Mr. Piyush Upadhyay – Executive Director – Human Resource & Administration at Volkswagen India

Samatvam: Congratulations for achieving your present eminent position as the Executive Director – Human Resource & Administration at Volkswagen India

Looking back to the early stages of your career, what was the impetus that helped you choose HR?

Piyush Upadhyay (PU): When I was a management aspirant, I was passionate about people and people management. I furthered my grounding by way of professional education in Human Resource Management. Exposing myself to HR nuances, I undertook various projects in HR and excitingly went through the grove. As I am a relationship and socially oriented individual, I believe my personality gives me an edge to work in the area of Human Resources. Without regret, today when I look back, I believe I took the right decision of choosing HR as a career.

Samatvam: Throughout your distinguished career, you must have had highs and lows. What has been your peak moment? What has been that one most fulfilling experience in your long professional journey?

PU: As a Personnel Officer in Hindustan Lever Limited (now known as Hindustan Unilever HUL) in one of the factories in Taloja, Mumbai gave me the right initial grounding. The factory was old and had workers who were highly skilled and experienced. The IR environment at the factory was challenging, and was witnessing several ups and downs. For a young officer like me, it was a plate full of things to handle.

With such a challenging environment in the backdrop, I was entrusted to support my superiors and facilitate a long-term wage settlement. My task was to establish rapport with the key decision makers of the union members, understand their needs in purview of what the organization could deliver, and strike a balance between the needs of the union workers and the organizational ability to fulfill those needs. It was a tough mandate for a fresh graduate like me. I gasped courage, and was seen questioning and convincing middle-aged union members, to only eventually see myself sailing through with the first long term settlement ever in my life. This was my first peak moment.

The second experience that I remember most vividly is from my days at Tata Steel, where I was a part of the HR task force. With professional experience of merely 3 or 4 years, I had to handle the performance management system and other crucial HR systems. I feel privileged when I recall that some of my innovative recommendations in the HR systems and processes area in that instance were honoured and promptly implemented by the senior management.

These are the two peak experiences from my professional life that I remember very brightly. In both the accounts, I feel the organization and my superiors played a very important role.

Samatvam: What do you value most about yourself as an HR leader? What are the top three strengths or talents that have helped you reach your present position?

PU: As I briefly mentioned, the quality that I think I have is my relationship and social inclination, which I think as HR professional has helped me a lot. If one has this trait, one would always look at a problem or a challenging situation without any kind of ego, and would rather prefer talking to the people to find out the solution amicably rather than contest it. This has helped me in my own professional career as an HR leader.

The other thing that has always driven me towards success is my own passion to settle with nothing less than the best. One may regard me as a perfectionist who looks at a problem from all the corners and ensure that what I ultimately suggest by way of an idea, solution or recommendation, has already captured each and every possible risk. This image has helped me win through various opportunities of suggesting and implementing HR processes and systems in the past.

We HR professionals tend to look at negative aspects of people or things at times. I think it is imperative upon us to look at every situation constructively. If you look at positive sides of it, then the negatives, if any, will always get addressed automatically. So, attempting to find out the strengths in each and every process and all the people is another perspective that I call my strength. For example, one philosophy that I always follow in the area of people management is that no person is inherently good or bad. Often, it is the circumstances that make him what he or she is. We as HR professionals should work on those lines. If those situations can get addressed you will get the best of the things.

Samatvam: What do you value most about the HR profession, and what about it makes you so enthusiastic?

PU: I am driven with the purpose that one should always look at creative and innovative solutions. Every problem definitely has a solution. However, the person who wins the race is the one who has some kind of creative and innovative way of solving the same problem. This is something that I value about myself. By now, I have encountered various such problematic situations. And whenever I have offered innovative and creative solutions, they have worked. This is also an area where the HR person can add value to the organization.

Another thing that I value the most is the role that the HR plays in shaping the culture of the organization. When HR and the CEO or the top management work together, HR takes the facilitator, supporter or an architect’s role and enables the execution of systems and processes thereby delivering what the organization is expected to achieve.

From an organization point of view, I think successful companies are those that offer this kind of environment at least to their HR professionals. They have the space and the freedom to experiment and implement innovative and creative ideas in the organization. All HR professionals implement a performance appraisal and management system, recruitment practices, training interventions etc. However, the HR professionals who do it in an innovative manner by being within the boundary of the system are actually adding value to their profession.

Samatvam: When the HR function in an organization is operating at its best, what does it look like – in terms of people, systems, practices, and structures?

PU: In my opinion, the HR function of an organization is at its best when it is completely ingrained into the DNA of the organization. You will find all HR team members and leaders being actively part of not only day-to-day management of services or the processes but also actively involved in some important decisions that the organization is taking whether by the way of product management, or quality or business development. I think you judge the success of any organization by seeing how well the HR is involved into such kind of important decisions. This is when HR gets seen as contributing to the organization strategy and helps in realizing the company’s goals as well as customer and shareholder expectations.

