Priya Gopalakrishnan, the CHRO of Arvind Fashions Limited, says that partnering with business, ensuring great employee experience and building a culture of trust and high performance are the high impact areas for HR
Q. Tell us about yourself, your career and key achievements.
Currently, I’m working as the CHRO at Arvind Fashions Limited (AFL). After graduating in Commerce from Mumbai University, I completed my Post Graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1994. I worked with the Hindustan Unilever during the initial part of my career for more than 12 years, starting as a management trainee and then working my way through various roles in the HR function. Prior to joining the AFL, I was heading the HR function for more than a decade at Exide Life Insurance (formerly known as ING Vysya Life Insurance). As far as my other activities are concerned, I served as a member of the executive committee of the NHRD Bangalore Chapter and am also on their advisory council. I also love reading and am a fitness enthusiast.
Q. What does it take for an HR professional to get a seat on the table? Do you see the general acceptance of CHROs as a part of the core team?
CHROs already have a seat at the table in all progressive organizations. This has been the case for more than a decade now. It is important for us to move the focus now on what are the areas that we influence. Partnering with business, ensuring great employee experience and building a culture of trust and high performance – these are the high impact areas for HR.
Q. What’s your view on the mega trends in HR?
I will focus on the top 3 trends that I see happening :
a) Mass Customization – Standard full-time employment contract will not be the norm and there will be a mix of full time / part time / gig workers. HR processes are today largely geared for full-time employees. HR will have to work very differently to attract the most relevant talent across all these groups.
b) Reimagining the nature of work for the organization – With advances in automation and outsourcing non-core activities, the nature of work that is inherent to the organization will change. Reimagining this along with business to deliver the best value to all stakeholders will be a key agenda for HR.
c) Communication and trust – There is a significant erosion of trust amongst employees vis a vis organizations and senior leaders. Actions are often not seen as consistent with stated values. Rewards which are not in line with impact and worse, no accountability when things go wrong are significant issues in organizations today. HR will need to work closely with business leaders to address these issues.
Q. What’s your opinion on the future of work? Do you foresee the Indian firms getting swooped by gig workers or they will remain immune to the gig economy?
I think the future will see a mix of many employment contracts – this is already the case even today – full time, part time, contract work etc. What may change, depending on organization need – is the proportion of people in different employment contracts. As mindsets change, full time employment with one organization may not be the only option or even the preferred option for a lot of people. Similarly, organizations may not need full-time employment for many of the types of work that is currently done on a full-time basis.
As that future emerges, the HR will need to work closely with business to rebundle tasks and to explore with imagination and courage – the matching of tasks /roles and the time commitments of the same.
Q. How does one ensure quality of hires? Today, we see people everywhere but employability remains elusive, why?
It is a nuanced issue. To start with,
a) The educational and vocational-training supply chain needs to be strengthened. A far bigger proportion of the population needs to have access to basic education and skills training. Over the course of a systemic process, people develop many other competencies – discipline, work ethic, learning-ability, grooming etc. This happens over the formative years and often before children become adults. Today, organizations are trying to do a crash course in this – imparting skills training over 6-12 months for instance – but these interventions can never be as successful as access to early education and vocational skills training in the formative years. This is a clear public policy challenge and needs to be addressed by the government and public-private partnerships.
b) The second is the gap between expected productivity and wage levels and the added complication of an imperfect market. I have seen situations where people have enjoyed rapid increases in salaries – especially in start-up/fast growing environments. When the going gets tough and they seek other employment, they find that other industries cannot afford such costs – suddenly employability (at that price point) becomes a challenge.
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Q. Why do we see talent getting recognized and merit being the sole factor helping talented people move up in the West, what can be done to make that happen in India?
I think it is already a reality for most corporates today. Given the business pressures and the scale of possible disruptive change, organizations simply cannot afford to have any other criterion.
Q. What traits do you try to see in budding HR professionals when you hire them?
I suppose we all look for the similar traits apart from functional depth – cognitive ability, business orientation, ability to think broad and deep. Beyond this, I think passion for work is the most important quality I would look for.
Q. What’s your success mantra?
It is important for each of us today to look at issues with a 360 lens and be solution-oriented – I strongly believe that there is always more than one approach to think about an issue which helps me come up with win-win solutions.
Q. What’s your message to HR professionals? How do they make themselves relevant for the rest of their career?
The better HR professionals are able to link their work to business outcomes, the more successful we will be. Also, avoid the temptation to buy the new fad in town which is being sold hard. Last but certainly not the least, digital acumen.
About Priya Gopalakrishnan
CHRO, Arvind Fashions Limited
Priya Gopalakrishnan is the CHRO at Arvind Fashions Limited. She is a Commerce graduate from Mumbai University and completed her Post Graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1994. Priya brings with her a deep understanding of business context and HR’s role in enabling and supporting the business. She worked with Hindustan Unilever during the initial part of her career for more than 12 years, starting as a management trainee and then working her way through various roles in the HR function. Prior to joining the Arvind Fashions Limited, Priya was heading the HR function for more than a decade at Exide Life Insurance (formerly known as ING Vysya Life Insurance). She has served as a member of the Executive Committee of the NHRD, Bangalore Chapter and is currently on their Advisory Council. She loves reading and is a fitness enthusiast.