HONO COO Randeep Singh in conversation at the SHRMTECH' 22

Great Expectations: what people want from their leaders?

HR Technology has recently taken centre stage in our life as Technology becomes the key solution for hiring practices and enhancing people's journeys.  It is important that leaders try and understand the entire range of expectations and learn from the lens of employees themselves. In this session, Randeep Singh COO, HONO moderates a panel of prominent HR leaders to explore the practices and technologies that is shaping employee delight in today’s era.


  • Sandeep Girotra – President, CHRO – DCM Shriram
  • Debashish Ghosh – Vice President & Head Human Resources, Berkadia
  • Sandeep Gautam – CHRO, National Engineering Industries Ltd.


  • Randeep Singh - COO, HONO


Randeep: Thankyou so much and good afternoon everyone. We have to buckle up energy. Before I start there is a very lighter note that I would like to express here, one of my friends in the US wrote on my LinkedIn post when I shared my views on the panel discussion that All we need from leaders is a good employee lunch a good set of coffee machines and lots of flavors of coffee. I think the topic is very wide and it's very exciting. On a serious note the first question I would want to put on the panel is “We have seen lot of change in the past couple of years and there have been a lot of turbulent times that organizations have gone through. So has there been any reflection of these changes that have happened in the ecosystem in which organizations operate, whether it is the technology ecosystem, talent ecosystem, or the whole business scenario itself? Any reflections of this that we see on leadership and the expectations of employees from leaders.

Sandeep Girotra: I think this eventually had to happen, the change whether it is technology or the way we work. I think the pandemic has just accelerated the whole peace. What we were expecting over the next 5-7 years has happened in 2 years unexpectedly. Organizations are still debating on how to cope worth it. There have been knee-jerk reactions as well thoughtful answers to difficult questions. What it has brought to the forefront, is we love to use jargon called to wake up the world, it is right in front of you. The leaders who were agile survived, the leaders who haven’t learned it through survival instincts. Eventually corporations well, in adversity we saw people reacted positively and better results.


Randeep: So Debashish, any reflections that you see that have tremendously impacted the way organizations function?

Debashish Ghosh: I see two fundamental changes, in addition to what Sandeep said. One is when you think about leaders earlier it was all about the why, the vision, what you do as a leader, how you do it, profitability, revenues, market share, VC funding, all those were important. They are still relevant and that's why leaders were getting paid for. Now from this why how and what has really changes is the who, who you are as a person is as important as the why's and the how's and what's. In fact, I jokingly say that if Samon had to write a book right now it wouldn't start with why anymore but with who. Because the fundamental values of humanity, talk about vulnerability talk about humanity trustworthiness, and even empathy is still new. Even though the industrial revolution is three hundred years old, empathy is only fifty years old. So the more we see the change the more basic human values are coming into the forefront and that's what employees expect from us - to demonstrate. Don't talk about money, I want to see who you are as a person. Number two - when you talk about CEOS and CXOs, I personally do not like these terms as these tend to put you on a pedestal on the top, as it goes it's very lonely on the top, contradicting which - if it is lonely at the top then you're doing something wrong. If you're at the top you should be surrounded by people, not the other way round. For me, CEO is the acronym for culture education officer. I will give you a simple relatable example through a point of reflection, all of us are struggling to get our employees back to the office, and there are various reasons for wanting so. To reflect on why is to check if your culture is not good are the employees not willing to come to the office is because they don't get along, they are not enjoying the conversation, so I guess as leaders what people need from us is to reflect on the culture and see what you can do, not pay more money or give more benefits, those are short term. The full-time job of a leader is to build a culture. Culture is truly the competitive advantage as much as market share or product.

Randeep Singh: great thought, Debashish. The reflection of values and the culture piece you spoke about is absolutely important. I think that sets what the expectations of employees could be rather than employees stating this is what I need right? It is actually a mutual process so that's a very positive thought. I heard a word which was agility from you Sandeep, so I know you're very passionate about agility. Any thoughts on that?

Sandeep Gautam: we have been living in a disruptive world for the last decade where business disruptions are taking place rapidly, where technology has opened up lots of avenues, and people are trying to catch up with it. But I think the pandemic has disrupted everything, where two things have happened-one is that the topmost person in the organization is the promoter, or the owner or the CEO, everyone came to the same level as they weren't allowed to go out etc. When something of the scale of the pandemic happens, it doesn't spare anyone. The hierarchies are levelled. The boundary has been broken. The individual and the person, the employee came to the center stage. Everyone has a humane side, there's empathy, and I think we were compelled to that stage and we reacted positively to it. Leaders were now more worried about employee health than business, this opened a new dimension to the businesses now mental and physical health has come to the core, earlier it was part of the compensation package, but this is no more an added benefit now, it's a basic requirement now to check whether your employees are mentally fit, hopefully, they are not going through any agony or pressure.

