Rohit Manucha, Chief Human Resources Officer, SIH AGH

Dubai-based HR leader, Rohit Manucha, CHRO, SIH AGH, candidly admits he wasn't quite aware of his career path, much unlike today's young talent who is more savvy in their decision making. But after realising there are some practices that he disagrees with, he decided to be the change that he wanted to see in the function.

In this exclusive conversation with Aditi Sharma Kalra, he talks about the living dashboard document he is working on, powered by machine learning and text analytics, as well as learnings from the person who has inspired him most, his maternal grandmother.

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Q Was HR a natural career choice for you? If not in HR, what other career would you have chosen?

Honestly, I wasn't quite aware of what I wanted to be, barring, of course, the usual astronaut or paleontologist roles I dreamt of. Yes, I know, quite unlike the young talent of today who has more exposure and is quite savvy. For me, my hard work and luck (or lack thereof), final B-school selection results, and my parents’ sensibilities led me to join XLRI and take on HR as an area of specialisation. I however realised soon enough that there were a number of practices in HR that I did not agree with. Thus, I figured I’d rather be the change that I wanted to see in the function and strive towards making HR truly world class within organisations, rather than shying away from it.

I initially I took on HR consulting roles to hone my analytical and logical reasoning skills to identify gaps in the as-is and develop an ideal to-be. Subsequently, I moved onto HR operational roles to execute my recommendations and experience the proof of the pudding.

After leading a series of successful OD & change management interventions across countries & companies, I can safely say that I have found my true calling within strategic human resource management.

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

Time is never kind to innovation-related stories. After all, talking about my past achievements in today’s context, people may find it hard to relate to so let me share an example which is more relevant to recent times.

Now-a-days we all realise that role profiles are somewhat outdated and job evaluation comes with its fair share of challenges. Nonetheless, what we all can also agree on is that:

  • Knowledge, whether based on learned skills or acquired experience is largely linked to a doing a task or managing people/processes/systems;
  • Which in turn reflects on the ability to effectively apply the aforementioned knowledge to solve critical business problems;
  • And requires one to take accountability for their decision/action, which may have a financial or non-financial impact.

Broadly speaking, these three rules assess the relative importance of a role/person within an organisation, and as more customisation/ personalisation of roles is underway to suit individuals, this becomes somewhat of a living dashboard document which needs to constantly update on its own linked to the current & future business realities.

Now imagine if this was automated using machine learning, text analytics, and scaled up not just to evaluate roles and find the right candidate profile fit, but also predict the future organisational structure - thus, doing away with the need to undertake workforce optimisation and being able to adapt to the VUCA world seamlessly.

The only thing here is you don’t need to imagine this as this is what we are building.

The key learnings so far have been, one, you really need to spend time in cleaning up the data which feeds into the analytics rule engine, else you run the risk of garbage in/garbage out, and secondly, knowing when you are limited by bounded rationality to not alter the algorithm to suit your definition of the ideal future structure, but somehow balance this with your organisation’s ability to cater to that optimal future state.

Q On the other hand, what is the hardest decision you’ve had to make as an HR leader?

Any decision which affects the employment status of a colleague is a hard decision. This is something that I take with much due diligence, deliberation, consultation and care. After all, it affects not just the employee but also the dreams and aspiration of the concerned family members. It could be an outcome of workforce optimisation, re-structuring, change in strategy, merger/acquisition or performance. Thus, providing all possible support to such employees while keeping the morale high of the those who stay back is of utmost importance.

Q In your current role, how closely do you work with the CEO, and what are some specific projects you are both passionate about?

As an organisation, we recognise that delivering on our people agenda is core to our success and the drive towards this needs to be led from the top. Hence, I have the pleasure and honour to work very closely with not just the CEO but also the entire C-suite and the ExCom who have full faith in the talent pool within our organisation in delivering our strategic priorities.

Some of the projects we work together on are linked to organisational transformation and built on capability development and future proofing our way of working.

Q Who is the one person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?

I have often found some inspiration or the other with whoever I interacted. Now whether that inspired me to emulate or refrain from that behaviour is another story altogether.

However, I would rather talk about the one person who has inspired me the most in life, rather than limiting it to the topic of career alone.

My maternal grandmother, and these are just some of her words of wisdom that I have always abided by: 

  • Get to know yourself well, and be honest to yourself always, even if you dislike the truth;
  • Build on your abilities, and have faith in yourself to persevere & win, against all odds;
  • Befriend honour and hardwork, and let humility guide you on your own defined path of success;
  • Learn from the past, look to the future but most of all live in the present;
  • Everyone has a story to tell and when you pause to hear them out, leave a lasting impression on them so that your memory lives on in their stories;
  • Disarm with humor, and when in doubt – smile.

Q How would others (in your team) describe your leadership style?

Best if they answered that, else who knows how much I may paraphrase or exaggerate! What I could do, however, is tell you the leadership mantra that I swear by and then you be the best judge. Its quite simply to 'make it safe to fail by providing the avenues needed to be innovative all while ensuring adequate support is there to ensure my team members succeed, in life'.

Q With today’s rapidly evolving environment, what do you believe is HR's #1 responsibility, and the top way HR can add value?

Given the pace of change, and rising disparity amongst organisations at varying positions on the maturity curve, HR practices in lagging organisations are at times relegated to administrative tasks whereby the function goes into an existential crises of justifying the value it brings on board.

In the knowledge era, HR needs to strive to recognise the value that every individual brings to the table and adopt technology to identify, nurture and celebrate individuality without force-fitting people into the same mold from a talent management, organisation design to even a rewards framework.

HR is at a point of inflexion now, wherein we have more than enough people data to drive decisions that shall define the path for the coming generations – so walk the talk!

Knowing certain practices are no longer relevant in your organisational context and need to be weeded out is the first step in the right direction.

Q Is there a phrase/mentality that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

Too many stories come to mind but let me talk about two phrases I have heard often being associated with HR: “We are doing this per policy” and if one asks why so, the response is “It's confidential”. The irony is not lost on me here, as the mentality with which policies have been written in the past has been on 'policing' the lot on account of a few. Thereby, assuming the worst intent of employees at the pretext of posturing for process & cost focus.

Imagine, hiring someone only to distrust & disempower them - quite a self defeating principle, isn’t it?

Thus, replace this with not just a phrase but rather a service mentality, by looking into a decentralised approach to HR, leveraging on blockchain to scale it up. A shift in approach of doing HR is needed, instead of adding namesake new roles or merely re-positioning itself. Let HR truly be of the people, for the people, and by the people – take a cue from the golden rule and let enhanced employee experience show you the way.


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