"Setting Up HR Function From Scratch A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity For An HR Professional"

Yadhu Kishore Nandikolla - Director, Human Resources, Mass Mutual India shares his experience of setting up the HR function from ground up. He also delves into the aspects that go into creating great workplaces and much more in this exclusive conversation with Krishnendra Joshi, Editorial Lead, BW People.


Yadhu Kishore Nandikolla

Joining MassMutual India as the 3rd employee when it started operations in 2020 must-have presented unique challenges and opportunities. Can you share some key experiences and lessons learned from building the HR function from the ground up in a relatively new organizational setup?

It has been an intense and life-changing learning experience setting up the HR function from ground-up at MassMutual India. I’d say it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a HR professional because you get to design the culture, people strategy, and lay the talent foundation for a new organization. I was actively involved in defining the HR & Talent strategy, organizational design & operating model, HR processes/programs/policies and talent frameworks, with the industry experiences and best practices I learnt throughout my various career assignments. Based on the growth and scalability projected for the organization, I developed an optimal HR organization structure, with clearly defined roles & responsibilities. Thereafter, I hired seasoned HR professionals from the industry that deliver outstanding results even to date. And MassMutual was not a known brand in India, so I had to implement effective strategies to establish brand awareness and recall in the talent market, so as to support in our talent acquisition and retention efforts.

With your extensive experience in HR roles at Western Union, Kony, CGI, and Satyam, how do you integrate your learnings from different industries into shaping the HR strategies at MassMutual India, especially in the context of talent management and organizational design?

Any HR strategy would be successful only if it is sustainable in the long term and it’s implementation can produce tangible & measurable benefits.  From an organization design perspective, I have extensively learnt that it is important to clearly define the goals/objectives, span of control, roles & responsibilities, and deliverables of various job levels in the organization. At the same time, it is important we identify the right talent for the right roles. It does not make sense to hire talent first and then force fit them into the existing organization structure, basically you ought to hire the most effective resource suitable for the role and not hire the individual first and then create the position thereafter. From a talent management perspective, I have learnt through my various career experiences that it is important to build a strong talent pipeline, an organization structure that is balanced with enough junior, middle and senior management talent and has a pyramid structure. Bringing in campus talent into the organization helps in building a sustainable and stable organization. These are some learnings that I have successfully implemented in MassMutual India.

Authenticity, passion, patience, and humility are traits you describe as key to your approach. How do you ensure these values are embedded in the organizational culture at MassMutual India, and what impact do you believe they have on employee engagement and satisfaction?

I walk the talk when I think of these traits. My actions and deeds demonstrate these values. At MassMutual India, I have been instrumental in building an organizational culture that is open and transparent, employees can share their views and feedback without any fear. We believe in a culture where everyone brings their wholesome self to the workplace, there is fun and camaraderie amongst colleagues, the general environment is informal and non-hierarchical, and conflicts are managed very effectively. All this is embodied in the Live Mutual philosophy and Winning Ways of MassMutual. Leaders, managers & employees are encouraged to ask questions, passionately talk about their achievements/impact, and at the same time stay grounded without any egos. Employees understand that career growth is a patient journey and managers work towards constantly grooming and developing talent in the organization. All these actions have created a deeply engaged workplace, that is reflective in our outstanding employee engagement scores and low retention rates.

Having expertise in Talent Acquisition, Onboarding, Talent Engagement, HR Operations & Payroll, Employer Branding, and various HR domains, how do you maintain a balance between these functions to create a seamless and positive employee experience throughout the lifecycle?

All HR functions are inter-linked and networked that create a wholesome employee experience. So, it’s important every HR function is given equal importance/focus and clear roles/responsibilities are defined. For example, we cannot have a great onboarding experience for employees, but mediocre talent engagement team. This creates inconsistent and confused experience for employees. I encourage my team members across these functions to operate without any borders/silos, to not pass the buck in terms of their responsibilities/accountabilities, try and operate as generalists than specialists, and showcase a ‘One HR Team’ experience to all the stakeholders. 

You mentioned the belief that great workplaces can be built through a value-based culture. Could you elaborate on the specific values you emphasize at MassMutual India and how they contribute to the success and growth of the organization?

We believe in 5 core values at MassMutual, what we call as the Winning Ways – Value People, Act with Integrity, Focus on Customer, Work Collaboratively and Achieve Results. I think all these values are embodied in how we operate as an organization - how our employees work collaboratively to deliver outstanding results, understand ever evolving/changing needs of our customers, the workplace culture where employees’ diverse backgrounds are respected and valued etc. All these practices have created an organization that stands for it’s highest standards of integrity, strong financial stability and longstanding customer loyalty.

As someone with experience in both Talent Management and HR Business Partner roles, how do you align HR strategies with broader business goals, and what role do you believe HR plays in driving organizational success in today's dynamic business environment?

HR plays a crucial role in partnering with business to understand their requirement both from technology standpoint and people matters. HR as a function is strategic to overall business growth in any organization. They are the catalysts, facilitating change management, communicating, and driving change initiatives. HR is strategic to delivering the core objectives of the organization, by partnering with the right talent and mobilising them to take up the roles that they best fit into, creating and nurturing both talent and culture that helps in the growth of the business objectives.  Since they are key business partners, they gain visibility of the leadership strategy and act as influencers/ negotiators to help leadership make the better and faster decisions. 

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