A Leader, Coach and Guide
There is a lot to learn from the multifaceted leader and coach, Dr. Renu Khanna, the founder and CEO of Humex. With a career spanning thirty five long years, Dr. Renu appears as the very manifestation of the length and breadth of experience that she brings to the table, and her extensive exposure to Organization Development, Change Management, Leadership development, Associate Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity has made her name synonymous with growth and learning.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
How do you look back at your professional journey so far? Please share some of the highly enriching experiences that you came across.
I would like to see this journey as an expedition, aimed at self- discovery in the jungle of life that begins with high energy and enthusiasm with fellow dreamers like myself; a girl from Meerut with big dreams in my eyes, and along the way experience every emotion as there is to experience as you go through this expedition and the process of self‑discovery. I kept setting newer milestones for myself, and in case of failure, I always maintained a never die attitude. The joy, fun and excitement was in partnering with fellow dreamers as we went through the motion of making every experience meaningful. In the process, I dirtied my hands, partnered extensively with other people, watched and observed how my seniors participated in meetings, had conversations across, engaged actively, and took up opportunities that came my way. I was not afraid to disagree in a meeting otherwise predominated by men. Every skill needed to be polished, refined, built to suit the terrain that we were cruising through at that point in time. Leaders took notice, acknowledged the ownership, accountability, and the zeal to manage the varying shades of the terrain and offered higher responsibilities to me. Amidst all this, my one big take away has been ‘Be Yourself’ and you will make a difference.
What do you make of the challenges encountered by you in your career that gave you the most important lessons of life?
Looking back, I see those challenges as ‘Mystique’ of X-Men, carrying an ability to morph itself and creating an impression of super stretch for the person who faces it. The best way to deal with it is to first know that this is yet another morphed situation; learn from observation, do not be afraid to ask if you do not understand, seek support where necessary, avoid the trap of “I will do it all,” Engage, take the credit when it is yours, speak up your mind even when are wrong, do not be afraid to failure, and the opinions of others does not matter. More importantly, stay focused on the end goal, invest in relationships, a channel, to get you faster to your goals.
How different have the two experiences been for you - of setting up a learning and development team from scratch in an organisation to managing a well-established full life cycle leadership centre?
I see this as dabbling with the two ends of the spectrum sprinkled with the host of successes and mystique moments. In hindsight, I feel I could have done so many things differently, but, what I managed to do then has made me who I am today. If setting up a learning and development team is like a first date, then running a well‑established life cycle leadership centre is like keeping the romance, the joy, the excitement alive in the 500th or the 1000th date of the same relationship! In-built into the “setting up” aspect is the innate feeling of creation, of newness, of anticipation which all of us enjoy and revel in, and it was no different in my case – right from creating job descriptions to interviewing, to encouraging the team to think different, to watch the team go through norming and storming phases, to creating learning plans, to setting up processes were in itself enriching experiences. I had handpicked all the people in my first team and it turned out to be my dream team. Managing a leadership centre was all about being strategic where everything was connected to the big picture of the organisation. Whist the definition of high in the setting up phase was ‘creation,’ here it was about creating a differentiator, and therefore, continuously reinventing yourself. Highs and lows were a very vital and active part of these experiences; moments of great satisfaction and sometimes extreme dejection. The outer and inner ecosystem does have a role to play when one is in this position. The real test is how does one influence internal and external stakeholders and make things happen.
Who have been your figures of inspiration during this professional journey? What are some of the values and ideologies with regards to which you think, leaders should definitely walk the talk?
This is akin to searching for a drop of water absorbed by the sponge. Inspiration is all around us if we allow ourselves to be its recipient. My first boss taught me that building relationships in a corporate environment is very important, and even though processes and procedures are in place, many things can be accomplished through relationships. My second boss taught me that being faithful in little things is a BIG thing and that Integrity is a hallmark of a leader. My third boss taught me that it is important to be financially and organizationally savvy, and that politics is not a dirty word only you must know how to play the game when required.
How do you compare your entrepreneurial stint after two decades of corporate leadership experience?
The first experience was about self-edification and the stakeholders and the second stint is towards the edification of the community at large. The first was about developing, strengthening, nurturing and creating value for the business and the second is about giving wings to my childhood dreams of impacting the larger ecosystem. HUMEX to me is the expression of 35 years of my work experience; the realization of being my own boss; the appearance that wanted the canvas of influence to go beyond corporate and connect and touch the lives of Leaders, parents, teenagers, educationists, executives. In short, touch people in their multi-faceted roles that they play in life. Women leaders occupy a special place in this canvas because of the potential that is yet to be unleased and chains of limiting beliefs yet to be broken. The reward lies in their smile, when they have overcome that limiting belief.
Given your passion for nurturing women leaders, what would be your advice to them?
