OPPORTUNITY MEETS SUCCESS
Ritesh Joshi, the dynamic and firebrand Director HR of Cummins India, is an accomplished corporate leader. His expertise spans across HR-end-to-end HR/IR Functions, HR Business Partner, Recruitment, Legal Operations, Corporate Social Responsibility, Change Management, Compensation & Benefits, Policies & Procedures, Talent Management, Organisation Development, Succession Planning, Employee Engagement, Talent Acquisition, HRIS Implementation, Compliance Management, Training & Development and People Management. He has received the Cummins India CMD Recognition for his immense contribution in diversity, and the Global Environment Challenge Recognition for his CSR contribution. He speaks about his enriching experience of 25 years and gives golden tips to youngsters who want to make a career in HR. Read on…
"Earlier, there were certain levers to attract and retain talent, like compensation, good boss and good work culture and just a bit of compassion and care thrown in. Post-Covid, the emphasis on compassion and care has gone up multi-fold. Earlier, we used to deal with employees in a cordial manner but now I need to walk an extra mile to understand what is happening in his or her life; on how we can be more accommodative, compassionate and caring."
- Ritesh Joshi,
Corporate Citizen: Tell us about your academic and early career.
Ritesh Joshi: Though I am in HR, my background is very diverse. I am an engineering graduate from K. K. Wagh Institute of Engineering Education & Research, Nashik. I started my career with shop floor experience. I was amongst those production supervisors who was on the frontline, facing the blue-collared workforce. Thereafter, I worked as Assistant Manager, Quality, where Mahindra implemented the quality management system, ISO/TS 16949. I also got an opportunity to work with certain senior consultants on overall manufacturing, engineering, and fixture refurbishments. I also worked with the Mahindra Max vehicle model. Thus, in the first decade of my career, I dabbled in hard-core engineering.
In order not to burden my parents financially, I decided to pursue my post-graduation along with my job. I first cleared the CAT examination and requested my boss if I could simultaneously pursue my MBA course. He said not to worry and that since I was in production, I could work in the second or the third shift. That was how I completed my full time MBA. Thereafter, Mahindra sponsored me for a programme at the Welingkar Institute of Management, Development and Research. That gave me further insight.
Later I moved out of Mahindra to Murugappa Group’s TI Cycles, as head of engineering and quality, at their Nashik plant. At that time, Mahindra was working on a joint venture to produce cars for the first time in India, called ‘Logan’, in joint venture with Renault Corporation. They were searching for a person from manufacturing, with a flair for HR. I had once expressed my desire to do one stint in HR to understand people processes. So they reached out to me. I was in a dilemma because I had some commitments towards the Murugappa Group. I thought it’s a head-to-heart call, a classic one, because my head was saying no to the Mahindra offer as I had a proven track of manufacturing and quality control, which was what the job at Murugappa was all about.
However, the Mahindra offer of the HR post was completely unknown and out of my area of experience. The only positive thing was that it was with Mahindra, where people knew me. So my head was saying no, but my heart was saying, ‘Hey Ritesh, you need to experiment with something you have not done and not later repent, you had wanted to do that one stint.’ And, I knew that once I start climbing the corporate ladder in operations or supply chain in manufacturing, I may not be considered for any role in HR. I thought in a worst-case scenario, they will say, ‘Ritesh, you are not going to fit here, please go back to operations.’ So, that’s how I went back to Mahindra and worked there for two years in Learning and Development.
After that, I joined General Motors as Manager Training for which I had to move out from small town Nashik to Pune. It was an amazing global corporate, which was then going through a tough time of bankruptcy. I worked for four years there.
Then the Cummins team reached out to me and I joined it again as a specialist in Learning and Development. Meanwhile, I realised that if I had to sustain for a long period in HR, I needed to further qualify. And so I joined XLRI and did its 14-15 month, post-graduate certificate programme in Human Resource Management for working professionals (PGCHRM). We had the option to do it online and offline. Though very demanding, it was an amazing experience at this great institution-I could complete that and then when I joined Cummins, I was hired as a Specialist. Three months later, I was given the responsibility of recruitment assignment, for which too I had no experience but did it effectively.
