Subhash Menon is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Angel One, the largest publicly listed broking house in India in terms of the authorised person by the National Stock Exchange. With almost 2 decades of experience in making workplaces better, Subhash has been leading Angel One to the future. What makes Subhash more than just a leader, but an empowerer in the form of a leader is the fact that his decision making compass is driven by the polar strengths of empathy and technology. In fact, when working with Subhash you will find that he solves even the most complex of the problems by simplifying them to one simple problem statement, “does it make our employee’s life simpler?”
Subhash believes that the future will be of connected and flexible workplaces. Leading by example, Subhash has shown the Indian industry that great organizations don’t need mortar brick structures but rather purpose to drive mission success. With permanent #WorkFromAnywhere implemented at Angel One and no-predefined working hours, Subhash has created an intrapreneurial open culture where individuals are more than just contributors but also the ambassadors of the mission of the organization.
Our Exclusive Interview:
1. What the HR needs to do in order to drive more value in the VUCA world?
Today’s industries are under more VUCA world than ever before. Rather than just having business challenges, the Uncertainity has reached human levels. I am sure that many industry veterans and current leaders will vouch for it, that “when will we come back to office” was never a question that would fall under the ambiguity umbrella of VUCA. But as you can see, today it is!
VUCA as an ideology, as a concept is at its peak right now. With the great resignation ongoing, the rapid shift to technologies like Web3, existence and mainstream entrance of crypto, startups turning into publicly listed companies; there is a lot that wasnt in the playbook for HR, that’s happening right now.
But, if keep the basics right and adhere to the fundamentals of being an HR, this is not truly that big of an problem.
We can begin by avoiding jargons and fancy new frameworks and focus on what H stands in HR. For me, empathy is the key, I believe that as HR, if we can be empathetic to the business and the people, without any bias then finding a solution to this highly VUCA phase is easy.
Here’s what I would recommend, and it may sound very basic, but that’s the critical part. In chase of new methodologies, frameworks, we often miss doing the basic.
As HR, we can start by controlling the ambiguity of today’s world by working with the business leaders to execute communication. Efficient and honest communication about where are we heading, how are we doing and how can we bring things back to normal or create a new normal, like how we have done at Angel One. We never ran after the idea of bringing people back to the office, we created a new normal by creating a permanent work from anywhere culture. Now we, as an organization, really dont get that impacted by uncertainty of these new covid variants because we know that our Angelites are always in the safety of their home. A simple way of killing ambiguity and uncertainity.
Then there is BAU, business as usual. As HRBP, we need to have a round table discussion with the leaders and break the reality that the old BAU doesnt exist anymore. There is no BAU standard as of now and together, we will have to create the new BAU. Something that does justice to the current scenario and is also immune to the complexities of future. For example, earlier when a mail said that “something will be completed or delivered or responded to by EOD”, one would assume it to be 8PM or 6 PM, but not so today. Ask any Angelite and they will tell you EOD means end of day, when the day ends for them. I may end my day ta 4PM and you may prefer to be a night owl and end it at 3AM. So, EOD is now different for different people and that’s not BAU, rather BANU, Business As New Usual.
I hope that this gives a fair direction for the young and dynamic HR leaders to navigate this scenario and bring business to a stable momentum.
2. How have you leveraged technological innovation, particularly with resourcing and recruitment?
Ours is a digital office, we have not invested in steel and cement structures during our recent expansion amid 2020 and 2021, we rather focused on creating a digital office. So, when you ask have we leverages technology in resourcing, the answer is a definite yes. Not only this particular department but rather everywhere else in the organization, we have heavily invested in technology, you name it and we have it. Intelligent chat bots, unified HR systems, collaborations tools, online engagement, we have invested in every possible digital asset that could deliver a great customer experience, for our internal customers, that is our Angelites.
Talking about recruitment specific, during 2021, we have done a upstream overhaul of the entire system. We are already using Asia’s fastest growing HRMS system and for our recruitment and resourcing experience we have partnered with a global leader in the field. But its not just the tools that deliver the experience, its how the tools are leveraged.
I’ll give you a small example of how we use technology while still focusing on the human spirit of hiring the best talent. We did it somewhere in the second half of last year, where we partnered with a San Francisco based coding challenge platform. You see, at Angel One, in every aspect of employee experience, transparency and equal opportunity go hand in hand and when we indulged in using technology to bring home the finest tech talent in India, we didnt just do it because we can but because it led us to a more inclusive and honest way of hiring people.
We had tremendous response on the coding challenge, thousands of people showed interest. Many took the challenge and only a few hundred were able to qualify at the end. Those who qualified were then recommended to further rounds of engagement, because its not just skills but the culture fit that matters to us the most.
