Month: July 2014

HR in India, Notes from the 2014 Nasscom India Annual HR Conference

I attended the Nasscom India HR Conference in Chennai last week.  From conversations in recent years, I’ve noticed a lot of interest and curiosity about the India HR world externally as well.

Here’re some of my key notes and perspectives from the conference:

  • One of the most encouraging discussions to hear was from senior business leaders, recognizing that HR leaders can be actively considered as CEO succession candidates. There was recognition at the CEO level that HR leaders can have a tremendous impact on the business, due to immense amount of knowledge about the talent, organization, culture and the ability to engage with them successfully.  What would it take for an HR leader to be considered?  There was a feeling that business, financial and strategic skills can improve.
  • It would be important to have HR experts on the boards of companies (this came from senior business leaders).  Currently, there seems to be little expert knowledge or in-depth discussions on company boards.
  • Importance of having a strong personal value system and caring attitude towards employees (‘H’ in Human Resources) was highlighted.  This approach from leaders and HR was seen to have a high impact on employee engagement.
  • It is impactful for business leader development to rotate to HR roles but seems to not sufficiently happen the other way.  Most panelists felt that it would be very important for an HR leader to have done at least one job outside HR.  HR professionals sometimes do not feel confident or motivated to take up external assignments.  Talent development support and nurturing within the function would enable more of this.
  • The need for HR to be competent business partners – moving beyond processes and policing was highlighted multiple times.  Seems like there is a lot of work for the HR teams to progress towards becoming credible business partners.
  • HR is still seen as reluctant adopters of new technologies in organizations – in some cases, even disinterested.
  • Performance Management was the most active session attended.  Most questions and interest were focused on the details of administering a ‘no bell curve’ system.  This could be among the most active areas for HR and organizations in coming years.  Companies like Adobe who have moved away from the bell curve system received most of the questions and interest.
  • It is important for middle managers or first time leaders to build self awareness, be seen as team and organization builders, and build a strategic perspective, if they want to progress to senior leadership roles.
  • Some of the basic areas and processes require attention.  A recent case in the education industry involving insufficient reporting, employment background checks and records showed up in a Bangalore school, where a teacher with a very worrying negative work history was not identified.  Another area seems to be the pervasiveness of fake certificates and resumes.
  • Interest in topics such as gamification (especially in the start-up community) and hackathons seem to be growing.
  • There is still a long way to go for HR in using data and analytics as a strong base for decisions.  Predictive modeling is used by very few companies.
  • Attracting employees and leaders globally due to growth and acquisition in new geographies seems to be a topic of growing importance.
  • Skill building and employability in schools and organizations were seen as important areas to ensure continuous availability of quality talent.  Working together in teams and leadership development were seen as active areas for improvement and development at all stages (recent post on employability ).
  • Under the new Companies Act, certain class of profitable entities are required to spend at least two per cent of their three-year annual average net profit towards CSR activities.  This seems to hold promise for development activities.
  • The Nasscom report specifying salary difference between men and women being almost a third, was shared.  Looks like companies in India have to dig deeper into this topic and work out related actions.
  • Among notable missing topics from my perspective was neuroscience/brain studies and impact on leadership and organizations.  It would also have been useful to hear about how investors look at HR/leadership practices, global perspectives and references to topics like mindfulness or status/impact of the occupational health area.

It is obvious that managing through fast paced changes happening outside and inside organizations requires a continuous learning and improvement mindset.  The strong link to global business and competitive environment leaves little room for complacence.  This holds many opportunities for HR and also requires intensive, focused effort to upgrade competencies and mindset.

In my observation, HR in the IT/ITeS sector seems to have progressed faster due to heavy reliability on human capital development, fast growth, global acquisitions, diverse client base and connectedness.  That said, most professionals and experts seem to acknowledge that a lot of work is still needed.

Best wishes to you and your teams.

If I have missed something or you have a different perspective, please comment.

Please do note that IT/ITeS HR represents only one part of India HR.


Paradoxes for HR

A paradox could be defined as a statement which seems to say two opposite things but that may be true.

Figuring out and reasoning through a paradox is an important and valuable exercise, for any individual or team.  I personally find them as extremely useful avenues to stretch, question and clarify my own thinking, logic and approach.

