Talking to us in this exclusive interview, Mr. Abraham Joseph, Vice President – Global People Function at Aequs, sheds light on some interesting aspects of 20+ years of his glorious career in human resources. He also shares some valuable insights on why employer branding isn’t merely a buzzword and how design thinking is disrupting and changing HR in its core.
Abraham Joseph, Vice President of Human Resources (Global People Function) at Aequs, endeavours to get the pulse of human capital’s reaction to organisational initiatives. As a stalwart in Human Resources with over 20 years of rich experience in shaping high performing cultures, his practical approach keeps him attuned to the requirements of the organisation. With a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resources and Personnel Management from XLRI as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing from the Apeejay School of Marketing, Abraham possesses deep domain knowledge and understanding of industry trends. Besides being an HR leader, his skills as a strategic advisor, certified executive coach, talent architect and business negotiator help in bringing depth to his role as a multi-faceted global leader. Abraham has worked with teams spread across US, France, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania, and India while holding leadership positions in various high profile organisations like Flextronics, Tata AIG, Sify, and Murugappa Group prior to Aequs. He has also had Sales & Marketing stints with companies like Premier Auto Electric and Berger Paints India Limited.
Q. With your rich experience of 20+ years of building and leading cross-cultural teams across geographies and various industries, how eventful has your journey been like? How did your career transition with the changing paradigms of HR?
A. Working with cross-cultural teams spanning across geographies and industries has truly been an eventful journey coupled with immense learning and some challenges. Every place and every team has something unique to offer, from fascinating insights into the prevailing culture to different ways of doing the same thing.
As leaders, we always strive towards standardizing systems, processes, policies across geographies to drive efficiencies. However, there always exists the challenge of how people perceive standardization in various geographies. It is but human to have perceptions that extend to both external environments as well as the internal ecosystem.
Hence it is inevitable that a leader delves deeper into the cultural orientation of the teams that he/she is working with.
I believe there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to working with cross-culturally diverse teams. Leaders need to adapt, align, coalesce different personalities, ages, and cultures around a common vision. Versatility is the key to effective leadership in this twenty-first century.
The important facets of learning from my experience having built and led high-performing cross-cultural teams – trust your team, give them the freedom to make mistakes and do not micro-manage.
Micromanagement isn’t leading, rather controlling and its wrecks the team in an undermining way. Last but not least, patience is a real virtue while dealing with virtual teams from different parts of the globe.
I have viewed a fundamental transition in the HR function over the years – what started as 75% Industrial Relations and 25% People Practices has undergone a sea change in the last decade. Below are the few aspects that I would like to highlight:
Technology, Technology, Technology:
The use of technology is bringing in a competitive advantage for different people processes. A couple of years back, very few companies were investing in HR tools and systems, now the HRIS suites have transformed the people cycle making data management easier, simpler, and fluid.
Analytics is Changing the Game:
HR teams were using basic HR metrics to measure the effectiveness of HR programs and interventions. Analytics has grown into a larger space, teams across the world are using data to assess every aspect of the employee life cycle in an organisation – from hire to retire.
Employee as Consumer:
People processes were designed and implemented based on textbook principles. In the present – day context, all people process, and policies are conceptualized, designed and implemented keeping the end-user experience in mind i.e. employees.
Organisations Get Social:
In the early 2000s, social media was new and unsettling for business leaders. Social media has catapulted into a medium that could be utilized for employer branding, reaching out to the potential candidates. Organisations are becoming increasingly active on social media.
Workers from rising economies have set a high incentive on education, experience, and abilities earned in the West. It is anticipated that by 2020 domestic multinationals in China, India and other developing economies will match and even surpass western multinationals in terms of compensation and career development. This implies skilled workers from rising economies will return home to exploit the lucrative residential markets. Local workers with international experience are more attractive to local managers than foreign workers in a similar market. HR experts should be set up to deal with the profession and compensation desires of these east– west–east pioneers.
We have stepped into an era of globalization and digitization. People teams across organisations need to continuously strive to stay ahead of the curve in order to fathom the perils and pitfalls which would unfold with the changing times.
Q. How do you personally define leadership? As Vice President of Global People Function, how do you apply that definition to your framework at Aequs? What are the biggest challenges you’re up against?
