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‘Employee experience will be the differentiator in the talent market in the post-pandemic world’

As an HR leader, one has to balance out the expectations of all stakeholders, says Apeejay alumnus Sudeep Luthra



A senior Human Resources  Development professional with more than 25 years of experience in the IT/Telecom, manufacturing and hospitality sectors, Sudeep Luthra has handled a variety of HR roles helping in building, sustaining and growing organisations, in an interview, the head, HR with Orange Business Services, India, explains the Covid effect on HR, the evolution of HR policies with Gen Z and millennials joining the workforce and how studying at Apeejay helped him look at the world in a balanced way and appreciate diversity. Edited excerpts:

Did you always want to be in the field of human resource development when you were young? How did you choose this career?

At a younger age, I did not have much idea about the HR field, but I enjoyed connecting with people and valued relationships. My interest in HR developed when I got an exposure to the industry during my internships and industrial visits, since HR offered a well-balanced view of all aspects of business and people issues. Hence, I decided to choose HR as my specialisation in MBA and ended up joining as Management Trainee HR in a large manufacturing plant of a reputed industrial house. This was an enriching and rewarding experience and I received hands-on exposure to practical people challenges in an industrial environment.

Please share some memories of your student life from the time when you were at Apeejay?

I joined Apeejay School, Sheikh Sarai, in class 8 and it was a big change for me as the academic standards were comparatively higher than my earlier schooling. It took a while to adjust and understand the new environment. The best part was the diversity of students and teachers, an open environment, an opportunity to speak your mind and approach teachers for any extra help and guidance. School also used to hold a lot of big events such as Annual day, Sports Day, Teachers’ Day and every House used to conduct its annual event as well. On being appointed Captain of Vivekanand House, it gave me a great opportunity to interact with different work groups, lead and manage activities and also helped hone my general management and leadership skills. The overall approach was to develop an all-round dynamic personality rather than just focus on academics.

 What role have teachers played in your life?  

My teachers and school had a great influence on my personality, my social development and professional achievements. It gave me a lot of self-confidence, helped build social connections, look at the world in a balanced way and appreciate diversity. I still recall my interactions with great teachers such as Mrs. Jawa, Mrs Reeta Kaale, Mr Rao, Mrs Anju Sinha, Mr Ajit Singh, among many others, who in some way or the other influenced me, groomed me and contributed to where I am today. I will remain grateful to them for their value-add in my life.  Some of my best friends are from school days and even today, if I need any help, I always find someone from our school time who is always ready to extend his/her support. I feel proud to see most of my batchmates being very successful in whatever field they chose, whether it’s a corporate career, medicine, law, academics, Government service or entrepreneurship etc.

 How difficult is it to pursue a career in HR? Please share a few tips for aspiring MBA students to become good HR professionals.

HR is an exciting field to be in and it’s evolving at a fast pace.  Over the last few decades, the role of HR has changed with changes in our overall economic scenario, development of new industries, introduction of new technologies, shift in focus from classic manufacturing to hi-tech/IT/ITES/Telecom and Services sectors such as Medical, Hospitality, E-commerce, Supply Chain, Fin-Tech, BFSI etc. Each sector has its own challenges from the HR perspective and offers unique learning and growth opportunities. As an HR professional, one has to keep learning, understand business objectives and be seen as a true HR Business Partner who helps businesses win.

Here are a few tips for aspiring MBA and HR students:

  • There is no substitute for hard work and academic knowledge. Make best use of your libraries, teachers and academic environment: you will not get back your college days.
  • Have an open mind and don’t restrict your exposure to only a few softer aspects of HR but try to get a holistic understanding of HR in diverse industries. Have an understanding of all aspects of HR processes and interventions including employee relations/compliances/HR operations/C&B etc. in addition to regular HR policies, processes and practices.
  • Make the best use of internship opportunities to understand real life HR operations and be a contributor rather than just an onlooker.
  • Don’t be shy of rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty, no matter how mundane or repetitive the work is. Learn tasks and then understand processes and systems.
  • Think like a HR business partner:  Understand the business you are working for, understand the customer profile and expectations of the business and how employees impact the business and customers. Think about what you can do for employees so that they can focus on the business and achieve customer delight.
  • Adopt a learning mind-set: Be open to embrace change, adopt new technologies, learn and understand how automation of HR processes can help deliver faster and efficient results.

