Even in the best of times, the best organisations need a huge amount of conviction in believing and practicing that people are their biggest asset
Partnering with business will not happen simply because one has the intent. It requires concerted efforts and time in preparing oneself
A conversation with Rajeshwar Tripathi, Chief People Officer – Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.- Automotive & Farm Equipment Sector on how people management acquires a top position in the priority list of the organisation
Q) What have been the top 3 learnings through your career journey as a human resource professional?
Reflecting across the span of my entire career of 28 years, one of the most significant learning is that one has to really believe with conviction, in letter and spirit, that people are the most important asset for the organisation. Although this has become a cliché and a fashion statement, but it is extremely difficult to demonstrate through actions and behaviours. Even in the best of times, the best organisations need a huge amount of conviction in believing and practicing that people are their biggest asset. It reflects in everything that organisations do, particularly when it comes to the trade-offs in difficult situations and gets tested out when the chips are down Business is cyclical by its inherent nature and there will be downturns. Therefore, while you claim that your people are the greatest asset; how you treat them at that point in time is the moot question. If the same people who got you excellent results are not able to give you the same results today, how do you treat them? I am not suggesting that under-performers or non-performance should not be dealt with. But, do you still believe in your people, or your trust and belief also becomes cyclical like the business cycles?
The second big learning without which this profession cannot survive is, stepping into the shoes of the business or partnering business, which has again, become a very clichéd phrase amongst HR professionals, but in reality, it is one of the most difficult and also the most important things. There are several degrees of difficulty, the first one being constraint of time. One will have to sacrifice and give a lot of one’s time to the business, including personal time. Generally there is a huge amount of work to do in one’s core function and yet one will have to learn the ropes of the business and do it as well as one’s line colleagues. The second degree of difficulty is that organisations have become very complex with businesses not just being single stream business, but diversified businesses, along-with their off-shoots. In M&M Automotive & Farm Equipment business, for example from grapes to a tractor to a SUV, the kind of diversity in the overall business really tests one’s band-width on understanding the nuances of each of the business verticals. The third degree of difficulty for HR professionals is the pace of change, which is taking a toll. It is characterised by a huge amount of dynamism. The practitioners of the function will not be able to respond if they don’t understand the business. One very big reason why even very experienced and seasoned professionals are faltering at the top is the speed of change. The learning out of my own experience is also that partnering with business will not happen simply because one has the intent. One will have to make concerted efforts in preparing oneself and give time, to be able to partner the business.
The third important learning is that the HR function needs to have a clear understanding that everyone in the organisation, who is managing small or large teams, is fundamentally a people manager. At the end of the day, what does a CEO or a functional head or a line manager do? They all manage people and that is a significant chunk of their overall role. This aspect of the function no more remains the domain of the trained HR professionals only. Then, where does the core HR function come into play? I think HR’s role lies in its ability to prepare the organisation and its managers to manage people well and not doing it all alone. That’s a paradigm shift in thought. Building that kind of an organisational capability becomes one of the significant strengths of the organisation.
Q) What are the key emerging trends that you see with respect to the way people are managed in organisations?
The processes and principles related to people management 5 to 10 years back have undergone a paradigm shift. Today, it is more about empowerment and less about supervision.
Secondly, it is more about engaging people rather than trying to achieve something as a result of pressure, fear or duress. Engagement brings about much powerful performance as compared to the other conventional ways. This is a big shift in management thought.
The third thing is the whole aspect of diversity that is coming into the workplaces. Although in India, for various reasons, we are obsessed with gender diversity, but the social constructs beyond gender, which form the larger context of diversity & inclusion, have a highly increased appreciation and the advantages are very visible. As a society, there is much more awareness around the differently-abled people, regional diversity, etc. As a country, politically we may have a long way to go, but organisations and corporations in India today, have definitely come a long way.
The fourth very important trend is the ongoing debate around a manager vs. a leader. Unlike in the past, the current thought is that as you grow in the hierarchy, it is leadership, which assumes a higher place. Earlier there was a very big focus on managerial capability rather than the leadership capability.
The fifth trend that I must not fail to highlight is the role of technology. It has radically changed the workplace. I can be in any part of the country or the world, but I am still connected and still working.
Last but not the least, organisations and workplaces have become more globalised. Whether you have a global presence or not, whether you are exporting or not, you are working in a globalised environment because of the connectivity, exposure and interdependence. Some socio-economic or political event in some corner of the world can potentially impact your business. These are some of the changes that I see.
Q) What are the top 3 people related metrics that you track?
The 3 metrics that I constantly monitor and keep an eye on are employee engagement, talent pipeline and the organisation’s performance level on our well defined competency framework.
Q) What’s your elevator pitch to justify investment of time and effort in building strong people practices?
The truly differentiating factors for a business in the market place are all people related. Technology and other capabilities can be acquired or built over a period of time, but the people related differentiating factors take a long time to build or replicate.