Ranjith Menon - HR Has Made Steady Progress From Being ‘Personnel Management’ and ‘IR’ to a ‘Business Partner’ (Senior VP HR - Hinduja Global Solutions )

Experience plays a big role and that factor gained over years of working in an area can never be compensated by formal education. There are a lot of practical aspects that are learned only on the job (in any job) than through formal education.

Tell us about your background, journey, and upbringing.

I am from Kerala, South India. Born and bought up there, moved to Bangalore for my MBA, and worked in Bangalore for 4-5 years before I moved to Europe to work. 

I come from a fairly simple, ordinary, and middle-class background, parents were bankers before they retired, and have lived their lives all around where I was born, so haven’t seen much of the world or India before I started working, except for some occasional excursions or vacations that never went beyond adjacent state or within the state.

I moved out of India in 2005 and returned in 2017, and in between have lived and worked in Cyprus, Switzerland, Germany, in various cities – for over 12 years.

What made you interested in this field and how did you narrow it down?

I think choosing what you like to do, plays a very important role in one’s success in that profession.

My interest in people development was there inside me much before I came to my MBA. I started my self-development journey at the age of 16 when I was first attracted to self-development books and courses from Dale Carnegie Institute. 

Reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was probably the tipping point and start of my self-development journey that still continues today. I was a practicing hypnotherapist, reiki healer, and about 25 years ago, which further honed my own understanding of self and in turn human psyche.

During those days working with some NGOs and Organizations dedicated to social causes helped me build and improve my social interactions and develop myself as a catalyst for change in the circles that I was in. 

At the young age of 17-18, I handled even state-level responsibilities in organizations that required managing social activities and projects that are executed by teams comprising of people from various walks of life, and different age groups, all coming together to volunteer for a common cause. 

This required a high level of empathy and emotional maturity in leading teams and diffusing conflicts and driving the cause. I’ve learned a lot from those situations and almost often by committing mistakes first before learning how to execute.

So when it came to MBA, it was an easy choice to choose between Marketing or HR – both fields wherein I could relate to the skill sets required to succeed in such a role. I chose HR also because of the liking I had for Labour Laws and I don’t think I have any reasons whatsoever to regret my decision when I look back after 21 years even today.

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What does your typical workday look like?

No workday is alike when you are leading teams globally. Always there are pressing timelines, escalations, project deliverables, and unplanned activities and topics that land on your desk, that keep you occupied. 

However, I try to bring some order into daily work in terms of allocating time for people, email, discussions, and thinking time, amidst travel plans (not off late -thanks to COVID), etc. 

These days work from home and no travels have resulted in zoom calls one after the other and often late into nights as well, to cover the timezones of other geographies where you have teams located. 

Typically I spend about 10-12 hours at work. Post-COVID this probably has gone up, but with frequent breaks in between to attend to household chores or demands.

Several global companies have come out and thrown their support behind not needing a formal education. What is your opinion about this for your field?

Education has to be related to the building of skills and knowledge required to perform the task at hand. in this context, formal education gains importance, especially for entry-level jobs. 

However, experience plays a big role and that factor gained over years of working in an area can never be compensated by formal education. There are a lot of practical aspects that are learned only on the job (in any job) than through formal education.

I think the key aspect is the ability to perform a job up to or above expectations. 

If someone is an expert in the field I do not see any reason to reject his or her candidature because of lack of formal education, rather I’d take that candidate in and help them develop formal qualifications as well through educational support policies while using their talent and experience in grooming other young talents in the organization and then it’s a win-win situation for the individual as well as the organization.

Google, Adobe, and most MNCs have a strict policy around sharing ex-employee data. How can one approach background checks in this situation?

In many organizations, background checks are not done these days except where you have strict client mandates. However, the above statement is mostly not a constraint for sharing data like date of joining, leaving, the last designation, reason of leaving, etc. 

I do not think it is prudent to ask about past performance in the background check. This should be the onus of the hiring panel to assess a candidate’s capability in the interview process than to rely on background checks.

Background checks are more relevant for finding out information relating to criminal records, career history, and other details. Not for assessing past performance in the previous organizations.

How has your field evolved over the years and what future changes do you predict?

In my view, HR has made steady progress from being ‘personnel management’ and ‘IR’ to a ‘business partner’ who is continuously reinventing themselves. I believe that HR is now one step closer to being a business function for the following reasons:

1. Capability to adapt to the future of work and ability to move in this direction with speed and agility - HR is in the best place to take an aerial view to see overall processes and offer a holistic view, ensuring coordination, communication, and collaboration across units, functions, business groups, and silos. 

