Pingali Chandrasekhar aka Chandru spent 24 long years with Standard Chartered Bank as chief of the human resources function, before becoming an entrepreneur. A pharmacist-turned-HR professional, Chandru, founder and CEO, iCube Consortium, Singapore, has built expertise in all facets of human capital management aligned to business strategy.
He speaks to HRKatha on issues pertaining to HR including automation of the function and managing the boss.
What according to you are the advantages of having spent two decades with one company? Are pitfalls as well? What are they?
Absolutely! There are ups and downs, no doubt. And these pitfalls don’t go away by changing the organisations!
What tends to happen with a long stay is that we might enter into a comfort zone that makes change difficult. Head-hunters stop calling because they believe we don’t move anyway. Also, organisation often take these long timers for granted. So, their value has to be constantly recreated in every new role!
For me, it helped to build resilience—an ability to take the downs in one’s stride, look at every pitfall as part of a marathon rather than a 100m race, and be productive in a new role quickly because I knew the culture and how to get things done!
What is the biggest challenge for an HR manager in the banking sector? Is it attrition, finding talent or preparing the workforce to become more customer-centric?
Actually, I would say all the three and more! Coming from a traditional brick and mortar sector, I soon learnt that the banking sector has its own set of exciting human capital management challenges.
“Retail is about acquiring and onboarding talent, managing attrition proactively, engaging employees, institutionalising operational knowledge and creating a culture of customer relationship management whereas ‘wholesale’ is about creating a knowledge management infrastructure and a healthy balance between short and long-term incentive plans.”
Broadly, banking has to rely heavily on investment in automation, constant vigilance and continuous improvement of processes, policies and risk management framework. Mind you, there is a lot of talk and some feeble attempts about customer delight but given the inherent compliance in any transaction, there is only that much one tends to implement!
Since the customer has to go through process hurdles before a service is rendered, employees are trained to be polite and friendly even while insisting on complying with myriad requirements! So, for an HR leader, anticipating and leading change would be the biggest challenge! The other challenges vary by nature of the business and by country.
In general, retail is about acquiring and onboarding talent (given the volume game), managing attrition proactively, engaging employees, institutionalising operational knowledge and creating a culture of customer relationship management (not service in the traditional sense!).
Wholesale is also about creating a knowledge management infrastructure and a healthy balance between short and long-term incentive plans. As proven in the last few years, offering the balance sheet to the clients is easy business! Getting it back is the tricky part. Therefore, HR plays a crucial role to ensure that the variable incentives are aligned to the way bank makes money from clients over a longish term!
HR practitioners would do well when they start measuring every policy, process and practice for its efficiency and effectiveness. With human capital data analytics supporting the practitioner, it is imperative that we lead the function with business-aligned HC metrics and remove the perception that the HR function is about people management!!! Nothing is further from the truth. It is time to wake up.
Managing the boss is essential in today’s corporate world in order to succeed. How does one do it? Are there any pre-set rules?
Ghosh! This question can never have one silver bullet solution! Books have been written on this subject, coaches and mentors have spewed their wisdom over the years and tips have been offered wildly based on projected experiences.
My elder daughter, who has just started her career, is going through this right now, and I laugh at the familiar and oft repeated ‘boss behavioiur’, irrespective of ethnic origins, even after decades of watching work life! To me, it boils down to a few simple things—focus on building expertise in one’s domain, give your best every day, stand up for yourself on what is right, build relationships and be a team player. Some humility with success will be a good practice.
Did you notice all the points stated? None of them are about managing the boss or the other person! It is about you taking responsibility for yourself on how you want to live and work. Bosses will come and go and they have to rely on strong performers for their own survival! I have been a boss for more than two decades and the aforementioned points have helped me withstand all my bosses— bullies, tyrants, softies and discriminators! You may miss an odd promotion or recognition due to politics but in the medium run, it will all catch up, so no fret!
In terms of HR, is there a learning for the Indian PSU banks from the private banks in the country?
