How One CHRO Is Using Communication, Conversations And Dialogues To Bring About Change
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How One CHRO Is Using Communication, Conversations And Dialogues To Bring About Change

Tell us a bit about what you do in your role as a CHRO. 

My role includes everything from ‘hire’ to ‘retire’. I’m involved in all aspects of HR right from pre-acquisition to acquisition, talent development, talent engagement, total rewards, compensation and benefits,  diversity & inclusion and internal communications as well. It’s been a fun ride working with a fast growing company like AGS Health, which is into revenue cycle management for the healthcare sector, and we service only US clients. We are growing exponentially and in the last year and a half, I have seen the company grow more than 30%. So it’s exciting times and fun times as well.

What has been the three biggest lessons that you have learned in the last 30 months as a CHRO?

The first one is that trust is critical. It’s critical to strive and to thrive. Without trust, which is either building or forming and making your own brand, it is absolutely impossible to go anywhere. 

The second is communication. We always grew up in a world prior to COVID where communication has been top-down like a waterfall. I don’t think this generation believes in that. And I don’t think it works anymore. Post COVID if there is one lesson I’ve learned as a CHRO, it is that communication has to be clear and concise. It doesn’t have to be a waterfall; it doesn’t have to only come from the top for it to be accountable and therefore acceptable. 

The third lesson is not to take things personally. This is something one of my ex bosses told me when I moved to India. And at that time I thought – how can we take it in any other way? When we were younger, we didn’t know the difference between feedback that is given to your role, task or action, and not to you as a person. It’s very difficult to differentiate but that’s my biggest lesson in the last 12 months. I’ve grown and learned not to take things personally.

Is there any story that you can share about not taking things personally?

I was working on a project plan, and I thought I had done a fantastic job from an HR point of view. We presented the plan and the entire CXO community approved the idea. During the implementation, I spoke to each of the vertical leaders and explained the plan to them, and they asked me, ‘But have you considered that we still don’t have people coming back to work.’ I said, yes, that’s why we’ve built a hybrid model. But then comes one question, which I’m completely unprepared for and that was, ‘How are you going to do this while we are shifting our strategy of hiring professionals from anywhere in the country? How are you going to tackle that?’ I wasn’t prepared for it. I was still thinking about our five locations and remote and hybrid working in office. I wasn’t thinking about people working from anywhere in India. But thankfully it was not a big challenge and I realized that I just had to address it. 

Another example is when I was coaching a young leader in our organization. She told me that she was having difficulty working with one particular professional. As I probed, I realized it was not about the difficulty of working with that professional, but it was about understanding the scope of her work. Where does the line begin for her and where does it end? Scope creep was happening between two roles and all I needed to do was point that out. She was taking things too personally and believing that she was having a difficult time when in reality that was not the case. 

As CHROs you work closely with CEOs. Is there a difference between male and female CEOs and the relationship they have with HR? 

This is my first experience working with a female CEO. In the last 24 years of my career, I have worked only with male CEOs. But in the end, it is all about perception. It does not matter whether the CEO is a male or female. Their focus is on the results. I think the difference comes with showcasing empathy. While working with a female CEO, I’ve seen that she actively listens and is more empathetic. That is where it has been different for me. Otherwise, when it comes to the approach, it has been the same whether it is a male or female. They’ve always expected me to deliver, they have always challenged me, and they’ve always expected the best out of me. So from that point of view, gender does not matter.

How can CHROs build their brands even better? How did you go about it and what advice would you give to other CHROs? 

Let me go back to 2008, which is when I had the first conversation with my then boss, SV Nathan, in Deloitte. He told me, ‘You want to recognize and realize what you want to be known for. Let’s start there. That’s the brand.’ That was the first time someone told me that I was a brand. Until then I was Ekta. It brought a lot of perspective. After a lot of thinking, I realised that leaders want to be known for a few things. For example, I look up to leaders if they have high IQ and are very intelligent. I also look up to them if they are empathetic. But what is it that makes me want to be my brand? I think I want to be known as someone who can earn the respect of people. That is something I want. How will I go about doing that and building my brand?

The first thing is trust. If I am able to create that in my teams, or in the larger ecosystem, or the larger world, then I guess I will have respect. 

The second thing I have done is hire people who are smarter than me. I love to have smart, intelligent and hungry people in my team. People who raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, next role is mine’. These do not have to be new hires alone. I have developed a lot of my internal talent. Many of them are smart, and they are hungry. And all you have to do is feed that hunger. Feed them fuel so they can burn brighter. 

The third thing is succession planning, which is critical and important. As a CHRO, I don’t always want to be in this role. I want a bigger or larger role. I always tell my team to think about how they can prepare someone else to take over their job so they can take over mine. But as human beings, we are insecure. We don’t want to build successors. We want to hoard and keep the talent because sometimes organizations have also let go of people because there was a successor. Leaders have learned from that and hesitate to build a successor as they feel their job is at risk. But to me that risk is better than having an organization where there is no one who can take over your job tomorrow in case of an emergency. 

So that