Practitioners Perspectives // January 23,2023

Insights on being flexible and situationally fluent in one’s career

Featuring: Hema Mani , Director, Human Resources, Lennox India and Lennox Asia Sourcing, Curated by Bhuvana Rajaram


Hema Mani Director, Human Resources, Lennox India and Lennox Asia Sourcing, Curated by Bhuvana Rajaram

How can HR Leaders build and leverage their cross-cultural competence?

Thankfully, my career spanned multinational organizations and multicultural environments which has provided me plentiful exposure to handle and acclimatize to several cultures. And I would recommend business leaders to build multicultural competence by focusing on the following:

  • Understanding Culture:  Knowing the cultural nuances of a country/region that you wish to do business in is the first and most critical step. Their language, customs, trust quotient, relationships, working styles, emotions, work-life balance are pointers you need to pay attention to. Once you have a firm handle on this, then if you roll out your operations and policies, that will gain you the equity with the local workforce.

One of the first things we did when we set up Lennox India, which is a strong Mid-Western US organization, was to spend sufficient time to understand the local culture and practices here, building strong relationships with our local stakeholders and our employees.

  • Situational Adaptability: Being flexible and adopting an open mindset to situations is a must have. Fixed mindsets will not work when it comes to building leadership qualities and cross-cultural competence.  Even within a country there are multiple differences that come into play. ‘Getting under the skin’ of the culture and understanding the needs of the workforce will pay rich dividends.

To cite an example from my career journey, as part of an organization overseeing employee transitions to different countries, I rolled out two strategies that have the above themes firmly in place. One was a Global Framework, and the other was introducing Local Policies, with this we took the effort to understand and adapted to the local culture. This GLOCAL approach has done wonders for us.

Through our global framework, we were able to apply the common organization values which binds people together, simultaneously the pay structures were as per local norms and expectations. This was a winning formula for us. Each culture is so different, and in that difference lies the beauty – US is all about self-doing, while India needs hand holding, China starts with zero trust and then builds its trust quotient. So, my recommendation to Business Leaders is to go with the above approach to build a viable cross-cultural competence.


“CHROs need to be aware that it is not always possible doing things alone”

What are the best practices for CHROs to drive Transformation at scale?

Indeed, they need a transformation toolkit for this. And one of the most significant things they need to be aware of is that – “it is not always possible doing things alone”. And they need a repertoire of resources, let me list what a CHRO’s toolkit must have:

First and foremost, do they have the ability to change? Can they acquire new abilities to drive large scale transformations?

Do they have a large network? Or are they tapping only teammates? Frankly, CHROs will need cross functional teams replete with workforce from technology, business and they key divisions. CHROs must be resourceful enough to select smart team players with a creative mindset so that innovative methods are adopted to drive change.

A whole gamut of tools, technology, processes, policies and procedures are required to support transformation at scale. Again, I would call for situational fluency, they must wade through ambiguity, people issues, must be prepared to handle any contingency swiftly without disruption.

I have been part of the merger when Pricewaterhouse and Coopers merged. And it was a different experience when new people came in and the culture changed overnight. I have also faced large scale transformation where we had to let go of people and these are tough things to do. But how resilient and empathetic are you as a CHRO? This is exactly why I believe in being situationally savvy – the only passport into the future.

What perspectives should we be aware of when combining people transformation with digital transformation?

The Humaneness is integral when we address people and digital. Technology is automating several key HR processes which is the way forward. But for example, when it comes to separation from the organization that will certainly have to have the human element. If the exit management is conducted via a portal it becomes impersonal and clinical and that is not the right way to do it. A human resources chief officer must have a conversation with the employee to find out why he/she is leaving and make them feel valued and comfortable.

However, now our Rapid Response team has come up with a mobile app that helps employees stays connected during this current Covid-19 crisis and pushes valuable information that will help employees be connected and be on top of accurate information. This is an instance where technology has proved to be a great help.

As business leaders we have the responsibility to judiciously select technology to help us and NOT rule us. Therefore, it is not simply about mindlessly embracing various digital platforms and technologies, but mindfully accepting the fact that technology will be a robust tool in accomplishing business success.

How is automation informing your HR strategy?

It is informing us very well, indeed. Till sometime back we were relegated to more of order takers from the business as we lacked data, and we were working only on hunches. But today with abundant data, insights and predictive analysis we are better equipped to have intelligent conversations with business heads. Simply put, we have a seat at the table and our voice is valued. HR champions are more of business partners and can set the future direction for upskilling, thanks to technology.