A. Leadership for me is all about inspiring others and leading by example. The growth trajectory of companies with leaders who can inspire at every level is definitely hard to overstate. According to a study conducted by Bain & Company with the Economic Intelligence Unit “inspired employees are more than twice as productive as satisfied employees”. There are numerous examples of organisations across geographies who consistently pull off heroic feats in business because the employees associated with them are motivated to make it happen.
The leadership team at Aequs walks the talk. The senior leaders exhibit behaviour and model their actions based on what they want to see from the employees down the line. We use every possible opportunity to rally our employees around the organisation goals and values. This includes consistent communication via quarterly or half-yearly forums and monthly review meetings. The leadership potential of an organisation cannot be built through a lucky accident of talent management. At Aequs, we put consistent efforts to decipher and identify the future leaders for the organisation across levels. We do not go by the fixed archetype textbook definition of a leader, rather focus primarily on leadership conversations and deliberations. While we have institutionalized a Talent Review Process to identify the high pots through a tried and tested methodology, we focus a lot on leadership assessments and reviews to chalk out individual career development plans for the identified individuals. In order to accelerate leadership development with a focused approach, the Aequs Learning Academy was launched in 2019. The academy serves as an effective learning network and centre for leadership development for Aequs.
Q. Employer branding has become a buzzword in the world of talent attraction and recruitment. Do you think Employer Branding today is more important than it was five years ago? If so, why and how?
A. Employer Branding has never been so important. In the current day context, where skill shortages and challenges are fuelled by digitization, employers are finding it difficult to attract the talent they need for their businesses. The job market is primarily candidate-driven and companies need to position themselves strategically, offering a compelling case to persuade the best people to join them. Employer branding is no longer seen as just a tagline created by marketing. C-suite leaders are also considering employer branding as one of their strategic priorities.
Employer branding is nothing but a company’s reputation as an employer and the value it brings or offers to its potential as well as existing employees. At a granular level, it is about presenting an employment experience and showcasing the organisational culture and values. Organisations are using employer branding as a medium to showcase their unique value proposition. With information available on social media, the job seekers conduct thorough due diligence of the companies before switching jobs. Everything that a candidate hears, reads about a company contributes to the decision of whether he/she is willing to work for the company. With the recruitment channels getting more noisier, organisations are identifying and making an effort to leverage all possible opportunities to promote their brand.
Q. What are some of the most successful Employer Branding tactics or campaigns that you do at Aequs?
A. Employer branding should reflect the organisation’s culture, the employee experience and the authentic value proposition should reflect in all communications. At Aequs, we embarked into the journey of carving out our employee value proposition in 2018. We gathered inputs from the employees about their experience and expectations from working at Aequs. Our Employee Value Proposition – “Leading by Values, Geared by Opportunities” is a testament of what we offer or aim to offer to the existing and prospective employees.
Social media plays an active role in employer branding as it paints a compelling and authentic picture of the employee’s experience in the company. At Aequs, we make an effort to use social media for promoting our brand and value proposition. Our corporate pages across social media platforms are updated with the current stories and updates. With the change in the communication landscape, authentic storytelling by employees has emerged as a way of engagement in social media. Our employee testimonial videos posted on the corporate website showcases what’s it’s like to be associated with Aequs.
Q. Design Thinking is disrupting and changing HR in its core. In your opinion, how can HR design employee experiences that empower critical thinking, teamwork, and innovation?
A. It’s been more than a decade since the HR function has undergone a paradigm shift. It has moved from being viewed as a personnel function to a business partner having a seat at the table. Today in this digital era, HR is on the verge of something new – it’s all about employee experience. Design thinking casts HR into the new role of being an employee experience architect. As successful companies focus upon improving or enhancing their customer experience, HR needs to approach the employee experience with similar consistency.
The concept of design thinking yields desired results when it is integrated with the understanding of the principles of human behaviour. HR function across organisations can design meaningful employee experiences by – gathering employee insights/ feedback about the existing processes, identifying the problem statement, brainstorming on solutions and building prototypes to test what works and what doesn’t. Creating this holistic approach to employee experience demands better systems to capture employee feedback. The real-time feedback from employees could be captured through interviews, focus groups, informal interactions. HR teams should be at the forefront driving these conversations across the organisations.
Many leading organisations are adopting design thinking approaches to improve the overall employee experience. To name a few – Hackathons to collect employee ideas, capturing the feedback of employees from social media platforms (“What do the employees say about us in Glassdoor”) and real-time feedback tools like pulse surveys.
