Success of the company is dependent on how the HR function is structured: Suneel Kumar Wasan

Success of the company is dependent on how the HR function is structured: Suneel Kumar Wasan

Armed with a technical degree and trained to do a technical job, Suneel Kumar Wasan, Executive Director – HR, Egis Consulting Engineers, always found handling people issues interesting. Soon, he found himself in the role of a people manager and was later designated as a HR Manager. In an exclusive conversation with Human Capital, Suneel shares with us some memorable experiences, the various challenges he confronted as a HR and the possibilities that lie ahead of us in the future.


How do you look back at the professional journey traversed thus far? Could you share some enlightening moments experienced at various points in your professional journey?


 My professional journey has been quite exciting as well as challenging. When holding the portfolio of HR in a large multinational, I have come across people from different regions, cultures and with variant professional backgrounds. During the journey, you enrich your experiences and learn, and it has always prepared me for the challenges in the next role. During my journey, the ups and downs that companies underwent during various business cycles made me better equipped when dealing with changing situations and change management. During my career, I have witnessed the merger of several companies and in such moments wherein I had to deal with integrating people from various companies with various backgrounds, business sectors, and had to make difficult decisions partnering with the business in my journey.


How do you fathom the two experiences - setting up HR from the scratch in an organisation, to managing well-established HR frameworks?


The Infrastructure/Consulting Engineering industry is a human-oriented business. The success of the company is dependent on how the HR function is structured.


Setting up the HR function from scratch has its own charms as well as challenges. Starting from scratch, you can set up your vision/mission, HR strategy/objectives where you want to see HR in the years to come. You can hire resources who can work to that strategy, you can set up the company policies from scratch, the business strategy, the type and the nature of business. But on the other side, the challenge before you is building the HR function, organising the HR and tuning it to operate effectively requires time, patience and careful consideration.


Besides, it requires a step-by-step plan to identify what is working well and what is not, what needs to be changed, and how HR must grow with the organisation over time. Along the way, one is faced with various challenges of meeting the employees’ expectations and one has to constantly fill gaps and put fixes in place till the time things have stabilised. The HR function has to constantly face challenges and there is a risk involved in business disruption.


Managing well-established HR frameworks, though an advantage, is also replete with challenges. The challenge is to critically review the existing practices, tasks, processes and bring more creative, innovative and technological improvements into various HR tasks in consonance with the changing business needs of the organisations.


With the basic practices in place, there is a need to critically examine what has worked well and the required areas of improvement. Enriching employee experiences and living to the expectations of the employees, solving their grievances, providing HR statistics to the business leaders and creating something different is a constant challenge. Since the past record is in front of us, the present results are always compared with the past, and the onus is on the HR leader to bring in something new to the system so that it is more visible to the employees and business leaders.


In each of the two scenarios, keeping the business viewpoint assumes centre stage. Whether one is setting up the HR function from scratch or managing to setup the HR function, one has to take the business leaders along. In the first scenario, it is the setting up of policies, priority tasks, actions, processes or correcting the policies, priorities, processes and organisation structure. And in the latter scenario of the HR function being well-established, corrective actions are more towards historical data and experiences.


There is a challenging task of adapting the workplace to rapid technological changes which influence the nature of work. Advanced technology has tended to reduce the number of jobs that require little skill and to increase the number of jobs that require considerable skill - a shift we refer to as moving from touch labour to knowledge work. Given the fact that there is newer technology every day, organisations have to change their technology. New technology creates unemployment, and on the other hand, there is the scarcity of skilled manpower. In this manner, technological changes bring difficulties and challenges in the organisation.



Having been associated with the Engineering/Infrastructure Sector, what is your understanding of the business? How big a role does HR play in this sector? Were there any sectorspecific challenges and opportunities you encountered?


I have been associated with the Engineering/Infrastructure industry for the past four decades and worked in the public as well as in the private sector – associated with well-known names in the industry i.e. COWI India, Halcrow Consulting, Ch2mHill, Mott Macdonald and now with French multinational i.e. EGIS India. Infrastructure development has been the thrust of all the governments. Two decades ago, and engineering/infrastructure companies were predominantly in the public sector. But in the last two decades, several multinationals have come into the arena, and with the presence of many small players, there has been enhanced competition. Companies are cutting corners to grab business opportunities, and in the journey, quality has taken a hit. The different infrastructure sectors, Rail, Roads & Highways, Ports, Water, Buildings, Aviation, Power sectors, are all growing rapidly, and hence, a thrusting competition has developed for the human capital leading to increased costs. But on the plus side, the human capital has been able to garner several learning & development opportunities with good exposure to cutting technology, technical assistance from expat technical leaders and know-how. So, as has been the trend in most of the sectors/services, there is always a plus and a minus side.


Being in the human capital game, the role of the HR is gaining importance with its expected changing role – more from partnering with the business. With the changing business scenario, there has been a constant need to upgrade skills, have flexible policies and people wish to stick to companies who can give them enriched employee experiences – in terms of learning, rewards, benefits, mobility in roles or a better working environment. There has also been the challenging task of adapting the workplace to rapid technological changes since several roles require considerable skill, there has been an increased shift from touch labour to knowledge work.


For example, BIM is a new platform that is replacing the AutoCAD technology so fast that either the employees have to upskill or will soon find themselves out of place. Such changes transform the people mix and pose serious challenges for the HR. The technology and the need for new skills are fast-changing. Therefore, companies with better-skilled manpower and technology can survive in the engineering consultancy industry where cost efficiency has become significantly important in recent years to survive in the market.


What are some of the values and ideologies with regard to which you think leaders should definitely walk the talk to win stakeholder confidence?


It is important for leaders to dwell upon their employees on the key values of the organisation. HR has to also play a key role in engaging leaders to be a part of the induction process in which basic values, ideologies, and priorities of the company are shared with the employees. Showing ethical behaviours at all times, working with Integrity, Client satisfaction, Quality, Respect, High Performance, Teamwork, Leadership, and Innovation/creativity are some of the key values that leaders and HR have to partner together to communicate clearly. Besides this, expectations, roles & responsibilities of various employees and behaviours expected from them assumes importance.


Leaders have to play role models in becoming visionaries, creating realistic expectations and creating trust & confidence in employees to achieve the objectives as set in the business plan through a well-coordinated approach and taking teams along. Leaders have to lead in showing respect, emphatic behaviours and playing a supporting role and follow what they say and conduct their behaviours to win the confidence of their employees.



As a part of Egis India, what will be your focus for 2022? What are the organisational goals that have been set by you?


When speaking about focus, one has to keep in mind the business strategy/ plan for the year 2022 that has been set by the company. In EGIS India, we are following our group strategy for future growth. The organisation is transforming, and we are preparing ourselves for significant growth for the next five years.


The War for talent is increasing as companies are vouching for the same talent in a competitive scenario. And with such a situation emerging, talent acquisition – the right talent at the right time, and retaining the talent have gained priority. Secondly, in line with the dynamic business scenario and technological advances, the introduction of new cutting technology is compelling the organisation to build critical skills and competencies to survive in the market. It is becoming important to structure talent management around skills and not roles.


Thirdly, Change management is the order of the day, and the focus of the HR is on managing changing scenarios/ situations with mergers, acquisitions or integrations. Lastly, other factors i.e. enriching employees’ experiences, brand building, increased care for workforce health, building current and future leadership bench, equipping managers to deal human capital with empathy, the role of HR analytics in decision-making has become a priority. At EGIS, importance is being accorded to emerge as the employer of choice and become the leader in the industry in the days to come.



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