“If CEO is the father of an organisation, CHRO is the mother,” Pankaj Lochan

Pankaj Lochan, executive director & group CHRO, JSPL, is a completely grounded individual. The experience he has gained from spending years in the manufacturing space, now allows him to play the role of a CHRO to the T. He believes himself to be a people’s person, desirous of being present where the action is. That is the reason why he chose to continue operating from Raigarh, and not from the corporate head office. In the last 25 years, he has worked for all major brands — Tata Steel, JSW Steel, Dr Reddy’s, Ambuja Cements and now Jindal Steel and Power. In a freewheeling chat with Prajjal Saha of HRKatha, he speaks his mind.

7
84945

Q. You have been shuttling between HR and manufacturing roles. Was it a well-thought out strategy or did you just go with the flow and take up whatever challenge life threw at you at different stages?

A. The HR portfolio was always there with me along with something else. For instance, when I was working with JSW Steel at the Vijaynagar plant, I was the HR head as well as the TQM head. Later, I was heading HR as well as R&D. So, in a way, I was never away from HR.

I realised that as a leader, the biggest lever I have used for efficiency and effectiveness at work, is ‘people’. As one transitions as a CHRO, one just needs to season one’s role a bit.

Yes, in between, I managed manufacturing for Ambuja Cements’ eastern India division with a production capacity of seven million tonnes. However, I was looking for a bigger canvas. And then, this opportunity from JSPL came along, offering a very big canvas and bringing me back to HR. One can do as much as one wants.

What has changed for workers in these years is that shop floors have become safe and everything is SOP driven.

Q. After completing engineering, you started with manufacturing and there was a short stint as head – HR

A. Up to 2006 I was solely into the manufacturing industry. Then, I moved into projects and became project head, which was again a life-changing role. However, I was offered a business- transformation role and that brought about major change in my function.

The first step jump in my career happened when I joined Dr Reddy’s, in a similar business- transformation role. The change in industry taught me a few new lessons, as it opened so many avenues and thought processes. I was the project head for the New Horizon Leadership Development programme in association with McKinsey.

Next, I moved to JSW taking up the twin roles of HR head and quality head. One was a left brain job and the other a right brain one. In that stint, I grew as a manager before becoming a leader. That is where I realised that I have to subordinate my growth with my learning.

I believe I have to be at the centroid of the action, and the action is in the plants. More than 95 per cent of our employees are based out of our plants. So I have to be there.

Q. How did the transition from being a manager to a leader take place?

A. This transition happened in JSW, where I was asked to look at an organisation-wide transformation through TQM, to introduce analytical thinking and statistics. Though I had the support, and guidance of my boss back then – Dr Nawal who was the deputy MD— I realised that I would have to start from scratch. Had I had hired an experienced lot I would have to make them unlearn and learn again.

Therefore, I started with a bunch of nine graduate engineering trainees from the 2014 batch. I helped them shape up for the next five years. What gives me immense pleasure and fulfilment is that all of them are doing very well in life.

This is when the realisation dawned that till then I had been doing a manager’s job. It was the success of those nine professionals that transformed me into a leader.

I personally believe that people should do less physical work on a job and be engaged in other skill-based roles. By ‘physical work’, I mean extreme labour, such as loading goods for eight hours, manually, under very hot conditions. Machines should replace such strenuous work.

Q. You started your career in 1995. In these 26 years, how has life changed for a worker at the shop floor?

A. My professional life started in one of the most challenging shop floors of Tata Steel. I was in charge of six blast furnaces, of which one was made in 1908. Even the youngest or most recent blast furnace was made in 1958! So you can imagine the kind of safety features they were equipped with.

What has changed for workers in these years is that shop floors have become safe and everything is SOP driven.

On the other hand, the ‘never say die’ spirit is less visible in today’s people.

So, on certain counts things have improved and on others they have deteriorated.

Q. CHROs generally sit in corporate head offices, but you are still at the plant. Is it by choice or is there some other reason?

A. This is by choice. I believe I have to be at the centroid of the action, and the action is in the plants. More than 95 per cent of our employees are based out of our plants. So I have to be there. Out of the nine plants, I usually operate out of the biggest two.

Our chairman, Naveen Jindal, also thinks that the primary purpose of a CHRO is to be a people’s person. Therefore, he/she should always be present to comfort the people and reside with them to know the environment that they are working in.

He is extremely people-oriented and considers the well-being of every individual and their families.

I strongly believe that if the CEO of the company plays the father’s role, as a CHRO I have to play a traditional mother’s role and care for my employees. And a mother’s role can only be played if one is close to people. In fact, I prefer eating with them at the canteen and not at my office.

Firing in MNCs can be a business decision, but in Indian companies it’s a performance-based decision.

