What a lifetime in HR has taught me

I am a die-hard, confirmed HR professional who has spent 32 years in Corporate HR and now 6 years in HR Consultancy. But it was Serendipity that brought me into HR. As a student, I was a English Literature aficionado and my career objective was to be an English Professor. I chose Humanities in my 9th standard in Senior Cambridge, much to the chagrin of my parents. When I came into college, an Uncle advised Psychology, rather than Literature. I went into Psychology only on the promise that if I did not like it, I would be able to transfer back to Literature in 1 semester. I continued & after my MA in Industrial & Organizational Psychology, the field of Management beckoned and I went for Fellowship in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations. And thus became a Personnel Officer.

Many opportunities came for me to change my field. But I remained glued to Personnel/IR/HR as I was enjoying myself too much. This is a field where, my fellow professionals would agree, every day is a नया नाटक: you are never bored, always challenged, forever stretching & continuously struggling… learning all the way. That is why even after 34 years in the job, I still am happily giving consultancy in the same field… as engaged & enthused, as I was in my first job in HCL. HCL, Siemens, Atul, Johnson & Johnson & finally General Motors. Had the opportunity to work for some great companies and learn a lot. And at 65 years of age, I am still learning daily as I work with a diverse set of companies. Family owned companies, Professionally run large corporations, Educational institutions, Co-operatives…all have taught me a lot. And I am sharing with you What a Life Time in HR has taught me.

First learning was that HR is an opportunity to serve others. Many friends unfortunately see HR as a power center, a chance to control, to say no, and throw the policy book at the employees. I have rather looked on HR as a chance to help others, support them and serve them & indirectly their families. To my HR team members, my challenge was, when an employee comes to meet us, can we begin the meeting by saying,” My answer is YES! now tell me what is your question?” By this simple mind change, the focus is on HR to interpret policy liberally, make exceptions when they are justified, change the policy book if it is restrictive. Good managers are not afraid of discriminations and bending rules. Find the logic for it, convince your stakeholders, But SERVE. HR gives us that chance and I have learnt a lot from that.

Second thing that HR has taught me is Gratitude. As a black sheep in family, choosing Humanities, everyone had written me off. But I rose to be an Asia Pacific Director in Johnson & Johnson. I feel grateful for what HR gave me. When I was travelling 20/22 days of the month for professional commitments, for the support my wife & family gave me I feel grateful. The colleagues and friends who helped me achieve professional goals, the brilliant colleagues I met in Siemens & General Motors, the Union leaders and workmen who guided and piloted my decisions, creating a safety net all around, that I would not break any bones, regardless of the mistakes I made….I feel immensely grateful. As HR we hear so many sob stories, hear so many challenges that people face, difficulties they need to overcome. Compared to their stories, I have indeed had a smooth sailing, for that I am grateful.

Third learning was Humility. I have always tried to underplay the fact that I was a first Class First in BA & in MA, that I went to IIM Calcutta…that was because I saw so many smarter and more capable people around me. The chance to work with all these brilliant minds, who were much better at planning & execution made me a humble learner. All my peers and bosses have taught me. My team members and so-called subordinates were such great self-starters that I quickly learnt to get out of their way & let them run with the ball. The accolades we received were always because I was surrounded by people better than me & they helped make my path smoother, the goals achievable. My worker friends in Atul & Siemens and J&J & GM still continue to mentor and guide me. I feel like the Chosen One, one who has received more than what he can hold, and hence so very humble.

Every HR professional knows that solutions which work with one individual do not necessarily work with another. The same solution may work today & fall flat tomorrow. Most of the decisions we take in HR have long, long lead times, before we get to know whether the decision was right or wrong. There are no magic wands and spells which transform in the tool box of HR. All this, teaches me the virtue of Patience. HR is like farming, planting seeds and nurturing their growth…all in its own time. You cannot hurry the process and soon you master Patience. Patience while dealing with a plethora of “customers” & problems, both internal and external. Hand holding and waiting for the “flowering” and ensuring that during the wait, people trust the process and remain positive … certainly, this teaches Patience.

