"We aim to have 10% of our workforce made up of fresh graduates, whose perspectives we give a lot of weight to as they bolster fresh voices within the workplace," says Sowjanya Reddy, Head of HR, Greater Asia, HP Inc.
As with most HR leaders, Sowjanya Reddy, Head of HR, Greater Asia, HP Inc has always been interested - and passionate - about the subject; drawn to the strategic approach in managing people within an organisation so that employees can thrive, and lead fulfilling lives. And Reddy is serious about her craft too. So much so, she tells Human Resources Online that her first ever HR role - three months into moving to the US, and into her job there - she set an appointment with the CEO of the company, and put herself at the fore to replace the Director of HR - who had since left the company - for a remuneration of US$5 per hour.
"I remember saying: 'You’re going to take three or six months to bring a new director in. How about if I do this role for you for five dollars an hour, and once you hire this person, you can replace me'. It was too good a deal for my then-boss to refuse, I was perhaps the least expensive HR director she could ever have hired. So that’s how my career in HR started. That first exposure to HR made me certain that this is the career path for me, and I haven’t looked back since!"
On the off chance that Reddy hadn't taken that path, she would have "pursued the real estate industry" as she grew up in a family who were landowners for generations - so real estate was "a natural inherited inclination" for her.
It is certainly a blessing to have Reddy in the HR space though, as with her at the HP's helm for the HR function, the organisation managed to create a space where the younger workforce can come in and contribute through the HP Spark Programme, the HP POWERS programme, and the HP Mutual Mentorship programme, to name a few.
Read on for the interview with Lester Tan.
Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you’ve worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?
The most innovative campaign I’ve worked on during my six years at HP is the 'HP Spark Programme' - a 15-month internal programme that ensures a positive learning experience for graduates. During this programme, fresh university graduates spend five months each rotating across different departments at HP. In each role, they are paired with mentors -- senior leaders who encourage them to expand their knowledge by being involved in multiple scopes, such as business outlook, industry insights, to name a few.
Through the HP Spark Programme, graduates are trained to receive cross-domain exposure, which hones and accelerates their readiness to take on varied roles across HP. Mentors will also conduct regular check-in sessions so that they are aligned on progress, learning, and growth objectives.
The Spark Programme exemplifies the focus of HP’s HR function in designing and implementing targeted development interventions to build current and future capabilities for our people.
Working on this campaign teaches me that we are able to create a meaningful and impactful programme when multiple stakeholders collaborate and contribute towards one common objective: to build a future talent pipeline that strengthens our workforce pyramid. Through programmes such as HP Spark, we hope to better the multi-generational workforce to advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda.
Q How closely do you work with the CEO, and what are the specific projects that both of you work closely on?
The HR team works closely with the CEO to drive intentionality into our People strategy.
Our CEO defines our objectives, while as the Head of HR, I must work closely with him to find the right people so that we can achieve those objectives. This includes training them, and providing the best environment for our employees to thrive. Some projects we work closely on that I can think of are:
- Developing current and future capabilities, providing the right experiences/rotations to get fresh graduates/employees early in their careers ready to take on expanded portfolios, and move into next level succession pipelines;
- Creating an ecosystem that enables the development of a deep and diverse bench of leaders across all levels of the organisation, and
- Measuring the effectiveness of our people programmes through surveys – so that we can continue to finetune them and address our employees’ changing needs
Q Who is the one person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?
I once worked with a CEO who taught me one valuable lesson I’ve always kept close to my heart:
Every interaction is an opportunity to make an individual feel valued, even when that interaction is a difficult one.
Q How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style with three traits. First, I aim to be authentic – to myself, and to my colleagues. I am committed to being a true reflection of myself at the workplace – of my strengths, of my weaknesses, and to actively seek feedback on which I can improve on. In return, this also means that I strive to provide honest feedback and reflection of employees’ performances. I believe that an open exchange of constructive feedback will help us grow collectively in a company.
