Blog: What lessons did HR leaders learn from the pandemic?


What lessons did HR leaders learn from the pandemic?

On the occasion of International Human Resources Day, we spoke to many HR leaders about their learnings from the pandemic in the last 1.5 years. Here are some insights from the leading HR professionals of India Inc.
What lessons did HR leaders learn from the pandemic?

What is the one lesson you learnt as an HR leader in the last 1.5 years, since the pandemic struck?


Akash Sangole, Head of Human Resource and General Administration, Panasonic Life Solutions India Pvt. Ltd.  


"The pandemic has taught us many lessons. As organizations rallied to respond to the crisis, the biggest challenge for the HR function was how to keep the workforce safe, motivated & engaged. As an HR function, we could manage the situation by being authentic, empathetic, and resilient. The major takeaway for me was to be agile/quick and being resilient in every approach."




Annoora Singh, Head - HR, Training and Admin, Organic India

“COVID-19 pandemic presented an unrivaled situation all over the world and there is no individual or organization that was not impacted in some or the other way. Employees who had never worked remotely found themselves working from home for the first time and this has urged HR function to re-think their strategy and plans.With WFH, the role of HR has become more critical than ever before as they now are essentially the bridge between the leadership teams and employees till the grass-roots level and ensure that all employees continue to work towards a common goal and move in the same direction.”



Arun Dinakar Rao, Chief People Officer, Birlasoft


“If there is one lesson I have learnt in these 18 months, it is that “We should never forget our basics”. It has proven that empathy and care go a longer way in dealing with challenges than what they were credited for. It has proven that adversity brings out the true character/resilience among people and that necessity is truly the mother of innovation. The pandemic has forced organizations to adopt and accelerate their digital journeys, dynamically altering the way organizations look at their technology roadmap and has shown a new way of building and engaging with ‘work-from-anywhere’ teams.”



Ashish Mittal, Head of People Function, Aviva India 


“We witnessed a dramatic shift in the work culture and recognized early that we didn’t have all the answers. We realized that “learning as we go” was the best strategy of all. The one lesson that I have learned as a leader is to create a work culture that is humanitarian in approach. As leaders of a people centric organization, we have built a strong foundation with empathy, humility and strong bonds with our people.”  



Bernard Martyris, Global Chief of Human Resources, VFS Global

"Forming deep and meaningful human connections with employees has become even more critical to companies and business leaders in these turbulent times. For me, the COVID-19 pandemic required working closely with remotely connected teams to ensure agility and address the 360 degree requirements of employees and equip them to work through such a crisis via enhanced focus on Learning and Development. It was also imperative to care for mental and physical well-being through meaningful and empathetic two-way communication."



Jayashubha K, Chief People Officer, TVS Credit Services Limited


"The pandemic has been a learning curve that has taught me to be adaptive and flexible in order to survive and succeed in this COVID era. As an HR leader for a large organization, the pandemic pushed us to break through all stereotypes. It encouraged us to move from traditional to remote working style, broaden our network, learn and relearn and find new ways to reconnect with people around us.”




Mahalakshmi R., Director - Human Resources, Mondelez India 


"Today, more than ever before, we realize the importance of gratitude, wellbeing and agility. Investing in building that agile & consumer obsessed growth culture has been crucial in how we invested to build a future fit organization. Last, but perhaps most important – all of us have learnt to count our blessings, find ways to help each other/collaborate and pause to say thank you to all those who help us thrive."



Niharika Mohan, CHRO, Luminous Power Technologies

“The last one year changed the way we think, work, live, and operate – in every sense of the word. With a plethora of challenges brought upon by us, the pandemic has also left us with a lot of new realizations as well as reaffirmations of our beliefs. I have always personally believed that success in a disruptive age can come from a very ‘personalized leadership ’. Nothing can substitute compassion, empathy, and a people-centric approach. For organizations and leaders, it's important to have humility, agility to act quickly, and be open to new ideas and innovation. A new age leader must have the ability to communicate well and have the necessary skills of customer engagement.”



Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India


“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many valuable lessons and my biggest one has been to lead with compassion. I realized that softer skills of empathy, compassion and resilience are key differentiators in these challenging times. We, as leaders, need to be the torchbearers of hope and lead with our heart. We have to be more personal in our approach and find ways to connect in the new normal as there are no face to face interactions currently. Leaders should also ensure high quality interactions and bring energy to every meeting." 



Pravin Prakash, Chief People Officer, BYJU'S

"In the past year, we have experienced a transformation in the way we work, connect, and even operate on a day-to-day basis. Not only has the pandemic taught us numerous lessons and changed workplace dynamics, but it has given a new meaning to the ‘Employer-Employee’ relationship. It has taught us that empathy and transparency are key to navigate through the tough times we are in. While the HR vertical requires us to prioritise concerns of employees, it has today became clear that empathetic leadership is the need of the hour."



Preeti Kaul, President – HR, upGrad                                                                                                                                

“The year gone by has been tough for organisations across the world and has changed the very definition of workplace practices. HR function has been at the forefront of these changes while maintaining business continuity and being empathetic towards the workforce undergoing this disruption. A year back when the pandemic hit us, we recognised the heightened need for emotional well-being along with physical well-being and ensured that our employees could avail online counselling and support through a partner. As organizations, it is imperative for us to make our people and their families feel safe, supported and cared for. An authentic listening and open culture, goes a long way for organizations to rally their workforce during such trying times.”



Raghu Chandrashekar, Senior Vice President & Head Human Resources - Siemens Healthineers


“During this unprecedented period, people turned into superheroes to save the day with their resilience and empathy and I am extremely thankful to their contributions. This inspiring ecosystem continues to witness people from different walks of life, rising up to the occasion and fulfilling their commitments not just towards the organization or their family but towards each other as individuals and the society too.”




Ravi Maithani, Head of People and Culture, Tide (IN)

"As an HR Leader, for me, the pandemic has brought a paradigm shift in thinking, in terms of engaging with employees. The pandemic has seen employees looking up to HR to help them survive the crisis; as boundaries of professional and personal issues have fizzled out, by helping them evolve as Employee Partners from being Human Resource professionals. HRs are working hard to ensure that the work- life balance remains sacrosanct, despite being connected to each other 24x7, also ensuring employees find enough room to separate work and personal time -- neither of them should weigh over the other."



Reena Tyagi, Chief Human Resource Officer, Manipal Cigna Health Insurance Co Ltd

"The Pandemic has brought the people-agenda to the forefront in Organisational priorities. An important learning has been that the organisations that are committed to building strong foundations around people processes with a focus on authentic, trusting and transparent relationships can tide over all challenges. Pandemic has taught that  in the world of technology and digitisation , importance of human connect is paramount and as HR leaders we will have to be agile and keep pace with changing motivators and priorities of its people."




Ruchi Bhalla, Country Head & Vice President, HR (Asia Pacific) at Pitney Bowes


"The last 1.5 years have emphasized the need for empathy and employee well-being at the core of all decision making. One of the biggest learnings from a crisis like this is that it’s all about embracing everyone’s truth and providing an environment where everyone can bring their best selves to work by creating a more inclusive and more authentic way of living and working."



Sanjeev Meghani, Head-HR, Care Health Insurance

"This year, the role of HR would be critical in every organization; the function would need to assess the previous issues faced and look for innovative and practical ways to keep the workforce safe from future disruptions. It is critical that HR professionals across business and industry understand the new age trends - the opportunities they present and the challenges they come with. Adoption of design thinking, workplace restructuring, and constant reskilling and up-skilling will be the key focus area in the new normal."




Santanu Banerjee, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bajaj Allianz Life

“There is no alternative to two way communication. With Covid-19 crisis, our first and foremost priority was to make our employees feel secure and cared for. To make that a reality in the fastest possible time frame, we crafted a series of two way communication with the CEO, CHRO & the leadership team, to continually hear from the employees about the challenges the pandemic posed, keep them updated on the latest changes impacting them or business and shared advisories on support available for themselves and families.”