HR is about Human Relations. Human Relations require an investment of time and great effort, a commitment to the long term. There are really no shortcuts in Human Relations. But possibly the time has come for us to put the Relations back into HR. Even in today’s fast-paced life, the fundamentals of HR do not change. People basically turn to HR to get a sympathetic ear. They do not expect us to solve all 100% of their issues. I have found that if you give them a patient listening, half of the issues die out then and there. Somehow we have to make that journey from a Human Being to BEING HUMAN. The positivity you build by BEING HUMAN can open many doors and help you cross many fjords. Are you ready to BEING HUMAN?

I remember when I went IIM Calcutta for my Fellowship interview I was asked why do you want to join HR? Impromptu, my answer was ,” Everyone makes their own career…as HR I want to make other people’s career”. It was just a smart & sexy answer at that point of time!! But the last 34 years, I have day by day lived the truth of that pronouncement. HR gave me a chance to put Others before Self, work on making other people’s careers and in that process I have led a very fulfilling life.

So I end by repeating with ABBA:

If I had to do the same again, I would my friend…..vikas

54 Replies to “What a lifetime in HR has taught me”

  1. Thanks Vikas for sharing your lifetime journey in career and lessons you learnt while working in your chosen HR Profession. You were class apart right from the college days. And took right decisions to go to IIM for course in Personnel Management. Someone in your family or your friends did give you right advice which you used to make best out of qualities you had. Luckily India’s socialist pattern of governance helped you to learn IR which every company valued that time. Among number of right lessons you have listed, your last lesson, Relationship Management is the most important in everyone’s life. Recently saw HBR Professor’s lecture on RM in which he stressed the same thing after doing decades of research on ex students of HB School. You also get an opportunity to closely serve top management and there if you are able to manage relationships, your career certainly takes big steps. Sure that happened in your life yoo. You learn to manage Achars of different types, but not many can manage that. Wish you Best of Luck in your current consultancy profession. Sure new generation of HR Managers want your experience to grow their career. Dr Prabhakar M Kelkar


    1. Dr Kelkar
      many thanks for your kind words
      Indeed I was fortunate to have good seniors’ guidance and the opportunity to work for some great corporations like Atul & Siemens & J&J and GM which allowed experimentation and encouraged me to follow my own path
      The journey became all the more enjoyable due to the great colleagues I met on the way, including you, who always stretched me and helped in my journey
      Thanks once again for being a part of my life


  2. Dear Mr. Shirodkar

    What a lovely piece you have written ! So sincere, educative and outlining a Role Model for all HR Professional to follow. Kudos and compliments to you !

    I am not a professionally trained HR person – I learnt everything at the feet of my father who was, like you an HR Professional – Late Shri Madhurendra K. varma (Personnel Director of Philips (1968 to 1982) and subsequently Executive Director, AIMA (All India Management Association).

    However, I do dabble in HR work as part of our consultancy offering and I would like to share with you 3 articles of mine tackling a similar theme from a different viewing angle. Do let me have your email ID – my ID is hemendra.varma@gmail.com.


  3. Vikas Sir,
    Indeed a “straight from the heart” article. One can relate well with it. If HR looks at Employees with an intent to serve and lives by it, every level of Employre would always be there to guide in one way or other.
    Well written….👍

    Warm Regards,


    1. Rutvij
      First and foremost: Many happy returns of the day. Hope you have a great time with family & friends
      Thanks for your feedback on the blog.
      Indeed if all HR managers saw their role as Service, the employee experience would be abs 5 star
      Let us hope we will get there


  4. My apologies for delayed response. Inspiring and educative article on thankless profession.


    1. Deepak bhau
      many thanks for your comment
      Indeed the HR function is thankless and always at the receiving end
      But still it can also be very fulfilling if we change our approach
      that is what I have tried to say


  5. Dear Mr. Shirodkar,

    At the outset, extremely sorry for responding late to your lovely article as I was operated n was in the Hospital.

    H R is the job that never satisfied both, the H R Manager and his cross functional teams. H R Manager always tensed up thinking how people will react to his)her decision and various policies being circulated.
    But all said and done people like you have created history and truly mesmerised the people in and around.
    Liked the article of yours and truly appreciate every aspect of that.
    Please keep me in loop always to refurbish my knowledge in the subject.


