Article: Leadership is about people: R/GA's Executive Regional Director, Talent, APAC


Leadership is about people: R/GA's Executive Regional Director, Talent, APAC

In an interaction with People Matters, Sharad Goyal, the Executive Regional Director, Talent, APAC, R/GA, talks about digital leaders and the competencies that businesses will need to drive change in coming times and digital transformation in APAC.
Leadership is about people: R/GA's Executive Regional Director, Talent, APAC

Sharad Goyal is the Executive Regional Director, Talent, APAC, R/GA. He is responsible for crafting and leading the talent agenda for R/GA in the APAC region. In partnering closely with the regional and global leadership at R/GA, Sharad is responsible for creating a leading employer brand, growing and scaling R/GA teams, driving employee satisfaction and retention strategies and helping R/GA’ers meet their professional and personal goals.

Before moving to Singapore with R/GA, Sharad was VP and Global Head of Human Resources at Zomato, responsible for the food-tech start-up’s global people strategy and execution. He oversaw the company enter numerous international markets, grow over three times in employee strength and helped build global, regional and in-country leadership teams and capability. Prior to Zomato, Sharad was the Head of Human Resources at Google, in India and China. Over his seven years at Google, he built and supported teams and businesses in China, South-East Asia, and India. Sharad also has experience across food retail, consulting, information technology and consumer packaged goods across a wide spectrum of HR functions. Sharad cares about bridging the burgeoning divide between the different socio-economic strata in India and believes that education and providing equal opportunity are the means to do it. He is closely associated with a few organizations working in this space.

In an interaction with People Matters, Sharad talks about digital leaders and the competencies that businesses will need to drive change in coming times and digital transformation in APAC.

Leadership has changed, arguably --amid the rise of technologies such as AI and robotics, and big data. Do you think we have enough digital leaders with requisite leadership capabilities to drive the change that businesses need today? 

Arguably. In my view, core leadership capabilities have not changed. Leadership is about people and that will never change. What has changed and will continue to evolve, is technology and how it plays a role in our work and lives. That said, in my view technology is less of a disruptor today than it was 10 years ago. Information is ubiquitous and so expertise is overrated (unless you’re a Doctor!).

From a Leadership perspective, one’s ability to keep an open mind, to acknowledge lack of experience (in an emerging technology, for example), to unlearn and to learn will become increasingly more important.

It is a well established belief based on research, that the single biggest barrier to change or transformation of any kind, is the lack of understanding and buy in from those who the change is going to impact the most

I agree that we don’t have enough leaders with the requisite amount of experience in many emerging technologies. This situation, however, is no different from when (example) online ad sales were picking up. There weren’t enough folks with expertise in that area either, but businesses seem to have adapted, learned and done fine.

The landscape today is rife with opportunity for those who embrace change and have the intellectual and emotional capacity to develop/ hone these new skills to take themselves and their organizations forward.

With business going through a massive digital transformation drives all across the APAC, culture remains the biggest barrier in the APAC digital transformation discourse! Do you think business leaders should be more people-centric than tech-centric?

Short answer, yes. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, right? It is a well established belief based on research, that the single biggest barrier to change or transformation of any kind, is the lack of understanding and buy in from those who the change is going to impact the most. Needless to say, a deep understanding of digital/ tech is important, even critical, but the more important questions for Leaders to answer are ‘what are we trying to solve for?’ and ‘how do we plan to take people along on this journey?’.

With artificial intelligence permeating nearly every aspect of business and industry, do you think AI will impact soft elements of leadership ® personality traits, attitudes, and behaviors while it's given that AI will supplant many hard elements of leadership?

I don’t claim to be an expert in the field and so my answer is limited to what I have read/ discussed with industry peers and how that has informed my point of view.

