HR professionals who are successful in the business are the ones who have grown with the firms they have worked in and have seen the firms evolve
HR also has to work a lot towards building credibility, for it to be seen as a function where careers are being made
Transition from HR to business role and vice versa is seamless when HR plays the role it is meant to
I joined HR more by default than by design. I was not adept at finance and couldn’t go beyond balance sheets. My second option was sales which in those times meant a lot of travel. I was young and I didn’t want to travel too much with my girlfriend around, the one whom I eventually married. So I went into HR. Who knew then that I will be in HR for 24 years?
Many of us in the early eighties did not choose HR consciously. It’s only in the nineties that people started looking at it as a long term career. In those times, industrial relations were the core of HR; we didn’t have talent management, organisational development, staffing etc.
My first job was at Eicher, a company which has produced some of the finest HR professionals in the country. In 1983, we were 10-15 years ahead of any other organisation in terms of practices, policies, ethics etc. Then I moved on to Ranbaxy where I used to look after HR for sales. I travelled 21 days in a month to remote cities and was working in a highly unionised environment. My last assignment was in HR in HSBC in New York.
From HR to business
On my return, I decided to join Spectranet, a company owned by Punj Lloyd, as an HR head. I was part of the top management team responsible for running the company along with the promoter. Atul Punj turned into a great friend and mentor and we were very clear that the company would need to be sold, but the business was ahead of its times. But, we didn’t exit in time and were left to manage the firm in many ways. It was in 2001 that I exited and started my own consulting firm. The model was to work with mid-sized companies, who wanted good HR advice but were unable to afford a high caliber HR head. Though our fees were high, the model worked very well and we transformed a few companies in an outsourced HR delivery model.
That is when Jagdish Khandpur, the late Director HR at Bharti, asked me to help him with a complex search which they were struggling with. I had no idea about headhunting but I gave it a shot. In two weeks, I placed the candidate. Soon the Convergys MD, who was my classmate from school, requested me to headhunt for a couple of positions. Before I knew it, I was a headhunter.
After that Heidrick approached me at a time when I couldn’t scale my business and was caught between being an individual or be an individual in a bigger brand. My transition to business wasn’t really simple. Even when I took up the Asia Pacific role in Heidrick, I had moved from being an individual contributor in a country to managing 15 different countries, markets, environments and challenges. Learning and managing that needed a high degree of adaptability and maturity from me, and I think I adapted well. That is what led me to Korn/Ferry International in a much larger holistic environment where one has transited from an individual contributor to an APAC role to a business manager managing multiple businesses across industry segments.
Being successful in the line function
HR professionals who are successful in the business are the ones who have grown with the firms they have worked in, have seen the firms evolve and have been part of the evolution in their own right. They have truly been business partners from an HR perspective. When HR plays the role it is meant to, the line between HR and business is blurred and the transition from HR to a business role and vice versa is very seamless. I think where most people are unable to make that transition is where they become domain focused and are engrossed in technicalities of the function.
HR professionals who want to move to a business role should spend at least two to four years in functions other than HR and at different locations. HR also has to work a lot towards building credibility, for it to be seen as a function where careers are being made. People need to create an aura around the HR function that it is truly a function that is important to a firm.
When you are moving from corporate to entrepreneurship to a consultant there are certain traits in an individual which should inherently be there, for you to be successful. Your emotional maturity should be of a very high order, you shouldn’t have an ego. When you are on the corporate side, you are in a control and command environment, but when you are in consulting or you are an entrepreneur it is pretty flat. If you have an ego then you have serious trouble. You are as good as the chair you sit on. The day the chair is gone, who are you. It is extremely important for you to figure that out and these traits cannot be developed. You need a very high degree of maturity when you are on your own or an entrepreneur.
HR is on the CEOs agenda today, far more than it ever was and it is more so because most of the businesses are facing an acute shortage of talent. It is time for HR professionals to step up.
Navnit Singh, Chairman & Country Head, Korn/Ferry India
As told to People Matters. Excerpts from this interview were published in the June 2013 issue