Life presents us with a few transformative opportunities, where a decision made at the crossroads can change our direction or set us off on a path we hadn't previously considered. Such is the case with Vikram Bector, President and CHRO, Piramal Group. Vikram did not begin his career in HR, but once he stepped into the HR arena, there was no looking back.
A learning and agile approach to every challenge in his career of over 30 years across diverse sectors has helped him discover enriching aspects of his personality. It has also enabled him to become a global leader who embraces vulnerability and goes beyond the obvious to make a difference. His adventurous streak, shown in how he unrelentingly accepts every role that comes his way, has not only paid off in spades but has resulted in his greatest learning experiences.
Having worked with both multinational companies and diversified conglomerates for over three decades, how has your broad range of human resource expertise helped bring enriching perspectives to your role as an HR leader? Please share some interesting experiences you’ve had that really stick out for you.
Having worked with multinational companies, I have inculcated an inclusive global mindset that finds meaning in diverse viewpoints and helps create worldclass products and services. I’ve also been thrilled by the new experiences related to food, art and people.
My experience with large Indian conglomerates has enabled me to better understand the power of entrepreneurship and speed, enhance my ability to make faster informed decisions, nurture aspirations and meet BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals).
My career has witnessed three fundamental shifts. The first was moving from sales to the learning/HR domain; the second was transitioning from learning and talent management to the broader HR business partnering role; the third shift was becoming a global leader from my past India-centric experience and expertise.
While the first two shifts were comparatively easy, becoming a global leader has been the most rewarding and challenging shift. It is critical for successful global leaders to be open to knowing things whilst leveraging both their power as well as resources, to enable teams and other local experts find effective solutions to global issues.
The global pandemic has brought a lot of “firsts” and “new normals” for organisations around the world as disruptions have come from all angles. What are some of the new developments in the ways of working at the Piramal Group? What role did technology play in these transformations?
The COVID-19 pandemic was felt in several other countries before it hit India. The Piramal Group’s diverse presence across 30+ countries globally helped us to preempt the situation in India.
Our transition to remote working was seamless, as most of our HR processes across the Group were already digitised. To enable smooth workflows and business continuity, we were largely focused on building a culture of digital mindset by training our businesses and functions in order to move up the curve.
We ensured the safety of our on-ground COVID heroes, who relentlessly worked at our pharmaceutical facilities, glass factories, real estate construction sites and field sales offices of all businesses through our progressive policies of mental and physical well-being coupled with infrastructural support. This helped us run our operations safely and continuously.
Various technologies, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, are playing an instrumental role in transforming our HR processes. Several routine manual tasks, including sorting CVs, issuing standard letters, and calculating leave, are now automated. Employee self-service through apps for learning, goalsetting, reimbursements and claims are key enablers in driving contactless HR services.
Digitisation and digitalisation of HR processes have enhanced the employee experience, in addition to improving interactions between managers and their teams.
Innovative, technology-led, data-driven systems ultimately result in better decision-making. At Piramal Group, the availability of data, along with business intelligence, equips us to effectively cross-collaborate by providing real-time data, insights and smart dashboards at the click of a button, thereby resulting in the transition of HR from a support function to a strategic function.
HR analytics has further empowered our businesses by providing insights on spotting and retaining talent, uncovering trends and identifying potential problems. Collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and automated employee query handling through our bot, “PIRO,” have also enabled HR to become a strategic partner while enhancing the efficiency of common work processes.
As far as talent acquisition is concerned, each position is closed online, ensuring end-to-end visibility and process transparency as per the standard operating procedure. Our automated, standardised acquisition process, including job requisition, offer rollout, onboarding and background verification, has helped improve the candidate experience.
Despite all the good press about working from home, the experience hasn’t been plain sailing for many organisations. They are grappling with the challenges of maintaining employee productivity, building collegiality, keeping “human” connections going, and handling the psychological issues that remote working throws up. Please share your views and advice on this front.