Saumya Khare, Director – Human Capital, Moglix

“HR professionals especially in the supply chain vertical have had to do “more with less for more”. It has required HR professionals to focus on the role of being innovators by leveraging digitization to stay connected to people and data to empathize with them and understand their problems. Digitization is the key for HR professionals to stay connected with employees and keep the flows of information on the latest developments and exchange of value, uninterrupted. The concurrent adoption of an empathetic outlook across the value chain paves the path for a trail of problem identification, problem-solving and disruptive innovation."



Satyanarayanan Visvanathan, SVP, Head - HR (Global) and Corporate Quality, CSS Corp

“The primary thing that the HR function witnessed and learned is the liberation from the mindset that work can be accomplished when we are co-located (or physically in the office). Physical needs (Meeting rooms, logistics, time conflicts) have melted away with a positive acceptance of collaborative tools (Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, and many more). Also, the onslaught of the variants and waves have made even the most brave-hearted to be mentally fragile. An immense amount of support and efforts have to be made for positivity to flow continuously like oxygen.”




Shantanu Das, CHRO, Amway India

"Of the many learnings from the pandemic, one of the biggest learnings has been that a business is only as strong as its people. It has taught us to be more resilient and adaptive. For us, at Amway, the pandemic has reinstated our Founder’s growth mindset of always practicing, ‘we before me’ to thrive in this challenging environment. It continues to help us stay empathetic and collaborate better, all while encouraging each other to scale new heights."





Sudeep Ralhan, Vice President – People at Walmart Global Tech India


"Last year has reinforced the lesson that it is in times of crisis when the mettle of an organization, its values and its leaders’ commitment, are truly tested. We can clearly see how leaders stand by their associates and the community.” 






Sunjoy Dhaawan, VP-HR, DHL Express India  



“At DHL Express India, we are guided by the values of ‘Respect and Result’, which means that we have always placed respect for our employees, before results. Our ‘People First’ and ‘Safety First’ approach also means that being empathetic to our employees and trusting them has always been a part of our DNA, even before the pandemic."



Sushant Patnaik, Head-HR, Aeris Communications


“Navigating through the crisis, we have learnt that healthy communication and empathetic leadership is the key to business continuity. While monetary and logistical help definitely brings relief in the short term, we have realised that what truly heals employees is empathy, emotional connect and an assurance that we all are in it together.”




Varun Mehta, Director & Head-HR, SRL Diagnostics

"With the constantly changing business environment, the role of HR has also gone under a drastic change, with digital transformation and adoption leading the way for the segment. With the introduction of new technologies such as AI ML algorithms to gain insight into internal operations, HR is winning this trend. With time as the economic scenario is expected to improve, HR policies and long-term roadmaps will play a pivotal role as businesses look to revive and consolidate. In the past year, HR has also focused on prioritizing employees’ mental health and overall well-being which will continue to be a key focus area this year as well.”



Upasna Nischal, Head of HR, India at Fidelity International

“As an HR professional, one of the most important lessons I have learnt from the pandemic is that we should never underestimate the power of human adaptability, agility and compassion. In the last year, people have displayed commendable resilience to ensure that the lights are on. While HR spearheaded several employee support initiatives, colleagues across functions joined hands with HR to implement innovative ideas on the ground. Needless to mention, most of this was made possible on the back of the unparalleled pace of technology transformation.”




Yuvaraj Srivastava, Group Chief Human Resource Officer, MakeMyTrip Pvt. Ltd.

"Almost overnight, the pandemic redefined and transformed the conventional workplace into a hybrid work model for organizations of all sizes. From boosting employee productivity to optimizing costs, the pandemic has definitely helped industry leaders to recognize and acknowledge that the gains of a location agnostic work environment are sustainable beyond the pandemic. 2020 successfully helped in establishing the foundation for a fully digital or in some cases a phygital workplace model of the future. "

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Topics: C-Suite, Strategic HR

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