From growing up within a family of HR professionals, to taking on the function across geographies and cultures himself, Narasimhan SL, State Street’s head of talent acquisition for APAC and head of HR for SEA, talks about his journey and looking at a career “as a lattice as opposed to a ladder”.
Why did you choose HR as a profession?
Growing up, I saw my dad’s friends who were HR managers and my uncles who were HR professionals work through very demanding situations to help organisations stay afloat in times of strikes. They’d talk to us extensively about how businesses are all about people and how they had a role in making people tick for a company.
The nature of the work has certainly changed a lot since their days in terms of scope and complexity, but the thing that has caught on and stayed with me over the years is the draw of the function and how it can really enable an organisation.
How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years?
Change is a huge theme within HR. The move to create efficiency and re-look at processes will phase out and the drive for the function to be truly strategic and consultative will only get stronger.
With countries looking to firm up borders, the war for talent will intensify and organisations will need to constantly review their talent management approaches, especially around hiring and growing their own timber. The other thing that I see happening is the need for HR professionals to think laterally and try a few different things that aren’t always the way we do things.
What do you think can be done to enable HR to contribute better to organisational success?
It’s incredibly important for the HR folks to know the business. By that, I mean not talk at 50,000 feet, but get as low as 5,000 feet. The only way you can add value to the business is by knowing the business you support intrinsically, irrespective of where in HR you sit. The functional knowledge is the other side of the coin for which there is no substitute.
We often get carried away with titles and compensation and tend to look at that as a measure of progression. We underestimate the importance of “breadth” of experience.
Other than your current role, what has been your favourite job in HR to date?
I’ve had multiple roles within HR through the course of my career and it’s hard to single out one that I like the most. If I absolutely have to, I’d say it was my role as a chief operating officer for HR in Europe, based out of London. This wasn’t a traditional HR role and given it was my first international posting, it was challenging.
The role covered four aspects, with a focus on HR management in M&A, HR process reviews and controls, HR transformation and HR financials, supporting nearly 15 countries in the EMEA region. The challenge of having to work across geographies and cultures, including the due diligence and integration side of M&As, is what made the role enjoyable. On the traditional side, I still have a sweet spot for compensation.
What is the best career advice you have received?
The absolute best advice I got was twofold. It was about the need to look at a career as a lattice (zig zagging) as opposed to a ladder, and the need to run a regional centre of expertise. We often get carried away with titles and compensation and tend to look at that as a measure of progression. We underestimate the importance of “breadth” of experience and tend to say no to a lot of roles that don’t sound appealing initially.
I believe stepping out of the box to try different things is a priceless experience. I ended up taking a role to run recruiting a few years ago and I would be lying if I said I loved it on day one. I absolutely hated the move – but looking back now, it was rather impulsive of me to have felt that way. I had initially overlooked the challenges and the learning opportunities that running a regional centre of expertise provides.
Can you describe a regular workday at your company?
No day is ever the same, but I would say that I am constantly in touch with my colleagues and clients in the other time zones. Although the role is regional, it’s a global organisation that recognises, appreciates and empowers the need to work across time zones in a way that suits me best.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I absolutely enjoy being able to make a direct impact and contribute positively to individuals, as well as towards the company’s broader strategic goals. On an individual level, it’s the process of helping to nurture a person’s career, for example, as we reach out to recruit fresh talent just out of colleges and universities. It’s almost like painting on a new canvas.
Company wise, it’s having a hand in crafting the strategy that builds assets – constructing the human capital for the enterprise all the way from the ground staff to the top levels. The breadth of the role across the region and the diversity it offers means that no two conversations are ever the same.