"This generation wants to work for less time. They want to have the right balance between work and life. So, you have a set of people or a set of thinking where they would like to compromise everything and maximise their wealth, so that they can live tomorrow. And there’s another set of people who think they want balance, who say, “I will enjoy work as well as life equally.”"
CC: Those days, HR was in fact, just blossoming; it was still not a full-fledged department, right?
Yes, it was called the Personnel Department at that time. I would say, I was the right person at the right time, may be. The organisation put faith in me despite my zero proven track in HR. Meanwhile, one of my colleagues moved into a different role, so I was given the role of an HR Business Partner. I knew this in theory, as I had learnt it in XLRI, but still asked him what would this role involve. He stated, Performance Management System, Organisational Development, Change Management, Compensation-Benefit, Time and Attendance, Corporate Responsibility, CSRs, so and so forth. So, it was completely an HR leader’s job, end-to-end, reporting to the Chief HR officer.
There I met Mr. Pradeep Bhargava, Managing Director, of Cummins Generator Technologies - one of the business verticals of Cummins India, and for the first time, I also sat across the table to negotiate with a labour union. Two organisations were getting integrated to form a larger Power-Gen organisation. He felt I was worthy of leading these amalgamated organisations and so I was made the HR leader.
CC: Post-Covid has HR strategy undergone a visible change?
Earlier, there were certain levers to attract and retain talent, like compensation, a good boss and good work culture and just a bit of compassion and care thrown in. Post-Covid, the emphasis on compassion and care has gone up multi-fold. Earlier, we used to deal with employees in a cordial manner, but now I need to walk an extra mile to understand what is happening in his or her life; on how we can be more accommodative, compassionate and caring. This approach is the big transformation that I see.
The second is the emphasis on organisational deliverables. A little bit of flexibility for employees existed then, but now, post pandemic, a lot of managers as well as organisations realise that each employee’s needs are different.
For example, if someone earlier said, ‘hey, my elderly parents are not keeping well,’ I would say, ‘Take care, man and do let me know if you need any help.’ Period. Now, at least progressive organisations walk an extra mile and say ‘hey, we understand your situation. Apart from any medical support, do you need any flexibility, like working part time everyday for four hours or do you need few days’ work kind of an arrangement? Or do we need to help you with a role that is easier, so that you can give to your parents more time? Or do you want to work from home, or you can come occassionally to the office, so we offer you a hybrid kind of an arrangement.’ And, this is only one example which I have given of ailing parents. There are situations where somebody loses a partner, or undergoing divorce for which too we allow flexi timings.
Apart from organisational needs and developmental needs, there are many different needs of employees. People are becoming more cognisant of those needs also and we are trying to be flexible in terms of policies, processes and programmes. So, that change is pretty evident post pandemic. It is a good sign and it is helping employees to breathe and the organisations to retain good talent.
CC: Post-pandemic, what is the attitude of the employers and the employees towards the remuneration package?
Remuneration will always remain a priority in India. The reason is that people have many aspirations. When I started my career, I knew that I had to build a house as my parents had invested in my quality education. With a lot of difficulty, they bought a two-wheeler for me but I knew that until retirement it would be difficult for my parents to create enough wealth to buy a four-wheeler. So, I would have to do that. Similarly, needs are changing-we have a lot of people coming from the lower income strata as well as those who are well-to-do, but still they want to achieve a bit more. When I was sorted with Roti-Kapda-Makan, then I started dreaming about other things. There are youngsters who are sorted with Roti-Kapda-Makan-they want vacations, they want to aspire for more.
