Harlina Sodhi is a Culture Architect, Diversity Evangelist, Coaching Conversationalist and Learning Strategist. Sodhi is also the Co-founder of Believe In Yourself (BIY), a consortium of senior industry business and HR leaders, a community and movement fueling the power of ‘human’. With a career spanning more than two decades, she started her journey as a salesperson and gradually shifted to Human Resources. She has further worked with several companies such as Xerox, GE, Reliance Industries and IDFC Bank.
Sodhi was recently in the city on the invitation of National Banking Institute. While here, through NBI she has worked with several banks to create their organisational culture and also organised a two-day workshop with a bank who wanted to build women leadership. She also curated an HR conference, along with NBI, which saw a participation of over hundred people from different companies. In a conversation with B360, Harlina Sodhi talks about the future of HR, the role of digitisation, myths about robots and cultural nuances.
How has the role of HR evolved over the years?
The role of HR has significantly evolved over the last couple of years. Earlier HR was seen as a transactional job, people who will just hire someone, make payments and payroll. But today HR is seen as the partner to the CEO and COO. HR is talking to them, consulting them on what should things look like, what growth markets they should go for, what should be the talent strategy, what new technologies to bring into the business and more.
Also, the hiring processes have evolved over the years. People, in today’s time, get hired for their cultural alignment a lot more than for the domain knowledge that they possess. Candidates’ ability to deal with ambiguity and a challenging environment is a critical skill. Though experience is important yet it does not triumph above attitude these days.
How important is creating a workplace culture for startups?
Normally startups start with 2-3 people who are friends and know each other very well. So, it works all right but the moment they tend to grow and hire new people, things complicate. They may hire brilliant people but these people come with their own mindset, background, strong opinions and this results in no unified ways of doing things in that company. The moment the startup is little stable, it should work on the alignment of their leadership team to the same values which include how will they work and behave. If these are sorted early in the day, then all of them can focus on the business.
What are the major challenges for HR in an organisation today?
The most important challenge for an HR Head today is to be a great consultant and advisory to the CEO, the board and the owner of the company because what has worked so far will not work in the future. The HR has to consult and be an advisory to the decision makers saying what they should be doing. Secondly, HR should work deeply in the areas of organisation culture. S/he should make sure that everyone from top to bottom knows what the right way to behave in the company is. It is easy to say values and culture and put it on a poster or website but it takes time to explain what does it mean, make them come alive, keep them going and put them in different company processes. Lastly, build capabilities in the working force through leadership training, teach people about newer skills and many more.
In a world where people are hopping from one company to another within short time frames, what according to you can HR do towards employee retention?
There are four things that make an employee stay longer in any company. First, if the company is investing in their people, they will stay. Investing means new skills through new training programs. Training doesn’t mean KYC training or technical training, this is not helping the employees, it is only helping the company. The second reason why people stay in the company is because of great managers. It is often said that people leave people, they don’t leave companies. So, the managerial capability has to build significantly. The manager of today cannot only talk to their employees about the performance or the business; they rather have to be a coach to them. Thirdly, the culture of the company which assures the safety of the employees and encourages them to lead the innovative path. Lastly, the money factor, who pays what.
How should HR deal with women workplace harassment?
HR should deal with it in multiple ways. One way is making sure both men and women are aware of the right behaviour in the company. Many times, men think that whatever they are doing or saying is acceptable, they don’t even realise that they shouldn’t do it. It is the HR’s job to put together training programme, creating awareness in the company about the right and wrong behaviour. The HR should also place a very strong policy saying such behaviour would not be tolerated. Any offense which upon investigation is found true will have serious repercussions. Similarly, HR should also educate women employees to speak up. Many a time, women staffs are not assertive; they do not know how to deal with such situations.
Companies have their own policies and they investigate accordingly. If it’s a minor offense, the accused is asked to leave the company and if it is a major offense, this could result in hearing or committee discussion. If I talk about India in particular, the country has a very strong law called POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place Act).
#MeToo is another great campaign which is giving the victims the platform to speak up. There are many leaders like me who are the torchbearers of such platforms. I constantly urge women to speak up through my social media accounts. If women, leaders, corporates come together, things will significantly change.
How can organisations create a culture of significance which can lead them towards lifetime success?
For any culture to establish, it has to start from the top which means the CEO/board or owner of that company needs to be convinced that they need to build a culture. Many companies list out certain values with great celebrations and later fail to implement them. This is not the way to do it. If there is a commitment from the top, there should be a roadmap of building a strong culture step by step. It could start with a deeper understanding of who we are as a company. Putting values in every discussion taking place is also essential. Over the period of one to two years, gradually the DNA of people begins to change and they start believing in the values. Also if values are upheld, there should be awards and recognition for the same. The process is equivalent to nurturing a newborn child.
What kind of workplace do you strive to create?
The workplace of the future which I personally strive to create is where there is the flexibility of ideas, flexibility of time that the employee has, they are not boxed into one job, process or a flow. The second thing that I truly want for the workplace of the future is everyone should think value creation. People these days come to the workplace and think of putting their eight hours, they do not think to create values for their shareholders. Further, people should understand and be very comfortable with technology and newer ways of working.
You have talked about robots on various platforms including TEDx talk, any myth about robots you want to share with our readers? Will the rise of technology replace humans in the workplace?
A robot is a new word for technology. It will not replace humans. Robots were invented to take away the boring and dull things from our lives rather than taking away jobs. So, there’s nothing to fear about. Technology has been there for the past 40-50 years but it has not replaced any human being. It has only created more opportunities in job for the world at large and robots will also do the same. Any job which doesn’t require thinking will be handed over to them simply for the reason that they don’t get tired, don’t require any promotion or salary, don’t commit any mistakes. Hence, any mundane, transactional or scripted job will be performed by a robot. On the other hand, the jobs which require creativity, innovation, relationship building, design, thinking, empathy and conversation will be performed by humans.
If one can learn new thing and stay relevant, then there is nothing to fear. The ability to learn new things should always be there. Change is the only constant. If you are just doing a transaction, a robot will come and do that much better than you.
Being a regular reviewer for Tripadvisor, what draws you towards travelling?
Travelling gives you newer experience and broader diversity. I believe that the only way to grow in life is to meet new people. Learning doesn’t happen sitting in the same office, in the same desk. Recently, I went to the Himalayas and took the Everest flight, these journeys teach you lessons of a lifetime.
Being among the top 20 HR social media influencers, what role does social media play in your life?
Social media did multiple things for me. It helped me network across my team, country, my city, my own profession, thought leaders and opinion leaders across the world. Through these platforms, I am connected to all kinds of people. It has also helped me build communities. Today if I want to talk about coaching through social media, I have a certain community to talk about it. In other words, it is a carrier for my voice.