INTERVIEW: Change is inevitable

HR is a critical business function. However, sometimes it gets flak for not changing with time. HR also is often deprived of the appreciation it deserves when it does things right. There are many such observations about the profession that need to be addressed. Who better to expound on these, than Rajesh Jain, HR Head, Corporate & Financial Services, Srei Infrastructure, who has spent nearly three decades in various roles in HR, and is nuanced in every facet of the field. Corporate Citizen chats with him about the changing nature of HR, his riveting journey, and the future of the field

Take us through your journey to the top of the HR summit.

I have had a very modest beginning. I grew up in Himachal. I am an engineer by education. I did my engineering from the Government Engineering College, Ujjain. I went on to do my MBA from ICFAI. I then joined Xerox as a service analyst. I worked there for a few years and got promoted to Regional Head. It was at that point that I left Xerox for Eaton Corporation. I worked there for close to five years, and moved internally to HR, where subsequently I was promoted to Head of HR. In 2008, I joined Suzlon Energy as Deputy General Manager Corporate Strategy & Planning, and worked there for four years. By the time I left Suzlon, I was General Manager, Corp HR and Head Compensation and Benefit. I joined Srei Infrastructure Finance Limited as Head HR in 2017, a position I hold till today.

How do you see Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) affecting jobs in the near future?

I believe automation and AI will create new jobs. The role of HR is strategic. I don’t feel strategic roles will be affected by technology adversely. In fact, I believe automation will facilitate HR. Yes, mundane tasks like shifting through CVs, manual assessments, etc. will be automated, but those employees can be moved to more strategic roles which will best utilise their talents. Artificial Intelligence will assist in strategising, not hinder it.

When you come to campuses for recruitment, do you see a gap between the output of the education system and the industry requirements?

There is definitely some disconnect. What is taught as theory widely differs from what is used in practice. That is why companies think twice before recruiting freshers. There needs to be effective industry—education institute partnerships, where industry experts can come to colleges and share their knowledge with students. These sessions should be made a part of the curriculum. Internships should also be increased and be for longer durations in order to give students maximum exposure to the workings of organisations.

What are some of the key initiatives you have undertaken in your time in HR?

HR is a specialist function. It has a lot to do with understanding people. I ensured that all the employees got a platform to express themselves and be collaborate together to introduce new initiatives. I introduced a platform called 'Shabaash'. If you want to thank or appreciate any employee at any time, you can fill out a card using an app or the website, and it is shared throughout the company. This is a way to improve bonding between employees and keep their morale high.

At a recent conference I attended, it was observed by the speakers that HR is the one function in an organisation which is most resistant to change. Do you think it is fair criticism?

I don't think generalisations are appropriate for such a vast function where so many diverse people with so many talents work. I feel resisI don't think generalisations are appropriate for such a vast function where so many diverse people with so many talents work. I feel resistance to change is universal amongst humans. Change comes with a lot of fear, and HR is no different. When automation first came, many people were scared, but it turned out to in fact assist them in their jobs. Also, HR acts as a conduit to the employees in an organisation, and as a result, they are most concerned when the feel any change could adversely affect the employees. Perhaps that is why that perception is there. However, if you look at the way HR functions today compared to a decade ago, I feel they have been very receptive to change, especially technology wise.

"I don’t think there is any demarcation in today's hyperconnected world. If something is important, then it has to be addressed. If there is an official emergency you need to attend to when at home, you must do it"

Do you feel HR is now getting a place on the table with the decision makers in organisations?

I feel they always had a place on the table. However, compared to a few decades ago, where there were a handful of HR personnel in any company, today their role is more recognised. HR supports the CEO in strategic decisions. Today, before taking major decisions, CEOs consult HR and their opinion carries a lot of weight. The strength of HR is increasing in most companies, which is a recognition of their importance.

Do you feel there should be a demarcation of work life and personal life, or do you think one blends into the other?

I don’t think there is any demarcation in today's hyper-connected world. If something is important, then it has to be addressed. If there is an official emergency you need to attend to when at home, you must do it. However, it works both ways. An emergency at home can take priority when you are at work too. It is all about balance. There must be flexibility. You should be permitted to come in late if you are at home to balance it out.

What is your idea of relaxation?

I believe relaxation is nothing but a state of mind. I can be relaxed even when working. As long as I am comfortable, I can relax no matter what task I am doing.

Tell us about your family and the role they have played in your success.

My father was a professor. I grew up in Himachal in a very humble upbringing. I learnt the value of being content in what we have from him. He also taught me humility. My parents gave me the freedom to choose my career, and I am forever indebted to them. My wife too has been very supportive. She left her job in order to take care of the children. I wouldn't be where I am today without her.

Do you think women are adequately represented in Indian industry?

No they aren't. We need more women to join Indian industry. I, on my part, am doing all I can to have policies in place to ensure that women are encouraged to join our company. The government too needs to introduce more programmes to encourage women. The social setup in India also needs to change for there to be a significant change in the percentage of working women.

What is your philosophy of life?

My philosophy is simple. I like being happy with what I have. I do not feed unnecessary desires or wealth. I came from humble beginnings, and I am content with what I have achieved.

From your rich experience, what advice would you give to freshers in the industry?

My advice might seem controversial. I would tell them that if possible, be self-employed. My grandfather used to give me this advice, but I didn't listen to him. I sometimes regret that.

Do you think that in today's hyperprotectionist environment, starting a business is a good idea?

Business will survive everything. There have been so many natural and man-made calamities over the centuries. Businesses find a way to adapt and survive, provided the person at the helm has sound business acumen.

By Neeraj Varty