Article: Thinking like a CHRO was the biggest learning from People Matters Are You In The List Award


Thinking like a CHRO was the biggest learning from People Matters Are You In The List Award

Varun Tandon, winner of 2015 People Matters Are You In The List Award reveals how the rigorous evaluation process and the ecosystem of winners enabled him to think like a CHRO.
Thinking like a CHRO was the biggest learning from People Matters Are You In The List Award

In 2015, People Matters Are You In The List recognised Varun Tandon as the emerging future HR leader, who had just started his journey at Salto Dee Fe Consulting as an associate consultant. The rising star, in the last few years, has gained diverse experiences and is today heading talent management and employee experience at Deutsche Telekom Digital Labs. Let's take a deep dive into the factors that motivated the General Manager to apply for the coveted award, how it contributed towards his growth, his choice of career and job roles and what the future holds for an HR leader in 2024 and beyond.

Excerpts from the interview: 

You were the associate consultant at Salto Dee Fe Consulting when you applied for the People Matters Are You In The List Awards. Today, you are heading talent management and employee experience at Deutsche Telekom Digital Labs as General Manager. How did the evaluation process of People Matters Are You In The List transform your career trajectory?

People Matters Are You In The List Awards

The evaluation process and the entire ecosystem of winners, past and future, has played a significant role in my growth. When I participated in 2015, I only had three-and-a-half years of experience overall. At that juncture, it was a privilege to test myself through such a rigorous process, which was unique in itself. The virtual assessment centre, interview with the CHRO panel and the case study round gave me newer perspectives into what CEOs and CXOs expect from an HR leader during early stages of my career. Since then, I have tried to model a lot of the behaviours that were evaluated, which has been a gamechanger for my success. 

Coming to the ecosystem of winners, it’s like an HR ChatGPT, where you can ask anything and there is an expert available with a response. I have learnt so much from the group and not just when I have had doubts or concerns, but the insights from their discussions alone added so much value to my life. 

What was the motivating factor for you to apply to People Matters Are You In The List Awards? What were the skills and capabilities you acquired during the rigorous evaluation process?

At the time, I was working at a boutique consulting company and it was the founder and partner, who recommended me for the award. I didn’t know much about People Matters Are You In The List or its evaluation process then. But I went ahead and applied as I came to know about the firm and saw no harm in participating. 

When it came to skills and capabilities’ assessment, I understood what’s necessary to become a CHRO. When you have only three-and-half years of experience, you are not thinking on the lines of what is expected from a CHRO, but about your next role. That alone was a learning experience. Other than that, I understood the importance of building business acumen and actually trying it out; structuring your responses to present it to senior management for greater impact.

As we look at HR today, what do you believe are the essential characteristics an HR leader needs to imbibe to lead through unconventional times?

First things first, I would say it is continuous learning. You can be mentoring your team as a leader, but you can’t stop learning as there are new ways of working that are emerging, new technology coming in and your role as a leader allows you the liberty to build a point of view and experiment. I believe that the cost of a single wrong decision in leadership is too high, hence, one shouldn’t stop investing in their own learning. 

When it comes to approaching problems and finding solutions, it is essential to be ethical, courageous, resilient and agile. Since organisations in the evolving new world of work are seeing growth and failures at an unprecedented rate, HR leaders need to be emotionally intelligent to support their peers and enable them to make the right decisions at all times. You should also develop a persona where your team and peers are comfortable to seek emotional support. 

It’s been almost eight years since you won the coveted award. What advice do you have for emerging HR leaders looking to use People Matters Are You In The List as a platform to become future-forward leaders?

To begin with, my advice will be to know your business well. I have come across leaders, who are functionally strong but lack the knowledge on how their business makes money. You should also develop the ability to link your work/projects to how they contribute towards solving business problems. It’s essential to stop running after the next shiny object and rather solve actual find solutions to your business. Next would be to take initiative; if you come across a problem or an opportunity, pick it up and start building solutions around it. It is never advisable to wait for someone else to inform you about the problem. This initiative taking trait helps build trust with the leadership.

HR needs to always build strong relations with the CEO and the CXOs, so they eventually turn to you in good times and bad. A leader needs to have an opinion, which is built on their experience and you can always fine tune it through new learnings and diverse perspectives. Always be courageous and communicate with your leadership team, and learn from them and hone your skills.

Lastly, look for innovative solutions to existing problems and don’t always stick to traditional approaches. One needs to look outside HR for solutions. For example, what can you learn from product management for building better employee experience or from consumer branding about structuring a better employer brand or even using digital marketing to get more people interested in a role within your company.

People Matters Are You In The List Awards

As you look to 2024 and beyond, what are the trends that will influence the HR function with the integration of Gen AI and other technological advances?

For me, the top three trends that will influence the way we work are as follows:

  • Movement Towards Personalisation - We, as consumers, are used to getting personalised services. This trend will shape workplaces as well. We will see movement towards personalised benefits, career and learning initiatives within an organisation, flexibility in rewards, etc. All of this will be backed by data which is the next important trend.
  • Analytics for Insight Generation - With Gen AI, we can move towards more effective insight generation but before that, it's important to harvest data properly. Data within organisations is currently spread across different systems and firms need to start looking for ways to bring it all together to be able to make more effective decisions. 
  • Emergence of Employee Experience Role - Erstwhile, HR operations and automation will be replaced with employee experience roles. This role would be more like a product manager who is listening to what the customer (in this case, employees) want and will be crafting it for them. This has started happening in some organisation but soon, it will pick up.

In the end, we can say that People Matters Are You In The List was a transformative experience for emerging leaders like Varun Tandon, who wished to carve their place in HR and leave their mark. If you haven’t yet applied for the award yet, the registrations have opened since December 20. Follow the #AreYouInTheList to know the stories of past winners, their initial years in HR and where they are today. 

Read full story

Topics: Leadership, Learning & Development, Strategic HR, Technology, #AreyouintheList?

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?