"Because Of Technology, There Is Access To Data," Rajeev Bhardwaj

"And for HR, it has definitely made life much easy in the hybrid world, where you still have a lot of organizations with a very pronounced hybrid operating model work from home culture. Technology and tools have made it easier for people to connect while ensuring a seamless flow of work just makes it easier."


Excerpts from the candid conversation with Rajeev Bhardwaj, VP & CHRO, Sun Life Asia Service Centres.

1. What are your views on intervention of technology in the HR space? Do you think it is more of a fad that will evolve with time or do you think it's ever-growing because technology has its own pros and cons?

I see technology as a natural, organic progression for any function. So, it's not just HR, but as we evolve as an industry, as we evolve as an organization, all functions are trying to look at technology in a big way. Also, given the fact that initially, we looked at technology as a means to bring in an element of efficiency into our work, and then a Pandemic happened and suddenly efficiency got supplemented or complemented by outreach with everybody in a hybrid setting, it became the critical linking pin to connect with people and keep the lights burning. So, from that perspective, I think it's something that has really supported different functions to move forward. And for HR, it's definitely made life much easy in the hybrid world, where you still have a lot of organizations with a very pronounced hybrid operating model work from home culture, how do you connect with people? So that's something which has really helped and having technology and tools just makes it easier.

2. Are you of the view that in the post-pandemic world, the usage of HR as a function has been boosted? Of course, because you were having a number of people under you who are depending upon you, and then you had to exhibit different forms of leadership skills in that period and post that period as well. So, do you think your leadership style also changed with the intervention of technology and HR, or has it been steady?

Well, honestly, it's definitely changed. One is technology in HR and the second is how do you look at the changing talent landscape and operating landscape. The first thing is that because of technology, there is access to data. So today you have a lot more data and insights than what was available earlier by virtue of the technology tools. Second, there is access. If you want to connect with someone today, a video call is a click away, earlier it is not the case. You had to plan for it, organize it, and it is suddenly life changed and you can make calls 24*7 with minimum inconvenience to the other person. So that, I think, has in many ways bought us closer and third, I believe that there is a pronounced focus on authenticity and empathy. So, if we were doing this meeting virtually, we don't have the luxury of sitting across from each other and seeing the body language. So how do you make that little extra effort to communicate empathy and be authentic in your disposition?

In some cases, it can actually be 50%. Tomorrow, for example, I'm operating from home, so all my meetings are online. So suddenly the whole style and the way you do things change. So, from that perspective, technology has changed the way you would lead, the way you would reach out. It's also in many ways become difficult at times despite having authenticity and empathy. To build that personal connection, we met employees over tea, coffee, and lunch during the pandemic. We had these virtual coffees and virtual meetings, but it's not the same thing. So, I believe you have to supplement both and together the two make a very powerful offering.

3. Talking about the workings in the HR space. Now, hiring is one aspect of it, do you think the intervention of technology in HR has eased the process because earlier it was more of paperwork and for hiring the candidates, recruiters used to screen candidate’s resume pages? And, today with the intervention of HR tools and software, the evolution of hiring space in has changed?

For one, the reach has gone up. Earlier, you only could meet people who are coming to your office and whom you are meeting in person. Today you can actually be talking to someone who's operating from Bangalore or Chennai and actually be hiding them for a good ground-based organization. I think suddenly the talent landscape or the talent in the region from where you're hiring has become much bigger. The second thing is you're not outsourcing your process instead you're using technology to make your process effective. So, if you need information, people go and put it on the enterprise software. You could use PeopleSoft, you could use workday, or any of the different software that are available, which enables the hiring manager and recruiter and HR to have the information in real-time. It also enables you to fast forward them from one part of the process to another, conduct multiple meetings, settle up things much faster than before. Earlier, if you had to set up five meetings, there were five different days or five different slots you would take from different interviewers and then try and set it up today you can actually send the candidate that there are three meetings and these are the date and time slots and here is the zoom link where we would like you to join. It has made the selection process very easy. There are a lot of organizations that are also going a step ahead and taking all the joining documentation needed from the candidate onto the technology platform. So, the onboarding is becoming digital onboarding in the pandemic and still we do a virtual onboarding of a lot of candidates that don't need to come to work for that. But we've just transformed the employee lifecycle into the digital avatar and run it in that.

4. With the change to digital era now, do you think that the performance metric also needs to be evolved now wherein we are going completely digital now?

I like to answer this in two parts, you see. One is that going digital as a part of the pandemic was a coping reaction to what happened. In modern-day history, very few such instances have happened so we came up with a coping mechanism that is not how we would have evolved otherwise, right? So, it went to an extreme where you kind of had to operate if we are not coming to the office, this is how the interview will happen, this is how the work will happen, this is how management will happen and we kind of created it. Organizations sooner or later have to come up with a hybrid model which works for them.

5. Now, with the onset of technological usage in HR domain, do appraisal systems too need evolution? While experts believe that the need to actually evolve the performance metrics is the need of the hour, what is your view on that?

I don’t think that the basic work expectation will change or the work outcome expected of an individual and the job will change. What will change is from the employee perspective, how are they leveraging the hybrid setup to deliver their best, and from a leader or manager perspective, how are they factoring in the hybrid to manage their employees or lead their employees? So, essentially it will again be a question of how we go about managing the hybrid and how do we bring that aspect into the performance management metrics, how are you able to lead virtually, to collaborate virtually, how are you able to partner beyond boundaries? These elements are going to be playing an important role and they will have to be spelled out.

6. So now these days we are currently following number of trends in HR space like forever fallacy, quiet firing, etc. Do you think these trends are roaming because of our shift into digital mechanism or do you think it existed but because of new normal days it has been reaping its own way? 

I think it has always existed, it's an old wine in a new bottle. We always had that quite quitting phenomena, where people would do what they've expected do, so in earlier days, when you told people to take initiatives, go extra miles, that's what we are trying to tell them but today some might do it by choice, but the fact is that, people also have ideas about what they want out of their life.

It's a new term, I also spent last weekend reading up and coming up to speed on quiet quitting. But I think it has always existed it is not something that has suddenly come up. We spoke about great resignation; we spoke about demand and supply gap.

If you look at different organizations, they have experienced great resignation in every function, every level

7. Lastly, you said that we must adhere to the need of an employee that calls for a feedback mechanism. To what extent, as an employer in this new era where everything is going digital and there's so much to look out for, do you think you can get them their needs?

 I don't think it has anything with digital and technology. I think it's important for any organization to retain, grow and develop its talent to the sensitive needs of employees. Each organization comes up with a feedback mechanism to understand what the talent wants. Once you get the feedback then you will understand what they want then you're supposed to do something about it. I don't think millennials and Gen-Z's are being unreasonable. You need to understand them. Organizations are the microcosm of Society just like a family has a different age group of people with different opinions and perspectives and we respect it, in the same way, individuals in organizations have different kinds of mindsets, desires, etc. We have to find a way to reach out and address them.

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