The journey started almost four decades back when Dilpreet Singh or DP Singh, as he is known to all, was graduating and preparing for the central services examination. It was then that he came across an article in a US publication, about how CHROs grow up to become CEOs in the future. Inspired, he decided to make a career in HR.
An extremely successful, yet humble HR leader, DP Singh started his HR journey 37 years ago, as a frontline HR executive, and rose up the corporate levels to his present position of vice president & HR head-India/SA at IBM. Soon after he finished his graduation, he led HR for the marketing division of an automobile giant, which was then well-known for its people practices. “It helped me understand the role and impact that the customer and marketplace play on business, and of course, it built my confidence to work as an empowered professional.”
By 1985, he was leading the HR for one of the manufacturing locations of the same company. This gave him much exposure enabling him to handle larger and more complex situations. Early on in his career, he had the opportunity to gain experience in labour relations and plant workforce implications that also included tripartite labour settlements.
Singh shares that the next chapter in his career was at an agrochemical firm, where he learnt and handled the dynamic changes of downsizing and scaling, and the complexities related with workforce re-balancing within different businesses of the company. There, he also got the opportunity to collaborate with various global professionals, who were the company’s joint venture.
“In 2000, I became a consultant and this was a particularly exciting part of my career. However, being the HR leader for MEA at IBM in Dubai gave me the experience to lead HR in a multicultural environment, as I worked with employees from 26 countries,” Singh shares. By the end of this role, he had garnered immense experience, working with employees from across 70 nationalities, before moving to lead HR for IBM India/ South Asia.
Develop a high learning quotient, while being open to unlearn and relearn.
Possess and exhibit an ownership mindset. Trust will always get you trust. Be inclusive, and share your expertise. The more you share, the more you will get in return. Never forget to learn and know your business, as that is imperative to success of all the actions and decisions that you may take during your career.In all these years, the one thing that helped Singh in his consistent growth was the fact that he kept a keen eye on the pulse of business and felt that it enabled him to get better at his job making him a superior HR leader. Reflecting on his journey, be it in the enterprise space or the entrepreneurial one, Singh says, “I have been open to learning from the marketplace, competition, leaders, my team and everyone around me.”
Splitting his learning into three phases, he shares that he learnt the importance of ethics and integrity, mutual respect, dignity of labour, listening to people and being inclusive, in his formative years. “In the second phase, I imbibed the skills to manage scale, deal with diverse people, the need for a strong culture and importance of leadership for the growth of an organisation,” he says. His recent learning, however, includes working with people across geographies, appreciating diverse cultures, leveraging analytics for business insights, and transforming personally to leverage social and digital technologies.
Singh believes that some of his learning has come from outside the job — from his theatre engagements, which taught him patience and adaptability. Singh, who speaks at various forums, feels that this adds humility to his personality, enabling him to see how knowledge sharing adds to self-growth.
A true leader at heart, Singh has faith in co-creation. He says, “It is not about who gets the credit, but the credibility of the idea that matters to the organisation. In my experience, ideas and work, owned jointly by a team, always succeed. Appreciating people for their work, being transparent with feedback without impacting the self-worth of a team member in front of their peers and appreciating the outstanding contribution of a team member is something that, I say with conviction, is the best way to empower people.” While this leads to mutual respect, transparency, acceptance of each other, it also nurtures a culture of innovation.
According to Singh, every significant shift in his career brought in new challenges and new learning that developed his professional expertise. What led him to be successful in each of these stages was an understanding of the business reality and working to find practical solutions to complex situations. “Hard work; continuous learning; putting in place processes; seeking help; thinking out of the box; exposing my vulnerability to my teams; leveraging technology; not compromising on ethics; and taking calculated risks helped me overcome many work-related and workplace challenges. Finally, it was the quality of the talent in my team that made me succeed,” he states.
At IBM, Singh has been able to implement and leverage technology into HR practices. This has resulted in efficiency and effectiveness, while adding to the experience of an employee. Singh asserts, “Rethinking workforce strategies and employee innovation during turbulent times is always important.”
He suggests that a pertinent question HR professionals need to constantly ask themselves is, “How can I do this better and differently, such that it is meaningful in the future and helps make a difference?” After all, talent is one of the most important elements in ensuring the continuous success of a company. Singh, a harbinger of technology in HR, firmly believes that, “As organisations go through the digital shift, HR leaders need to take the lead in digitising the HR functions.”
With technology changing the entire landscape of how HR functions, Singh advises that HR professionals need to have an open mind, be experimental and remain committed to continuous learning. “They have to adopt the attitude of working to learn and not just learning to work,” he says. Adopting new techniques—of working; leveraging data to provide insights; being transparent— is the way to go in the current times. “They cannot just say ‘trust me’; they need to show outcomes and behaviours, such that they can be ‘trusted’,” he adds.
A constant learner, Singh believes in hard work, persistence and continuous skill building. “One must see building careers not as a 100 metre dash, but as a marathon. Good careers are built on a strong foundation. So, focus to build the fundamentals. And as you rise in your career, focus on your strengths. It is much easier to leverage yourself with this approach,” he says.
It is his passion for work, a positive mindset and complete faith in his teams that help him sail through, even during tough times. “The other thing that keeps me going is my family support, be it my mother, wife or children. They are very understanding and play a big role in making me comfortable when they sense stress,” Singh shares.
Singh now endeavours to write more, and may even publish a book. He revealed his interest to do something in the area of education in the future— either by teaching or helping an educational institution to grow and set higher standards within the respective industry.
Singh’s motto in life is—“Enabling people to work on their strengths, be open to learn from all; be respectful; be transparent; and create an energetic and enabling work environment.”