For me a leader is a leader be it a man or a woman. So, the one trap that women aspiring to move into leadership positions need to avoid is the trap of being seen as a ‘woman’ leader. You are a leader first and then a man or a woman. Leadership by definition has no gender, and this is never to be forgotten. Ask yourselves what skills and abilities are appreciated and valued at those levels, and start focusing on them early on in your careers without losing the natural strength you bring to the table.
NURTURING WOMEN LEADERS
1. Have a blue print
2. Be yourself... and be prepared to work 10 times harder
3. Do not try to be a perfectionist...
4. Build a support network for yourself; Seek it actively – don’t wait for it to be provided
5. Grow holistically ...take care of your physical, mental emotional and social health
6. Life is a marathon not a sprint. So, prepare for a long run… build the required stamina
7. Be Savvy… in the space of Business, Finance, Politics & Undercurrents
8. Learn to handle bullies along the way!
What do you visualise as your journey for tomorrow?
HUMEX has recently seen the light of the day, and like any founder member, I would like to see it carve a niche for itself in the time to come. As each facet of the role that people play tries to get to their destination, I would like them to see, HUMEX, as a ‘layover airport’ where they renew, refresh, rejuvenate and re-discover themselves. It could be teams experiencing discord amongst themselves, executive leaders fighting the number or identity battles, women leaders wanting to create a mark for themselves, grand-parents or parents struggling to bring up their teenage children, husband or wife trying to manage their marital discord, educationalists struggling with students or individuals, individuals grappling with questions around purpose and direction – either in their personal or professional life. True to its name, I would like to see HUMEX infuse the joy of ‘Human Excellence’ in both the personal and professional aspects of people’s lives, and have them do the same for others through leadership development, women empowerment and coaching.
"Best HR practices are built on a futuristic vision." What are your views on the same and how have you practiced this during your stint with various organisations?
For me it is about learning the skill of alignment. Today, many leaders only focus on internal alignment and localize their efforts; whereas growth comes from both internal - external alignment and building internal - external synergies. The best and next practices come from an outside-in view, also looked upon as seeing through the lens of futuristic vision. My mantra all through has been “TLN” - Take Risks, Learn & Network. This simple mantra helped me stay ahead of the curve, exposed me to varying and diverse viewpoints - the fertile ground for best and next practices, and most importantly, staying connected to the moving goal post called the ‘futuristic vision.’ Each new wave brought-in its own change before it hit the shore and made way for another. Many of today’s best practices evolved under different, unique and changing business conditions and with each wave of change, as we stay aligned to the larger macro level vision, certain practices become obsolete, thereby making way for a new one to create a ripple. There is much talk around: -
· Technology taking (in some cases WIP) centre stage within HR
be it the role of Big data or Analytics or Social Media Platforms
· Engagement through Gamification
· Managing Remote workforce
· The leaner HR
· HR the Specialists, the co-pilot in strategy execution and much more
And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It is therefore pertinent to understand those facets that affect your business operations. Most of all, focus on defining yourself as a business person and stay aligned to the macro vision and constantly keep asking yourself “What skill, competency, knowledge do I need to build, strengthen, polish, enhance in order to stay relevant at all times”
Up, Close and Personal
What inspired you to steer your career towards HR?
I started my career as a school teacher in Meerut. The school was run by one of the corporates. I still remember the day when one of the leaders from the corporate spotted me and asked “If I would like to teach their executives” –I was both nervous and excited; my first tryst with the corporate world. When I went to their office I remember the HR person took me around and showed me the entire plant and that was one of my many defining moments. What caught my attention was the tremendous respect he enjoyed. The novice in me found that extremely cool since I saw it as meet and greet people, speak to them with courtesy, and they give so much more in return.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to be with myself when I am free. The explorer in me wants to read a lot about mind, body and soul connection. I have always valued the inside out approach; it is similar to donning the oxygen mask for yourself before you try do it for others. This is what I use in most of my sessions during coaching too. At times, I multitask- the TV, music and a book all keep me hooked together.
Who would you credit in your life as a great influence in shaping the woman that you are today?
Being open to people and diversity of thought has been my greatest source of influence. To name a few influencers - My father, my first boss, my daughter, some of my subordinates and participants and the list goes on and on!
Please share some of your experiences of travelling across the globe and what have you gained from these experiences?
We talk about cities being the melting pot of culture. However, I feel it is the mind. Every exposure added a new flavour, a colour, an expression to my experience. I still remember my first international trip to Dubai, I went from being overwhelmed to being in ‘awe’ of the whole experience. Right from the look and feel of the airport to the technology deployed, to the life style etc. everything impressed me. It took a few travels to start seeing beyond some of these aspects. One of my key take-away from these experiences has been the realization that people are people, no matter which part of the world they belong to, since the basic emotions are very similar. Uniqueness of each culture is the set of values, beliefs, behaviours and rules that they operate under and once you start talking to them you see that beneath all these layers the human values are very similar, and only the manifestation may change from culture to culture. What I have realized is that:
· One needs to be mindful of different cultures
· Respect people and you can learn so much from them
· Travelling makes you independent; you have to figure out how to survive in a foreign land.