LEARNING & DEVELOPMENT
Q. The development of a learning orientation is seen as an organisation-wide responsibility but how can HR practitioners play a significant role in the promotion of learning in the organisation? Also, why is a ‘learning culture’ crucial to any organisation?
A. Learning culture in an organisation breeds continuous and collective learning, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at an individual, team, and organisational level. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is deeply woven into the fabric of organisational culture. A strong learning culture helps to retain the top talent, reduce turnover, increase productivity and improve employee engagement. As the business landscape continues to change, new technologies continue to disrupt and the impact of globalization on every industry continues to unfold, maintaining the pace to succeed requires a relentless and persistent approach to learning and development. Organisations need to provide ample learning opportunities to its employees to learn, grow and adapt.
HR practitioners play a pivotal role in promoting a learning culture within organisations. Learning is not a one-way process where the corporate floats certain programs and the employees are forced to take them. Employees reap benefits from various learning interventions when it is targeted to bridge their individual learning gaps or needs. The HR team members need to initiate and lead these constructive conversations with the individual employee and their managers. Rather than painting in one brush, the L&D teams need to chalk out strategies to identify individual learning needs and develop programs to bridge them. Individual accountability is the linchpin of an organisation’s learning culture. When the corporate learning moves from a “push” approach to “pull”, the organisation wins. The HR teams need to embrace accountability by encouraging employee feedback and acting upon it. As rightly said – “Anything which gets measured, gets done”. HR teams should formulate methodologies to measure the effectiveness of any learning interventions.
Employer branding is no longer seen as just a tagline created by marketing. C-suite leaders are also considering employer branding as one of their strategic priorities.
Q. The current buzzwords of AI, Blockchain and IoT are some of the life-altering technologies that have begun to touch our lives. Will it make HR obsolete? In your opinion, how will it change our work environment, our nature of work and lives?
A. As organisations prepare to move towards a digitized future, HR needs to recognize the need for the strategic move and gauge the benefits of technology as an enabler to drive organisational effectiveness. While technology will change the way we work by providing the agility that is needed in the new gig economy, it will not make HR obsolete rather the role of HR will change. The transactional part of the HR’s role will be completely taken over by technology. This would, in turn, improve efficiency within the organisations. For example: In a hiring process, AI and chatbots would augment the candidate scouting and interview scheduling process while HR could focus on improving the candidate experience. Technology will free up HR’s time to focus on what matters. While the repetitive, time-consuming processes will be eliminated with automation, HR teams will have qualitative time to engage with employees and build networks that would provide a competitive advantage to an organisation, in the long run, attributes which could never be replaced by machines.
The rising gig economy will change the nature of work – Temporary positions will be common, organisations would contract with independent workers for short term engagements to name a few.
Q. A large number of global companies have either already consolidated their functions to a shared service centre or are considering doing so. In your opinion, how can a Shared Services model offer a tremendous improvement in efficiency and significant cost reduction?
A. Shared Services model is designed to deliver corporate support, combining and consolidating services from headquarters and business units. Shared services approach combines the advantages of a centralized and decentralized structure, bringing in the best of both worlds. With the inception of the shared services model in organisations, work is standardized, and redundancies are minimized without any reinflation of headcount. The shared services set-up provides tailor-made support to the business units and the non-value adding activities are eliminated. While cost saving is one of the primary benefits of shared services, the actual benefits go well beyond that. A shared services approach frees the business units to focus on core activities without worrying about transactional activities like payroll processing, bill payments, etc.
At Aequs, HR shared services was institutionalized in 2017. The shared services centre provides support to all CoEs (centres of excellence) by centralizing all the repetitive activities, data and personnel management. This helps the COEs to invest more time on the core activities thereby enhancing productivity and efficiency. At Belagavi, Karnataka we are stationed in an SEZ. Aequs HR Shared Services team also provides support services to the tenant organisations who are located within the SEZ.
Quick Facts About Abraham Joseph
Hometown: Cochin (grew up and education in Delhi and Jamshedpur), worked across India, now in Chennai and works out of Belgaum.
Things He Values Most: Being respectful of others, Humility, Patience and being ethical in all aspects of life.
Passionate Pursuits: Books, Interacting with People.
Greatest Influence Growing Up: My Mother and Father, who taught me the values of respecting others and being ethical in whatever one does in life.
Sports He Follows: Soccer, Field Hockey and Tennis.
Favourite Books: Business Maharajas by Gita Piramal, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.