Secondly, when people start seeing the HR team as a group that is focused on the overall development of the people and when they believe that the organization is providing a good learning and development platform for them to grow, then HR may be said to be doing justice to its mandate. Here, growing does not mean just vertical growth from one level to another but also intellectual growth by way of experience and maturity. If people start experiencing this comprehensive growth, then the HR function may be considered to be doing well in the organization.

Samatvam: In your opinion, what measurable results could HR achieve? And which of those results are the most meaningful?

PU: In my opinion, it is important to put in place metrics that measure HR contribution to the organization. Metrics track the impact of HR on the business and behaviour of people to improve performance. It is important because the CEO and other Senior Executives of an organization do care about the impact of HR on performance in the form of numbers and other tangible measures. Metrics that are aligned with business objectives and operational capability are business intelligence tools for HR.

Some of the key measurable results that HR should report to the Management are the impact of training interventions on productivity increase, impact of employee engagement initiatives on the decline in the turnover rate of retainable employees, impact of the incentives payouts to the increase in product sales or retention of employees etc. These are the areas that impact business decisions. So, this is one way in which we can add greater value and move closer to realizing the business goals.

Samatvam: If you could change three things about HR practices as you see them today, what would they be?

PU: Firstly, HR should get involved more in the business processes. I yearn to see HR becoming a part of the organizational system as centrally as the other functions and eventually be able to come out of its conventional image as a service and support function.

Secondly, we as HR professionals need to have a deeper understanding of human beings, people processes and their linkage to business results. It is therefore important for the HR functionaries to do their homework well and be aware of complexities in the industry environment and how the other companies are addressing these.

Thirdly, HR should be seen contributing towards capability building and leadership development. We must put in place requisite systems and processes that ensure the identification of the kind of people capabilities needed, and as also the nature of leaders or leadership attributes required in order to facilitate organization’s growth. HR should ensure smooth execution of practices, suggesting ideas that would foster overall growth and development of people and organization together. It is important as HR professionals that we put enablers in place wherein people grow year on year and their capability increases so that every year they contribute in a more effective and a better way.

Samatvam: What are your dreams and aspirations for the HR profession? What three wishes would you make to heighten the health and vitality of this profession?

PU: The first one is that HR becomes a part of the business and plays an important role in executing business strategy through people and people processes. The second is to work very actively on developing employees’ capabilities. The third, which I think has assumed a lot of importance now, is the focus on leadership and leadership management, succession management and potential development.

Samatvam: What is the best training that you have personally ever experienced? How did this influence your development as a professional?

PU: I have attended a few training programs that dealt with how HR should actively contribute towards the business, and how the HR role itself is changing. The program that I attended last was the ‘Advanced Human Resource Executive Program’ conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. The program very effectively captured the role of HR in shaping organization culture, realizing business goals and executing company strategies in an effective way. It gave an outside-in perspective of HR, and how our function can make transformational change happen. The program also gave a beautiful insight into the changing competencies of HR, based on comprehensive and high quality research.

Samatvam: What emerging trends do you foresee with respect to leadership education worldwide?

PU: One of the trends that I foresee and I think organizations have started realizing is focusing on leadership development at a very early stage. We tend to focus on it when we feel that a person has become a leader or when he or she needs leadership input. I think organizations

have realized that it is a long process. So, they have started actively identifying potential leaders by application of various tools, techniques and processes at a very early stage. For example, within 3 to 4 years of a new employee joining, the organization starts focusing on talent management and leadership development and maps a complete career cycle. This is a good change that I foresee from the point of view of succession planning, management planning and overall leadership development.

Another important area of focus will be on skill development. It has become very important that organizations focus on skill management and development. With increased competition, technological innovation & also increased expectations, companies are focusing a lot of their attention on skill upgradation as a continuous process. We are seeing an increase in the requirement of skilled people. This is resulting in a vastly enhanced internal and external emphasis on leadership and management development through various tie-ups, associations and collaborations.

Samatvam: Finally Mr. Upadhyay what advice would you have for our Academy?

PU: My first advice is that you continue to interact with HR leaders, senior Executives and even the CEO(s) of various organizations, and understand their current and probable future challenges. Thereafter, please try to become facilitators to address those future challenges in the current environment.

The other thing I would say is that it would be good idea if the academy also focuses on some functional oriented development. This is because both the individuals and the organizations unequivocally feel the need of brushing up domain expertise or functional expertise.

Samatvam: Mr. Upadhyay, it has been a pleasure talking to you! Thank you for your time.

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