Surabhi Sheshadri | Head-L&OD and D&I | Boehringer Ingelheim India Pvt. Ltd.
The primary questions that led me to choose to enter the field of HR were: what would I enjoy most? And where would I find meaning? I think the fact that HR is not an exact science but an intuitive science, or shall I call it an art. That drew me towards this field of study. The ambiguity and complexity of dealing with human behavior and emotions and dealing with soft intangible aspects of an organization is highly intellectually and emotionally stimulating and satisfying for me. The very prospect of having the potential to impact many lives that make or break an organization through the power of people is very exciting!
Points of differentiation
Having immersed myself into various forms of arts or disciplines like music, dance, languages, philosophy, mythology etc., I tend to be particularly perceptive of people’s emotions, cultural contexts, and the intangibles through intuition. This experience of my being helps me cross-pollinate ideas or approaches and influences my behavior in dealing with any challenge at work. I usually follow a systems thinking, considering a holistic perspective of any talent decision that is taken, under the purview of my knowledge and experience. This balanced approach helps me in abstract thinking or visioning, and to quickly synthesize several levers to effect organization change.
With clarity of purpose, inner strength and courage I can get along people to rally behind one goal, to navigate through the organization culture and values to create an everlasting impact. I believe in continuous learning myself and never shy away from challenges. Passion, integrity, and resilience are some values I stand by to drive execution of any intervention. I have had great opportunities to design and deliver cultural transformation and strategic talent development interventions and have been typically appreciated for dealing with complexity and ambiguity with a smile on my face.
Biggest Talent Priority to solve
Despite the extensive work around talent, I believe we have only scratched the surface when it comes to talent development and retention. We end up treating the symptoms rather than target the core, also because it is not easy to do so. How would one guess, beyond certain limits, what would the competencies of future look like? With all the good intention to provide great people experience, it is not always easy to balance or control the complex interaction of systems and elements within the organization that create this experience for people.
If we are dealing with a talent retention problem, it’s not just that, it is probably a culture issue. How could we marry technology and data-driven insights to better manage the organizational elements to create a better people experience and culture? How do we create a better integration of life and work beyond the work-life balance myth? How do we cater to the diverse needs of people and complex human emotions? How do we create a compelling sense of purpose to engage people to deliver through their discretionary effort and commitment?
The one thing I will retain in HR
End of the day, the core of Human Resources is human beings. The humanistic perspective of HR should never change despite the emergence of technology or Artificial Intelligence. The human touch-point and discretion that humans can bring, machines or AI cannot. When your employees are dedicated, devoted and loyal for the organization, they can do wonders. Human capabilities are limitless. Our bodies and minds can do at least 100 to 1000 times more than what we currently use it for. We need to engage people with respect, trust, benevolence and once they set their minds to taking the organization to great heights, they will, no matter what. No machine/ technology /insight/ strategy can replicate this effect.
We can have technology as a very significant enabler of business relationships, but human warmth, relationships, the ability to create and visualize business models, the ability to develop strategies, to define and contribute to a better society, are very difficult to replace with machines. In this sense, I believe that human talent in organizations is the great distinguishing feature; it is the great enabler of growth.
The one thing I will change in HR
Currently, HR needs a Business sponsor to flourish within an organization simply because they are not the direct revenue generators. But so are other enabling functions like marketing or strategy. I think we need to up our confidence (by moving from a trusted advisor to credible activist role – Dave Ulrich) and that will happen when we are above our game in understanding the external and internal Business imperatives and accordingly shape our people strategy to roll-out any intervention/ Program/Process/Policy.
We need to run HR like business. Another correlated issue is the perception about HR. You see, anybody in business can easily move into HR, it sounds logical and easy. However, the reverse is rare and few and doesn’t seem as simple or logical. Even if we look at the talent pipeline, on campuses, barring a passionate few, HR is not the first choice of field of study/ practice for many. That needs to change.
Vision for HR's future growth
The most successful companies are those who put customers at the centre of everything they do. We could pick a thing or two from how marketing has successfully established its position in the Organization’s Business strategy. I believe that HR will need to become more like Marketing in the future by catering to employee experience. Marketing has been successful in establishing the linkage between consumer behavior translating to commercial success and hence customer experience becomes an integral part of any business model. We already know that culture drives structure and strategy. How can we shape a culture of exploration to create a whole experience about refining the employee journey through mapping, and understanding the value proposition to create a customized employee experience?
The end-to-end people experience is derived from a complex interaction of elements and it’s essential that each is monitored, understood and managed. We should ask ‘how do we get better at understanding our employee experience, from how they create relationships at work, how they fit into the business strategy, and how they support and promote the company brand’. HR should be powered by data-driven insights that determine the creation of compelling experiences for employees.