He prefers to chat face to face instead of typing messages into a screen, and believes that lasting connections are made over a cup of coffee rather than over the social media. The Human Factor catches up with K. S. Bakshi, Executive Vice President-HR, The Oberoi Group as he shares his thoughts on how to build a great work environment.
Q. What has been your journey like as an HR professional?
A. It has been a challenging but very satisfying journey; sometime difficult, but mostly thrilling roller coaster ride. Along the way, I got the opportunity to contribute meaningfully towards the field of HR. I got recognized by and earned the respect of my fellow colleagues, and my seniors. This is a very unique profession, that gives you the emotional satisfaction that comes with the opportunity to touch every life in an organization and the intellectual satisfaction that comes with being able to make a difference to every part of a business by creating a great work force and an environment within the company that was highly engaging and productive. So, that in brief is the story of my journey.
Q. What were the challenges that you faced?
A. Challenges have been aplenty. They are the part of every professional life. However, these challenges have never slowed me down; in fact, they pushed me to explore and expand my limits every time I started to get comfortable.
Aligning people to the common passion and shared values of the organization has been one difficult task. Most organizations have a workforce that consists of people belonging to different age groups, from very senior employees to young recruits, from different demographics and backgrounds, with their own individual dreams, aspirations, and priorities. Aligning all of them towards one common goal is not easy. It does not happen overnight; it is a very long and sometimes frustrating process that takes several years. That is one challenge I have faced.
Another challenge that I have faced in my career is trying to attain a work life balance, not only for myself personally, but to build it as a culture for the entire organization. This is very a pertinent problem especially when you are a part of a company, which is constantly growing. Constant growth demands long working hours from the employees, which in turn can burn them out. But to keep the momentum going, an organization needs its people not only to be working hard and long but also to be alert, engaged, passionately committed, and fighting fit. So, it becomes the duty of the HR leader to find a way to help his people achieve a balance.
It is also the prime responsibility of the HR leader, to create an environment where people are heard, respected and encouraged to do their best. A lot of organizations and their leaders talk about it in their speeches, their vision and mission statements, and put it up on posters on office walls. But to actually translate the mission and vision statements into a vibrant work environment that brings those posters to life needs hard work; it requires a huge commitment from every body in the organization. This kind of an environment can be created only when it is not just made the responsibility of a single function (HR) but is woven into the DNA of the organization, and made a core value that everyone lives and breathes day in and day out and demonstrates constantly and consistently through the smallest actions.
To achieve this, the first requirement is that you need to be a good human being and truly believe that everyone else around you are also good human beings. When you treat them well, people begin to trust you; they engage and connect better with you. Once that happens, they slowly start delivering what you ask of them.
So, in short as a leader I feel my biggest challenges have been:
a) Creating a sense of ownership among my people, and making sure they are aligned to the common values and goals of the organization.
b) Trying to make a positive difference in their lives by helping them attain a work life balance.
c) Making sure they are respected, heard, and treated well.
Q. What have been your most satisfying moments?
A. I have got the maximum satisfaction when even after leaving an organization people still remembered me for the work we did together as a team, the processes and the building blocks that were put in place, and the value we created and shared. At the end of the day nobody remembers how many employees you recruited during your tenure as an HR leader, or that you changed the orientation program to 3 days from 1 day, they certainly don’t remember you for the new appraisal process that you were so excited about launching; what people do remember is their experience of a positive and vibrant work environment; and such an experience can only be created by building robust but simple processes and equipping managers to implement them fairly.
When I was working for the aviation industry I realized that I was probably the only functional head there, who knew nothing about aviation. I figured out that if I had to be heard, and if I had to really make a difference then I would have to learn the ways of the aviation industry very quickly. But how? Not only could I not become a pilot, a cabin attendant, or an aviation engineer, but my work would actually have to support the very different demands of these very diverse groups of employees. So, I worked hard to learn the basics of the aviation industry, because only then could I make policies and design practices that were effective. I was faced with a similar predicament when I joined the hospitality industry. Here again I was the outsider. If I had to earn respect and credibility I needed to learn the basics of this industry, needed to speak the language and know the terminology. But being an outsider also helped me bring new perspectives, and today my colleagues remember me for the new initiatives and the various processes that have been implemented to make a difference to the day-to-day life of people across the organization.
Q. What do you think are the challenges HR faces in the digital age?
A. It is certainly a very interesting stage. It is good for the people, for the business and for the industry as a whole.
However, I feel that while the impact of technology on HR is often talked about, written about, and is also made a part of a lot of panel discussions, but the ground realities are different because very few companies have been able to align the various stakeholders to this platform.
I find companies investing in apps, in automation and various other technologies but forgetting the most important factor – people. People should be willing to use them, they should be convinced that they are helpful and will not make them or their jobs redundant. The company needs to explain the real benefits of these apps and new technologies and other such initiatives, while dealing with the very real fear people have of losing their jobs to “machines”. Above all the company should be willing to invest in training the workforce and making it more digitally literate.
As leaders, if we really want to make digitization successful in our organizations, then we need to work hard to change the culture of the work place. It is a complete ‘changemanagement’ initiative and should be dealt with the same seriousness. It has to be more than an e-mail notification coming from the top bosses. It is after all a necessity in today’s world and most of us don’t have much of a choice when it comes to adopting the digital way of doing things. Today’s success will depend a lot on our ability to adapt quickly, and our ability to align our workforce towards this new way of working. Only when we are able to do this will we be genuinely able to harness the full potential of digitization and reap the numerous advantages of this new era.