I may say, “Fine, I will work till my 60’s, then I may work till my 70’s, maybe part time.” But this generation talks about “I don’t want to work till my 60s”. Now, if you ask me, I have started thinking that maybe I will not work till my 60’s too, maybe 55, you never know; tomorrow it may be less than that. So, this generation wants to work for less time. They want to have the right balance between work and life. So, you have a set of people or a set of thinking, where they would like to compromise everything and maximise their wealth, so that they can live tomorrow. And there’s another set of people who think they want balance, who say, “I will enjoy work as well as life equally now.” This shifting of thoughts from group A to B is happening now. The reason is that people saw uncertainty during the pandemic. But if you ask me, the young generation, are still looking to make more money. If you talk about those who are in mid-life, they are thinking, “Do I really need a 2x salary or 1.5x salary? So it is different strokes for different folks.
CC: What criteria do you use when you recruit freshers?
Qualification is not a differentiator; it is a necessity. Given a choice, one can go and hire a greenhorn but as there is good and qualified talent available in the market, that is where we draw certain thresholds. Like engineering graduates, Chartered Accountants, MBAs or MTechs, as a minimum qualification. This is called ‘fit for our requirement’ and then we check whether the candidate is in line with our values or culture. We ask behaviour-oriented questions in our interviews. Apart from assessing technical and functional skills or awareness, we also try and understand whether the candidate has the right alignment, which is essential for mutual comfort in the organisation.
"Remuneration will always remain a priority in India. People have a lot of aspirations. When I started my career, I knew that I had to build a house as my parents had invested in my quality education. Similarly, needs are changing, but we have a lot of people coming from the lower income strata as well as those who are well-to-do, but still they want to achieve a little bit more."
CC: Can you also elaborate as to what are your company’s cultures and values?
From a campus standpoint, integrity, diversity and inclusion are very important for us. Someone who believes in diversity and equity will help in creating an environment of inclusion. A person who is ready to understand that there are different individuals who come from different backgrounds, be it gender, ethnicity, region, religion, caste, creed, colour, sexual orientation, so on and so forth, that individual has a talent rather than have some stereotypes in his mind. That is something that is very critical. People who bring in compassion, because care is one of our values again, because we ensure that potential candidates exhibit care, not only for their colleagues, but also for our stakeholders, for the environment and so many other things-that is important.
CC: You mentioned that attrition is very less in your company because of all the values and ethics that you have. But why do you think that this general trend of attrition has come post Covid?
Yes, you are talking about great resignations, and I will not repeat stories of great analysts who see the world through their own lens. I have my own perspective on that. I saw this desperation where people just wanted to go out and buy stuff, because they had not bought anything during the lockdown. Similarly, people were in some role for 24 months and they too were looking for change. They could not change their environment or their house or the place where they lived, so job was one opportunity where they looked for change.
Secondly, a number of organisations also deferred their plans of hiring and expansion during the Covid period and if you recall, just pre-Covid, the initial couple of quarters for India and globally, were actually showing a downturn. Many projects were deferred, delayed and going slow, and people felt the stagnation during the pandemic. As people saw things easing out, then all the positions that were on hold started getting released and people saw the bright side. There was light at the end of the tunnel. People wanted to invest in new technologies, and those opportunities came into the market. And the last thing was that, as the world lost people, the corporate world also lost leaders. There were casualties and as people were lost, somebody had to take those positions.
The last bit is that a lot of people started thinking about life in a broader sense. There were some who were thinking, I will work until retirement. Others started thinking, oh my God, life is so uncertain, and I want to do something more, and if I continue working up to 60 and 65, when will I accomplish those things, and I may not even survive. You never know, one more pandemic, one more wave, something else will come up, and it will vanish.
People seriously started thinking about what next? This was not about people who are in their 50’s and 60s, it was also people who were younger, like in 30’s, and 40’s. People realised, okay I have certain skills, I should get into a gig workforce, rather than being in full-time employment. Such positions also got created, which had a snowballing effect, and there can be more factors. As these positions started getting created, those vacuums were filled by some people, and a vacuum got created somewhere else. Then organisations were scared they would lose good talent and started giving crazy offers like 30%, 40%, 60% hikes to retain the talent at any cost. And people started getting multiple offers and this is going crazy now.