Our recruitment systems do all the basic, even before you make a search, based on your interest and cookies the system will automatically recommend you jobs that seem fit. We have absolutely digital onboarding, one could signup for a job at Angel One while sitting on a beach in Hawai and, if selected, we will deliver all resources to them t their doorstep and they can start working from where they are. It is fascinating for me how we have been able to use technology to bring home the finest talent in the tech industry in India, without ever asking them the most infamous question, “are you ready to relocate”
We have also used our online presence to drive recruitment, we have thousands of people following us on digital platforms and social media and we have been constantly using that as a leverage to attract the right talent. The technology does the work of helping us find the right demographic and the complex algorithms do a lot of heavy lifting, but the key still lies in the basic, can you tell a story that connects with your potential candidate.
3. As an HR Leader, what are the key deliverables that can be instrumental for a firm to be successful?
Redesign, Refine, Resign! That’s the key deliverable according to me which can be instrumental in bringing home the success.
As an HR leader, we know that organizations grow organically. Expanding on what was existing but growing in an entirely different direction, the policies and practices that were created often become less efficeint with the changing workplace. What we can do is redesign those frameworks and policies.
Here is a simple example, in early days we had policies that were designed for a differnet population size, a different demographic and a differnet world of industry. We had people clocking in, clocking out and as HR it would have been criminal we never looked back at those polcies and asked ourselves, do they serve any purpiose today? For organizations to be successful, we have to have efficient workplaces that allow people to grow and be themselves. People prefer to bring their whole self to their workplaces and that includes their habits, personality. Everyone has different way of doing things and different time of doing those things, it wouldnt make sense to try to fit all those different talented minds into one framework. So today, at Angel One, our policies reflect todays world an dthe future of workplace. There is abosolutely zero focus on the working hours. Clock in clock out was an industrial era thing and I think as HR we should keep it there and redesign our policies to fit todays world and prepare our workplaces for the future, only that is when we will be able to thrive successfully.
Then other thing that we can do is refine, refine the talent pool. And by no means I am asking one to let go off of people. By Refine, I mean refine the talent. See, we usually hire people to solve a problem. Sometimes those problems become irrelevant and sometimes they cease to exist, so what do you do with those talent folks? Do we ask them to leave? No. We refine the talent that we already have and prepare them for the problem of future. By spending more on capability development, you can have people that understand your culture, resonate with your goal and are emotionally invested in your success while also being skilled enough to solve the problems that you are facing. You can not get these qualities by simply hiring someone from outside. And Angel One is a case study for it. We didnt do any layoffs during the pandemic, and you may find it hard to believe but we actually hired more people and gave out hikes and bonuses to our employees during that period. How did we do that? We look at people as problem solver and helping them refine their skills is our key priority.
And lastly, Resign! Yes, HR leaders have to focus on resignation. Not in its literal form but in a metaphor. The leadership has to resign from some of their responsibilities and pass it on to the young bunch of the organization. The job of great leaders is not only to lead but also to create new leaders and they cant do that if they are not willing to resign from some of the responsibilities they hold currently.
4. We have heard a lot about D&I, what does it mean to you and what are you doing about it?
This is a very interesting and a very subjective question. Initially, when the talks about diversity started it was based around gender, soon the it became more inclusive and we started adding in othe aspects of being a human to it. If there is anything to be learnt from it that when focisng on diversity, you cant start by limiting yourself in parameters, you have to open and welcoming to everyone. For me diversity and inclusion means being fair, being welcoming and being empathetic to everyone. The bottom line is people are different, you cant have a system that discrimantes them because of the difference. One of the key reasons why we invested so much in setting up a digital office so quickly was because of how much we understand diversity. It’s not just gender based or age based, but its also socio-economic diversity.
Think of it like this, in 2020 when the lockdown was in place, women had to take on multiple roles. Being a mother, teacher, cook and what not. All these were 24 hours job, thanks to the lockdown. Now, with all these responsibilities, they had to manage their career too. Does it sound fair for them to compete with someone who is not having all these responsibilities? The answer is no.
Or think of how our public infrastructure is, while India has been making stupendous growth, our public infrastructure is still gettin gtheir in being friendly for people with disabilities.
The point that I am trying to make here is that we dont focus on bringin home a certains volumen of certain demographic to make our workplace diverse. We have rather chosen a bigger focus, we are creating a workplace that welcoming and fair to everyone. One should not think about their gender, race, religion, faith or physical abilities as a roadblock when signing up for a career at Angel One. Because that’s not who we are, we are an organization that has always focused on being fair and treating people like our own.
