Practitioners Perspectives // October 22,2021

Sustainability and Continuous Learning – Insights from a HR Leader and Coach

Featuring: Ramesh Shankar , Chief Joy Officer – Hrishti


Ramesh Shankar Chief Joy Officer – Hrishti

RAMESH SHANKAR retired as Executive Vice President & HR Head for Siemens for the South Asia cluster and was also part of the Executive Management team in India. After 38 years of corporate service, he decided it was time to give back to society. He founded “Hrishti” (meaning joy) to coach, mentor, teach and work with NGOs, start-ups and corporate and support the cause of eradicating preventable blindness among children through his net earnings from the organisation. He is certified as an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

It is awesome that you have the designation called the “Chief Joy Officer”, what life events changed your perspectives to choose this designation for yourself?

I come from a lower middle-class family. I was born in Trichy and brought up all over the country because my father was in the central government. And after I started my career in 1981, I continued to travel and live around the country. I have not worked outside India but have had the opportunity to travel thanks to the various organisations that I worked for. I’m grateful to god and to the people who have supported me. Whatever I have achieved in my life has been due to the blessings of my seniors, elders and family members. Hence, I felt it was time to give back. This is not a post retirement plan. Even as a student in school, I was always active in social services. I was a blood donor for 30 years and I used to be the President of the Rotaract Club in college. My parents, mentors and friends have instilled in me that giving back to society is part of my duty as a citizen. I’ve tried my best to keep doing this throughout my life. Now after retirement, I’m quite content and my family is happy. So, with the support of my wife, we decided that all my earnings post retirement will be donated for a cause. I do coaching, and consulting. I teach in business schools and mentor start-ups and whatever I earn is given for a cause.

The cause was determined by my working in an eye hospital in Delhi. When I was in Eicher, as part of CSR, they had adopted a Charity eye Hospital and unfortunately the CEO of the hospital resigned. I was the HR head and the Chairman told me to hire a CEO. But I found it difficult to hire a person who was both a good doctor and an administrator. So, my chairman told me to look after the hospital while I find someone. This was a turning point for me. Fifty percent of the work that the hospital does is for charity. The doctors, nurses and paramedical staff were dedicating their lives for this cause. That one year really touched me and it was also a good lesson in leadership as I turned the hospital around financially. Since then, I have been doing something for the hospital every year. I coach the CEO and some doctors. I do this pro bono. I support all the eye transplantations for children. I am willing to consult with any organisation where they do not pay me but donate to the hospital instead. I now give my earnings to them, and this is how I feel I should give joy. I can give sight to people who cannot afford it and this hospital does just that.

You have seen the HR function transform itself over the last couple of decades, what does the next decade portent for HR?

In the past organizations evolved from society and they were created to look at the welfare of humankind. But gradually, the motive of organizations shifted to profit. There is nothing wrong with that, but then profit became the ultimate motive of the organization rather than the goodness of society. But now, I think we have come full circle. Thanks to the pandemic and other natural disasters, people have suddenly started realizing that we are playing too much with nature. And we need to get back to the fundamentals of why we exist. So, what can HR do in the future? I think we need to build sustainable leadership and sustainable operations. I remember this statement made by JRD Tata when someone asked him why so many CEOs were leaving TATA and joining other organisations. He said he did not mind if TATAs was able to produce CEOs for the country. He also said that he wanted TATAs to be the happiest organisations in the world rather than the most profitable. So firstly, we have to look at ways in which organisations can be sustainable. We have to find a balance between the needs of the organisation in terms of money vis-à-vis the needs of the society that they are serving.

Secondly, we need to look at work life balance. Recently, a young colleague from my previous organization called me. She is a working mother and although people say that work from home is easy, she was asked to attend calls at 11 in the night. This never used to happen when she was working in the office. But now because of work from home, everybody is taken for granted as they think that we are available 24/7. It is important for HR to create the right balance between work and life otherwise burnout will happen.

Third, we must have the willingness to adapt. Nobody thought that a pandemic will come and touch every part of the world and bring the world economy to a grinding halt. Nobody expected a lockdown. I know CEOs who were completely against the concept of working from home. But today, I don’t think any CEO will say – do not work from home, because everybody has accepted and adapted to it. It is the ability to adapt to uncertainty, to unlearn and relearn, to change the way we work and continue to serve our customers in a sustainable manner, that will make organisations successful.

How should organizations which are investing in LMS for their employees track consumption and how much of it is applied for business results and for personal development?