It can facilitate the right behaviors, dialogues, etc., that allow the right adjustments in the running of the organization that adapts to shifting customer and market demands and conditions.

2. Reinventing and cementing the Company Culture in changing times - With employees who are working from home (WFH), culture is a context for making decisions and work ethic. It guides choices and actions—and must be managed intentionally. 

As we create a NEW working environment that may be a hybrid or a permanent work from home (WFH) or anything else, organizations need to constantly review how the company culture is impacting their teams and their performance and motivation. 

HR can lead and shape these interventions with a plethora of initiatives including constant and innovative ways of culture assessments and close gaps between current culture and desired culture—helping to adjust and manage the variables that affect culture. Change is significant, and HR is in the best place to catalyze transformation and motivate shifts that will reinvent organizations.


What advice do you have for those eyeing this career?

“I’m a people person” and “I like helping others” are two common reasons HR professionals give for choosing their career path. While they’re good enough reasons to get started, they aren’t nearly good enough to be great. Here are some things that I have learned over the last two decades being in this profession:

1. Speak up early. - I didn't wait for an executive to ask my opinion. When I saw an opportunity to improve the business through a solid people practice — whether it be training managers on strategy or hosting a change management workshop, I chimed in,” The seat at the table was meant to be taken, not given. And with the pandemic year, we’ve had, few would contest the value HR brings to the boardroom.

2. Don’t specialize too early - Most HR professionals start off as generalists and move on from there, slotting into recruiting compensation, or another discipline. HR leaders recommended pumping the brakes, even if you have your heart set on specializing eventually. 

In other words, stop worrying about tomorrow’s big career move and instead focus on learning all you can today. Naturally, that means you’ll have to operate outside of your comfort zone. But don’t fall into the trap of discovering you do a certain thing really well and then using that to decide your career trajectory.

3. Speak ‘business’ without compromising on people - People strategy is business strategy. While not everyone is sold on that principle, don’t let that discourage you. 

“Early in my HR career, I learned that some business executives care less about people than they do about finance and numbers. It's common for an organization to say people are their most important asset, with the focus on the word ‘asset,’. 

I learned that a good HR professional has to speak in the language of business in order to do the right thing for their people. Employees aren't merely an asset. Smart, motivated, happy people drive the business. It's the HR professional's job to make the translation that good people practices equal better business results for the executive team,” she said.

4. You’ll feel alone at first. Don’t get discouraged - Though HR helps drive culture and improve morale for everyone else, it can be a lonely job. You handle hiring, firing, and everything in between, and are privy to information that most employees, including managers, never see. 

You’re sworn to secrecy and find out about layoffs or other big changes well in advance. As one HR leader put it, “you live by a code” — and that can breed distrust outside the department. You have to be prepared that people will halt their conversations when you walk by or make a ‘shh’ sound when they register you on their radar. “Will everyone always like you? No. 

Here's the thing: At some point, you’re going to have to let people go or provide constructive criticism. So my advice, right from the start, is to accept that you won’t always be able to please everyone. But while there will always be a wall between HR and everyone else, you can still win over employees’ trust through your actions and by making your intentions clear.

5. Relax, you’re doing fine - Veteran HR leaders often reflect on their early years like tours of duty. Bright-eyed recruits, eager to lead people-first initiatives, often end up mired in compliance paperwork, open enrollment planning, and payroll processing. Those early days can be scary, exhausting, and full of self-doubt. 

Take a deep breath. It's okay to feel alone or burnt out in HR. Just remember to take care of yourself. We all have days where everything is on fire and we're so busy that we forget to listen to our own advice that we give employees and managers. Just know that it's okay to feel that way and breathe. The work will be there tomorrow.

I'd say that any experience is important to you, and you definitely need it. Don't try to avoid making mistakes. Yes, you will make the wrong decisions. But it's still okay. Thanks to these, you’ll know exactly what to do next time. Be nice to yourself, and keep learning.

Which is your favorite book and why?

The Bhagavad Gita. Every time I took that book to read, there are new insights that I learn. 

I think all that people need to learn is all available to be read in the ancient books of our culture – Chanakyaneeti, Arthashastra, The Gita, all of them are books brimming with gems of wisdom that still lies untapped due to lack of research on the topics, and maybe also due to lack of competence in understanding Sanskrit the way it was written to be understood. 

This is a big hurdle in interpreting what is meant to be understood correctly

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