The Secret Mojo for future-ready HR

Now that we have come to terms with this so called ‘new normal’, what do HR folks need to do to embrace this beast lovingly and claim or re-claim their seat at the strategy table?

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As we bid adieu to 2020, all of us who want to create a positive people impact, are pondering over ‘what could be the one critical skill that we need to practice more in this decade?’.

In this last year, the pace of change has crossed all the earlier bars and the ‘new normal’ has come to stay as an alive, evolving state.

Workplaces and workforces are transforming like never before. The change has been abrupt, fast and unplanned. Hiring and honing talent will undoubtedly create a significant competitive advantage for organisations. As a corollary, human resource practitioners have started to rethink their strategy and strengthen their repertoire of skills.

I am not an HR professional. However, as an external coach to many large multinational organisations over last more than a decade, I have been a partner, an unofficial mentor and most importantly, a friend to many HR professionals. Whether they are HR business partners, L&D specialists or CHROs, their aspiration to create a strategic impact across their organisations has always been palpable. However, in these past few months, with the emergent reality, many HR practitioners, found themselves thrown off-track, scrambling to re-tune their talent management practices. This has been true at all levels, but even more pronounced at the middle level.

Now that we have come to terms with this so called ‘new normal’, what do HR folks need to do to embrace this beast lovingly and claim or re-claim their seat at the strategy table? What would the reskilled, refined, future-ready HR professional do differently? Would strategy and skills suffice? Or do they need to kindle some special magic? I am curious, “Could a coaching mindset be that secret mojo?”

Let us start at the very beginning, and examine whether there is any overlap between a coaching engagement and human resource practices at all.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. While each of these words is carefully chosen, the ones that sing to me in this context are the following:

• Partnering: The relationship is on equal footing, no one is bigger or smaller. Each one brings their best contribution and commitment to achieve a well-aligned goal. Mutual respect is the foundation

• Thought-provoking and creative: Coaching is about new perspectives, joining the dots, fresh points of view and innovative solutions

• Inspiring: The coaching process is about positive energy and invoking the intrinsic will.

• Personal and professional: It is the ‘person’ who gets coached. That the ‘professional’ shines, is but a logical outcome.

• Maximising potential: Coaching is about ‘who one could be’ and exploring the options towards attaining that.

I am sure you too are seeing the parallels that I am seeing, between a coaching engagement and a superlative futuristic HR-business relationship. If there is so much of an overlap, coaching could possibly be that magic charm for an empowered and empowering HR space in the years to come.

Now the million-dollar question is, ‘What are the ways in which HR practitioners can go about acquiring and practising this special charm?’

One obvious way is to dive in and get ICF credentialed. However, one does not need to wait for the credentialing to start being ‘coach-like’. To be ‘coach-like’ is a heady concoction of coach-mindset and coach-actions.

Here are some ways to discover the secret mojo and make it one’s own:

• Demonstrate ethical practice: Upholding confidentiality and if one cannot, being transparent about it is the way to begin a stakeholder relationship on the right footing. Be authentic, be trustworthy and be credible. This has always been important and yet during a turmoil, one cannot emphasise it enough.

• Hold the space gently and confidently: Creating a safe and supportive conversation environment is the foundation of a fulfilling relationship.
Being cognizant of and sensitive to the deepening fears and changing aspirations will go a long way for sure. It is going to take more creativity and stronger commitment to build this space in a remote-work situation.

• Establish rules of engagement: It is important to establish as to whose agenda it is. This understanding will change as per the situation and it is not frozen in time. It could be an HR agenda for certain non-negotiables. However, for all other occasions, it is best to have the stakeholder agenda at the centre of interactions. It is only fair that both HR and business agree on parameters of relationship and then adhere to them.

• Communicate effectively: We have all heard the phrase ‘listening at multiple levels’ for ages now. However, it has attained never-before dimensions. Words spoken and unspoken, sighs, pauses, smiles, noticing every little clue, bringing it to the stakeholder’s notice and exploring them together is the enhanced definition of active listening. Notice, the word is explore and not examine!

Being respectful and still direct in communication is an art that can be perfected with practice. Metaphors and analogies that land well in one’s organisational environment can convey meaty messages wrapped in light crepe.

• Add value: In a world where everything is accelerated, people have even less patience than earlier for interactions that are a tick in the box. HR practitioners can add tremendous value by supporting stakeholders in self-expression, by asking powerful questions to help generate new perspectives and by showing an untainted mirror.

• Grow yourself and grow others: As a professional, interested in and often held accountable for people’s growth, it is imperative that HR professionals invest in their own learning and development. Continue to establish SMART goals and help stakeholders create an agile plan. Identify resources and engaging ways of learning for clients and then hold them accountable for what they say they’ll do!

• Be here, be present, be there for the other: Being in the here and now helps us remain focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the others in the conversation. Genuine curiosity is the greatest gift one can give to one’s stakeholders and to oneself as well. Exploration assuming positive intention can open up new vistas for everyone impacted. What is needed is to remind oneself “there is more to the story…” and then open one’s heart to receive it.

Being ‘coach-like’ is all this and a little something more.

According to the Building Strong Coaching Cultures for the Future, a 2019 study from the International Coaching Federation and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), developing coaching skills for leaders is an ongoing process in organisations with strong coaching cultures

This anecdote from the Mahabharata drives the point home:

Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, saw a Yaksha, a celestial being, approaching him. The being sat in front of him and began firing questions rapidly.

“What is bigger than the Earth?” the Yaksha asked. “A mother” replied Yudhishthira.
“What is taller than the sky?”; “A father”
“What is faster than the wind?” “The mind, of course”. Yudhishthira smiled.
“What is the greatest dharma in the world?” queried the Yaksha
“Compassion and conscience,” came the answer!

In 2020, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) celebrates 25 years as a global organisation for coaches and coaching. Dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, ICF provides independent certification and builds a worldwide network of credentialed coaches across a variety of coaching disciplines. Its 41,000-plus members located in 147 countries and territories work towards the common goal of enhancing awareness of coaching, upholding the integrity of the profession, and continually educating themselves on the newest research and practices.

In India, ICF is represented by five vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai and ICF Pune.

Jayshree Kirtane, the author is an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with more than 2500 hours of individual coaching. Strongly engaged in the ICF community in India, as the president of the ICF Pune chapter, she holds a strong belief in universal goodness and is deeply committed to the clients’ personal growth. She is a ‘Coach for Balance’ — balancing dichotomies, most important one being ‘compassion and logic’. Such balancing leads to extraordinary results for individuals and for organisations. Originally a mathematical economist, Kirtane rewrote her life-script 18 years back and chose to study applied psychology. She has expertise in many globally-renowned psychometric instruments and HR methodologies, and combines them to bring the best benefit to clients.