CC: Is the HR Department the nerve centre of business today?
We call it ‘HR reimagine’, where roles will be more strategic, more consultant in nature. Where we are partnering with business to help grow business or solve business problems or talent related problems rather than helping to run the process. Helping to develop capable leaders so that leaders will run processes.
Earlier, HR used to put in a lot of effort and energy into the performance management system. Now, the shift is that as a manager, you are expected to do that. What I will help you with is create tools for you: How to be an effective leader to set the right objectives? How can you have difficult conversations? How can you reward people? I will just provide you tools, but you will exercise them. I will not do it on your behalf. You will decide. You will take a compensation decision. I will provide you a band. I will provide you the quartiles, what that resource works, so and so forth, but I will not take a compensation decision on your behalf.
"Life is not a destination, it’s a journey. One has to live it to the fullest extent. Don’t wait for the D-Day, for the time, for retirement, for an age, stage, or capital, whatever. Don’t wait. Celebrate every moment available. Build relations. Relations are very important in life, be it your family relations or your friendships. Relations are paramount."
young student managers
CC: Is that a delegation of HR duties?
It is not a delegation. It is, I will say, climbing up the value chain of the HR process. We will get into roles, which are more value adding, rather than getting into transactional work.
Similarly, we are outsourcing in areas like payrolls, provident fund, professional or service taxes, medi-claims and so on, & investing in Artificial Intelligence by chatbots and so on.
CC: What is your advice to youngsters who wants to pursue HR as his or her career?
Most importantly, they should understand that HR is not about general knowledge. HR is not about social skills only. HR is deeply technical. Apart from the HR business-partnering role, there are roles like Compensation Benefit, Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Responsibility, Labour Relations, Learning & Development and so on. These are areas where you need deep technical experts in human resource process itself. There are various tools through which we exercise, like I’m a facilitator for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). How to evaluate/assess an individual based on MBTI and how you can partner to make an individual an effective leader through those scientific tools, and not just bringing people together and having fun.
If you don’t understand business, you cannot contribute to business. So it’s very important for people to understand business. You can understand Talent economics-if you understand general economics and Talent is an economics. Being market savvy, knowing what’s happening outside is very important.
The last one is about networking-how you network with people and be effective. How you are able to create a business case out of any initiative you are running for your organisation and selling it to the business leader and saying, Boss, this makes business sense. It is not only ‘I feel - you feel’, but the need of the hour through my observation or diagnostics. I have understood this as a pattern or pulse, and we need to run this to either address or mitigate a current or future challenge.
CC: How many hours do you work in a day?
It depends on the situation. I believe in ‘live life in king-size’. Life is not a destination, it’s a journey. One has to live it to the fullest extent. Don’t wait for the D-Day, for the time, for retirement, for an age, stage, or capital, whatever. Don’t wait. Celebrate every moment available. Build relations. Relations are very important in life, be it your family relations or your friendships. Relations are paramount. That’s what I feel. My parents gave it to me and I’m giving it to my kids. There is no shortcut to hard work. Hard work is essential; there is no free lunch. There is nothing, which comes on a platter to you. I went through the grind. You have to earn your own dollar, go through the grind, otherwise you will not value the life nor appreciate people who come from the lower strata of society or the kind of struggle they go through, and you will not be able to generate the required compassion. If we’re not able to build that compassion and breed that compassion in the next generation, You are not creating that society which can actually help uplift it. We can be an economically developed country, but not a socially great country to live in.
CC: What’s your family like?
My wife is a psychologist by profession. She teaches Psychology and also does consulting assignments part-time, as a passion and not to earn money. I have two daughters. The elder one is doing her Mechanical Engineering and the younger one is still exploring. She’s in the Std IX, and would love to join the armed forces and serve the nation. My father was a fingerprint expert in the crime branch of the police. My values of integrity comes from him. He is no more – I lost him about a decade back. My mom and mother-in-law keep inspiring me. We also have a pet. These comprise my small family. I can take a full day to explain my extended family, which can be more than 200-300 friends.