Our Piramal heroes have been working tirelessly to keep the organisation’s manufacturing plants and offices running. At Piramal Group, the safety of our employees, whether they work from home or at manufacturing plants, is our utmost priority.
As far as our pharmaceutical business is concerned, we are committed to serving our patients and customers globally, and we work around the clock to ensure a continued supply of medicines to them.
We conducted an employee survey within the organisation to determine and understand the pockets of stress faced by our employees. It was evident that the stress levels of several employees, including caregivers for the elderly, parents, those living alone away from their families, and women colleagues, had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this, we offered flexibility in work schedules, mental support via helplines, frequent check-ins by managers and medical assistance, as required.
Especially during such unprecedented times, it is important for our employees to know that they can speak to counsellors or their managers and have faith that their problems, be they financial, mental, physical or emotional, will be resolved. Our HR teams at Piramal continue to support and connect our employees to the right set of experts in the medical health, mental and financial well-being space.
In this uncertain time, how can organisations keep employee morale upbeat and continue to upskill their talent on shoestring budgets?
Communication is key. Frequent and effective communication by managers and leaders, updates about the organisation’s health and strategy and news about the company and its vision are amongst the most important ways to keep up employee morale.
I think that employees are extremely smart, well-connected, and aware of what they need to learn to survive and thrive. Our role as an organisation is to support them and provide them with all the learning opportunities and tools that will better equip them to grow and excel.
At Piramal Group, we have accelerated the conversion of most learning content into digital and online forms. Given the limitations of the online medium, we have involved our leaders in enabling contextual and relevant learning.
Being honest in the wake of ambiguity, teaching coping mechanisms to master ambiguity and building hope are what keep people engaged.
On the performance management front, what should leaders and managers be prioritising, and how can they be more robust?
In my opinion, during such extraordinary times, employees must set short-term goals and ensure that they work closely with their managers to meet them. In addition, organisations must focus on team-based goals and problem-solving as well as rewards through short sprints, rather than individual goals.
Looking forward to the future, what are some of the unique challenges that HR leaders would be called upon to address?
Given the global economic uncertainty, it is imperative for HR leaders to master effective communication with various employee segments across organisational levels and geographies.
Also, as several companies globally are witnessing job cuts and restructuring, HR leaders will be required to learn how to balance cost-cutting, improve productivity and sustain employee morale.
Furthermore, HR leaders will need to increasingly leverage HR analytics and data-based decision-making since this is the most optimal time for HR to accelerate automation and digitisation.
♦ Favourite quote:
I have two favourites.
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
- Mark Twain
Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us, unplayed.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
♦ A movie title that best describes you: The Intern
♦ Describe today’s HR in one line: Poised for Glory
♦ Complete these sentences: Life is … a beautiful blessing.
♦ I strongly believe in … the power of love.
♦ What comes to your mind when you hear these words?
Up-Close and Personal
What are your three most significant learnings from the pandemic experience?
While I am usually a calm person, this pandemic has re-instilled my belief in remaining calm, not panicking, focusing on the short-term and not worrying too much about the future. This was my first learning.
My second learning was about communicating openly and honestly about what you know. The more you engage in authentic communication, the more people will be assured. You may not know all the answers, but you must be honest and truthful in sharing what you know.
The third thing I have learned is to be “OK with being not OK”— to admit to my team and people close and dear to me when I am not feeling good on a particular day. We cannot be in control and enthusiastic all the time, and it is good to acknowledge and honour our negative feelings too.
How do you set boundaries between personal life and work?
Honestly, I have not yet mastered this area, and am still working on it. My morning routine helps me stay healthy. I stick to an exercise schedule every morning and generally do not send emails or attend to phone calls before 9 am on most days. Similarly, I try not to attend emails after 10 pm unless absolutely necessary.
I do make time for a couple of areas within HR that I am interested in. Finding a few such areas that I absolutely love and make time for has worked very well for me, as it keeps me excited about being in the HR profession.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I can mimic people and sing well.
Do you look forward to permanently working from home after the pandemic subsides?
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