'Don't go into HR because you like to work with people'
Why did you choose HR as a subject to specialise and make it your career?
I love achieving results through people and I believe that organisations can win in the marketplace if they get their talent strategy in place. I am not in HR because I love people. Certainly, I do enjoy working with people, helping them grow, develop, become better leaders, better professionals, but the primary reason I chose HR is because I am passionate about achieving results through talent.
What I mean is that HR’s role is not about making people happy. Creating a happy workplace is a by-product of HR’s role; it is not an input you should be focused on. It is going to be an output, over which you may or may not have control. The inputs you need to focus on are understanding and assessing talent, making sure you hire the right talent, develop the right people, and focus on building leaders and creating an awesome culture that encourages the core values that a company has, whatever be those core values. And therefore you win through talent, in the same way as you win through innovation, better processes, better financial management. You can significantly alter the future of an enterprise through the judicious deployment of talent.
What are the most important skills that HR professionals need to develop to create value in organisations?
The first and the foremost is that you have to understand the detailed workings of your business, industry and the ecosystem in which your company operates, how the company makes products, services, revenues, delights customers through people. The second trait that I look for in HR people is how you present your data. It is not just about being comfortable with data, but also adding the presentation layer in a way that it enables effective decision making. And the third attribute of a strong HR leader is how you prime the organisation so that its culture is diffused rapidly.
It is not just important to be a czar and culture carrier as people make out HR to be, it is about the ability to diffuse that culture into the organisation so that it reflects in the practices and everyday behaviour. And fourth is that do you as an HR professional understand how to find, keep and grow talent and are able to define a scientific framework that enables you to make these people decisions about finding, and developing the right talent.
You have been associated with technology companies since the beginning of your career. How is HR different in this sector? Employees in the technology sector seem to enjoy one of the best perks and benefits across industries but still the employee turnover is reported to be one of the highest. Why is that so? What causes such instability?
It is an industry where change is a part of your everyday life, be it the products that you make, the services that you offer, you are constantly being challenged by the market place, by your own team, by your competitors who are innovating all the time. Unlike other industries, in the technology industry you have external forces that can disrupt you overnight. Since you are constantly under threat for the next faster, bigger, quicker cheaper, product company service out there, you are on the move all the time, therefore it is easier for companies to very quickly differentiate the employees who are able to thrive in this change and the ones that are struggling. Sometimes employees don’t like the pace at which the company is working, some find it too slow, some find it too fast, some find it not what they exactly want to do.
The turnover is directly correlated to the rate of change that the industry has, which is the highest in the world. And therefore it is not about a company having high attrition or low attrition, it is just that the pace of change is so rapid that if you work in this industry the knowledge you gain can very easily be two or three times more than what you would gain in a not-so-fast changing industry. People move not because they are not happy, people move because the opportunities available in the industry are so exciting that there is constant need for developing skills, more experiences, constant need for the next bigger, brighter, shinier thing out there. It is driven by external forces as much as it is by the internal forces.
What drives innovation and how do you build that culture in an organisation?
That is a million dollar question. If people can find one answer to it, they can solve many of the world’s problems. For example at Facebook, the process that we have has never been written in any other textbook. There is no textbook that says this is how you build a site for a billion users. These are really hard problems to solve and the only way you can solve this is by bringing a group of incredibly smart people together, taking out everything that stops them from innovating, creating an incredible work culture, busting bureaucracy, bringing them together and letting their imaginations run loose, allowing them to fail faster and harder, because there are a lot of things that we try which work, some don’t. If you are encouraging innovation you need to have a culture that fundamentally encourages people to fail faster so that you can get to doing the right thing faster.
If you are trying to build a culture of innovation, you need to change a lot in your organisation. Number one, you need to focus on making the organisation social by design, meaning you need to bring like-minded people and you need to have a manager or a leader who can help them visualise the big picture and not get into the minutiae of daily management. You need to build confidence with people that they can fail, and trying something new and attempting something new is not something they should be afraid of. You need to build a culture of rewarding innovators and identifying people in the organisation who are innovative by nature. You need to tell the organisation that what is really important is our ability to innovate and therefore all practices need to be aligned to that outcome that we hope.
How has social media impacted employees and HR in general?
To start with, we have gone from traditional recruiting to social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, be it finding talent, finding references, advertising etc. Social technologies like Facebook have changed industries because they offer a very authentic platform for the buyer and seller to exchange information, without the need to interact with the intermediary. As organisations start embracing social technologies, they will experience changes. These changes will be in how information gets processed, how customers interact with the company. There will be specific networks for employees, vendors and customers and information flow will be seamless. All these will change work structures significantly and HR needs to lead that. And that’s what has been my pitch for the last two years. This is a massive opportunity for all of us, we have a chance to lead our company into the next era of work. HR leadership will be under significant spotlight and pressure, those HR leaders who know how to embrace social technologies and use it in a way that is exponentially additive to the organisation are going to be the ones who will be extremely in demand.
Your message to young professionals and HR professionals in specific?
Don’t go into HR because you like to work with people, it is a dangerous analogy. If you are thinking of making a career in HR or you are in HR and thinking about where you can add value, you need to have a point of view on how your company can win in the marketplace through talent. It could be on many dimensions, the way you hire, grow and keep people. You need to have a strong point of view on what is the value that you as an HR professional are adding or helping your firm to innovate and stay on top of what they are doing in the market because you understand talent. You need to be in HR because you are passionate about talent, the outcome of which is that you find joy in achieving results through people. The wrong way of looking at it is, oh! I really like people and therefore I need to be in HR, I really want to debunk that perception.