Priyanjali Kharbas, Vice President - People Practices and Culture at AgroStar, has played a crucial role in accelerating the company's human capital investment to keep pace with the scale. With over 16 years of HR experience across various functions, Priyanjali has built an expertise in managing and enabling people and teams across multiple growing and thriving organisations. Her experience includes working for large-scale organisations such as Infosys and Honeywell. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Priyanjali shares her insights on the changing talent trends, how organisations can re-imagine their people practices and how AgroStar leads a purpose-driven culture.
As we brace ourselves for the disruptive future of work, what are those emerging business trends that will redefine the talent landscape in the coming months?
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on economies and businesses and has led to a shift in the way we interact with one another at work and socially. Some of these shifts, such as fully remote working, have been transitory. In contrast, others, such as the ongoing transition to hybrid work models, focus on unit economics and are likely to last a long time.
Organisations realise the importance of flatter, more flexible structures that allow the company to reorganise teams and respond to change quickly. As a result of social and political turbulence, work-life fusion, and hybrid work, employees' roles have become more complex (and demanding). Business models, ideas, and information are constantly expanding, combining, and shifting in the digital economy. For employees to solve complex problems, they must be creative, critical thinkers, and constantly upskilled in digital technology. The hybrid working style allows people to have a greater choice of where to work, when to work, and how much they work and fulfil the needs of a changing world in a much better manner.
Automation and people have become a killer combination in the workplace. Today, employees also want to be associated with companies that drive an impact and have a purpose. Solving real-world problems is a parameter that motivates people to choose the company they want to be associated with.
Having spearheaded so many exciting people projects in your career, what is the transformation in HR strategy between then and now? What are some of the ways you approach talent management differently today?
I believe talent management has undergone a massive transformation in the past decade. From a static idea of putting employees into boxes based on their performance and potential and focussing on a few, talent management today is much more inclusive. There is a growing realisation that for companies to be successful and fast, teams need to be lean, connected and complementary. Talent is calling the shots in this market and is driven by impact, purpose, challenging roles, and talented peers more than the traditional motivators of the past. Companies must communicate their purpose and find talent that connects strongly to their purpose. They will need to understand that while hiring external talent with specific skill sets is critical; it's equally important to leverage internal talent with unique skill sets and cultural connectedness. Talent management has now moved to give employees multiple experiences to be more well-rounded. Collaboration skills are becoming of utmost importance, and the lens of talent management is more about teams where there is a need to put complementary skill sets together to achieve goals.
Another way I believe talent management has changed is that we are now looking at talent through a more compassionate lens, understanding that they have responsibilities outside work - this is resulting in a lot more flexible models of work which we see even high performers opting for.
Equal emphasis must be given to the fact that different generations bring different mindsets. It is essential to analyse your employee set to make sure you manage talent based on a holistic understanding of your employees at a granular level. There is also a steady rise in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. However, the thought process is not to add a tick to the checklist. Companies slowly understand the strategic benefits of having a diverse, equitable and inclusive force. Diverse people bring diverse perspectives, more creativity, better employee engagement and problem-solving, thereby leading to better success of organisations. Organisations need to change with changing times and changing mindsets.
For a fast-growing company such as AgroStar, talent is a critical asset and variable for business growth. So how have you ensured that people find purpose and meaning in their work at Agrostar? What do their growth journeys look like?
It's easier to find meaning in our work because our organisation has a strong purpose with our mission statement of #HelpingFarmersWin. We are very open about being mission-oriented in everything we do and communicate openly that solving grassroots problems is a complex yet challenging goal. Understanding if potential talent is connected in some ways to that mission is a part of our hiring process. Once employees join, they are connected to our customers through various programs like field visits (Krishi Connect) and Choupal as part of our induction. Employees go to our farmer's fields and interact with them. We also conduct farmers' town halls where we have farmers coming to our offices to share stories of their journey, and we do a lot of storytelling around the impact created by our work.
These conversations with our customers and around them help employees truly understand the impact of our work. Our founders also believe in and promote an open and accessible environment where employees must drive initiatives with a founder’s mindset. Risk-taking is encouraged, and failures are accepted as learning. This also ensures that our team members act with purpose as entrepreneurs. Our talent philosophy is to identify employees' superpowers and align them to impactful work which leverages that fully. We have 100+ employees who have completed more than five years with the company and have grown across levels to take up leadership roles. We also encourage employees to move to different teams to take up challenging problem statements - multiple examples of people moving from HR to Sales, Finance to Ops, and more - this acts not just as inspiration for new employees to chart out their growth in unique ways but intrinsically drives a culture of collaboration and innovation.
What would be a word of advice or lessons you learned in leading people practices that you would like to share with our community?
After playing people practices roles in companies spanning different industries and different growth trajectories, here is what I believe is something critical for all people practitioners to know and practice:
- Be intensely curious. Speak to people, check how they are doing, and what work they are doing irrespective of your role. Understand others' points of view and listen before making judgements.
- Be super optimistic. Optimism doesn’t mean the delusion that all things are perfect at work but the understanding that we recognise positives in the environment and actively solve any existing issues.
- Be an amplifier in the organisation. Share positive business news, recognise acts of our value, and connect people who have shared passions.
- Be a problem solver. Employees need to look at you and know that you can solve problems or be constructive and guide them if they come to you.
- Have deep empathy. You are the balancing person as an employee champion and a strategic business advisor. Take that responsibility seriously.
- Believe in the power of nudging. Don’t get disheartened if your ideas are not appreciated from the get-go. Decisions and changes linked to people are layered and take time.
- Understand what core to your organisation should remain unchanged whatever the external situation - Protect that core. Be open to changing everything else based on changing times, mindsets and customer feedback. Iteration is the only constant towards innovation and fantastic employee experiences.