The idea of writing a blog post on this topic came as I was reading, “HR From The Outside In” (authored by RBL Group experts, including Dr. Dave Ulrich).  The following paradoxes from the book seem to be relevant for any HR team to figure out, in your respective organizational context.  From personal experiences, the lack of clarity and active dialogue can lead to confusing scenarios, frustration and stress within organizations.  Getting caught in ‘no man’s’ land becomes a reality.

Some of these may be highly relevant for leadership discussions and decision scenarios.


6 paradoxes facing HR


  • Outside & Inside
    How do you simultaneously understand the dynamics and operate in the marketplace and the workplace?
  • Business & People
    How do you balance the tradeoff between people and business? Many discussions in recent times have suggested that HR is losing the ‘Human’ in ‘Human Resources’.  On the other side, I’ve heard leaders say that HR is too ‘soft’.
  • Organization & Individual
    How do you manage the tensions between talent and teamwork, individual ability and organizational capability? In today’s environment, there are lots of discussions regarding ‘outliers’ and the value they bring to an organization.  An overemphasis may lead to a feeling of unfairness, frustration and disruption of shared values.
  • Process & Event
    How do you look beyond isolated activities and events to processes that generate sustainable solutions?
  • Future & Past
    How do you balance the past and the future – rely on the past for present choices or ignore the past?
  • Strategic & Administrative
    How do you balance flawless execution of administrative actions with strategic adaptation to future business scenarios? One common discussion and frustration I’ve encountered within HR organizations is regarding where the ‘strategic’ line is drawn, how and who are involved, and to what extent.

An interesting observation here seems to be that there are relationships to be considered among these paradoxes, e.g., balancing the tradeoffs between business and people may need to take into consideration the future and past. According to the authors, HR must learn to master these paradoxes – which means that HR professionals and departments are effective only when they can deliver simultaneous outcomes.  Relevant HR competencies help HR professionals to increase their effectiveness.

If you can build clarity through an active dialogue with yourself, your teams regarding your thinking, core principles and approach, you have a solid, starting base.  This should ideally be an active, continuing and evolving dialogue, in any organization consdering constantly changing external environments and demands.

Where do you and your HR departments stand on these paradoxes?

Suggested reading:

  • Book – “HR From The Outside In – Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources”; Dave Ulrich, Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank, Mike Ulrich; McGraw Hill.

Leadership Transitions In Organizations…Missed Opportunities, Lots of Pain

While interacting with people at various levels of organizations, I’m often surprised by the lack of support for fundamental leadership transitions in organizations.  Unfortunately, the pain is often not just felt by the individual who is going through the transition but also her/his team members, colleagues and the business overall.  There have been many studies and perspectives on this topic but this still seems to be missing sufficient attention and systematic approach in many organizations.

Leadership transitions can happen at multiple levels, including personal and organizational.  My focus here is on the organizational transition aspect.    McKinsey research shows that 40 percent of new executive transitions are declared failures after 18 months.  According to them, 68 percent of transition failures happen because of the information new executives use, the sequence they follow, and the manner in which they engage – or fail to engage – those around them.  According to CEB, direct reports of successfully transitioning leaders are 15% more effective at their own jobs than the average, and 21% less prone to attrition.  More than 70% of executives are not effective at supporting new-to-role peers and managers.

From personal experiences and observations, these are complex environments with changes for everyone involved and may lead to multiple issues quickly.  The social and emotional context have to addressed very early.  Clarity needs to be built through active dialogue.  If not, trust and performance could erode quickly.

One could also look at these organizational leadership transitions from multiple perspectives.  We’ll look at two interesting ones from different angles.

Stephen Drotter and Ram Charan developed a six passage model called Leadership Pipeline.  According to them, these six turns or passages are major events in the life of a leader.  They are:
1. Managing Self to Managing Others
2. Managing Others to Managing Managers
3. Managing Managers to Managing A Function
4. Functional Manager to Business Manager (responsible for bottom line)
5. Business Manager to Group Manager (multiple businesses)
6. Group Manager to Enterprise Manager 

Prof. Michael Watkins shares seven transitions that good leaders must make while moving from a functional leader to a general manager:
1. Specialist to Generalist
2. Analyst to Integrator
3. Tactician to Strategist
4. Bricklayer to Architect
5. Problem-solver to Agenda-setter.
6. Warrior to Diplomat.
7. Supporting cast to Lead role.
According to him, leaders fail in such transitions  because they don’t go back into a learning mode.

