR practices and the challenges he foresees for Human Resources. He talks about the importance of continuous feedback and recognition at the workplace in keeping employees engaged, and the role of business and HR leadership in ensuring recognition is an ongoing affair.
A dynamic human resources leader, Prashant Utreja, Chief Human Resources Officer, Reliance Home Finance Ltd (RHFL), has a diverse experience in transforming people practices and processes across Manufacturing, Banking, Insurance, NBFC, and Mortgage Financing. Under his leadership, Reliance Home Finance & Reliance Commercial Finance have bagged the title of being the 20th Great Place to Work in India (2017) and 21st Best Workplaces in Asia (2018) in a study conducted by Great Place To Work Institute. In over 20 years of his HR journey, Prashant has been instrumental in implementing and driving robust Industrial Relations & Business HR models. His driving force has always been towards creating an agile, sustainable and employee-centric HR practices. Prashant is a civil engineer from Government College of Engineering & Technology, Punjab with a Master’s degree in business administration from SIBM, Pune.
Q. What has your professional journey been like and how has it shaped your approach to work?
A. When I started my journey in ‘99, I was as eager as any fresher would be, thinking that I was joining a profession which was about managing people and their expectations. But over a period of time, I was fortunate enough to work with some world-class institutions and some great leaders who made me realize that people should not be joining HR as a profession if they feel it is only about managing people.
HR as a profession requires you to be fair in all organisational aspects and that is a tough journey to undertake. I was quick enough to learn that Human Resource requires not only insights into people practices and processes, but also insights into the business, and the ability to marry both. Balancing fairness, both towards the organisation and the employee audience, with clarity, while keeping the organisational goals in mind, has been crucial in my HR journey so far!
Q. Would you agree that internal talent pipelines are crucial to identify and mobilize key skills within the business? Also, according to you, how can organisations curb themselves of internal silos and hierarchical barriers (if any) which make it hard for HR leaders to spot where the talent lies?
A. Yes. I am a big believer of internal talent mobilization and it is very important as it makes the organisation agile and future ready. The way I see it, for any organisation to be able to do that, the leadership team has to have a shared vision. As far as internal silos and hierarchical barriers are concerned, I see it as an organisational culture issue. I personally feel the culture of an organisation should be able to strike a balance between ferocity and humility. The culture should be ferocious enough not to allow people to work in silos and yet be able to inspire a team to do great and challenging things. One simple way to achieve it would be to articulate the cause to the team, for them to be able to move mountains for you and yet raising the bar every time.
At the same time, it is imperative to build a culture of humility by seeking bottom-up feedback, encouraging empowerment, propagating innovation, ownership and fearlessness and co-creating capability and learning interventions that will help build a strong team.
FUTURE OF WORK
Q. The rapidly changing future of work promises a brave new world of industry disruption and workforce fragmentation. What policies do you have around to develop a talent-centric culture in order to better engage and retain high performers?
A. In my view, the one size fits all approach won’t work here. The type and extent would vary for different organisations and industries. At our end, we focus on finding the right talent and providing them with challenging opportunities to bring out the best. In our culture, managing top talent doesn’t mean micro-management, but is often viewed as frequent engagement necessary to upkeep the business continuity and sustainability. We also seek multi-directional feedback (viz: Peer feedback), which is essential for course corrections and employee development.
This is because, in an agile environment, only team members and involved stakeholders have better insights into how each person’s contribution is impacting the bigger picture. We also ensure that we provide various platforms for visibility of the top talent. Showcasing their contribution/ability becomes important. It not only encourages ideation and capability building but also ensures that they are being valued in the organisation. Lastly, wealth creation through Long Term Incentive Plans and exclusive benefits not being restricted to leadership roles also leads to better engagement and retention.
Q. With Millennials being the largest generation currently in the workforce, their consideration for professional development opportunities is highly imperative to their career. How can companies ensure that their performance management process is fluid and adaptable and at the same time is able to foster talent development?
A. Leadership Teams have to first accept and reconcile that they cannot build a winning organisation without Millennials. This is the first hard stop and very difficult to achieve. I think HR leadership and HR team have a big role to play here and it requires some hard numbers and hard logic to be put up on the table!
Millennials have grown up in an age of tech boom. Hence, one can expect them to enjoy being a part of a digitally savvy workplace. They seek frequent and quality feedback which is not limited to their role in the organisation but also their overall career growth. Millennials are happy to change careers or relocate to a new area in exchange for a job with heightened empowerment and flexibility, be it in terms of work timings or working from extended workplaces or not being governed by a traditional dress code.
However, Millennials also tend to get disillusioned and disengaged very quickly. In order to get the best out of them, an organisation may need to focus on strong and pinpointed orientation programs to guide them. Since Millennials are always up for new experiences, organisations may need to create opportunities with challenging assignments and projects to stimulate their creativity.
In all these scenarios, a coach may be more useful than a traditional manager since Millennials are more interested to know the “Why or What is in it for me” rather than “How”.
Q. What are some of the biggest HR initiatives, you worked on in your previous organisations? How do you ensure that these initiatives align with the strategic goals of the company?
A. I am reminded of one of the most challenging projects I had undertaken in 2005 when I was with Reliance General Insurance. I partnered with the CEO and my fellow leaders in articulating the short/medium and long term vision and strategy for the company. This involved rigorously rallying around the goals and building consensus on strategy with the teams at large. This was extremely important as we were looking at an exponential growth over a span of three years. Exponential to the extent that we grew from being a 120-employee organisation to more than 3500 employees, clocking over 2000 crores of Gross Written Premium by the end of 2008. We eventually became the third-largest player in the private, non-life insurance space and have been able to maintain a position in the top 5 non-life insurers of the country till date.
Another initiative which is really close to my heart is the launch of an intense 1-year flagship program at Reliance Home Finance called the “Young Leaders Program”. This customized program is intended to enable readiness amongst people who grow from being an individual contributor to people managers to managing people managers. The robustness of the program includes the opportunity to share perspectives, build self- awareness, and create an individual development plan followed by a progress evaluation with feedback.
REWARDS & RECOGNITION
Q. At Reliance, what forms of recognition are offered to employees and what are the results? In your opinion, why non- financial aspects are more important than money when it comes to rewarding an employee?
Recognition in any form is always valued. As the famous saying goes, ‘People never forget the way they were made to feel’, hence, recognition should be an ongoing affair.
Our quest has always been to drive recognition at every step of the way and not restrict it to periodical time frames. Certain of our R&R practices like i-Appreciate (instant recognition), CEO’s Inner Circle (HIPO pick), Shining Star Connect with CEO (recognition specifically for frontline staff), Bright Spark (specifically the Millennials), Ambassador of Delight (for our third-party staff) have created aspiration and excitement amongst employees. This makes them do more. A simple testimony to this has been our continuous increase in our satisfaction scores in employee satisfaction surveys.
Quick Facts About Prashant Utreja
Passionate Pursuits: Movies, Cars, Globe Trotting
Greatest Influence Growing up: My Father
Sports he follows: Cricket & Football
Favourite books: “Winning” by Jack Welch & “Good to Great” by Jim Collins