The next is the agility part, we have been hearing and talking about agility as a major competency for the past many years but this time, one single announcement brought us to a grinding halt. You have to run a business, and support your employees, and the communities, leading to the adoption of virtual media like zooms etc. So this is also one example of agility. So think we all are agile stepping out of our comfort zone and adapting to the changes. I think this is very important as we move along and forward, now businesses are back on track, and agility is playing a critical role now in determining how agile we are as leaders and how we are helping our employees understand the changing business realities.


Randeep Singh: So are you also saying that the leader being agile, the people will automatically demand agility from the system once you display that?


Sandeep Gautam: yes they are expecting it. The point is we at a leadership level decide something, sometimes we don't know what people want. I think the time has come when we ask the employees what they want. I would like to add that technology is playing a big role in shaping agility. So lots of solutions are coming up and companies are going big on digitization. Companies are now thinking what if something of the kind like a pandemic happens, how we are going to deal with it. So again business is at the back of the mind but lots of new factors are also being considered for resolutions.


Randeep Singh: Great thoughts Sandeep. One interesting thing we could bring out of this discussion is that leadership is connected to controllership. I think the paradigms have changed in the concurrent situation, do you still see leadership as controllership or do you think times have changed where the expectations have to be the other way round.


Sandeep Girotra: I think the expectations from both people and business have changed. There was a time when leaders were operationally involved in the day-to-day stuff. A lot of time people say "I am a hands-on leader", that's all good and great, but then it kind of moved up the value chain and said "look I am a hands-on leader, I delegate but I also have control mechanisms in place" now leaders are expected to be stewards. I am not expecting my manager to be a hands-on manager operationally trying to do what I am doing. I get paid for what I am doing I would like my manager to get paid for what they are supposed to do. If he or she starts working on my behalf I won't like it, I want them to stand by me and groom me to the next level. The definition of manager or leader is now changing from an operationally strong, hands-on manager to a controller to now to a steward. So that's a big tectonic shift that's going to take place those leaders who have realized this will succeed and the others would have to make way. Leaders should know when to phase themselves out and get the new guys in. We need to show our vulnerability since we know nothing. I jokingly say that as HR manager I am just about 40, trying to create an ecosystem for a young generation. We have no clue what they are looking for. So we learn from them and make ourselves agile or make way for others to take up the onus.

Randeep Singh: that's very boldly put Sandeep. Very few leaders would say it's time for them to phase out, very good point. Debashish on to you, any reflection you see of technology on the length we have spoken about. Anything on leaders being stewards, value reflection, agility, etc. Do you see any way in which technology can facilitate this ecosystem? Or is the technology just an alien to this process or if it can accelerate the process.

Debashish Ghosh: that's a big question. Technology as I see it has to coexist. The earlier we realize it is better. In the organizational context, Technology plays three primary roles. One is, it automates mundane, routine processes making them faster, and keeping employees happy. A win-win situation.

The next thing technology does is accelerate communication. Even training, which is essentially communicating, can be made easier with tech.

The third thing is decision-making through data. When you apply AI and ML to it, enables certain prospects of decision making.

While technology helps us, some leaders tend to delegate their responsibilities to the said technology and that is detrimental. You are talking about social distancing, not emotional distancing. As a leader, you have to take the step on when to stop the mobile phone and walk up to someone. That's a judgment that the leader should be capable of to make the communication effective.

For example - these wonderful employee attrition models which aanalyze performances, tell you who is taking too many leaves but machines won't tell you that the said actions are taking place because there's someone's ailing mother that they have to tend to. So in those times, increasing salaries or keeping employees engaged doesn’t help. As a leader, you must know where to not use technology. And that's a defining factor.

Randeep Singh: so you're saying walking upto people and striking a conversation is an important sentiment catch that technology cannot properly Discover, right? Good thoughts there.

Sandeep Girotra: we can speak against the motion also. I think I am not too sure, it may work in some kinds of companies and may not work for others. There are many companies where there are a different workforce that would be looking at any personal connection. I think the paradigm is shifting, the desire to learn is also phasing away. We have great leaders sitting here, Raja and Rajesh. We should be ready for the generation that is not willing for face-to-face interaction and be very matter of fact.

Randeep Singh: I think this generation of course you have spoken of so many GenZ and GenX stuff. I think you're absolutely right.