You must believe and trust your people. We can define what we expect from the employee in terms of learning, and this can be done through a robust performance management system. At the beginning of the year, the employee and the manager can decide the learning areas around leadership skills, technical skills and behavioural skills. We can then provide a budget to the employee to allow them to choose what they would like to do. The manager can discuss with the employee the courses they would like to do, projects they would like to undertake, or if they would like to job shadow someone. At the end of the year, the focus points can be discussed along with what has been learnt.

Managers must have regular conversation with their employees. This is probably difficult when everyone is working remotely but it is important that learning continues. Let us take a sportsperson for example – PV Sindhu will not stop practicing because there is a pandemic. Whether there is a coach looking over her shoulder or not, she will keep practicing. If she has to win an Olympic medal, she has to work hard. These are individuals who are aware of what they want. Similarly, we must keep learning and practicing regardless of the situation, and managers must be enablers to help their employees achieve their goals. Today we have no excuses for learning. There are so many online and offline resources, and many are free of cost. There is nothing limiting us from learning. But if we continue to wonder how to learn and who we should learn from, then we will remain where we are.

I observe that a lot of your blogs connect to nature, what is it we can learn from nature that the majority of us are blindsided to?

I have been an admirer of nature for a long time. It is one of my hobbies. I also love travelling and photography and I would click lots of pictures.  I find nature, animals and birds fascinating. You can learn so much from them. They teach you sustainability, self-dependence, gratitude and to give more than you take. Nature has a way of sustaining itself and it does not depend on others. Whether it is a tree, a mountain or an animal, it does not depend on others to sustain itself. Similarly, it has a habit of being grateful to those who serve them. There are many stories of elephants protecting Tigers or even some calf that is being taken care of by some wild animals.

Every day I post a story on Instagram where I ask people to identify a place. Every month I change the theme and last month, I focused on the national birds of different countries. I would post a photo of the bird and ask people to name the country.  Nature has taught me a lot on how to weather a storm and how to bounce back. When I was living in Mumbai, we would have floods and the people would bounce back quickly despite the whole city being damaged by water. It teaches you to move on and not keep looking at the past. Nature will never allow you to look behind. They encourage you to look forward.

You said there are so many networks and followers that you have built. How do you build a network like this? And how should others imbibe a practice like this?

I am honestly not good at building followers as I don’t network that much. However, I have been active in social media. I write articles, I publish my blogs in LinkedIn every week and I keep trying something new every month. I’ve been doing this for the last two years. As I said earlier, on Instagram, I take a new theme every month. Last month I wrote about the national birds of different countries. This month, I’m posting a photograph of the capital city of each state and I’m asking people to identify the state from the photograph.

People love to get to know new things and they interact with me. I also add a little bit of fun. When I was an employee, I would tell people that if they answered correctly, they could have a cup of coffee with me. So, I would say that the ability to connect with people, being accessible and willing to learn helps you  connect with people.


we have to look at ways in which organisations can be sustainable. We have to find a balance between the needs of the organisation in terms of money vis-à-vis the needs of the society that they are serving.


As an Executive coach, mentor and advisor, what are your thoughts on how the coaching industry is evolving and what is the next wave in coaching?

Coaching will become a way of life within an organization and beyond as well. It will become a way of life in society. I was talking to a lady who used to work with me. She is young, has a successful career and is divorced. I asked her what was next in her life. She said that she needs to look at life differently, and we then proceeded to have a long conversation. So, individuals beyond the organisations will also need coaching. This could be life coaching, career coaching or any other form of coaching.

Unfortunately, family as an institution has collapsed. When I was younger, I had my sisters, brothers, uncles and even neighbours to guide me. I would go to them and ask them to listen to me because my father, who was a tough man, was not listening to me. The aunt, uncle or neighbour would become the coach, counsellor or mentor and they would become the bridge between me and my father. Secondly, marriage as an institution has broken down. Many marriages are ending in divorce. Sometimes, for various reasons, the husband and wife live in different cities. I do not wish to pass judgement on whether any of this is right or wrong, but it is the reality. Because of these 2 situations, the emotional connection is missing. We can have many connections online, but the true test is about who is around when you are in a crisis. Who will support you? Due to this, the emotional connection is missing, and coaching can a play a big role here. Whether it is individual, organisations or society at large, everyone will require coaching is some form or the other.

Ramesh Shankar Ramesh Shankar

Chief Joy Officer – Hrishti

RAMESH SHANKAR retired as Executive Vice President & HR Head for Siemens for the South Asia cluster and was also part of the Executive Management team in India. After 38 years of corporate service, he decided it was time to give back to society. He founded “Hrishti” (meaning joy) to coach, mentor, teach and work with NGOs, start-ups and corporate and support the cause of eradicating preventable blindness among children through his net earnings from the organisation. He is certified as an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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