Indrajeet Sengupta joined Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages as Chief Human Resource a year back. According to him, the last year has been great for him and the team has worked closely to strive towards becoming a great workplace, a place where everyone can bring their best selves to work.
His primary role is to focus on transforming the Human Resources and Facilities Management functions and collaborate with the business to evolve HCCB into a company of significant scale and size. In this interaction with People Matters, he talks about traditional leadership vs digital leadership, the role of HR emerging in the future and the most effective leader he has ever known personally.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the role of HR transforming? And what is driving the change?
Human Resources (HR) has significantly evolved over the years owing to the changing demographics of the workforce globally. India is currently home to the youngest workforce and is adopting cutting edge technology, flexible work patterns, remote working and cross-functional learning to remain relevant with today’s employees. The shift will primarily comprise of managing a thriving ecosystem of talent and technology while addressing both demographic and regulatory challenges.
How has your journey been so far at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages? What has changed in the last twelve months of your work with the company?
As a company, we have moved forward in our digital transformation journey - incorporated cutting-edge technologies into our transport management systems and distribution systems to enable our employees to function at optimum levels. From a policy standpoint, we have removed redundant policies and replaced them with newer, more flexible policies to position HCCB as an equal opportunity employer. We wish to have a considerable part of our workforce to include women. Therefore we have a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion. This has helped us increase our women workforce by two percent over last year and shall remain a core focus area in the upcoming years.
CHROs have transformed from being business partners to a leader in the business who tackles significant issues arising out of business transformation. Do you see a spike in interest from business leaders at par with this?
Increasingly businesses are viewing HR differently and do not necessarily expect CHROs to be partners; that’s a base level expectation already. How can CHROs become an equal business contributor? Once you are a part of the senior leadership team, there is direct accountability to happen outside HR also. The shift has already happened. CHROs are equally involved in tackling business challenges and outcomes. We are also witnessing CHROs moving into more business-centric roles. At a senior leadership level, you are expected to don multiple hats and jump roles as and when required to solve complex challenges. Working in silos is a thing of the past, CHROs are here to create collaborative and well-coordinated ecosystems and solve for customers.
How do you see the rise of digital leadership? What are the fundamental structural changes that are reshaping leadership in the digital age?
Globally we are witnessing the rise of digital leadership by strategically leveraging the company’s digital assets to achieve business goals. It is finding new ways in which data and insights get translated into doing business – faster, simpler and benefiting the consumers with choices. Organizations that value digital leadership, often place value on communication, creativity and a willingness to explore new ways that technology and digital information can be used to successfully address outward-facing business projects. With effective digital leadership, an organization can create workflows and business processes that allow new applications, products, and services to be rolled out quickly and scaled up faster.
Connecting with peers and friends across the board, and practicing empathy and humility are core to defining yourselves
With this disruption of technology, is it correct to say that traditional leadership will be a thing of the past or the leaders are upbeat on enhancing the old-style under the technology umbrella?
The basic tenets of leadership remain the same irrespective of the era you are operating in. The infiltration of technology has been a blessing in disguise as it has helped in saving time, and enhancing efficiency, but sometimes adding to the madness of redundant systems. Maybe 20 years ago, leaders used to talk, orders were executed, and information was hoarded. There was relatively more stability in organization. Communication today has become a key because no one has all the solutions given the complexity we now find ourselves in. Technology has engaged data availability and forced two-way communication. This is enabling collaboration and making horizontal working easier. This means that the crux of leadership is essentially still the same. However, the attributes that make leaders humane and relatable have heightened.
What work still needs to be done to level the playing field in the C-suite and boardroom? How do you see the future of women leadership?
I believe the field is gender agnostic. There is room for leaders to thrive irrespective of them being a woman or a man, provided they bring their best attributes and business acumen to the table. Our CEO, Christina Ruggiero, is an apt example of an excellent woman leader. She’s an outstanding executive and an equally loving wife and mother. In many ways, she has also helped raise awareness of the challenges that women face in their careers. Her perspectives also help us frame our policies on developing women in the workplace. We are fortunate. We still feel that a lot of work is left to be done in this area and that’s why we have such a big focus on our diversity and inclusion agenda.
If you could rewind the clock to when you first joined the industry, what path would you have followed about being an effective leader?
I was fortunate to have kick-started my career at GE in the early 90s. Back then, it was one of the first multinational companies to set up shop in India post liberalization. The company’s scale, innovation, technology, and people development initiatives were far ahead of its time. If I had to go back in time and change one thing, it would be gathering additional cross-functional experiences to further strengthen my knowledge and ways of working with other functions.
Who is the most effective leader you have ever known personally, and why?
My father. I come from a family of doctors and my father is a surgeon himself. For over fifty-five years now, my father has practiced surgery and has worked with fellow doctors, nurses and patients, who hold him in great regard. He is in the business of saving lives which require a sense of urgency, precision and understanding implications of actions. Decision making is at a different level altogether. I have seen how he has been practicing empathy, patience, resilience, servant leadership and the ability to keep your curiosity alive – all the hallmarks of a true leader.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring leader?
For me there are three simple rules. To open yourself up to holistic business experiences in areas outside of your expertise while building and developing deep expertise in your own function. It helps in having more informed conversations with peers. Second is to be open to learning something new on an everyday basis by recognizing how one can make a difference and third is to never lose sight of ethics. There is never a right way of doing a wrong. At the same time, connecting with peers and friends across the board, and practicing empathy and humility are core to defining yourselves. Leadership is always about helping someone else solve their biggest problems and challenges.