    Prakash Gupte /pC


    1. Hey PC sad to hear about your hospitalization
      Hope you are fine and safe & healthy now
      You are forever the life of any get together so pl take care and stay well

      Yes HR is caught between the Mgt & Employees and both constituencies must be protected
      so it is a tight rope walk
      But I believe if you are principled and ready to speak about your basis and genesis of your decisions, people do understand and stand by you
      This is what I have experienced
      and this is what made me popular
      and at the same time let me live with a clean conscience and head held high

      Of course this was possible because of organizations like J&J where values were cherished
      thanks for being a part of my journey


    1. Praju
      many of my professional colleagues want to hide or suppress this humane side as they feel they will be considered weak & will be exploited
      what I have learnt is by being open you actually bring over the erstwhile opponent to your side and then the magic happens


  6. Hi VS:

    “HR is a thankless job” is a common refrain from most of the HR executives.
    A very senior HR person once told me : “ I will never encourage my son to take up HR”

    I too have seen that HR gets sandwiched between the expectations of the two sides ..the “Management” and the Employees. This makes the task extremely challenging.

    Your narration about HR gives a refreshingly new perspective to the HR function.

    Basically, what matters is what attitude one chooses to bring to the job.

    As is clear from your narration, you have ‘chosen’ to focus on the following positive aspects of the HR function:

    • An opportunity to serve others
    • Sense of gratitude
    • Humility
    • Being Human

    Armed with the above, you are sure to be successful in any area ..why only HR?

    For example, you could be a super marketing person. With the same ammunition!!

    Having said that , I feel it is good that you have decided to stick to HR…a field where such people are a rarity!

    In the process , you have brought smile ,happiness and a sense of self-worth amongst thousands !

    Please continue the good work ..which I am sure you will !

    All the best!


    1. JL
      many thanks for your kind words

      I agree with you that the points I have written spell success in any field
      that is why I feel sad to get feedback like: this will motivate youngsters in HR”
      The formula for professional success is not function specific
      If one is passionate about what you do, success will follow
      If you have faith and commitment, you can never go wrong

      Unfortunately many of my HR colleagues do not want to stand up and be counted
      are afraid of taking counter stands
      and do not want to rock the boat
      But if you are an apologetic individual you will not get far
      Being fearless and standing up for your convictions will take you down a lonely path
      but a satisfying one

      Pl keep encouraging and challenging me, so that I remain truthful to my self


      1. Dear Shirodkarji,
        Written very well.
        In my career meet many HR professionals but first time learnt that in HR one can target development of other’s career.

        And I think one who worked with this aim must be the desired HR person in an organization.
        Good article.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Vrajesh bhai
        indeed one can easily be the most desired person in the organization if the HR person sees the role as an oppurtunity to serve
        That was my deepest insight
        and when I behaved in that manner, I got so much love from the people that I am still reeling under that impact


  7. Thank you for sharing your career journey with key learnings! I found it quite meaningful and insightful. It would certainly serve as a motivation and provide guidance to HR professionals like me. 🙏🏻


    1. Mahesh thanks for yoyr kind words
      we reached where did because of someone’s hand on our back, some blessings & support
      I am glad I can give back a part of that
      dont hesitate to write if I can help in any way
      my mail id is vikas@basilhr.com


  8. Dear Vikas,

    Great insights from a rich, rewarding and impactful journey. I like the manner in which you have covered not the functional aspects of the profession but the opportunities to serve and make a difference to the lives of people.


  9. Extremely well written.
    The wish of becoming an English Literature Professor keeps on appearing thru the blog.
    I am sure many more candidates would be attracted to HR after reading your blog.


  10. Great to learn about your journey, aspects in HR you learnt and the clarity you gave through why and what’s of HR. Humbled to learn your experience and learn from your journey. Thank you for sharing it with me. Felt privileged


    1. manas
      i have a;ways believed that we learn till the last day of our lives
      Thanks for being a part of my learning journey
      Let me assure you, you have contributed equally or more to me, than I have to you
      Keep in touch


  11. Wonderfully penned. Narration is simple, captures finer elements of the journey one goes through in making a career. Subtly captures the person you are; the values you nurture and the artist in you. Life is a canvas, knowing how to live is an art and you have done it with grace and aplomb.

    Very insightful and so much much to learn. Thanks for sharing Vikas Ji.

