Monday, July 09, 2018

HR in New world...from my first job to future via present: Interview taken by Sanjeev Himachali

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(This interview is also available on Interview with Vinod Bidwaik)

"CEOs look at HR as a Change agent, Functional consultant, and a Coach to the Management Team"

Introducing Vinod Bidwaik to the world is like showing light to the sun. Vinod is an accomplished HR Practitioner with over Two-decades of experience across industries. He is an Author of FIVE books (TWO in English language and THREE in Marathi). Career Coach and Mentor to hundreds of young graduates. He is one of the most respected HR Professionals in the fraternity, yet very simple and down to earth. It is a privilege for us to get his interview. Thank you, Vinod, for agreeing to this interview. We value your time. We are looking forward to your candid and honest response as you always are.
We would be pleased to learn about your journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview.
My first professional stint embarked at Indian Steel, a heavy engineering Indian company. I was hired through the campus recruitment and hence that was my first job interview. After many rounds of tests, group discussions and rigorous interviews, I was selected.
The experience was overwhelming. Though the entire process was not very complicated, however, the interview was tough. One of the interviewers asked me, “Under which section of Factories Act, the occupier can be punished.”
I was clueless. My hope started fading away but I decided upon giving the honest yet witty answer and so I said, “Sir, frankly speaking, I don’t know the section, but…”
“But what?” the interviewer looked into my eyes.
“But I assure you that, if you give me the opportunity, I will ensure that the occupier will not be penalized.” I just blurted out.
The interview continued and with every follow-up question, my nerves started relaxing. As, during my college days, I was working as a free-lance journalist and a part-time sub-editor for one of the local newspapers, they asked me few questions about that.  
Finally, I got selected. Initially, in my role, I had to support in hiring diploma and GETs & coordinate their training to work on a machine for machining jobs and on the assembly line.  
I was very happy because it was my first job in HR (Personnel).  
Few things I learned; be confident, be honest and be clear what you want from your life.
An interview should not be the question & answer session but, should be a meaningful conversation. Both parties should treat each other with respect.
Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail?
I have given a lot of interviews. After working with Mahindra & Mahindra I wanted to work in strategic HR aspects and was exploring the opportunities outside. One day my ex-boss, who had started his own consultancy, called to apprise me that one of the biggest media companies (Sakaal Media Group) was looking for a candidate who would be the deputy to the Chief HR Officer. I decided to give a try. My initial interview was mainly focussed on business plans, establishing professional HR function and company’s mission and vision. The managing director was very vocal about his expectations.  
I liked the company’s approach and my role. The entire hiring process took almost 3 months that included many interactions with the senior leadership team.  
I believe that an interview should not be the question & answer session but, should be a meaningful conversation. Both parties should treat each other with respect.
The first job is a major milestone for many people. Let’s discuss your first year at the job. How was your experience? What were your expectations from your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation?
My first job as an HR was hiring & training GETs and diploma holders to work on the shop floor. I assumed this job to be easy; as after all, it was just hiring and training them. However, after joining I realized the true challenges. The first challenge was to attract candidates for a budgeted salary to work on the shop floor. Another challenge was training them. The attrition was high as 50% of candidates used to leave within a quarter of months after joining. The word ‘training’ may sound easy but, it requires resources and subject matter experts to train the candidates. The pressure to deploy people to the shop floor was so much that we could not do justice in training them.
The situation was totally different than what I had expected. After a year, the union started creating issues and one day a gherao was conducted for work managers and personnel manager. The Union went on strike.  It was difficult to run the plant. Finally, the management decided to declare the lockout.  My colleague, who was handling IR issues, left the organization because of pressure. 
My manager then called me and said, “Vinod, now you don’t have any hiring, would you like to assist me in industrial relations”. My first job in IR was to draft and issue the suspension pending inquiry to union office bearers.
I was scared but I took the challenge. After few months, the management resolved the issue but not before I learned about hard & soft dimensions of handling Industrial Relations and got an opportunity to build a relationship with unionized workmen.
Indeed, my first job was challenging and perspective building.
Be open to asking for help from peers and seniors to learn new things.
According to you, do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience?
