Gurveen Singh is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, a British multinational consumer goods company and a producer of health, hygiene, and home products. Gurveen joined RB as HR Director India and was promoted to the role of Manpower Planning Director, and since then, has moved up the ranks at RB. Gurveen shares more than just her views on the future focus of HR, attracting talent, positioning RB as the employer of choice, and diversity. In this interview with People Matters, she tells us how her career trajectory unfolded and the things that have influenced her in life.
You have a breadth of experience across developed and emerging markets in various positions. What has been this journey like and what is that one thing that had the most positive influence on your career & your approach to work?
The last 25 years of my career have been really exciting. Although, 25 years is a long tenure in one company, my career at RB has been rich and fulfilling. I don’t think I have ever felt complacent or unchallenged in any way. I have always instinctively searched for opportunities that have challenged me, and I have faced situations with courage and curiosity in equal measure. For me, every day is a new day that brings new opportunities, and I aim to make a meaningful impact on the communities we work for, as well as the wider society. This not only inspires me, but it also helps me to learn, stay agile, and connected.
Talking about the experiences that have shaped and influenced me and my leadership style, there are many such instances. Every major experience in my life has made an impression on me, whether it was traveling alone in a rumbling train which gave me courage and the ability to understand people and their motivations; or for that matter, spending a year on my own in the US during the 1970s without the luxury of having mobile phones or the Internet. These experiences gave me a heightened sense of self-awareness and also enabled me to be culturally agile. But personally, my father has had the biggest influence on my life. He taught me the invaluable lesson of how to nurture, listen, and follow my heart. He taught me the value of ideas and that no idea is bad; rather, a lack of ideas means no territory to explore new directions.
HR is usually the first function that absorbs the effects of changing workforce needs, demands, and trends. What do you think the HR should focus on for the future?
In this rapidly changing in the world, we have a choice — to disrupt or be disrupted. Today, HR is at the forefront of driving change in organizations. For future, the core focus of HR should be on, Firstly, to embrace all kinds of great talent, regardless of its origins. HR in future will lead the charge on spotting awesome talent that can disrupt and make a difference to lives. Secondly, HR should focus on purpose-driven outperformance as it is the custodian and incubator of an organization’s values and culture. It needs to connect its people to the organizational purpose. Thirdly, mass customization and personalization should be a priority. The world is moving towards personalized solutions and customization and HR will be uniquely challenged to listen deeply, engage with the demands of talent, and impact their lives in a way that is meaningful for them individually. Fourthly, HR has to create a magic culture. If you subscribe to the adage that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then what becomes critical is how we keep the culture fresh and magical. HR’s role is to ensure that the organizational culture is well positioned across all social channels.
The workforce today is multi-generational. What policies do you have around skill development for both these talent brackets?
Multi-generational workforce is a reality today. As an equal opportunity employer, we are open to hiring people from all backgrounds, genders, and orientations. We have programs to rehire returning moms to the workforce as well as to hire people who have left the industry. The focus is on developing people, irrespective of where they come from, across levels. Our flagship global leadership programs – Embark, Elevate, Explore, Accelerate and High Performing Teams are tailor-made for our colleagues across all careers, life stages, and levels of the organization. RB believes in the 70-20-10 model of learning and systematically creates opportunities for people to learn from other colleagues around the world. We have managed mentoring and coaching initiatives for our key talent during crucial career stages like transitions, promotions, or simply to move their performance from good to great.
Most importantly, we believe in entrusting our people with meaty roles and responsibilities and giving them the empowerment to make a difference to the market, to themselves and their colleagues in meaningful ways.
The emerging markets have become extremely important for RB over the past few years. What are the challenges that you face in attracting talent and positioning RB as the employer of choice?
Employees, and especially millennials, tell us that they want to make a difference and RB offers exactly that opportunity. What has contributed to this win has certainly been our purpose-led mission. We provide a unique opportunity to our early career employees like Management Trainees to make a difference to lives of underserved Indians. RB supported the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' by the Government of India, through a campaign "Dettol Banega Swachh India" in 2015. The BSI program has been implemented across the country as a national movement with a top priority for behavior change for better health, hygiene, and sanitation practices. We are also working with over 200 villages of India to make them Open Defecation Free Zones. All management trainers go through a mandatory rotation where they work on real public health, sanitation and education projects that directly impact the community and country. For us, connecting the dots between our employees’ personal values and our mission of healthier lives and happier homes works extremely well for engaging people. This is one of the reasons why RB has been voted as one of the top 5 companies by premier B School Graduates across all sectors where students want to work. Our entrepreneurial culture provides us with the opportunity to make a real difference and our career possibilities are limitless because we’re not defined by rigid career paths.
Companies recognize that having women in leadership roles can provide a more diverse approach to business decisions. But women still remain greatly underrepresented in top positions. What do you think the corporates and women themselves can do to overcome barriers and grow women leaders in the workforce?
Diversity & Inclusion is about being and building a better business. It is not "just a women's issue”; it’s a business issue. RB is clear that we need the partnership of all genders to make the ecosystem inclusive, nurturing, and supportive. At RB, we have a program called DARE (Develop, Attract, Retain, Engage) to develop, attract, retain, and engage talented women in RB. But when I think about each of us doing our part, I think it includes creating a safe and secure work environment, having zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, going above and beyond to create a safe work environment for all, and focusing on building a workforce as diverse as the consumers we serve to enable great business results. It is also imperative to understand what it means to have an inclusive mindset, then think about what that means on how you approach your job, your team, your organization. You have to deeply examine unconscious biases and all the ways it shows up challenging ourselves to slow down and interrupt/counter that bias.