A leader with over 15 years of experience in leading and managing a diverse workforce, across industries and cultures, Navneet Kumar Ahluwalia is presently Head - Human Resources & Administration at Fujifilm India.
Part of Fujifilm’s global talent leadership team, Ahluwalia provides strategic leadership on people agenda. His prior work experience includes stints across supply chain, consumer durable, automobile and the IT industry with companies like Panasonic, TCI Group, CMC Ltd. (owned by TCS) and LG Electronics.
In a candid conversation with People Matters, Ahluwalia shares his biggest learnings from working in culturally diverse organizations, managing a multi-generational workforce, and his mantra to lead - ‘Value for People’.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
In a career journey spread across diverse industries and cultures, what has been your biggest learning?
There are distinct characteristics that I have learnt over the last 15 years, working with Indians, Koreans and the Japanese. The first is discipline, followed by promptness in responding to employee queries as an HR professional, and third is agility in executing strategies. Agility is one thing that I specifically learnt from Koreans, given how aggressive they are when it comes to achieving targets. Moving on to Japanese, there is a significant difference in how they approach people, how they treat people. They love working with people and taking everybody together, with their main focus being process improvements. With Indian organizations, my major learning was valuing people. For instance, when it comes to performance issues, they don’t make hasty decisions and immediately ask people to leave, instead they give these employees an opportunity to develop themselves and spend time understanding the employee and their background. These are some of my biggest learnings over a period of 15 years.
How challenging is it for you to implement decisions and policies that are perceived differently by different segments of the workforce, given the conflicting priorities and requirements of today’s multi-generational and diverse workforce?
Depending on the nature and need of bringing in a change, you need to assess whether it is in the interest of the organization and its people or not. At times you have to be more aggressive in order to get things done. But, you must also realize that this transition needs to be taken care of in parallel to the human values, since end of the day it’s people who make up the organization. If I am not valuing my people, then I am not justifying my role here, which is why my focus here is also to trigger an emotional connection in people, especially when we talk about areas like about diversity and inclusion. You have employees coming in from different castes, color, profession, different characteristics and different traits.
If I am not valuing them for who they are, then I am not adding any value by hiring and developing them.
I have to accept them the way they are and then value them. If you value your people, they will in turn value the organization.
What according to you are the key pillars of building a cultural fabric that fosters inclusivity?
Respect, Value, Promptness
What is the role of leadership in driving the agenda of diversity and inclusion? How can they contribute towards successful execution of diversity and inclusion initiatives?
Leaders have to guide the organization to become diverse and inclusive. But before that, I believe they are also the ones who need to be coached and guided well in understanding, introducing and managing diversity.
For instance, technical and specialized roles constitute a significant proportion of a healthcare organization, with people having been in the organization for a good 15 - 20 years. What leaders need to understand is that going forward it’s the younger generation that will take this business forward and they come with a very different approach. The younger segment of the workforce is aggressive, creative and demanding, they also come from different institutions, different regions, and with their own culture and beliefs in place. When they enter the organization, they have to report to people who have been in the organization for a long time. Given these dynamics, it is not the younger generation that needs to acclimatize to the organizational culture, rather it’s the top management and the managers who need to open up and broaden their thought process and accept the next generation the way they are.
Somewhere with the current generation, they will always look out to question the status quo and thought processes. Now if my leader and second in command are very well equipped and educated in this regard, they’ll have the ability to accept this shift. It is therefore the top management and the second layer of leadership which has to be educated first before you think of bringing in diversity in the workforce.
That surely resonates with emotional intelligence. While it’s essential for leaders to build on this skill, it’s also important for the millennial workforce to be open to what the organization and leaders have to say. What is the role of an HR leader in bridging the generational gap?
The important role that an HR leader plays here is in creating a balance between both levels. Millennials are go-getters, they look forward to more roles, responsibilities as well as compensation. But, somewhere down the line, they need to be properly guided and coached, they need to be given a reality check, telling them how things work in an organizational setup, at the same time aligning the senior workforce with similar expectations, as they are the ones who will coach the millennials ultimately and extend support when needed.
It is about creating a balance between the two.
How can leaders assess the effectiveness of DNI program?
I learnt from my very first boss that as an HR leader there are three key things you must do - you have to smell the place, you have to see the place and you have to listen to the place.
If I am walking on the floor, I should be able to assess if something is wrong. Personal connects and informal feedbacks are the best mechanisms to ascertain inputs. While surveys could give you data, having such interactions helps you recognize the pulse and true sentiment of the employee. Building good relationships and connecting with people will enable you to value people, creating value in the long run.
Can you tell us what diversity and inclusion means to you in one word or a phrase?
Value for People!