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