Responsibility, authority and accountability matrices have to be aligned for every role in any organisation. Coupled with that would be the leadership practices on the stated vs operating norms/ rules that govern the productivity and effectiveness of the working culture in a company. Now, government organisations are a classic case study for OD and design! None of the points mentioned are applicable there!!! So, the same banker performs differently when recruited into a private sector bank! Look at the stats—When private sector banks started, they employed 60 per cent of middle and senior management from PSU banks!
“Learn to withstand all your bosses – bullies, tyrants, softies and discriminators! You may miss an odd promotion due to politics but in the medium run, it will all catch up, so no fret!”
Where is the talent pool? Either active or semi-retired PSU bankers at double the pay! There is not enough talent in MNC banks, which are small. Some may exist in the NBFCs. We recruited many of them across the country! They brought solid operational knowledge, client credit risk management, business acumen and an ability to withstand pressure! Same people, but different performance. Why? Because of accountability, of course. Because the unions are not allowed to dictate unproductive behaviour, or tolerate uninhibited political interference and accept poor performance.
In my opinion, PSU banks are about working under tension while private banks are all about working under pressure. Positive pressure builds productivity but tension breaks it! So, for bankers and HR leaders, the learning is about culture of accountability, clarity of roles and responsibilities and use of delegated authority, all of which can lead to reward or job loss! Both are needed to produce the desired effect.
Do you agree that the banking industry is ill-equipped in terms of leadership development or planning the growth structure of the workforce?
Banking is undergoing change. Now we have universal banks, which offer full-fledged services, payment banks as well as micro-finance banks. We also have many NBFCS that include micro-finance companies. Given the size of the pie to be served, particularly in the semi urban and rural sector, finding talent is a major challenge that banks do face.
However, this is where the opportunity lies. Heavy investment in technology and remote service management can substitute reliance on workforce needs. India has a large base of employable qualified workforce, both experienced and newly qualified. Therefore, concepts like ‘finishing schools’ should provide adequate talent pools for the industry. In addition, alternate talent pipelines like semi-retired bankers, work from home parents, career shifters etc., can be effectively trained and deployed. So I believe it is about finding solutions to reskill, upskill and deploy than chase existing or ready pools at higher costs!
Banks have to learn to create learning academies that can produce required skill sets on a sustainable basis. Large banks, such as ICICI and HDFC, are moving in the right direction, which is why we don’t hear them complaining too much about dearth of talent.
There is no doubt a dearth of leadership pipeline as the banking industry expands ! This crunch will be felt for a few years until the young managers are groomed to be better leaders and to take on larger roles. Meanwhile, specialist leadership roles like risk, credit and compliance have to be partly ‘insourced’ with experienced global/local practitioners, who are available at a certain cost to coach and mentor the young managers. There are always solutions for all challenges.
To what extent can HR be automated? Do you think the human part is slowly vanishing from the human resources function?
The HR function has a broad base of contributions to be made to the business. As everyone knows, the three buckets are transactional, value added and strategic. It is not one or the other but a capability continuum that is essential to be developed for any organisation. Once clarity emerges on what is expected, the function can be organised to produce maximum value with continuous reviews and improvement.
“PSU banks are about working under tension while private banks are all about working under pressure. Positive pressure builds productivity but tension breaks it! So, for bankers and HR leaders, the learning is about culture of accountability, clarity of roles and responsibilities and use of delegated authority, all of which can lead to reward or job loss!”
Most of the transaction processing can be automated. The value-added and strategic space can rely heavily on technology, tools and models that enable an HR professional to succeed.
The ‘human’ element of HR is not necessarily the sole responsibility of HR alone! No doubt the HR function enables the driving of the HCM strategy for an organisation. However, it is a misplaced notion that HR is all about managing or supporting people! It is about co-creating a measurable Human Capital Index, which includes people, policies, processes, systems and practices that enhance effectiveness and produce efficiencies.
How do you think your life would have shaped up, had you not been in HR?
I was a pharmacist before I acquired my HR degree. I would probably have continued to be a business leader if I had not embraced a career in this field. Looking back, I guess I made the right choice as it gave me an opportunity to work across industries and countries, globally. I enjoyed the challenges and continue to love them in my current avatar of being an entrepreneur with a technology product in the organisational diagnostic space as well as human capital solutions that are industry agnostic and scalable.