Q. How has automation of plants affected the lives of the grassroot workers in the manufacturing sector? What’s going to be their future?

A. I think the overall skill base will go up. That means, we will still need people. Yes, so unskilled jobs will be left to intelligent machines or artificial intelligence (AI) and people will do what machines cannot do.

I personally believe that people should do less physical work on a job and be engaged in other skill-based roles. By ‘physical work’, I mean extreme labour, such as loading goods for eight hours, manually, under very hot conditions. Machines should replace such strenuous work.

Besides, safety features will further increase, and organisations will have to ensure that no worker gets hurt because of its lack of a safe and effective management system.

Japan has built itself post the Second World War on the basis of TQM. I have talked about the implications of TQM in the Indian context in my book.

Q. Do you think the gig economy has led to some uncertainty in the workforce in manufacturing?

A. Good corporate houses will steer clear of malpractices. We believe anyone who enters the gate is an employee, whether casual or permanent, irrespective of the payroll.

We even count job contracts. There is a specific department that looks into compliance tracking of their wage payments into their bank accounts. Any non-compliance has to be reported to the audit team.

The concept of ‘casual labour’ has to be replaced by ‘allied workforce’. One may enter into a contract for casual workforce with third-party companies, but such workers should be employed with those companies.

My efforts have to be focussed on bringing down the casual workforce to zero. Some job contracts will exist but only for very specific skill-based jobs, for instance, refractory shutdown jobs where people have to move from one plant to another. We can’t afford to have them on the rolls, because they come with specific requirements, roles, objectives and projects.

Q. What should the Indian companies do to attract the new generation, who otherwise fancy the MNC work culture?

A. I am glad you raised this question. Indian companies keep people at the core and the concept of firing does not exist. The multinationals (MNCs), however, keep profits at the core of everything. So, in an MNC, one may be on a highly-paid job today and jobless tomorrow, and that has been an accepted norm.

Just take the case of the layoffs in Europe and America during the pandemic. They are not comparable to India, though all markets were equally affected.

It is not as if Indian companies are not performance driven. Yes, people may lose jobs but only if they fail to improve even after several reminders.

Firing in MNCs can be a business decision, but in Indian companies it’s a performance-based decision. People will not get fired after a bad quarter. Even when JSPL was in the red some time ago, we didn’t fire a single employee.

We don’t fire people if they fail to perform extraordinarily, and I am not talking about people at the grassroots level, but at the mid-manager level. People will be asked to move and change departments before being asked to leave.

Q. You are also an author. Tell us about this part of your life.

A. Seven books authored by me are available on Amazon. My books are about the long-term approaches and plans. They cover talent management, annual business plans, business analyses, daily management plan, roles and responsibilities, SOPs and visual SOPs. One book is on employee engagement, one on daily work management, and so on. Whatever I have written is based on all that I have learned over the years.

For instance, Japan has built itself post the Second World War on the basis of TQM. I have talked about the implications of TQM in the Indian context.

The reason why people find my books great is that they feel they can easily apply the principles talked about in their own respective fields.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have worked with Pankaj Sir. Coming from a non HR background i thank him today that he trusted me, hand picked me and transformed me
    He stands by his mantra “HR is no rocket science, its just that you need to think from heart”.
    I have witnessed Pankaj sir evolve to be a leader.
    His humility is so evident in his gratitude towards his seniors and role models.

  2. Present situation this article very iffective for employee..but target is how to improove thre life style and skill confidence .diffrent type of activity means smart activity in soft flour ..down the leval employee should be involve interaction with all.thanks for this interview article i like it.

  3. Excellent Article , well through of a real CHRO and people person. Human Resources are to human beings to care about people and workers.

    A great thought on distinguishing worker and skill.

  4. Good morning sir,
    Iam ex employee of JSPL worked for 10 years as HOD of Turbine & BOO , I was fired in 2017 by our local mangement without any reason even after I have been 4 times FEE and 4 times EE. Sir our top management is very good and Naveenji is best for any grade employees, but local mangement top bosses should be improved. Please see that our talanted wirk force who have given every thing in bad times shall be retained

    Regards

  5. I had the good fortune of working with Mr Lochan as my boss. He headed entire Eastern region as head of cement business but still found time to eat, play, and spend time with young GETs. He spent hours organizing online coaching and training sessions for them. Everyone here misses him and his people centric approach. He has a knack of being able to achieve manufacturing excellence by striking a balance between people and production.

  6. Good Morning, any work where human intervention is needed, require thought process of HR Manager. Like any other resources of 4Ms (Man power, Machine Material and Money) in industries every Manager has to play a role of HR Manager. It is not the sole responsibility of so called HR functioning Manager. You are the real and very good blend of different dimensions if industries.. Conversation is very well articulated and narrated with complete clarity.

Comment on the Article

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

two × 1 =