AI (and machine learning, etc.) will impact anything and everything that is repetitive and can be quantitatively measured and hence can be predicted. Think of your browsing patterns on social media. However, AI has probably not yet even skimmed the surface of understanding human behavior—aspects like emotions, motivation/ drive, personal connect/ bond, the warmth and comfort of relationships and human contact, camaraderie. These are the things that bring me to work every day (as I’m sure a lot of other people). I’m not sure they can be codified or that machines can do a good job of substituting for this understanding.

 Let’s go back to the browsing pattern example. AI/ ML can serve up ads for golfing equipment all they want, knowing I follow a few golf focused handles on social media. That is pattern recognition and prediction at work. But they cannot make me buy! That’s an emotional decision.

How do you think business leaders need to drive the change coming in the VUCA world? How is the HR world preparing to meet the needs of changing business dynamics?

“When was the last time the world was not falling apart?” I believe there’s always been volatility which leads to uncertainty, complexity and hence ambiguity. That’s what ‘management professionals’ have always been tasked with understanding and solving for! Yes, the pace of change today is definitely faster (that before) and that creates new, different challenges.

HR as a field has continued to evolve and I predict that evolution to continue. HR is more analytical and measurement focused today than it used to be. It is more Technology savvy today than it used to be. It responds faster today than it used to. And we will continue to evolve in that direction, to support and guide the businesses and leaders that rely on us for support and guidance. In my view, embracing technology and analytics, challenging convention and having a firm belief in ‘doing the right thing’ are the way to go.

One of the many responsibilities of HR is to make sure their company has the right people in the right leadership roles, and that leaders at all levels of the organization are successful in those roles. How should HR gear up to build a leadership pipeline? Are you taking any specific initiative around leadership development?

In today’s time of rapid and exponential change, HR needs to be especially careful in selecting and developing leaders who are ready and if not, at least capable of dealing with the omnipresent ambiguity and complexity. Growing Leaders from within the organization needs to be balanced with identifying and hiring leaders from the outside to ensure an appropriate mix of focus on preserving an organization’s culture but also helping it become future-ready. We are deliberate about identifying and growing people from within into management/ people leadership and also individual contributor/ specialist roles. At the same time, we are always scouting for talent externally that may augment our internal capability as and when the need arises.

What are your talent acquisition and reskilling mantra? How are they different?

Talent acquisition mantra: Hire for aptitude more than attitude. Skills can be taught and learned, attitude and cultural fit in an organization, cannot.

Reskilling mantra: If you get Talent acquisition right, this takes care of itself. If your employees are empowered, all that an organization has to do is provide the resources (time, money, etc.) for employees to keep themselves relevant and updated.

What experiences, people, or philosophies have most influenced the way you view and practice leadership? Can you share some insights on what have you learned from them?

I am extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the world’s finest organizations – R/GA, Google, Accenture, Yum! – all of the leaders in their areas and with exceptional leadership talent and practices. I have worked closely with local and global leadership of each of these organizations during my tenures and all have them have influenced me significantly. Some of my lifelong learning/ insights have been:

  • ALWAYS do the right thing. Especially when in doubt.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s never enough.
  • There could be 2 right answers. Keep an open mind.
  • Treat people exactly how you would like to be treated.
  • Behaviors that get rewarded, get repeated.
  • Be a Coach to your team. Not a Captain.

You drive employee satisfaction and retention strategies and help R/GAers meet their professional and personal goals. Can you share some examples of how you ensure this on a daily/monthly/yearly basis? Any specific initiative?

We communicate very, very frequently. Managers and their team members talk weekly, if not daily. HR and employees have ongoing conversations and we operate a very high-touch HR environment. We have internal tools where all our employees can update their skills/ experience profiles, put up their hand for a different opportunity, access development materials, and training, etc. Performance Management is a continuous process at R/GA and not a once or twice a year conversation. We have tools that enable an ongoing dialogue between managers and team members and cross-functional and cross-geography peers.

We run an annual engagement survey which forms the basis of our Talent strategy and initiatives for the year. We study the results very carefully and take specific and concrete actions to make improvements in our employees’ experience. 


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Topics: Leadership, #LeadTheWay

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