HR means being balanced and at times taking tough decisions too

In our journey of celebrating our silent HR Heroes, today we got an opportunity to interview someone from “The City of Tehzeeb (Culture) – Lucknow”, Ms Parul Darbari. Parul is an MBA from Jaipuria Institute of Management and carries an extensive experience of over 20 years across industries. In her journey, she was instrumental in driving several projects on change management and setting-up Performance Management Systems (PMS). A true HR Strategist, she's got the prowess to tackle any situation.  Thank you, Parul for agreeing to this interview. We value your time.

Never take an assignment with a casual approach - each work is important, it opens other avenues.

We would be pleased to learn about your journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview.

Well, to be honest, I never had my first job interview- it so happened that when I passed out way back in 1997 – I did not get an opportunity to work in HR. So, I along with my mother just walked into a small consulting office In Lucknow- expressed my need for a job, and I was in. But, this was actually without a salary - I was there to learn - learn something apart from the books. So, I worked here with 0 salaries for a month or 2 and then by God’s grace this boss of mine went to Escotel Mobile and he took me along seeing my work during my training period. So, my learning - Never take an assignment with a casual approach - each work is important, it opens other avenues.

Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail?

This happened when I went for the position of Head HR for Organic India way back in 2004. The position was challenging - it meant setting up the HR department - a transition from Personnel Department to HRD. I went to meet the concerned CEO but was met by a gentleman, Mr. AK Chaterjee. He was an Assistant Manager. I became insecure- what if he rejects me here and I do not get to meet the right person? But then as I started talking to him my fear vanished and I found in him a good human being, a good Human Resource. He took me to meet Mr. RB Singh, the CEO. It was an interesting conversation and all I was asked was about my understanding of HR- my interest in it. Basically, the interview was to judge my passion for the area and how I would transform personnel department to HR Department. As far as the preparation is concerned- I feel that for this interview I did not prepare and perhaps that is how it should be. Apart from visiting the website of the company I prepared nothing. I was there with no guard- I loved my subject and I was clear in my vision for the department. I think that is what got me the job.

HR means being balanced and at times taking tough decisions too.

The first job is a major milestone for many people. Let’s discuss your first year at the job. How was your experience? What were your expectations for your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation?

My first job at Escotel was a little filmy – a shy girl from a small town reaching the big city and being ragged! Yes, that was the encounter. I was a little raw- wore a lot of oil in my hair then. Some questions from my colleagues, like “which brand of beer you prefer?” bewildered me. But then gradually I made friends and the same colleagues who initially ragged me- guided and groomed me for the corporate world. It was in this office that I was told that HR professionals are like Doctors – who have the ability to heal human beings. It remains with me till now.

Well, something which was not as per my expectations was that till now I thought HR means all smiley and good things - here I learned the truth. HR means being balanced and at times taking tough decisions too.

According to you, do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience?

The first teacher in school and first boss or first mentor at the office are important for all. My first boss, Ms. Rachna Mukherjee, is a wonderful soul. Yes, I am in touch with her till date. A mentor is one who allows you to grow without overpowering you and that is what my boss did for me. A mentor not only helps you professionally but also guides you on your personal journey. Keeping balance in professional and personal life and doing well in both is something which Rachna Ma’am keeps inspiring me for.

You are an HR Practitioner for so many years. Could you please tell us why did you choose this profession? If not in HR, what another profession you would have chosen for yourself?

To be honest, being an HR professional or even MBA was not my first choice. I always wanted to be a journalist- writing, knowing people, and speaking what is right, influencing the society. My parents told me to pursue MBA and then while doing it HR became my obvious choice.

Some CEOs want the HR to be on the driver’s seat others may just want HR to be a silent spectator. It depends from organization to organization.

Having worked in a leadership role, what do you think are the expectations of a CEO or the Management Team from its HR Function in general and HR Head in particular?

The expectations may be different and while some CEOs want the HR to be on the driver’s seat others may just want HR to be a silent spectator. It depends from organization to organization. In some of the good organizations, HR is the soul of the organization wherein the expectations of CEO /Business Head is to encourage productivity through fair means and at the same time taking good care of its people. Also, HR is supposed to be a good connect for driving people towards the organization's growth journey- taking everyone along.

Employees expect that HR must be able to create a transparent system where there shall be no traces of biased decisions. Being fair is the biggest expectations as per my experience.

In the same breath, can you also highlight about expectations of employees from the HR Function of an Organization?

Hitherto, employees considered HR as a salary making, leave sanctioning and event organizing committee. However, with the evolution of HR functions, it is now looked upon as a friend of the employee from whom employees expect good career-building advice. They also expect that HR must be able to create a transparent system where there shall be no traces of biased decisions. Being fair is the biggest expectations as per my experience.

According to you, what are the key challenges of being a representative of employees as well as a representative of company management? What kind of conflicts you have faced and how did you manage to overcome them.

I think the biggest challenge that we as HR face is that many times we may not agree with what management decides, yet we have to own the decision and convince employees for the same. Also, speaking for the employees in board meetings/top management meetings at times tag you as a union leader. So, HR has to face the brunt from both sides and still, there are very fewer appreciations which HR receives. Few incidents which I recall now is that during my stint in one of the sales-oriented organization, where performance means numbers, I had this Manager who took the credit when his team did well, but when the target was not achieved he fired his executives by being abusive. It was not accepted by the HR in me –even though he was one of the top performers. My requests to counsel to warn him fell on deaf ears of the top salespersons. So, I then collected the data, documented proofs and built a case against him to be presented to the Regional Head. The factual data was appreciated by the Regional Head and this manager was not only then warned but also transferred to a less paying channel. 

In another incident, I stood up to the company policy of Saturday offs when the salespeople in my region insisted to call the sales team members even on off days. My constant emails and process deviation mails helped in implementing the policy to the core. At the same time, I had my eyes on the non-performers and was keeping a close track on numbers. So basically again – being balanced is the challenge for HR professionals. Keep the company vision in mind and well-being of all in your heart. 

HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners?   

I believe that no amount of automation shall be able to do real HR work. While AI may help HR with some technical functions, it may not be the solution for humane problems. Also, complete dependency on such systems may miss the finer lines which only human eye can see. However, one cannot deny that the social media has made HR walk all over. All the posts on LinkedIn are about the HR aspects of management. It has become a wonderful tool to hire and evaluate also. It is a great learning.    

Every job has an element of Human Resources Management but an HR professional has to influence all other professions to apply the Midas touch of HR in all they do.

Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? Why should anyone join this profession? And, what are key competencies one must have to be successful in this profession?     

HR is a tough job - though it may look easy. You have a human life in your hand so, come to it only if you can afford to be honest and courageous at all times. Growth and Opportunities in HR may be few and one has to be little more patient and persistent. Every job has an element of Human Resources Management but an HR professional has to influence all other professions to apply the Midas touch of HR in all they do. So, a successful HR may not be the best in terms of monetary rewards but, if he/she has made the organization a people’s organization then he /she has done his/her part.

Key competencies – Honesty to the core, approachable, having business acumen along with the understanding of numbers i.e. quantitative skills, and having a flair for mentoring and coaching

Thank you very much, yet again, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it.  

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Principal Consultant & Talent Strategist

As a Principal Consultant, Sanjeev is credited with pioneering best practice HR systems and processes for clients. As a Talent Strategist, Sanjeev partners with organizations hiring managers to find, select, and hire top talent which provides a foundation for organization's future growth.

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