Second, inclusiveness is integral to my management style. An organisation can only grow when it considers each and everyone’s perspectives – from our younger to our older employees, no matter their backgrounds. As we are a global tech company, we grow through innovation, and I strongly believe that innovating new ideas can only come from being inclusive in our approach, and celebrating these differences in our viewpoints.
Last, but certainly not least, I strive to be a thinker with no boundaries – always leading with a “yes” approach. I am a firm believer that when I say “yes” to more things, no matter how challenging – I am always taken by surprise by where that leads me. The unknown may be daunting, but I never regret all the chances I’ve taken as a learner, and a leader.
Q With today’s rapidly evolving environment, what do you believe is HR’s #1 responsibility/the top way that it can add value?
At HP, we are led with a 'people-first' mindset, and with this guiding beacon, we make it our focus to enhance the employee experience especially during this rapid growth of digital transformation and hybrid working.
First and foremost, it is our responsibility to drive a culture that prioritises our employees’ wellbeing to help unlock individual potential, and build a solid foundation for subsequent success. Employee’s wellbeing spans across many areas – financial, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual. With today’s rapidly evolving environment of digital transformation and hybrid work, our main objective is to be a reliable support for all our employees. Especially for Gen Zs, who are still in the early days of their careers, the HR team plays a large role in helping them identify and play to their strengths, areas of interests and aspirations – a personalised “roadmap” during their time with us.
As an HR leader, I intend to achieve an equilibrium between driving a company’s success with care for our people.
Q Is there a phrase/mentality that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?
A phrase that I believe HR professionals should do away with is 'Policy says so'.
Uttering this phrase will pit the HR team against our employees – and this will not sit well with our young employees, whom I observe prioritise flexibility and a dynamic environment, where leaders listen and are open to suggestions. As advocates for our employees, we must replace this antiquated, rigid statement with “Let’s figure out how to solve this.”
For every issue raised by our employees, we must aim to figure out a solution.
Q HP is an advocate for leveraging (and expanding) a multi-generational workforce through various mentorship programmes. Take us through some of them - and explain how crucial these are with regard to the future of work, and to drive change in the organisation as well as the industry especially in times such as now.
With regard to the future of work, HP believes that a multi-generational workforce is key to drive change both within organisations and across industries. We aim to have 10% of our workforce made up of fresh graduates, whose perspectives we give a lot of weight to as they bolster fresh voices within the workplace. Young talent brings in a myriad of ideas, which translate to innovation. Globally, 88% of Gen Z employees believe that technology like AI will improve their job – a testament to their dependence on technology, which compels employers to innovate and digitalise further.
I particularly admire their drive, curiosity, and values-driven character – and we are committed to nurturing these traits through multiple mentorship programmes. POWERS is a partnership programme with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) that pairs third-year and fourth-year university female students in the STEM field with experienced women professionals in technical job functions at HP. Through this programme, students will shadow their mentors and partake in curated workshops to hone their personal and professional skills. POWERS is a unique programme aimed at Gen Z talent, allowing mentees to learn from mentors’ decades of experience, and in exchange, offering mentors a fresh take on topical matters – propagating a culture of reverse mentorship.
Another programme that promotes reverse mentorship at HP is the Mutual Mentorship programme, which pairs senior leaders with mid-level professionals. As a senior leader at HP myself, I know that I still have lots to learn from employees who are newer to the fields – the Millennials and Gen Zs. Through reverse mentorship, we are challenged to see beyond our prejudices and assumptions.
Q Before we conclude the interview, we’d like to ask a fun question: since we're on the topic of age and generation, if you have the opportunity to meet your past 21-year-old self and your future 65-year-old self, what's the one thing you’d tell her, and another that you’ll ask her respectively? And why?
To my 21-year-old self: Don’t take your responsibilities so seriously. It is ok to chill and take your time.
And to my 65-year-old self: Have you not yet learnt to take your responsibilities so seriously?
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