HR Leadership & Role Transformation

By: Monica Agrawal, India Lead – Financial Services, Korn Ferry

Monica brings nearly three decades of experience across leading organizations including HSBC, MasterCard, Aviva Life Insurance, Unilever and Bennett & Coleman.

Women Entrepreneur India questions Monica about the transforming role of HR and the HR leadership landscape in India.

How has the HR role transformed in the recent times?

One of the major roles that HR plays is helping organizations maximise their Talent Potential and get leverage data to make better and informed people decisions. The right people decisions offer the best ROI for Organisations.

In KF’s new report, The ROI of Hiring Strong Performers, the Korn Ferry Institute reveals how organizations that use Korn Ferry’s assessments for Talent Decisions can see a return-on-investment in the triple digits. Indeed, using the firm’s assessment data, KFI researchers found that, in just two short years, a mid-level, high-performing leader can deliver a 289 percent return on the initial financial investment. A high-performing senior executive, can bring a 278 percent return, the study found.

According to the report, key intangible benefits include stronger relationships with direct reports and supervisors, teamwork, engagement and organizational commitment, and conflict reduction.

What are your thoughts on the current state of ‘HR Leadership for corporates’ landscape in India?

Today, CHROs are no longer visualized as mere HR leaders but as important architects of a company’s success strategy. They are seen as co-pilots to the CEO’s. Hence, HR leadersshould bring a good mix of being strategic partners to the business leadership,co-own the organization transformation agenda and ensure agility in skillset and mindset. They align the talent needs of the organization to meet organization’s business goals and proactively assemble the right talent through leadership development and talent management as well as through the acquisition of cutting-edge skills from the market.

People leadership and Boardroom leadership will have to make an effort to highlight the connections between its business purpose and the needs of its executives, too

How do you think HR & People Leadership play a key role in building competitive edge for corporations across the world, especially, boardroom leadership?

One key area where HR & People leadership will play a vital role is in energizing employees and engaging them, across all levels - not just at the entry and middle-level. There is more evidence that workers who can connect their own sense of purpose to their employer’s business stay happier and more engaged on the job.The pandemic taxed the skills and stamina of many senior executives, and many are rethinking their own career paths. “These executives are thinking if they’re going to lean in that hard and heavy, it has to be something that they are passionate about,” says Tierney Remick, vice chair and coleader of Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO services practice.

People leadership and Boardroom leadership will have to make an effort to highlight the connections between its business purpose and the needs of its executives, too. “Without embracing the purpose of an organization—the motivating force of why it is so important that we exist—employees will become disenchanted,” says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development.

Directors and C-suite teams will need to spend 2021 in figuring out what skill sets the next few layers of management need to have and find new people to fill the roles. For instance, some manufacturing firms are finding that their chief technology officers need to know more about, surprisingly, technology. That role, for some organizations, has become too focused on managing people and not on the actual work, says Melissa Swift, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global leader of workforce transformation.

After the unexpected occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are facing survival challenges. How important is HR as a core function in today's business environment?

Cash crunches. Supply chain breakdowns. Sick employees. Remote work. The pandemic gave boards and CEOs a chance to evaluate how talented and agile their workforce, especially, their senior leadership really is. “There’s been a lot of interaction between board and management, giving them keen insights into the potential and capability of their executives,” says Tierney Remick, vice chair and coleader of Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO services practice.

Hence, HR will need to play a vital role in succession planning to understand and stress-test its leaders and ensure that the organization has a strong pool of internal capability across levels to draw from.

As a direct impact of COVID-19, according to a SHRM survey of 2,000+ members, 2 in 3 employers say maintaining employee morale is a challenge.

HR will play a significant role in helping organizations transform by supporting employees as they identify and develop the skills needed to perform in this new environment, preparing their workforce for continued change and driving the highest levels of engagement. 

What are some of the challenges that HR leaders are expecting to witness in the coming times? What strategies they should prepare to face and overcome those challenges?

Some of the challenges the HR leaders are likely to face/currently facing include dealing with and blended workforce, keeping employee morale and engagement highand finding resilient talent that can help organisations perform as well as transform.

Given COVID’s accelerated impact on Digitalisation, companies of all sizes have been scrambling to find digitally savvy talent. Some are on-boarding external talent while some are reskilling their existing talent basis their learning agility. But when it comes to reskilling employees, it is often only the biggest of big firms that are willing to make major commitments to retrain their own employees. The rest prioritized looking for new recruits.

Firms are hoping that improving workers’ hard skills, such as programming or data analysis, and soft skills, such as learning agility and organizational awareness, will help its staff be ready for the jobs of tomorrow (and maybe convince more employees to stick around).