While digitization has many benefits, it has a few drawbacks too. It is very easy to lose out on the personal touch when we can pretty much do everything from the comfort of our homes, offices and on the go. While smartphones connect us to people across vast distances and time zones, it also reduces real face-to-face interaction between people. Too much of mechanization or digitization is not good if it interferes in our ability to build strong relationships. This is especially important in HR where our success depends on our ability to build strong bonds with people, our teams and our customers.
Q. How do you manage a multi-location and diverse workforce?
A. I am a firm believer in the fact that – whatever your workforce is like, whatever your automation level, however geographically scattered your people may be; the most important thing is to never forget basics. There are certain core values that should remain intact. If they are kept intact, then managing any kind of workforce is easy. The most important core value is the culture of the organization.
As I said earlier, as long as we can create a culture where people feel they can be heard, respected and know they will be treated fairly, we can very easily manage diverse workforces. They may not walk into my office daily, but if they feel they are treated well, they will always find a way to connect whether over e-mail, or social media or telephone, to resolve issues and find solutions. There may be a thousand people working under one roof or ten thousand people located all over the world, as long as these basics and core values are taken care of, managing them will not be difficult.
The next challenge that one may face while managing a diverse workforce is how to ensure that the right competencies are created, that performances are assessed fairly, how to ensure that they are clear about their roles and responsibilities, and that they are nurtured through a learning environment. If one can keep all these points in mind while planning, and equip managers to become the champions of such initiatives then one can very efficiently manage a multi-locational, diverse workforce.
Q. What is the role of rewards and recognitions in an organization?
A. For me rewards and recognitions are an integral part of the culture of an organization. Rewards should not only mean financial rewards. They are much beyond that. As an HR professional, we may design and introduce numerous initiatives in Rewards and Recognition program but the onus of making it successful lies with each and every people manager in the organization. They need to be proactive and involved. We all need to drive a culture where the employees feel that whenever they do a good job somebody is there to give them a pat on their back.
We always say that the guest or customer comes first, so he / she is the most important part of our business. If a guest appreciates someone in the hotel what should be my reaction as a leader? The obvious answer is to appreciate him or her, but the more critical question is how do I show my appreciation? Like most organizations, we too have a digital wall, where photographs of best-recognized employees are displayed. But what if the CEO gave him or her a call, or wrote the employee an e-mail appreciating his / her fantastic work? That would be the best reward for the employee. While not everyone would necessarily get that call or the e-mail, but the word that the CEO actually calls and thank you for the good work done would spread in the entire organization. People feel happy working in an organization with this kind of a culture. They like it and appreciate the fact that the phone call from seniors does not come only when they do something wrong; that their good work is also noticed and appreciated.
This in turn helps us in retaining our best people, have a more engaged workforce, and even get recognized as one of the best employers to work for, creating a unique value proposition for our people.
So, I would say go beyond the recognition wall, and the star of the month. Make appreciation an intrinsic part of the organization culture, that lies in core business delivery but connects to people on a deeply emotional level.
Q. As an HR leader what advice would you give to the new candidates on how to stand out during an interview, get noticed and get selected? What should they do and not do?
A. Whenever I go to campuses I try and give a few pointers. I tell them that their technical knowledge is a given. That is the bare minimum. If you don’t have the basic knowledge of the area or the function you are applying for you cannot proceed further. However, just because you are strong in your technical knowledge or domain knowledge it is not a guarantee that you will get selected.
If I speak from the hospitality industry’s point of view, then, what we are really looking out for is the right attitude in the candidate. It is not easy to be courteous all the time and to have a genuine smile on your face at all times of the day and be ready to fulfill all the wishes of the guests. In this industry, you are expected to be well groomed and always be ready to help whenever the guest sees you or interacts with you. So here the attitude of the candidate is critical. Service orientation is the only differentiator between a great performer and an average one. Even when the guest comes up with ten different problems, one should always be willing to solve them all.
Another thing we look for in people is a pleasing personality and good communication skills.
However, the most important quality is that the person be a good human being. He / she may lack a few skill set, which is OK as those can be taught. But, no one can be taught how to be a good human being, a caring person, someone with a positive attitude. That has to be inculcated over time.
Too much of mechanization or digitization is not good if it interferes in our ability to build strong relationships. This is especially important in HR where our success depends on our ability to build strong bonds with people, our teams and our customers.
Q. How do people make a good first impression?
A. In order to create a good impression and get noticed, besides the way you are dressed, the way you carry yourself, your confidence or the way you speak, what matters most is how you can find a way to tell the panelists that you are multi-talented, that you are curious about the world around you and actively work to gain knowledge of the things happening across the globe. You won’t be asked to participate in a quiz contest while at work, but when you are talking to a guest, you should be able to hold up your end of the conversation and engage intelligently with the guest. From checking in the guest to escorting him / her to any part of the hotel, you may be asked any question by the guest and you need to be able to carry on a conversation. So, I would advice people to read a lot.
Secondly, I expect a candidate to do his/her research and have full knowledge about the core values of the organization. So, a candidate needs to ensure that when they respond, their answers reflect their understanding of our core values and how they apply to the candidate’s area of work. As a recruiter, this would impress me the most for it would make me feel that the candidate shares the same values. A candidate that can fit into an organization’s culture and identifies with its core values is the most valuable to any organization.