Student- Gale Partners started in 2014 but before that, you have worked with big companies like Mphasis, AOL, Target and SLK software. So, what is the difference in the work culture in a big firm and a start-up like gale Partners?
Mr Tojo Joseph- One of the main difference is people-centricity. I am not saying that the bigger firms aren’t people-centric but here, the work totally depends on the people. For example, in my company itself, I am the only person in HR. If I am not there for a week, some things may come to a standstill. And this the case for a lot of things including operational work or some technology-related work. Even if it is a junior employee who is not available, things may come to a standstill which does not augur well for a start-up. This is because start-ups are supposed to be agile and are supposed to churn out products and services faster than the regular organizations. They work on really tight timelines.
The other big difference that I can think of is the learning that you can get by working in a start-up. I keep talking about the big organization having a lot of people manning a department and you just end up becoming a part of an assembly line. But in a start-up, you can come up with something new as well. That is something a start-up can offer but a big organization might not. But the previous organization that I worked with was SLK software. There were about 2000 people in SLK software and the group had 5000 people. The group had suddenly grown big and it was an opportunity for us. There was a team called the ‘Organizational Transformational Group’. They basically grilled people to ensure that their processes were tightened. And HR was the custodian of a lot of these processes. It was challenging but we pulled it off and it was one of the big changes for SLK. It even included changing some values and culture that they have worked on for so many years. Even prior to that, when I was working in Target Technology Services, I was one of the business partners. The MD of Target India, who was also the Sr. Vice President of Target Technology Services. He used to have a direct reportees meeting once in a fortnight and I had a 15-minute slot regularly in that. HR must get a seat at the table, but I already had a huge seat at the table. And the culture of the organization was such that they were open to these changes. That was another opportunity that I got to work on where I got to do a lot of transformational changes.
Student- From being considered a support function once to now, among the most important functions in an organization, what are your views on the changes in the HR industry?
Mr Tojo Joseph- I would say, in the mindset of a lot of people in India and in the IT space, we are still a support function. But the good part is that a lot of people in HR are making a difference. HR business partner is supposedly the most important role in the HR industry now. Earlier, it used to be employee engagement or generalist. Now, the business partner is the one who runs the show in HR. And when we talk about the business partner, it is someone who actually helps make projects and programmes happen in an organization. For example, in Gale Partners, now they have started to think about how to improvise the entire delivery and the best part is that I own this project. For me, this is a win for HR because the one who built the idea is the Sr. Vice President who joined us from a bigger organization. But he felt that this has to be a project that HR runs because this involves people and it involves change. Change management, business partnering and an HR’s knowledge of different domains are going to be the keys to ensure that people stop looking at HR as just a support function. There are instances where the decisions regarding who has to be placed in projects rest with HR now as opposed to the managers because everyone has a silo view of their teams and their projects, but the good part is that the HR is for all. And our main focus is to look at people, where they stand and their developmental track. So, at the end of the day, we will be able to take a better decision as opposed to someone else taking that decision. In Target, there used to be program kick-offs, sprint kick-offs and transformation kick-offs and they were very clear that each of these kick-offs will have the HR people in them. Even the brainstorming for a project will be cofacilitated by the PMO and HR person. So, those kinds of things make a difference in terms of that seat at the table for the HR.
Student- Sir, how is HR Analytics changing the HR sector?
Mr Tojo Joseph- HR Analytics is in its initial stages. As of now, HRMS is the norm in all the organizations. But even though data analytics is emerging, I am not sure about the extent to which Analytics helps shape our decisions. We are in a phase where we have to make that transition but we still have not done so. A few large organizations like Wipro have no choice but to adopt it because the way they previously functioned has not worked out well for them. So, analytics is seen as a way that can help them retain their people, give recognition and keep the employees happy. Particularly because the competition for talent is getting tougher. So if these measures can help predict people’s behaviour, maybe not to a large extent, but at least around 80% (following the 80-20 rule), that would by itself be a win for them.
Student- With the advent of automation, there is growing apprehension about people losing their jobs. How does the HR function deal with this situation?
Mr Tojo Joseph- There are two sides to this. One is concerned with the HR operations automation and the other side is concerned with the strategic aspects of the business. HR operations automation is already happening; however, I do not believe that this has led to massive job loss. In fact, HR’s shift to a more pivotal role could be seen as an outcome of automation. That being said, a lot of HR functions are already being automated even in startups. This doesn’t in any way diminish the importance of HR, simply because an artificial system would not have the people connect factor.
