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'HR Must Move From Being A Support Function To A Profession'

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A believer in "never giving in," Prithvi Shergill, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Technologies, decided on HR rather early in his career as more than just a means of earning a wage. The ‘Employee First, Customer Second’ model followed by HR has allowed HCL Technology to have a 13.6 per cent attrition rate, among the lowest in IT industry. Despite a sheet anchor role at HCL, Shergill believes there is always room for improvement as HR practices need to evolve continuously in response to the context and culture in which companies operate and emerge as a stand-alone profession rather than stopping at just being the 'support staff'.


What made you choose HR as a profession?
I realised early that the work one did for a livelihood had to mean more than just earning a wage. I realised that making the way people work faster, better, easier gave me a sense of purpose as it made their time at work happier. I saw a role in an HR function the best vantage point in an organisation to do this justifiably!

What have been the primary traits/qualities that have helped you attain your present  position?
My school motto was ‘Never Give In’ and it has helped me in good stead at every step. I always believe that when faced with a decision one should take the ‘higher road’ – as the view is always better from here!  I have always aimed to say what I will do and do what I said I will. This mindset has ensured my career progresses on the right path to where I have reached today.

What has been the biggest achievement of your career?
Each day I add to this – each day when I look back and reflect as to how I added value to an individual or a group of people and made their experience at work one to remember positively, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

What are the challenges you are facing in your organisation?
The challenges ahead for us relate to enabling growth; evolving the EFCS (‘Employee First, Customer Second’) strategic model to be employee led, management embraced (from being management led, employee embraced); sustaining empowered people to add value as we scale.

What are the steps a company should take to develop and motivate future leaders?
Every employee in an organisation is a leader within the circle of his or her influence that they create for themselves. A company’s processes and way of working needs to enable, engage and empower them to transform organisations and add value. The tenets that shape the ‘Employee First, Customer Second’ strategic model enables individuals to adopt behaviours that help them drive change – with the clients they work with, within the organisation they work in, with the teams they support and within themselves. They do so by being authentic, building trust through
transparency, inverting the pyramid to ensure managers are accountable to support their employees and take ownership and responsibility for their own development and the growth of organisational capabilities.

What is your rate of attrition? How do you prevent it?
Our Rate of attrition is 13.6 per cent, which is amongst lowest in our industry.

How do you retain talent in your company?
Retention of talent is a result of a clear alignment between intentions, behaviours,  promises and actions. This alignment demonstrates itself in organisations which say what they will do and then do what they said they will.

By building practices that reflect the tenets of our ‘Employee First, Customer Second’ strategic model, we work to enhance knowledge of our programmes, policies, processes by increasing awareness and understanding. These are co-created by HR Advisory Councils (with line leader representation) and Employee First Councils (with employee representation from each location). We encourage individual involvement in the way we work by supporting a variety of employee resource groups focused on inclusion of generational, gender and cultural diversity, encouraging
community involvement and helping people demonstrate their personal interests and passion.
We measure satisfaction with the employment experience at HCL periodically to ensure we understand feedback at each stage and take timely actions. We see office as a place where you can grow your employability with timely coaching and mentoring and engage employees in physical and virtual platforms to contribute (such as our internal social platform, MEME).

What sets your company apart from other companies as far as work culture goes?
Our culture ensures we put the employee first – but ‘never let the customer feel second’! We know the actual value being created for the customers is at the employee customer interface, which we call the value zone. Our processes encourage transparency, make managers accountable to employees, transfer the responsibility for change and value creation to front-line employees working in the “value zone.”  Some of the things we have set up are:

Smart Service Desk: It is an automated query resolution mechanism that makes enabling functions accountable to employees. Any employee with a problem can open a trouble ticket, which is assigned to the manager responsible for resolution within a stipulated time.

Directions: It is an annual interactive event, where the senior management,  including the CEO, meets the employees to discuss company strategy, industry trends and the agenda for the coming year.

U&I: This is an online discussion forum where every employee has an opportunity to raise issues, share thoughts and ideas, and, as such, converse directly with the CEO 360-Degree Feedback: This is a review programme that asks employees to share feedback with their managers and the manager’s share this feedback on the internal intranet.

Employee Passion Indicative Count (EPIC): This is an annual self-assessment by which employees can identify their “passion drivers,” factors that drive an employee to excel at work.

What is the biggest challenge you face when selecting people?
The challenge in identifying and hiring the right talent is to attract people who have the right skills, to do the right work, in the right place, at the right time, at the right cost. People who respond to the employee value promise of continuous learning, high quality, flexibility and stretch at work and meaningful reward and recognition are individuals we seek to attract.

How do you track employees' satisfaction or dissatisfaction in your company?
Our line leaders assume ownership of the employment experience of our people and is the outcome we expect of the processes, programmes, practices and policies we shape. Measures include the 360 Degree Feedback that I have mentioned earlier. Results including the CEO’s are posted online for every employee to see. This process, although confidential, truly inverts the organisational pyramid and makes the managers accountable to the employees. The Employee Passion Indicative Count, introduced in 2009 as a self assessment tool, allows each employee to identify his/her passion drivers so that they can enhance their individual productivity and results.

How important is HR to the bottom line of a company?
At HCL Technologies, HR is accountable for working with line leaders to do the right work, build the right skill, be at the right place, collaborate with the right people, expect the right value proposition and apply this with the purpose to deliver the right performance. HR Advisory Councils have been set up representing all businesses in the company and in each geographic region. These councils work with HR as People Partners to connect, consult and co-create practices that line leaders assume accountability to support.

HR anchors the HCL identity by building the organisational culture and capabilities and jointly owns the role of being a steward to improve the way people work and be a catalyst for growth. That's also how HR is integrated with the core line of business at HCL Technologies.

How has the downturn affected HR?
Well, HR continues to be challenged in creating engaging organisations, enhancing effectiveness in the way organisations work and ensuring cost efficiency.

If you could change three things about HR practices, what would they be?
Change is a constant. HR practices need to continue to evolve and respond to the context and culture in which they operate.  At this point of time HR teams:
  • Need to focus on ensuring they drive results with the heart that makes an organisation authentic
  • Ensure that the right investments are made in the right organisational capabilities needed for    today and the right talent is attracted, developed and deployed in building those needed for tomorrow
  • Invest in sharpening their own functional capabilities – and move from being a support / staff function to being a profession
(As told to Poonam Kumar)