Interview With Kameshwari Rao

Interview With Kameshwari Rao

Human Capital interacted with Kameshwari Rao, Group Vice President, People Strategy at Publicis Sapient, who shared her experience and spoke about the company’s organisational culture, policies, employee structure and management.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey so far?


I have about 30 years of experience and come with a background in Marketing, Finance and Human Resources. I have been in the HR space since the last 18-19 years. And I have leveraged my experience in each of my career role in the best possible way.


I began my career in Merchant Banking in Mumbai, and thereafter I shifted to Bangalore. Even though I was forced to take a break due to personal reasons, the fact that I did not want to stop working made me take up a role in marketing. And it was here that I experienced a shift in terms of my personality as well as mindset. Thereafter, I moved to HR and worked in the area of Recruitment. Marketing and Sales provide you with a certain mindset and we feel that we can do anything. So, when I began to work in HR, it was all about selling the job to the candidate.


I moved to Sapient while I was in recruitment. This was about 18 years ago, and I was based in Bangalore, while we had a larger operation in Gurgaon. I have spent all my life in Bangalore since the time I have joined Publicis Sapient. It was initially about managing the Recruitment team, and delving into the proper HR scenario which includes Shared Services, Talent Management, Learning, and Business Partnering.


While we began our operations in 1999 in India, the company had been setup in 1991. When I joined the company, we were less than 100 people in India, and thus I have been a part of the evolution of the company. Today, we have now more than 10,000 employees across India.


You have a sizeable workforce in India. How have you been able manage the workforce with such efficiency?


I think the opportunity to be in a leadership team has gone well all along. I have been very fortunate to have been provided with the opportunity to work across cultures and across countries. Our Purpose and Core Values go beyond mere words and form a part of our story. In 2018, we invited everyone in the company for a conversation that would shape our foundation as well as our future—a conversation to define our Purpose and Core Values. And our people responded. In the largest act of co‑creation in the history of the company, thousands across the globe participated in workshops, conversations, and feedback sessions.


Getting to a shared purpose and values was not easy since a collaboration of such a scale is rarely achieved. We disagreed on the exact words, and everything took longer than expected. But we kept conversing, iterating, and including until we agreed on the meaning behind those words. The result is a purpose that reflects who we are at our very best, and the core values that help us live that purpose every day.


The workforce generation of the past is vastly different from the workforce generation of today. How were you able to manage that shift at Publicis Sapient?


When we started the company, a lot of experienced people who landed in India started the company. Thus, they carried their working experience with them. Eventually, we began to hire from India, and we hired a combination of people who were experienced, as also the freshers from the campus. The concept of a multi-generational workforce existed even in 2001. The other part to it is that we right now have more than 85% people who are falling in the Gen Z-Millennial category, because we keep hiring from campuses and we grow them through the system. And I have witnessed that they possess the required knowledge and are very ambitious. However, they are less patient as could have been expected from the people during the past, and are unafraid to question us. Work to them is more about visibility, to actively participate, and seeking to know what is expected of them and not the other way around. They are always energetic and are very enthusiastic. All my interactions during the last couple of years have been very interesting with these people, because they can at times take you by surprise. One needs to contemplate before answering since they can ask you a totally unexpecting question.


Culture in an imperative part of any organisation. Can you elaborate Publicis Sapient’s approach towards communicating the same?


Culture is not built in a day. It takes time. Culture is based on two key principles. One, the purpose as to why we exist in this organisation, and two, our core values.


While a set of core values were prevailing in the organisation for the last 25 years, we are now witnessing a change in technology. Today, it is all about going digital. Hence, it becomes essential to engage the organisation to drive the culture. Therefore, last year, we sent out an email seeking participation from the people in our conversation as to what should be our focus and values. Hence, we involved 2000 people in all our offices across the globe in this conversation, and it took us one complete year before we received all the relevant inputs. We had group discussions and various other formats in which people contributed to the conversation, and came up with focused core values.


We also take into consideration about what our clients are passionate about. We are very collaborative and inclusive, and hence, when we talk to the rest of the people, they understand the background and the way it comes into action. What is most important is ‘HOW’ you make it happen. For instance, our CEO unfailingly sends a very long email to the entire company seeking to know what’s in their mind, and what’s going on with the clients. And whichever offices he visits, he calls people by name and refers to the conversations he has had with other people. This is the demonstration of the culture and shows how open we are, and the manner in which we talk about things that are important to us. We also have an intranet connecting people through activities, and we run various other campaigns to keep the culture alive.


Artificial Intelligence and various other technologies are making their foray into Talent Acquisition.  Where does Publicis Sapient stand when it comes to adapting future technology?


We make use of advanced technological tools for back-end jobs such as resume matching. While technology is used for various processes, we ensure person-to-person contact when a candidate is being interviewed. Hence, once the technical test is concluded, there are two to three face to face interviews that candidates undergo. Also, the interview is conducted basis the organizational values so that the interviewer can assess if the candidate can be aligned to this organisation. Thus, while we ensure human intervention at this point in time, processes such as reporting is technology based.


We are into the business of transformation, and hence the technology used by us is apparently at a much higher level than what we see in the market. Hence, we utilise predictive AI, predictive data analytics, and data matching. We use tech tools not merely for acquisition, but also for various HR processes.


Is there anything else that you would like to highlight anything else in terms of policies?


We are focussed on diversity which is inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc. It is essential to integrate the policy, the philosophy, and the activity as a part of our CSR, and ensure that they come together and make an impact not within the company, but the society as a whole. We have partnered with Humsafar Trust, the pioneers of transgender movement in India. We have also partnered with two other organisations in the visual disabilities space, and have worked with Azad Foundation that trained women drivers in Gurgaon. In fact, we utilise their cabs.  


We integrate the work done by us and associate it with the existing culture. We are also going along with the transformational journey as we are helping our clients transform. For me, transformation is the base for all that we wish to achieve. Hence, we are spending a lot of time to create cultural transformation within the organisation. Unless we change behaviour, unless our action represents who we are as a company, we cannot transform and this is where we specialise in.


Our Core Experiences bring our Purpose and Core Values to life, but we have to ensure that we are using them well and are helping our clients to thrive. PS HOW, a unique approach to partnering with our clients, incorporates the Purpose and Values as a way to guide our actions and choices as we help our clients unlock value and thrive in exponential change.


And when we say our purpose, we help people thrive, which includes every one—our clients and their customers, our colleagues, our communities, and the world. It is purpose that compels us to make a powerful investment in building a more equitable and a sustainable future for everyone. Every Publicis Sapient associate is given a day to volunteer at the purposeful organisation of their choice, and each of our office has a Corporate Social Responsibility team dedicated to make a difference in their local communities. 



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