However, the issue will come in when AI comes into play and this is particularly expected to impact the Banking and Financial Services in the HRM sector. So, yes, handling people’s expectations and helping them deal with job loss will definitely be a challenge faced by HR in the next couple of years. No book or program can teach you how to handle such crucial communications to the people at the receiving end. I can tell you this from the exit sessions that I have had; they’re not easy to do. It’s a very emotional conversation that you’re holding, and it is a very tough thing to do. Sometimes, people do not take smaller things like feedback very well, so you can imagine how tough such conversations can be. As to what will happen to the people who will lose their jobs, we’ll have to figure it out as and when it happens. I cannot predict how this situation will turn out to be, particularly with regard to the BFSI domain.
Student- What are the key things that companies do for employee engagement?
Mr Tojo Joseph- One of the things that I’ve noticed as a difference in a start-up, is focused on employee morale for employee engagement. We don’t use the term employee engagement at all. We look at the morale of the people and morale is a huge thing because it’s not just your salary, it’s not just your work, it’s how well they’re recognized, how well they’re rewarded, how impartial the awards are. All these things are very important in a start-up because if it leads to one or two people deciding to move on, that can be a huge hit on the business. So, employee morale is the single biggest thing HR works on and that’s what I work on. Simple things like CSR events, social events, there’s a social committee which I run, there’s a book club that doubles as my knowledge management, there’s robotics club, we’re trying to bring in wellness benefits. So overall a lot of these are very small things that can make a huge difference and that attention to detail is what I think is the most important in a start-up. I don’t think employee morale can be controlled in a bigger organization because it is way too many people and the number of HR people who are involved are much less. In a start-up, it’s one HR is to maximum 100 people and here you have 1:1000 or the lowest will be 1:200 or 1:300, which is really tough to manage. In SLK, the way my manager, who was the HR Head at that point, used to think about employee engagement was employee engagement is employee development, which to me was a “shake-me-up” kind of moment. I realized that there’s so much that we did for their development and that actually converted into people staying back even though their salary weren’t the highest in the industry. But just the developmental opportunities and the mindset the organization had from the inception time, that learning and development and growth of the people is key, has helped SLK retain a lot of its people. The other important thing I’ve noticed in SLK and other start-ups is people being empowered to make decisions even though they might be junior. There have been instances where I’ve seen junior team members, just out of college, talking to the customers and making decisions.
Student- When you come to hire in a B-school, what skills do you look for, apart from technical knowledge?
Mr Tojo Joseph- The good part is that you all have technical skills. When I started up with the job, I didn’t have any experience. So I took it up as a challenge and I was able to do it. In my case, I will look for that as one of the key things. If the person is willing to take up challenges and has an urge to learn, that makes an impact. The first thing is learning. If the learning automatically happens, growth will automatically happen. If I’m doing an interview for hiring someone, not just HR but in general, I look for that urge to learn and that mindset that I will do anything it takes to surpass those challenges that are thrown at me.
Student- How do you find the place Manipal and TAPMI?
Mr Tojo Joseph- I’ve heard a lot about Manipal. The way it looks and feels, better than I thought. I thought it will be more like a concrete jungle. But there’s a lot of green and it’s a good campus. I think the most important thing, after speaking to your Placement Head Gurudutt and to all of whom I’ve interacted with, one of the things I noticed is you all are doing a lot of things to stay up with what is happening in the industry and it’s not one of those cliché things. I see that onus on everyone to see if there’s something that is required in the industry and take
that in and plug it into the program and curriculum. The best thing I heard was about Analytics being a minor. I know there are specific courses in Analytics, but this is the first place that I’ve come across where anyone doing MBA can take up Analytics as minor. I don’t know if once you do MBA in Analytics you’ll be able to land an analytics job, but just having that in your curriculum and talking to someone when you’re going for an interview, that will put a thought in that person’s mind that this guy might be a lot more analytically and logically better than a person who hasn’t done Analytics, which gives you that edge. The other thing that I noticed was because you all are aloof from the city, both the faculty and the students are more towards learning and excelling at what you are studying as opposed to learning something to find a job. During my time of study, we never thought of getting a job. I hope that is the mindset that exists in everyone because I feel that way you are not narrowing down your vision to a job. You’re actually keeping it wide open. That is another plus point I see here.
Student- We’re launching a PGDM-HR program next year. What are your thoughts on this?
Mr Tojo Joseph- I’m interested to know more about it. I think it will be really helpful. I’ve worked in the technology line, I’ve worked in the training, I’ve done L&D and then I landed in HR. But am I planning to go back to any of those? Maybe I am. But, now that I’ve chosen HR as the place I want to be, it doesn’t make any sense for me to study anything else like Finance. It might help me, and I might learn something new. But if you have decided you want to learn HR and there’s a course specifically for that, then why not take it.