Sandeep Gautam: to take this discussion forward, to me technology is an enabler. Whether you accept it now or delay it, eventually you'll have to accept it. Technology isn't going away. Now it is In fact paramount for businesses and ourselves where we can't do without technology. Every moment is infused with tech. Data analytics is going to help businesses make better decisions. What I understand is that it is not taking away the human touch. Technology is empowering employees. It is eliminating all transactional processes whether it's bureaucracy or hierarchy. When we talk about industrial evolution, like industry 4.0 or 5.0, Technology is going to assist businesses in going forward. Data and AI are helping us taken better-informed decisions. You need now meatier roles for people and more skill development for the force who can use tech to do better. I often see leaders take decisions on what technology should be adopted, in fact, they should be the last to suggest so.


Randeep Singh: so what you're saying is that if as leaders you're choosing a technology then please learn it first. So we can reflect better, right?

Sandeep Gautam: technology actually is very empowering to employees. You're working and there is a dashboard, it makes work easier. During the pandemic, we did a lot of things that we didn't think we would do using technology. I remember quality inspections being done on Zoom. So it is possible and disruptive.

Sandeep Girotra: it is not so much about leaders or leaders adopting technology, more importantly, if you don't know then accept that you don't. The first thing the old leadership may point out is why technology isn't working citing reasons of expenses, diluted connections, the difficulty of culture adaption, etc. What leaders should actually do is allow people to try and figure out. To begin with the change of the mindset of the leaders first.


Sandeep: Gautam so if leaders are not adapting to this, then time shall change eventually right?

Sandeep Girotra: we shouldn't be waiting for time to change at this point, now is the time to change already.

Debashish Ghosh: I don't think it is possible for me to do everything as a leader, but am I willing to hire people who are smarter than me and challenge the situation then we can achieve the paradigm shift.

Randeep: I would love the audience to please engage with the poll. We seek the poll results on the slider. Let's play it first. The slider consists of five statements, about what a leader should be.


Debashish Ghosh: I ask HR professionals why do you want to be HR professionals? The answers I mostly receive state that the individual wants to work with people. Even though that's an important factor, HR is not just that. There are harder aspects of human resources. Negotiating, confronting, influencing, and decisions making, are tough things to do.

Sandeep Gautam: I personally believe leaders should create more leaders, they should pave the path for younger people. Encouragement and humility are important characteristics of a leader, indeed.

Randeep: Thankyou gentlemen. The house is now open for questions.

Audience: So my question is that some leaders are great performers and display great principles but when it comes to walking the talk or implementing it there's a gap.

Sandeep Gautam: the first thing you said was that these leaders are great performers and we in HR and talent leadership discuss often that when people - from individual contributors to people managers and sometimes we get confused, the guy who is performing very well we promote them, they may be subject matter Experts and not leaders. So what you narrated might not be a good manager.

Debashish Ghosh: imagine I am your manager who talks and talks, would you like me better if I listen to you?

Audience: I would like my team to challenge me on good ideas and opportunities as a leader. I definitely would not want my team to just listen to me.

Debashish Ghosh: correct. That is why the first important thing is listening. If I just talk and dictate that what I am saying is right? We are here not talking about orators, we are talking of leaders who take the responsibility of developing others. So that person has also changed into a large extent. I have seen deep introverts as great leaders.


Audience: My question was more around the performance side of it not the culture side of it.


Sandeep Gautam: we invest a lot of money and energy into a company so if someone is not accepting the change to be made the job lies with HR.

Randeep: next question, please?

Audience: I heard a lot about phasing out of leaders and that's a very scary topic for me. I have a team of high performers and I do have that insecurity, so how do I make myself irrelevant while pushing them towards relevancy. So I want to seek advice on how to go about it?

Sandeep Girotra: I am so happy hearing somebody say that. Leadership is all about vulnerability. Accept that you are coming with weaknesses. There's a time to phase out and your inner self will guide you with instincts. When you start looking around and notice changes that you can no longer relate to or accept, and you don't have the desire to make a change then please make way for the others. Though it is very philosophical, however sooner we understand better it is. Once we realize we don't want to change, we should hang our boots.

Audience: Do you subscribe to the idea of business leaders taking the position of people leaders also? What do you think about that?

Sandeep Girotra: we have all heard and say leadership is all about the people. I work for a company called DCM Shriram, where Shriram was known to be a people's person. Leaders who have mastered the art of managing people have flourished. That does not mean every leader can be an HR Manager.

Audience: we always tell leaders to carry out the five fundamentals and everything that'll fall in place. So what are the deal-breakers that no leader should engage with?

Sandeep Gautam: don't persist with bad performers.

Sandeep Girotra: leaders shouldn't think they know everything.

Randeep: Thankyou, everyone!