Rattan Chugh, an engineer by design and a true HR professional by default, has close to three decades of experience with global organisations, ranging from startups to leading multinationals. He started his career as a hands-on engineer in the IT industry and grew through the ranks to serve in several key positions in the financial services industry.
Currently, the chief people officer at Times Internet, Chugh is focussed on building and sustaining a culture of excellence at the Company, that entrepreneurs and leaders could leverage for success. He talks to HRKatha about his experiences across industries, talent management and what it truly means to be an HR professional.
Having worked across industries for close to three decades, please share your experience in terms of differences in work culture and how that influences leadership behaviours.
I started my career in a PSU (CMC) as an engineering graduate in 1988. I must say that the company followed interesting people practices, which are even trending today be it meals at work, flexible work timings, cutting-edge technology and a strong rewards and recognition programmes. Only that they weren’t a subject of discussion back then.
This implies that the more we think we are changing, the less we actually are. However, what has changed over these years are — disruptions in technology enabling more flexi work cultures, scale of managing workforces, and shorter industry cycles, which now require businesses to think faster and ahead of time.
Even the best of leadership styles have remained unchanged over the years, and across industries. Good leaders are not those who try to control information – there is unlimited information online – but those who actually share knowledge and collaborate.
Someone who understands the organisation’s culture is way more valuable than someone who may have the skills but cannot relate to the culture.
In traditional media companies, you find veterans and stalwarts, while in digital media companies the talent is young, vibrant and energetic. How are the rules of people management different in the two?
The kind of talent depends on the product. Traditional media requires that kind of experience. On the contrary, the content in digital media is completely different and hence, a younger lot is more suitable. That said, in general, the demographics of the workforce are now changing along with the changing work requirements. The delivery mechanisms are now faster than ever, requiring faster turn-around time. In that, how you deal with people is also a little different. However, the leadership style does not really differ much.
Is it more difficult or easier to handle people of Gen Y and Gen Z?
Generational differences have always prevailed with a younger and an existing older in the workforce. However, what matters is whether the newer generations look up to the leaders and whether they feel respected and heard in the workplace. It’s not about the generational differences. More so, because India has large geographical, regional and societal differences, which people from different backgrounds carry to the workplace.
People with different backgrounds and levels of access to information behave in different ways and it is the task of a good leader to connect with them well, be open with them, understand their ambitions and help them win.
“HR plays the role of the custodian of culture, wherein, sharing and embedding the right cultural values amongst the workforce is its responsibility.”
How can individual workers redefine what they see as success in the workplace and in life?
Success could mean various things to people ranging from career to wealth creation and so on. However, at work, success lies in being recognised for the current job, so much so that people reach out to you offering larger opportunities for success and recognition.
What is the real cost of a bad hiring decision? What are the few quickest ways of damage control or getting out of the situation quickly?
In addition to the time loss and financial loss, the biggest cost of a wrong hiring decision is the impact it has on the team the person has been hired for. The current team gets disrupted and leads to an environment of mistrust within the team.
In such a situation, the organisation should be quick to identify the wrong hire and take immediate corrective measures, so as to not let the team get impacted. This person may immediately be first pulled out of the team so that the team’s performance is not affected and then the management may plan her/his transition.
Second, the organisation should openly communicate this to the concerned team and more importantly, to the one who was hired. The hiring was the organisation’s decision, and hence, the person hired cannot be blamed, which is why the organisation needs to help her/him with outplacement and support, until that person has found another suitable opportunity.
Last, it is extremely crucial for the management to acknowledge and accept their mistake. The organisation, the hiring manager and/or the team lead should own up to their decision rather than cover up or waste time on explanations and excuses, only to further erode the team’s trust and performance.
“Rather than cover up or waste time on explanations and excuses, organisation and the hiring manager should own up to its decision in case of bad hiring.”
Companies seem to be changing their motto from being ‘for profit’ to ‘for benefit’. How does HR’s role change in the new environment?
Profit has always been and will be important to businesses. However, to grow an organisation’s actual enterprise value in the long run, there is a lot more in addition to profit that the business needs to concentrate on. Organisations are now more focussed on the growth of their employees, vendors and other stakeholders, in order to achieve collective success while benefitting the community on the whole.
HR plays the role of the custodian of culture, wherein, sharing and embedding the right cultural values amongst the workforce is its responsibility. Making the organisation a great workplace that’s more inclusive and respectful of its people is also the responsibility of HR. Moreover, it cannot be a one-off intervention or an activity but a way of being for HR in any successful organisation.
Do you agree that succession planning makes up the biggest agenda for a CHRO in the current times? What, according to you works best in ensuring its alignment to the organisational goal and helps make the business future ready?
Hire and fire never works. It is the perfect recipe for failures, which is why talent management makes up one of the biggest agendas for HR in the organisation. Someone who understands the organisation’s culture is way more valuable than someone who may have the skills but cannot relate to the culture. We can always look at upgrading the skillsets of one who fits into the organisational culture.
At Times Internet, we have a bouquet of 37 products, with individual teams as big as 500–600 and some small ones with 10 people or so. We believe that each one is a winner for the future and we aim to develop them for their future growth. For the products that are growing and are currently run by smaller teams, we focus on developing the leaders in those teams, such that they have the right skills to manage larger teams and responsibilities when the product line grows further. Succession planning also entails preparing for contingencies and getting people ready to take over and drive growth for the business in case something were to happen.
We also focus strongly on nurturing complimentary skills, looking at talent management in a comprehensive manner.
Organisations are now more focussed on the growth of their employees, vendors and other stakeholders, in order to achieve collective success while benefitting the community on the whole.
What is your advice to budding HR professionals?
Businesses no longer require subject matter experts, but HR professionals who understand business and can grow up to be strategic partners to the business. This means that HR should move beyond the technical expertise of the function and get more connected with the business. An inside out understanding of the business strategy and awareness of the customer goes a long way in ensuring that HR is a true enabler of business success.
In addition, HR professionals now need to take more risks, make some bets, take the right calls and be accountable for the same. Lastly, it is important for HR professionals to always be mindful of the fact that they can create a significant difference in people’s lives — it’s just about how they look at their job.