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CEO's on HR! Interesting interview

 I have kept something I once heard very close to heart. When I met the CEO of a large consulting firm in New York some time ago, he said something that just stayed with me – “Pick your highest performing business partner and make that person the Head of HR”. People are the most critical asset in a consulting firm, so you need to put your best person in charge of your people. It made absolute sense.

------Richard Rekhy, CEO, KPMG India----

I personally believe that if we care for people the result will be high performance. So, when I became the CEO, I took the opportunity to ask one of our best performing partners – Shalini Pillay - to take on the reins of managing HR and ensure that we give our people the best. I chose her because I wanted someone who was a high performer as well as passionate about people. In fact, I’ve had such a keen interest in people that I had offered myself for this role to my earlier CEO, so that I could make a difference and transform KPMG India to be on of the best places to work. I believe it’s the most critical role, because you would be responsible for the most expensive asset in the business – our people.

------Richard Rekhy, CEO, KPMG India----



Richard Rekhy, CEO, KPMG India, in conversation with Rajlakshmi Saikia, on his dream to make KPMG the most-envied firm by becoming the clients’ and employees’ first choice

In 2012, KPMG India introduced a unique process of democratic succession planning to ensure that the right CEO from a people and business stand point takes the deserving seat.

Richard Rekhy, the first CEO of KPMG India to be appointed through this process, shares his plans to introduce a culture of ‘Collaborate to Win’ in the firm.

At Andersen, besides my business role, I was also given the role of overseeing HR in the company and Andersen was not the friendliest place to work in. I personally worked to make it into a people friendly organisation, to a point when our attrition rate fell to almost zero. I had some very difficult conversations with people when we had to ask them to move out, because it is in the interest of the individual and the organisation. There is no personal vendetta. It is not about likes or dislikes, it is about you not standing for the values that the organisation stands for. So, yes, Shalini (our present Head of HR) will also go through these same challenges, but this is in the best interest of the business and so must be done.

------Richard Rekhy, CEO, KPMG India----

"People Matters" magazine Rewarded the HR Leaders. Did you know

The 25 young winners of People Matters’ Are You In The List were lauded at a spectacular Awards ceremony in Gurgaon.

To select the list of winners in a scientific and transparent way People Matters partnered with Development Dimensions International (DDI), a leading global talent management consulting firm. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at how we did it


10 questions for the boss

 People Matters asked the winners to pick the one query they would like to pose to their CEO. Here are the ten best questions

Interview excerpts-

Q1. It is one thing to believe that “people” are any business’ competitive advantage and another to support this belief with appropriate allocation of resources. Is the resource allocation strategy of your business in consonance with the belief that it is “people” who make all the difference?

CEO-Resource allocation is not different from building a platoon for a war. When McKinsey wrote about War of Talent and later gave the metrics have ROI of each resource, it was evident, people will play their roles for which they have been chosen. Everyone is a leader or that is what every CEO expects them to be. Be a winner, win projects, win market share, win competition accounts, implement and execute leading ideas faster than competition. CEO Herb Kelleher of South West Airlines told much earlier that "Business of Business is people" and teams comprising of VPs till as Associate is valued and so chosen for a task or assignment or a project or a program.

CEOs not only look for ROI but also ROM (Return on Management) and Shareholder value. People allocation is key to any CEOs success, though he believes that his leadership team down under, would keep teams together, inspired and focused. As Herb Kellehar said, every airline company has airplanes (tangibles), what matters as advantage is Culture (Intangible), very difficult to define but is obvious when exhibited at any levels.

Q2. How can we make cross business exposure for HR professionals as common as it is for other functions? (For only then the business can develop top class HR professionals and reap the benefit.)

CEO-CEOs do not provide such opportunities to anyone, it is upto people to grab them and persistently ask for it by showing great passion and interest. It is same as Osho said that, "I do not make disciples, it is for people to become disciple as even if I make one, they are free to return to their original status". HR has acquired a pedestal of a preacher and often seen working in silos. Hardly 5% of HR folks have ever moved to other departments and that is the reason HR has never expanded beyond TA, Generalist, HRIS, L&D and C&B. HR never became Program Manager, Project Manager or Business Leader. They enjoy the priestly status of Brahmanism bestowed on them. They sulk and recede into their comfort zone, most of the time oblivious of what opportunities business may have thrown to people and even they could grab it. Again, it is not responsibility of business to grow top class HR professionals, it is them in HR, who have to emerge and evolve as Business enablers and value adds. They must know, HR is second best paid job in India as per recent research. It is shame to be the profit guzzlers and being called cost centres.

Q3. If someday in tough times we are to right-size this company by 70 per cent of its current strength, what would be in the list of qualities that you will you send to HR for the purpose of evaluating and retaining the top 30 per cent?

CEO- Right-sizing is not a blanket decision, as often understood by HR. Right-sizing is due to dip in business or decision to shelve certain part of business due to reasons, well debated and discussed.