 How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected jobs, attrition and work culture, especially with the advent of WFH?

Covid-19 has been a game changer for the industry. It impacted different industry segments and demand/supply in different ways. In some sectors jobs /revenues/profits were negatively impacted like travel and tourism, hospitality, entertainment, aviation, automobile, retail, whereas in some other sectors there was a neutral to positive impact like Pharma, Medical, IT, Telecom, FMCG etc.

Industry witnessed a demand shift to new skills and a lot of new jobs have also been created in technology / IT sectors. This has led to a very high attrition especially in IT / Banking / FinTech / On-Line Retail / Medical Services / Pharma Sectors as the talent demand is far greater than the supply creating a talent gap leading to higher attrition. Employees are looking at higher compensation and benefits. Retaining your core and critical skills and people with knowledge base is an everyday challenge and organisations are coming out with innovative solutions to address these issues.

The age profile of the workforce has changed with Gen Z/Millennials forming a significant part of the workforce who have very different workplace expectations/value systems than previous generations as they have grown with the Internet age, the telecom revolution, global exposure and a very fast-paced social and economic development.

One major outcome of Covid is the Work from Home (WFH) which was practically unheard of in most industries except for IT sectors. Except for industries / roles where there is a need for physical presence / interactions, most of the industry is exploring the possibility of adopting Hybrid Ways of Working (A mix of Work from Home + the Work from Office model) which will bring a big relief to employees in terms of improving their work life balance, saving commuting time and costs etc and for organisations to optimise their workspace / facilities costs and overheads. Further it will also boost talent movement and deployment across geographies.

 Which are the emerging career opportunities in the post-pandemic world?

In the post-pandemic world, we have a lot of new opportunities available in the organised as well as unorganised sectors. While, the classical professions and traditional roles/jobs are still going strong, there is a surge in demand for digital and technology professionals with skills in new age technology areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Cloud, Cyber/Network Security, Project Management, Full Stack Development, Programming / Coding, Data Science, IOT, Robotics and Automation etc.

In addition to core skills, employees will also need greater focus on soft skills: presentation and communication skills, collaboration, being team players, social networking, a service excellence mindset, customer orientation, responsiveness etc. In addition, being open to innovation and continuous learning, adopting new technologies, adapting to change to survive and compete in this new digital world.

What are the challenges of pursuing a career in HR and talent management?

HR and Talent Management is a very exciting, enriching and rewarding career. While the expectations from such professionals have changed over the last two decades and are still evolving, especially after the pandemic, the fundamentals remain almost the same.

Today, one must be more accommodative and empathetic to employees and their issues and always keep looking for market benchmarks to introduce innovative HR policies/practices. Ensure that the organisation’s EVP keeps evolving as per local market dynamics. Business demands more value addition and contribution from HR. People drive business; hence people strategy plays a big role in the organisation’s success. HR Professionals must continuously evaluate future skills / talent requirements and prepare the organisation to manage its talent supply accordingly.  HR has to focus on upskilling people and propose a total rewards framework.

Ensure that the organisation’s culture and values evolve with time and change management is effectively managed. One must also ensure that the employee services are digitised with automation of HR processes.

Employee experience will be the differentiator in the talent market and HR professionals have to accordingly sensitise and guide the organisational leadership to become an “employer of choice”.

 ·       What are the life lessons you picked up in school?

School taught me some very solid lessons which have helped me throughout my life. One of the lessons that I picked up was to always keep trying to achieve your goal. If you are sincere in your approach, others will also help you achieve it.  While academics are core, school is a great platform to develop your communication skills, learn how to be a team player, manage resources, do multi-tasking, and build long lasting relationships. While you have a growth mindset, always ensure you extend the development opportunities to others.

·       What is the secret to being a successful HR leader?

In the current dynamic, a few traits that will help to be a successful HR leader are:

  • Being visionary and insightful
  • Agility and being a change champion
  • Enabling people’s empowerment and innovation
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion

It’s about how you connect with people, empathise and always focus on their well-being. As a HR leader, one has to balance out the expectations of all stakeholders: people, business, customer and uphold company values and culture. Anticipating change, responding to change and adapting to change is a very essential skill to be a HR leader. One has to always keep exploring new strategies and practices to keep pace with demands of the future organisation.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74

Poetic गुफ्तगू – With हुमेरा खान @poetsofDelhi