Irrespective of whether you see all these transitions relevant to your organizational context, it is important to recognize and build your necessary organizational support and development system.  In my view, there seems to be at least two transitions that you absolutely cannot afford to miss or ignore, in any organizational size or context:
1. Transition from Individual contributor to Managing others, and
2. Transition from an Individual manager to Managing multiple managers

Leaders and HR teams have to be very aware of these topics and act proactively to provide adequate support in terms of processes, practices and development programs.  Ideally, an organizational system (even a simple one) that supports leadership transitions across the board should be in place.  Successful or unsuccessful leadership transitions will have huge impact on your employees and your organization’s success.  At an individual level, you could also reflect on the ‘passage’ you are in currently, the actions most needed to ensure successful progress and also start building for the future.  Best wishes…

References/Suggested Additional Reading:
2. SEVEN TRANSITIONS GOOD LEADERS MUST MAKE, Professor Michael D. Watkins, June 2012
3. Changing Jobs?, Tojo Eapen, February 2010
4. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Book), Marshall Goldsmith.  
The 20 Bad Habits.


“In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree, Leadership Is An Art

Who Would You Hire For A Leadership Role?

During my travel to Delhi and  Gurgaon last week, I was grateful to meet few friends and colleagues from the past, and learn about their personal experiences, which included positive and challenging ones.  One theme that stood out during past weeks is the ‘richness and wisdom of life experiences’.  My personal experiences may also have led to the topic.

That raised a question and thinking in my mind:

“Who would you hire for a leadership role? ” 

Would you look for someone with a wide range and depth of personal life experiences, especially tough ones (in addition to the ‘non-negotiable competencies’ for the role)?  If failure, disappointment or grief have not been a part of those, then the character and resolve have not been tested or developed sufficiently.  It would also be worthwhile to search for how one has progressed through those experiences, managed, learned and evolved from it.

Life experiences come in various forms involving a range of emotions, challenges and evolution.  Challenging life experiences are the ones that truly test and build one’s character.  They also hold the potential to break down a person’s resolve and few may find it extremely hard to recover.  Many find new ways of coping and managing, with partial or continued recovery.

Couple of key elements of life experiences are depth and variety.   When one goes through the deep emotions, feelings and can emerge from there, there seems to be a stronger emergence with transformation.  In such cases, there seems to be a process of reflection through pain, adjustment, resolve, action and feeling of personal growth.  Some people choose to do very different work that involves high personal meaning and less tangible rewards, while walking away from lucrative jobs.

Noticeable traits of individuals who have gone through tough life experiences and have evolved are a strong Resolve and Calmness in the face of hardship and adversity, Humility (which comes with the realization that not everything is in one’s control, difficult things can happen to anyone), Respect (including empathy for other human beings), Openness (to exploring), strong Internal Value System and high Spiritual Intelligence/Quotient (strong belief system to help navigate through good and difficult times).  Have you noticed others?

These factors would apply for any roles but leadership roles are crucial for any organization, especially non-profits and in government.  Leaders can influence and impact the flow of emotions within a team or organization in a substantial manner.  Awareness, wisdom and maturity are important and they are mainly developed through varied life experiences (not necessarily with age).  Some people learn and others choose not to learn and evolve.  The pace of evolution can be different.

I leave you with the following reflection from Northwestern University’s Centre for Leadership web page:

“As a leader, one of the most important things you can do is to thoughtfully reflect upon your most challenging experiences (Leadership Crucibles) to understand what they can teach you.  In the book, “Finding Your True North” the authors write that crucibles are times when you come face-to-face with yourself and recognize that…during the most difficult times of your life … you have the opportunity to confront who you are at the deepest level and realize what your life – and your leadership – are about. By digging deeper into your life story, you will have the opportunity to focus on the crucial aspects that can help you unlock your development as a leader.”

Wish you the very best.

“I’m proud of the scars in my soul.  They remind me that I have an intense life.” – Paulo Coelho

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