Mentors and coaches definitely play an important role in the development of employees. However, sometimes we don’t recognize our informal mentor and coaches who may not be directly assigned to train you but nevertheless; you learn a lot from them.
My story is similar. My each and every boss has been my coach and mentor. By observing them, I learned what to do and what NOT to do. If you have a formal mentor or coach, you are lucky.  But don’t mind if you don’t have. Just be curious and learn from others.
Also, read good books. Books are true friends and mentor and there are lots to learn from books.  
Be open to asking for help from peers and seniors to learn new things.
CEO looks at HR as a Change agent, Functional consultant, Coach to the Management Team.
You are an HR Practitioner for so many years. Could you please tell us why did you choose this profession? If not in HR, what another profession you would have chosen for yourself?
Frankly, I was never inclined towards HR profession while pursuing my education. I initially worked as a journalist and then moved to sales in Media Company. Working there, I realized the need to learn management skills and hence I enrolled for the management degree. In the process, when I started learning HR, it became evident to me that HR aligns with my personality. HR has that potential through which I can impact the society and make a difference which is my ultimate goal.  
If not HR professional, I would have been a professional news anchor and journalist.   
Having worked in a leadership role, what do you think are the expectations of a CEO or the Management Team from its HR Function in general and HR Head in particular?
CEO looks at HR as a Change agent, Functional consultant, Coach to Management team members. Their expectations are clear. They look for what & how HR strategies are aligned with the business strategy.
From an HR leader, a CEO expects to establish coordination between all MT members, and develop & maintain the team dynamics of MT team.    
In the same breath, can you also highlight about expectations of employees from the HR Function of an Organization?
Employees expect better employee experience. They need simplicity and freedom of work. They expect HR to intervene if something goes wrong in the team, function or the organization. They also expect that HR should be fair and reasonable and devise simple policies. Another expectation is of transparency and openness. They expect HR to be a role model.  
According to you, what are the key challenges of being a representative of employees as well as a representative of company management? What kind of conflicts you have faced and how did you manage to overcome them.
A simple example is yearly ACR (annual compensation reviews). Employees always expect a good salary hike irrespective of how company or market is doing. On the other side, a company has its own limitations in terms of budget.
HR role here is to work on a simple job evaluation and compensation philosophy, benchmarked with the market and then explain this in simple language to employees. If it sounds logical, employees are bound to accept the change easily.  
Change management or organizational redesign is another challenge where you have to be logical and balanced. This is needed to be successful in the business. Sometimes, the effect of the redesign is unpleasant. The question is how well you handle it. If you have to let go of a few people, how you intend to manage the situation.
The key is to be open, transparent and logical.
We can’t survive if we continue to work in the same way as we used to work in the past.
HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners?   
Social media has made the life simple of HR professionals but it is tricky; simply because you have a platform for talent sourcing, communication, and employer branding but tricky because your employee may tarnish the image by putting something wrong on the social media. To avoid such circumstances, you should have a well explained social media policy in place.
AI & robots may take away few transactional jobs and may impact the profession but, HR professionals must be creative to safeguard their roles in the future. We can’t survive if we continue to work in the same way as we used to work in the past.
Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? Why should anyone join this profession? And, what are key competencies one must have to be successful in this profession?     
HR professionals make an impact on the business but you have to reinvent yourself. Try to learn what future may look like. Most of the jobs in HR may go redundant like payroll processing, recruiter, training co-ordinator etc.
Few jobs will be transferred to consultants from company payroll. Gig economy is another factor where HR professionals can work with different companies if they have specialized skill sets.
My humble submission is, “don’t join this profession because you think it is the job in an air-conditioned office. Please don’t give the stupid answer that you like dealing with human beings”.
If you are courageous, agile & want to make the impact on the business, then only join this profession.   
To have a great career in HR, you must be prepared and willing to learn and experiment throughout your life. One size doesn’t fit all. The way HR is required to work in an MNC differs from the way it needs to function in a start-up or in a family-run business. HR needs to have this understanding.  
Thank you very much, yet again, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it. 

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