We have string Equal Opportunity Policies in place that make sure that no one, under any circumstance, ever feel discriminated and in case they do they have properly laid out structure and support system for them to get justice. We invest a lot in trainings to make sure that our people managers are empathatci of the diversity and are able to understand how different races of life feel. Its only when you undersitand diversity that you focus on inclusion. We at Angel One can proudly say that we have no gender pay gap, women at Angel One have equal growth opportunities and its not just a statement. It is a proven data from our workplace.
5. What are some of the key drivers that you see as an HR that is actually driving the business growth and success?
There are a lot of things that can attribute to the business growth. But fundamentally its always the people. If I have to put that under the microscope and further deep dive into then I could say that the way we are approaching and thinking about talent has been one key factor that has been driving business. The industry has pretty much changed, especially with the great resignation of 2021, in the way they think of talent.To link talent to value, the best talent should be shifted into critical value-driving roles. That means moving away from a traditional approach, in which critical roles and talent are interchangeable and based on hierarchy. We want the best talent to stay and not just stay, lead and grow.
Then there is employee experience, which according to me highly underrated. There was a time when employee experience misinterpreted for fun activities. I have been always a strong advocate of not focusing on fun activities. Rather, make the experience of working fun and full of motivation.HR should facilitate and coordinate employee experience. Organizations can support this by helping HR evolve, strengthening the function’s capability so that it becomes the architect of the employee experience. Successful organizations work together with their people to create personalized, authentic, and motivating experiences that tap into purpose to strengthen individual, team, and company performance.
As an HR, I also think that the urge to create value has been a big factor in our success. People no more are focused on a to-do list handed over to them by their superior. People want to contribute value, not man hours, not lines of code but tangible and impactful real world value. As HRs, we have to focus on communication and comprehension to make that value the center piece of our workplace. Helping people to learn how they contribute and what value they contribute is the first step and them helping leaders focus on achieving goals in terms of the value that is being delivered is step 2.
And finally, rewarding people for taking risks. That’s the key element in turning your employees into enreprenerus. We have so many case studies at Angel One where people took the risk of creating something great and they failed. Yes, they failed and we are proud of them. See, we believe that failure is a goldmine of data and unless we fail we wont get the data that is critical for us to succeed, Organizations that promote and celebrate failure as equally as success make room for innovators who are ready to take biggers risks to deliver great value, not only to the organization but to the customer. We have an actual Failure Club at Angel One where we meet monthly and people come over to share their failure stories and we reward them with an audience that’s eager to hear their stories. Then there are certificates, badges, posts on LinkedIn; everything that usually happens when someone succeeds, happens at Failure Club and that gives angelites the confidence to fail, which leads to great innovations. We have had great product launched in the market, simply because some angelite thought they had a great business idea and we stoof behind them.
6. The role of HR leaders has changed over the years. How do you see the role of HR leaders evolve by 2025?
Imagine asking this question to me or rather any HR leader 5 years ago and imagine the answers we would have gotten. You see, the fundamentals will always remain the same. Human Resources department has to be always focused on the humans and I think that one key aspect ofthe role will always remain unchanged. The HR department in coming 5 years is going to be heavily tech and data driven. We are going to have inputs on how happy or dissatisfied our people are, probably what aspect of the workplace is making them unhappy, but what happens after that?
The human touch, that’s what is necessary. Data will help you sort through your problems quickly but we as HR will still have to bring in the human touch. Infact, it is one of my primary concern too. You can’t simple leave HR to technology and not think go your employees as customer. My philosophy is to make our customers life simpler. Whether internal or external and to that we need to use data to understand the problem and empathy to solve those.
I know this still doesnt specifically answers your question. But if I have to commit to a few things for HR in 2025, I would say nature of the leadership will change for good. HR leaders will be more reliant technology and dashboards that update in realtime. Taking surveys and feedback wont be an annual activity and we will be focused on measuring experience in realtime, just how swiggy and zomato do it right after every delivery, every customer.
HR leaders in future will also have to reinvent the workplace and its benefits. Lot of the benefits and packages that seem attractive today are already out of sync with the upcoming workforce. The future workforce will look for different benefits, some tangible and other not so. HR leaders in 2025 will be successful if they spend the years in between preparing for the change. Millennials are already old. By 2025 the Gen-Z will be leading workplaces in key positions. So instead of waiting for the workforce to become a part of a workplace that doesnt understand them, we should start building a workplace that’s ready to welcome them.
And lastly, HR leaders in 2025 will look for certified expertise in Human Resources. We will have new roles evolving and that to me is the most exciting part of the future. We will be looking at different roles. You will see a lot of data analysts and designers joining HR team. Infact, to answer your question of how the HR leadership will look in 2025, i will leave you with a question. Every product organization hires technology guy and product managers to create a product that delivers top of the line customer experience. So by that logic, shouldnt HR do the same? And the answer to that question should lay the foundation of what HR leadership in 2025 could look like.