    – Dr Deepak Deshpande
    CHRO NTT Netmagic


    1. DD
      many many thanks
      Yes I was fortunate to work for some great corporations and some exceptionally fine Bosses and Teams
      I am what I am due to the contributions of all who came across in life
      Thanks for your kind words of appreciation


  12. VSS .sir …I was fortunate to experince what you have said while working under your extra ordinary leadership at Atul …A great personality who beleives in human pitential and provide all the opportunities to grow them ..It was life time experience to learn all humanities from you ..I corrected lots of my wrongful thouhts and actions under your mentorship .Great opportunity to listen to you once again ….yours Baraiya


    1. Baraiya
      you are more than kind
      It was a learning journey that we all undertook with one another’s help
      I became Head of HR for the first time in Atul
      we all know the challenges we faced in Atul
      But it never felt like a road of thorns and brickbats because you all were there to help me along the path
      My life has been made richer by the contributions of all you
      and I am humbled that you all so lovingly helped me grow

      Our friendship and the familial relations have stood the test of time
      many thanks


  13. Vikas Sir, you truly lived these lines!! It was a pleasure for all your colleagues to have you on the team as a mentor and leader with exceptional courage of conviction!!! Bravo!!!!


    1. Thanks Kini
      your kind words mean a lot to me
      No challenge is unsurmountable when you have the support of friends and peers
      You have always been around and I want to than you for the support
      which helped me develop that courage


  14. Vikas

    Bravo… direct dil se.

    For you are a jolly good fellow, for you are a jolly good fellow
    For you are a jolly good fellow

    and so say all of us
    And so say all of us, and so say all of us.



  15. Sir I am one of the fortunate ones who happen to know you & thanks to my dad because of whom it was possible. The most wonderful & amazing thing about you is that you make every thing around you so easy & achievable & you put across things so manageable that it always sends a positive signal to all who follow your work. Your ” Being Human ” slogan or way of life if practiced & specifically now when things are really bad can help all industries come out of the red sooner then ever expected.


    1. Nikhil
      Your father Jayant was a true source of inspiration to me
      He taught me to be grounded and keep my heart open
      I owe a HUGE debt to him

      Bhanu & you all welcomed Vinita and me into your home and your hearts
      making us all the more happy and peaceful

      many many thanks for you all being a part of our lives


  16. You are an inspiration and an institution. It was an absolute pleasure and a great opportunity to have worked with you. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside and be a part of your team. Thank you for everything!!! Keep guiding and blessing us Vikas Boss!!!


    1. Hey Rohan many many thanks for your kind words
      You all have enriched me so much, that I cannot make out where I end and where you all begin
      many thanks for all that you did to ensuring my success and enriching my life


  17. Not only well written. But I was one of those lucky few who had and opportunity to experience the goodness of your wisdom and humility. Your love for your profession and your love and concern for people always stood out. Stay blessed.


    1. Sir Anthony: bacche ko rulaoge kya. Yes we had some great time in J&J
      and that was because of all the team members in HR. This was true whether it was HCL or Siemens or Atul or J&J or GM
      i have been privileged to lead some great teams
      people like you who always stretched and contributed so much that my success was guaranteed
      thanks for being in my life

      Just today I was remembering Vijay Wilankar, Khorshed, Venu, Cynthia, TM, Shraddha, Joeseph, Fiona, Denaz Katy Leena Mahadevan
      You all became my extended family
      and I have recd a lot from you
      and still continue to receive
      God Bless you all


  18. Very Well Articulated sir.. Life experience is really enriching .
    Loved reading this too.. as always


  19. Wonderful summation of a great career . I presume would have been possible only with the problem resolution & team oriented attitude. Beautiful summation of what HR must be.


    1. Anil
      many many thanks for your kind words
      Yes whatever I achieved was truly because of the great teams I was privileged to lead
      since I enjoyed myself so much, I never felt that I have worked even a single day of my life
      It was a fun journey


  20. As usual it is a superb writeup….. Extremely delighted to read your own story….. Hearing you other day in Shapers meet and reading it hear, only suggest that how clear you were and are about HR and your life.
    Loving your Profession makes the journey more delightful.

    Looking forward to read few more of your blogs in near future.


    1. Dear Vikas,
      Really readable blog giving details of your education and
      Experience in HR Field


    2. Thanks Upendra
      I have loved my function and my role whereever I worked
      And organizations gave me support and learning and helped me to grow
      Of course I have had my hiccoughs and dips, the most famous ones being at VVF and Onida
      will share that story sometime in person


  21. Very nicely articulated. A profession that really gives us immense satisfaction at the end of the day


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