· In India, one is so pampered by the family and once you are away from home you learn to manage things on your own, take decisions on your own, survive and learn so much from situations and people.
Has someone from your family deeply inspired your values and growth as a human being?
My father was in the army and was a strict disciplinarian. He kept reiterating the value of discipline in every walk of life. He always said:
What you give you will get….be careful
Words can be a blessing or a bomb…be careful
There is no shortcut to success
1. Leadership style- Coaching.
2. Personality Type (MBTI)- ESTJ
3. Current Professional Goal – To make my own organisation a BIG name
4. Favourite Book Seven habits of highly effective people- Stephen Covey…..
5. Favourite Movie -Abhimaan
6. Favourite Music Artist -A R Rehman.
7. Life is -Fun always
8. Family- is a blessing
9. I strongly believe in - Myself
10. The most important thing I do on Sunday sleep in the afternoon
11. I deal with Setbacks By being resilient
12. 3 Things I never leave home without Mobile, Wallet, Spectacles …..
A mysterious benefactor wrote you a check for Rs. 10,00,000 and said, help me solve a problem; what would you say?
I would coach him/her to solve his/her own problem
What one thing you are deeply proud of but would never put on your resume?
Resilience- Ability to get up and start all over again
What are the top three motivators and demotivators for you at work?
Motivators- Challenging task, Empowerment, Result
Demotivators - Routine task, Hierarchy, Rigid process
What according to you is the magic potion to create and manage high performing teams?
Authenticity and mindfulness
What is the one dream that you have tucked away, for the moment?
To make Humex an International brand
Is there something that people consistently ask your advice on?
How to manage relationships in personal and professional life
When was the last time you astonished yourself?
Coaching Women for two days without a break
Gaps that HR organisations need to bridge
Technology takes centre stage, HR needs to work towards building of knowledge, process and development gaps in order to ensure a smother transition into the next biggest technology revolution. In the learning and development industry, big data and machine intelligence will lead to consumerization of learning and to step up, HR leaders and teams need to integrate non-linear learning cycles through tools such as virtual reality simulators, and Gamified apps, that are quick to adapt themselves to the increasingly sophisticated demands of Gen Z learners.
Having sat through countless hours of vendor demonstrations read and evaluated hundreds of pages of vendors RFP responses and finally zeroed on to the best technology product the last mile, for the HR teach team is to successfully implement the new technology organization wide. This is the point where the largest gaps are created. I feel the top four reasons for the failure of a well-planned tech implementation are lack of a clear understanding on what problem is being solved, lack of a top down leadership commitment, insufficient communication across a timeline and finally lack of user testing and feedback implementation. HR needs to be aware and prepared to avoid these gaps as they take their next steps towards the tech revolution.
Common errors companies make while designing engagement practices
In an environment of convergence, divergence and transformation engagement practices need to be designed in a holistic manner such that they are able to change the retention analytics significantly. Apart from being ready to tirelessly re-invent itself, HR needs to plan a transformational change through engagement practices. One of the common errors is the heavy reliance on extrinsic motivators. Motivating adults more often than not, works intrinsically and so strategies delivering the gratification of the following intrinsic motivators would work best to enhance engagement.
Autonomy: Engagement practices which give the flexibility and range of choice within boundaries.
Mastery: Learning opportunities that are wider than scope of work.
Purpose: Sharing success stories.
Success: Celebration and acknowledgement of midterm goals as well. Community: Engagement practices that allow people to socialize and network.
Creating engagement strategies that set a clear, compelling direction to empower each employee, engaging them in open and honest communication, maintaining a focus on career growth and development, providing employee benefits that demonstrate a strong commitment to employee well-being at all levels, will be the hallmark of a successful engagement practice.
1. We keep hearing about mergers and acquisitions but then no book, no literature, no MBA can prepare you for the identity crisis and challenges that the acquired company goes through. It is equally challenging and tough for both the entities as each grapple with their own priorities, and there is also the daunting task of two independent cultures becoming one.
2. HR and L & D playing a critical role though they have the power to either liberate the emotions of the people and take this experience to the next level or get caught in the legalities of policies; facilitate the creation of ‘one entity’ or get caught in the labyrinth of do’s and don’ts.
3. When the going gets tough, the tough get going came to life for those going through this transition. For HR & L & D, resilience and commitment to make a difference won the day.
4. People are your assets, your resources, your army that truly influence the P&L and balance sheet of every business. Take care not of them but their emotions and they will move mountains for you and make the impossible possible
5. L & D of an organisation can choose to be a rickety old staircase or a plain of fanciful staircase with all the frills and glitter or an elevator that has the ability to morph itself into a new entity, nonstop, at regular intervals, to suit the sophisticated demands of the business.
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