Sharmeel Kaur, head of human resources, Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia, shares her insights on the most rewarding part of her role and how HR can evolve in the next five years, in an interview with Natasha Ganesan.
What was your first HR job, and why did you choose HR as a profession?
My first HR job was with ManpowerGroup back in 2008 where I joined as key account HR manager. I picked up my HR skills, knowledge and experience from the ground as I am actually an IT professional having graduated with a degree in computer sciences from Coventry University in England back in 1997.
I made a brave move from IT to HR purely because of my passion in managing people. My intervention came in when I chose to become a trainer for a reputable shared services organisation and as I dove deep into my capabilities and core strength, the more I realised how much of a passion I had managing people from all walks of life. My ex-boss who was instrumental in shaping my career told me that I should always assimilate this story as my journey and so I always do.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?
It is tremendously rewarding to hear from former colleagues that I have had the privilege to work with thriving in their careers. I also enjoy being in touch with former intern applicants who some 15 years ago interviewed with me nervously and knowing that today they are so successful in their own professions.
It’s always the little things that come to mind first such as announcing a promotion for a deserving employee and getting that big tight hand-shake or a hug sometimes from them, approving a training for an employee that has helped that person grow and develop professionally, awarding bonuses, increasing salary ranges, etc.
To me, the greatest satisfaction in a HR career is having an impact on the success of the business and on the lives of the people in it.
I was instrumental in setting up a programme to recruit undergrads who were unemployable for various reasons and disabled, but who were not visually or hearing impaired.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
To not just be another face in the crowd, but to be a face that stands-out.
How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years?
I think it’s very important as HR evolves in the next coming years to focus or re-focus on these areas:
- Retaining and rewarding the best employees,
- Developing the next generation of corporate leaders who are essentially the Millennials, and
- Creating a corporate culture that attracts the best employees taking into consideration strong employer branding.
What are some HR projects you are most proud of?
I was instrumental in setting up a programme called “Recruit, Train, Deploy and Manage” in one of my previous companies. This was a platform that was established to recruit undergrads who were unemployable for various reasons and disabled, but who were not visually or hearing impaired.
We started this as a CSR initiative also part of an employer branding strategy. I loved it because the project took off well, and I was so happy to provide this opportunity to these people who never thought they could be employed.
I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and belonging to my job knowing that I went to bed smiling each night because I was able to help someone in their worse-off circumstances. If I had a chance, I would want to do this again and give back to society as much as I can.
Is there anything you feel HR can do better to play a bigger role in organisations?
Definitely, there’s a lot HR can do operationally and strategically, for instance:
- Having strong collaboration with the marketing department to establish strong employer branding and presence. I feel we all work in silos these days, that there just isn’t enough interaction to be able to understand the value proposition we can potentially offer to candidates or the path one must take in achieving their corporate goals.
- HR will be flexible and creative. Gone are the days where HR practices are purely conventional and conservative in the way of managing the coming generations of workforce. HR too, like the business, needs to constantly innovate and be creative in running its initiatives. Implementing workplace flexibility is one way, for instance, that can excel an employee’s performance if they are allowed to adjust both their work and personal lifestyle and that is something that the new working generations look forward too.
- HR must be social. Sometimes, all people want is some time and people to listen to them vent out their frustrations, troubles, stories, etc., and sometimes a shoulder to lean on. In a way, unknowingly, we sometimes act as counsellors. So, don’t shut your doors or your hearts for that matter when an employees says “Can I come up to have a quick chat with you?”. Welcome them with open arms no matter how busy your schedule gets throughout the day.
- HR mobility. Keeping up with the new trends on being mobile, i.e. with social media platforms, for example, using social tools to drive desired behaviours and performance of an employee who can become great brand ambassadors for the company. Why not create a new mobile recruiting app to entice the tech-savvy candidates while they’re commuting through a job ad?
- HR to provide more insights/analytics to help the business operations make strategic decisions. I use data such as looking at our top performers and tracking them month-on-month to see how they’re performing and why. The data collected is then simulated in planning workforce strategically in making the right decisions, if we need to scale up or down.
Gone are the days where HR was just a pair of hands. Rather, we need to move on to play a bigger part in the businesses of today in order to move forward. After all, employees are the biggest asset to an organisation.