Qualities can be very different in different situations. Many a times, due to merger of departments or business units, senior positions become obsolete and then, even the best have to be dropped, re-positioned or out-placed. If it is matter of automation or outsourcing and efficiency issue, operations people may be axed and there qualities may not be too fixed a factor. As MCKinsey report says, in assembly line roles, difference between output of a great player and an average player is hardly 20%, while in sales positions, it is 120%. So depends, what function and what reason comes to play for right-sizing. It is a compels process and just not culling the H1N1 infected chicken! HR needs good business insight even to implement what has been decided. Not many HR folks have business insights, forget about business acumen.

Q4. Why do you need an HR department? Why can’t the energy invested in the HR department be invested on the revenue growth functions of the organisation, and why do we need employee champions when every employee can be their own champion and also her team’s mentor?

CEO-Have you heard of the term, "HR Shared Services"? Lot can be driven through them. We need HR people to support people connect for vital issues to admin issues. Since other businesses need someone else to help them with hiring, travel , visa, accommodation, letters, tickets, etc, people in HR/Shared Services are needed from coordination to people champions. Role like people champion evolves over time with proven abilities and attitude to serve as value adding partner. They can help keep core values and people practices intact as per organisation's governance model. How many in Hr ever understand what, when and where "governance values" get ignored and abused. Even EthicsPoint cases gets no hearing in many MNCs and they have become so immune to such sensitive issues. There is no place for whistle blowers that HR should have protected. Rather they are used to snub whistle blowers and value evangelists. For details read my blog on "Corporate Confidential" by Cynthia Shiparo. Using fancy words like employee champion is easier said than done. It requires character that have courage of conviction. How many HR folks do you know have ever exhibited such character to thwart unfair treatment to employees?

Q5. Can I shadow you for a month to understand what it takes to run a business? It would help widen my horizon beyond projects to broader business perspectives.

CEO- CEOs do not play hide and seek. Their business plans are written on the white-boards and any one can read, who ha interest in knowing what is CEO's mission and objectives. You do not need to shadow a CEO to know what he does. Keep your eyes and ears open and look for what people say and talk about at each level in the organisation, water coolers to coffee tables, cafeteria to office cabs. Information is valuable, if you are interested in business. How many HR folks know why we lost our last deal and why procurement/purchase department at client's side threw spanner into the deal for just 3% cost difference?

Q6. What are the skills that you have acquired that you found the most useful in your professional career? How did you acquire those skills?

CEO-CEOs hardly have time to learn, they are on a roller -coaster and walk on tight-rope to razor-edge. Board and Shareholders drive him crazy. He needs to act in real time, his learning is speedback not feedback. All his skills are put to practice and test. He even does not know, what skills worked in what scenario. Business is so shrewed and unpredictable. Take the risk or lose the deal. Unless you are a family guy who is placed as a CEO, you do not have luxury to learn. What is learning for a CEO is his success or his failure, both of them are results. Considering them as learning can be regressive and self-fulfilling prophesy. No rules hold good for long

Q7. How do you think we can build a diversity strategy that gives women options, so that they can have both – a successful career, and also work-life balance?

CEO-As it is told about time management, "you do not need to manage time, you need to manage yourself." Same is true for balancing work with life or life with work. The scales are never evenly weighed. You have to make conscious choice. Success comes at a cost. It is a trade-off, you have to chose to drop. In all cases, your status is more because of what you do to yourself than others do to you. You cannot expect others to help you in balancing your life or work! They also have work and life of their own.

Q8. What has been your mantra to ensure that you keep a steep learning curve and achieve your full potential?

CEO-Success is what counts. It comes because of everything that you do and others do to achieve it. As you grow higher in the hierarchy, your success is more defined by what others do to help you attain that level of success. Here comes test for your leadership style and leadership potential. You have to have a blend of authoritative to delegative to participative leadership style applied at different inflection points. CEOs do not have limited potential. It is immeasurable and pervasive, that keeps evolving and expanding for newer opportunities to leverage the great team's potentials.

Q9. Looking at the HR talent in your organisation, what are the three traits that you think are our strengths, and the three that we need to develop further so that we can contribute more effectively to the organisation’s human capital strategy?

CEO-Every organisation has its own way of looking at its strengths and areas of development. You should ask this question at all levels in the organization to arrive at what are real strengths and opportunities for improvement in the organisation. What you perceive may not be the right thing.

Q10. What keeps you awake at night?

CEO-Excitement to meet clients and propose a great value add. Excitement to meet my teams and discuss with them the future. Worry, that my HR team may not be able to meet newer expectations as some of them may be on casual leave, some getting married and others just came back from planned and long leave.

10 signs HR is dead in your organization

1.   When your top leaders shy away from talking about HR. 

2. When no one cares what the hell HR is doing these days.

3. When your top performers tell you they do not remember, when was their last talk with HR.

4. When your vendors tell you that it is very difficult to reach and get response from your HR.

5. When your new employee is too hesitant to ask HR about something as small as, when would I get my NEO plan?

6. When your HR guy talks at employee gatherings, as a speaker and people dig into phones or food.

7. When HR is just a 'dropbox' which sucks questions of significance and cannot give solutions on the fly.

8. When your HR managers and senior positions talk 80% time about admin stuff.

9. When your HR gets to know of people issues from employee's managers as escalation.

10. When it does not matter when HR people come and go to office and what they do through the day.


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