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'Talent Management Is An Art As Well As A Science'

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Tina Vas never dreamt of being an hiring manager. After her MBA from University of Mumbai, Vas chose to take up a career in Sales and Marketing. However, after moving to the US, she shifted focus to HR and quite liked it. Ever since, hiring, talent management, employee engagement, employee feedback — have been the mantra of her professional life. There have been days where she has had to lay off employees in the US as a result of slow down, but each day has been a learning excercise for her, she says. Management jargons aside, empathy and fairness to people are important qualities for any HR professional, says Bangaluru-based Vas who has been with Collabera, an IT  services, consulting and financial services firm, from July 2012.

What made you choose HR as a profession?
Funnily, HR chose me, despite my best efforts to keep away from it! While pursuing my MBA, subjects such as Organisational Behavior and HRD always brought out the best in me. The dean at my college tried his best to persuade me into choosing HR for my specialisation. Back then, I was fascinated by the glamour of branding & advertising and hence, I ended up specialising in Marketing. While my career commenced in Sales & Marketing, my marriage and subsequent relocation to the US brought about an abrupt end to my sales career in India. In the US, the only opportunities available to me were either in Programming or in HR. HR appeared to be the only option, as the logical/programming part of my brain was clearly not beckoning — and that’s how I reluctantly began my journey in HR!

Interestingly, 1999-2000 was still the IT boom time in the US and I had to hit the ground running. Hiring, employee engagement, litigation, immigration — all of it and in large volumes required a steep learning curve. I got so involved in finishing the job, that it was only two years later that I realised I had dived into mainstream HR. Since then, there’s been no looking back!

What has been the biggest achievement of your career?
On the work front, in one of my previous roles, I have spearheaded the integration of six companies, which required not just professional capability but strength of character as well — decision making, fairness, foresight and convincing ability along with the art of saying no to people in power. It was a wonderful experience and ultimately, it was a successful integration (barring 1 of the units, which had structural flaws).

What have been the primary traits or qualities that have helped you attain your present position?
To start with, I think it was the God fearing upbringing that ensured that there was no room to be frivolous. The primary ingredients of hard work, perseverance, sincerity and honesty gave me the first footing. My parents were a working couple; while there was ample guidance and motivation, there was very little supervision. Very early in life my parents instilled in me the belief, that you are what you make of yourself. I truly think that instilling this responsibility in me ensured that I took charge. Through my difficult teens, my father played a very important role in my life — he had tremendous faith and confidence in me. If I have to name one quality or trait that has helped me excel, it is the confidence with which I approach life. I owe that to my dad in a great way.

I was a shy kid and a nervous teenager, developing public speaking skills and social flair once I began my MBA. It was then that I realised how much I enjoyed interacting with people, so much so that it ended up being what I do for a living! When there is a symmetry between who you are as a person and what the job requires, your chances of succeeding are stronger. Through my many years of managing HR in the US, I have had to manage some difficult exits as well as conduct mass layoffs. Nothing in life readies you for such tough situations! I would like to believe that empathy for people and a fair approach are paramount in such times.

What are the steps a company should take to develop and motivate future leaders?
Given that leadership development is a meticulous exercise, an organisation needs to identify what its current leaders are like. Further, it should list down the set of essential traits, qualities and values that it values dearly — akin to a ‘must-have’ set of attributes it envisions for its future leaders. Also, a company should determine what leadership style suits it best and accordingly institute a dynamic in-house leadership development programme.

Next step is to identify high-potential employees (defining parameters such as ability to take up additional responsibilities, problem solving skills, propensity to take risks, team player and the like). Based on an assessment of the prevailing leadership gaps, these candidates should be put onto a fast track leadership program that encompasses mentorships, management classes, team building workshops, stretch assignments and coaching. The goal is to make such candidates widen their horizon and think beyond their purview, identifying themselves with(and relating better to)the broader vision of the company. Equally important is to put in place succession plans for critical roles, while also charting out a retention programme for current and future leaders.

How do you retain talent in your company?
Numerous studies have shown that it’s usually less expensive to retain and develop in-house talent vis-à-vis external hires. Thus, we can surmise that talent management is clearly an art as well as a science! At Collabera, we have instituted a 360 degree plan for deeper employee engagement that offers a clear-cut career growth path as well as opportunities for personality development. Employee recognition is a fundamental aspect of Collabera’s culture, with employee feedback being a critical action point for our leadership team.

What sets your company apart from other companies as far as work culture goes?
Collabera provides an opportunity for great minds to come together and produce great results. The company provides ample freedom and flexibility to employees, thus bringing out the best in people. We immensely value passionate and self-motivated employees, given that we work on the principle: If you provide the right environment and support, most passionate employees will find a way to deliver excellent results.

What is the biggest challenge you face when hiring?
In an industry where the war for talent is intense, with multiple options beckoning an employee, it gets very hard to be selective. Despite such challenges,some aspects that Collabera is categorical about include hiring high-quality tech talent; making sure a candidate’s values, attitude corresponding with those of the organisation. This ensures that we have an employee who can blend in with ease, someone who shares a similar outlook and belief on aspects that are especially important to us.

How do you track employees' satisfaction in your company?

In addition to undertaking frequent employee satisfaction surveys, we keep all channels of communication open with our employee base. There are umpteen formal and informal forums of engagement where we seek feedback from employees on a variety of topics. Further, each business unit has a dedicated HR business partner (HRBP) to identify, strive to solve issues (if any). These HRBPs engage with every employee in their business unit and are very muchconscious of the pulse of our employees.

How important is HR to the bottom line of a company?
More often than not, I have heard from peers that it is very difficult to quantify the importance of HR in a company’s overall scheme of things. In my opinion, there’s no other way other than measuring HR to clearly highlight the ensuing benefits and the impact on the bottom line. This is possible when companies take a broader view on this and adopt a more holistic approach. Unmistakably, HR takes up the onus of transforming a company’s core asset — people, into a robust competitive advantage.

A good first step would be to identify the key business metrics, correlate them with the bottom line objectives and chart out the HR function’s responsibilities in a way that interconnects these success parameters. Once done, HR should then look at developing initiatives to add value to the company and help improve these metrics, with regular assessments for taking stock and course-correction (if necessary).

How has the downturn affected HR?
HR resonates with one simple philosophy — a company’s leadership placing the employees ahead of everything else. The economic downturn, more than any other time, has proved that organisations that truly care for employees are the ones to have emerged successful. Those organisations that didn’t layoff people, those that invested in employees’ career enhancement are the ones which are revered the world over. In fact, the downturn brought out HR’s mettle to the fore, showcasing why HR is a critical, underlying element in the organisational mix.

How should HR be integrated with the core line of business?
If anything, the nature and responsibilities of the HR function will only grow in complexity. Hence, adopting a consultative approach is one of the best models to integrate HR with core business. The starting point is to align decisions about the human capital with those of key success elements to achieve business results. Such a scenario instills a matrix-like reporting structure — a HR business partner will then report to a business unit head as well asthe HR head, making him/her accountable on multiple fronts. This collaboration allows an HR professional to work in a consultative manner and make a significant contribution to a company’s core line of business.

(As told to Poonam Kumar)