Sudeep Ralhan is the chief human resources officer at Upstox, an online stock trading platform.
He has over two decades of experience across all aspects of human resources, in a diverse array of organisations including Accenture, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, and Walmart, spanning multiple geographies.
Before joining Upstox, he served as vice president- people at Walmart Global Tech, India, where he led the company’s growth and established a strong talent footprint and brand.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Ralhan talks about fuelling the company’s growth with progressive people practices, on redefined talent management strategies, and provides a checklist for successful digital adoption in hiring practices. He also furnishes some insights into the work from home vs office debate, the future workforce, and key skills HR professionals will need to possess to be future ready.
Here are the edited excerpts:
Talent management procedures and protocols have obviously changed. How much have talent management, talent retention, and talent density been redefined in the HR space, and in the setting of Upstox?
In a nutshell - the priorities have remained the same, but the context has turned completely upside down. The challenge for HR leaders is to help their organisations adapt to the change, but continue to solve these problems in a sustainable manner.
For example, since the beginning of the pandemic, people have adapted to the boom in online education, updated their skills, and polished their resumes while keeping up with the rapidly-changing workplace and new ways of working.
Even as labour markets remain tight and hiring demand outstrips supply, it’s easy to give in to the immediate needs and make massive investments in compensation or provide unlimited flexibility to work from home. Such actions, as we have seen with several companies, come at a price. And many leaders have had to overturn their own statements after making them.
Our focus at Upstox is to make sure we balance the short with the long-term view. Retaining talent using compensation as a lever has to be accompanied by significant leadership attention on identifying critical talent and building talent density. The propensity to hire has to have the guardrails of productivity and bar-raiser.
Across the industry, the traditional style of talent reviews and succession planning has to evolve to more real-time moves and decisions, especially as thousands of new jobs are getting created and old ones eliminated forever.
Similarly, executives in India Inc are prioritising workforce upskilling and reskilling in a year when they are faced with challenges that include talent acquisition, employee engagement, and employee sickness and productivity, reveals Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends study.
With numerous recruitment technology innovations taking place today, as we zoom in, what is the checklist for successful digital adoption in hiring practices?
According to a survey done by Darwinbox, a cloud-based Integrated HR platform, 84% of organisations reported having either adopted at least one HR tech solution during the pandemic. My bet is that more than half of this investment would be in hiring solutions.
While this overwhelming move towards digitisation in hiring is welcome, we need to keep in mind sustainable adoption as our ultimate goal and not just FOMO-driven tech purchases.
A few guidelines that can drive sustainable adoption include -
- Stay true to your business case. Remember the reason you built/bought a recruiting tech solution, and measure progress against the core ROI without getting confused by too many peripheral metrics.
- Less can be more. Don’t count the number of systems or tools you have, instead measure their effectiveness.
- Remember, tools are not a substitute for experience. If your tech strategy is not backed by an equally emphatic customer/candidate experience strategy, then it’s most likely to not succeed.
- Use a thoughtful combination of build/ buy/ borrow to develop your suite of solutions. Over-relying on only source can cause either cost to ratchet up or quality to get compromised.
Zooming out, we live in a world ruled by data. The workforce, too, recognises its importance; citing that data skill sets – think literacy and analytics – can boost employment chances, and remuneration packages, for instance. Your views?
If there are two skills that the pandemic brought to the front of the table, they are cybersecurity and data analytics.
As the world moved increasingly into a virtual mode, more and more organisations have relied on data to get consumer insights, map the marketplace, attract talent and make decisions.
For the workforce, this is a boon. People can choose to either specialise in this space, either data analytics or data sciences and build their career across industries or in one particular space.
But more importantly, being data literate and expert can bring tremendous value to your role and business. Whether you are an HR business partner or a brand manager or design expert, the ability to synthesise data and leverage it for insights and decision making is increasingly becoming a core part of the expectations, rather than just peripheral.
There has been a lot of debate on working from home or hybrid working. What is your opinion?
The world has changed irrevocably and we should be prepared to unlearn, learn, relearn as we evolve.
In this entire debate on working from home vs working from office vs hybrid models, there are multiple needs that have to be considered - specific business asks, employee flexibility, connect and belonging in the workforce, safety and health, financial affordability, real estate footprints and so on. Every decision will involve trade-offs amongst these sets of factors and so it’s important that leaders don’t take hard positions immediately but instead of observe and learn.
At Upstox, we have continued to provide personal flexibility to our workforce, but are also trying to find opportunities for teams to come together and plan/ celebrate/ build so that we are more aligned as a fast growing company.
If companies want to retain their staff, make their workplace attractive for employees, they need to take hybrid working seriously. According to a survey by Colliers India, hybrid working is here to stay as about 63% of corporates are currently embracing the flexible model.
The younger generation have varying opinions and needs about work arrangements and support, priorities and goals. How is Upstox ensuring that it understands its workforce, and is on the same wavelength as them?
No workforce or team is the same and it’s important to recognise the inherently diverse demographics and needs to design appropriate benefits and engagement strategies.
At Upstox, that recognition and understanding comes from both deeper data analysis as well as listening mechanisms.
We regularly conduct surveys on various topics ranging from inclusivity to managerial relationships that give us insights into the key priorities. A daily pulse check on our HRMS is an additional data point as well.
In addition to this, anecdotal evidence from various collaboration tools, town halls adds to the picture. Layered with specific data on attrition, recruitment and even feedback from external sites, we make sure we have the right set of insights to guide our people's decisions.
What is your leadership mantra?
“One foot in Today, One foot in Tomorrow” is my own mantra that I apply both to my life overall as well as to my work. I believe a sharp focus on immediate needs and outcomes has to be balanced by a thoughtful view that takes into account the longer term.
Whether it be relationships or a people strategy, personal career goals or recruitment drives, this mantra has served me well.
What are some key skills you believe HR professionals will need to possess in order to be relevant for the future?
All skills that make for a great HR professional continue to be relevant - strategic mindset, ability to build relationships, business partnership and getting things done.
But the biggest change that HR professionals need to make is to stop thinking of themselves as HR professionals. If we believe we are business professionals who happen to specialise in HR, it will make us more holistic in our approach and build our skills to truly add value to the business. It will also keep us on our toes - developing a customer-centric view like marketing, being fiscally holistic like finance and building data skills like tech will keep us relevant for the future.