What foresights do you have on the future capabilities of the CHRO?

Who knew a week back we were all going to be operating out of homes and be productive working remote? So CHROs of the future will be one who:

  • Are able to visualize the future by being alert and agile to the changing market dynamics
  • Can Understand emerging technologies and find a route through them to tackle people development challenges
  • Smart enough to swiftly shrug out of working styles that are no longer valid and adopt new measures that ring in the future. Welcome millennials and introduce autonomy and collaboration and ensure employee engagement
  • Introduce a new HR landscape that resonates with the changing business climate that includes performance, grievances, and rewards and recognition
  • So, the scene will hugely be different in the months and years to come and as CHROs if they can be agile in this scenario that will be a game changer. This present Covid-19 crisis will lead to a whole new suite of innovations and we must see how the future unfolds. With the millennials entering the workforce CHROs have their jobs cut out as to how to engage them and make work meaningful for them.

How can CHROs resonate better with CFOs when it comes to value justification of people investments?

This is a classic case of left and right brain, one is left and logical and the other is right and creative. HR Professionals ought to have or develop a skillset around being rational, have an eye on the spend and contribute to the business and not only defend their people investments. At the end of it, there cannot be silos and we must remember that we are building a business and everyone must contribute to that.

HR professionals will have to understand how the organization earns money, and how the money moves around in an organization. It will not suffice if they are simply passionate about people and call themselves people person.  Likewise, CFOs  will need to extend their interest beyond cost-to-hire, compensation, benefits and labour laws. They should realize that investing in human capital, in their development, growth and rewards will improve the bottom-line of the organization and cannot be always termed as a cost overhead.

The translation of tangible value happens when both dissolve boundaries and work in collaboration to achieve the corporate vision, simultaneously acknowledging each other’s contribution to the organization.

What leadership capabilities are CHROs struggling to bridge within their organizations?

I would say it is Emotional Intelligence. The skills for the future are largely different from what we are normally exposed to, it is along the lines of compassion, empathy, providing a container of safety, failing fast and carrying your teams forward into the future along with you while sharing a common vision. There is a gap/void between the actual and preferred in this area.

Most of us in companies have highly talented leadership. They are technically qualified and have the expertise for the job, however most of them have progressed in their careers through their consistent performance. What we see here is the lack of high-quality intuitive leaders, which is more skewed towards self-awareness and self-regulation – these are intrinsic traits that cannot simply come through training.

What leadership capabilities are CHROs struggling to bridge within their organizations

I have had the opportunity to progress my career consciously and deliberately. However, like others I had to take a sabbatical owing to family commitments, and it was difficult to get back to work and get the right opening. This is when I learnt to let go of a fixed mindset and was open to exploring options – I took up a teaching job, and from there one stint led to another. My demonstrable skills at work won me newer roles and big breakthroughs. The below three points, I am confident will work for anyone who wants to restart their careers or upgrade it.

  • I remained in touch with friends and well wishers
  • I upskilled myself during the break and was prepared
  • I shed inhibitions and was excited to take up any role

In your opinion how can women leaders amplify their personal brand?

Be Boundaryless, that is my only earnest advice to women. Don’t bracket yourselves in self-limiting beliefs and doubts. Shed your inhibitions, grab opportunities, and learn on the go. This is how I have shaped my career; post childbirth and I was open to take up anything and signed up to teach and then one thing led to another.

What would motivate other business leaders to become HR leaders?

People is the place to be!  Just as we tide this Neo-Pandemic around us,  I see most of the business continuity plans we are putting in place are all revolving around people and the purpose of people within our organizations.



Director, Human Resources, Lennox India and Lennox Asia Sourcing

The straight shooter that Hema Mani is, the hour spent with her was focused, fused with informative and insightful responses. How human resources is integral to the business and perspectives around that she details out – can make a human resources professional read this article and preserve it as a reference point. And of course, business leaders will find several meaningful methods to align learning to business.

In this exclusive interview Hema Mani gave for Global Coaching Lab, she walks us through her career journey and its inflection points – At each stage she learnt to adapt herself to situations and leverage opportunities that she was able to create for herself. Specially her thought process on being boundaryless throws light on how working professionals can take specific actions that will prepare them for the future.

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In my career leading and building high-performing teams, I enjoy inspiring & coaching employees to unlock their potential for maximum performance. The team's success is my deepest delight. Global Coaching Lab provides the platform to put this into practice every day and fulfill my passion of making others great.

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