“No opportunity is big or small. If it is small, it can be made big and if it is already big, it can be made large enough,” says Rajendra Mehta, currently the chief people officer at DHFL. For someone who accidently chose HR as his career and has been able to make the most of every opportunity that he received during his career of over 21 years, this statement certainly stands true. With a deep understanding of expectations, of both the management and the employees, from the very beginning of his career, Mehta has been able to strike a perfect balance — creating an enabling environment at every organisation he has worked.
Mehta shares the story of how he accidentally came into the world of human resources but made a significant mark. It was during his academic days when he used to visit a family friend; one of the members of that family worked as a personnel head in an oil company in India at that time. That is when he briefly understood the role, and got influenced to choose HR as a career.
In his first job at KEC International, he had the chance to work with one of the leaders who was exceptionally great in terms of both business thinking and the ability to lead workmen — someone who could not only navigate the conversations but also perfectly balance the interests of the management and the workers. Mehta says, “That learning really came handy, enabling me to manage people, empathise with them and still get the work done. That formed my initial grounding in the HR space.”
“Working with the Times Group requires even more orientation for HR to be business partners.”
“As a management graduate, I had heard at that point of time that it was really crucial for an HR professional to possess the ability to understand industrial relations and to be able to build a cohesive and friendly environment, ensuring success for business. That is where KEC International provided the primary exposure in the industrial relations space,” Mehta shares.
Thereafter, he got to work with L&T, which was at that point one of the greatest places to work. Being a process-oriented organisation, it helped him understand the importance of implementation capabilities. Moving industries, Mehta then worked with the Times Group gaining a deep understanding of how promoter shareholders (which was Bennett Coleman & Co. for the Times Group) view businesses. “Working with them requires even more orientation for HR to be business partners,” Mehta explains. The promoter shareholders have high aspirations and there is an opportunity of really leveraging various levers of HR that one can implement well, starting from hiring talent to building a talent pipeline, to ensure the desired business outcome.
Switching industries across construction, media, textile, and now BFSI, Mehta gained rich exposure in managing complexities in an organisation, strategic hiring, building organisational structure, supporting people aspirations and deriving business results with a P&L perspective. Mehta’s rich experience also spans across geographies, such as the US, Europe and Latin America, where he learnt that language is very important to be able to connect with people. “These were some of the finest experiences I was able to get in my previous organisations,” Mehta says.
Having always tried to ensure that the environment he builds in an organisation is in the interest of business at large, Mehta strongly focusses on giving people a comfortable environment, building programmes for their growth and creating opportunities for their movement upwards. He agrees that although most businesses have similar sets of functions at the core, there are finer nuances specific to the product or industry. If one has a decent understanding of the levers that drive businesses, most jobs become far easier.
“If HR is a good business person and has the ability to influence the population of the organisation, there is no bigger thing than that.”
Mehta explains how working with multiple industries allowed him to discover how context varies for different industries and what sensitivities are required to deal with different situations. “If one has a good understanding of business at large, one can be successful in any industry and this is what helped me move across industries,” he says.
Mehta believes that in the present time most companies have a younger demography and every person has broadly three aspirations — learn, earn and grow. If one is able to set the context right and build an environment for these three needs, one can be successful. He elaborates that it is crucial for HR to have empathy, people skills and the ability to understand the challenges of an organisation and its people to build a path for success and navigate it through culture.
Organisational culture is about how an individual behaves and acts in a specific scenario. For instance, Mehta cites that customers always look for a perfect response to their needs, and an HR leader should be able to build a culture that offers an environment where people are customer-focussed. He says, “As an HR I need to be focussed on two aspects—Do I do enough in terms of establishing employee connect with the environment that we’ve built up? Do I encourage employee connect with the roles that they are assigned to? If we are able to get the right answers to these two questions, we can be successful as an HR professional in any industry.”
Coached by Dr Ram Charan, Mehta shares that it was he who taught him how to manage the interdependencies of people on the top and how one can culturally change the leadership collaboration as that impacts an organisation at large. Mehta feels that HR professionals need to be aware of the contextual differences in businesses and navigate through them accordingly as people have different goals and aspirations.
Having said that, what he likes the most about the function is his ability to impact the lives and careers of people. “If HR is a good business person and has the ability to influence the population of the organisation, there is no bigger thing than that,” he opines. One has to be the right kind of facilitator to impact people’s careers. “My ability to help people in their career advancement and aspirations and push them into futuristic opportunities is what I like about the profession,” he adds.
Mehta likes to put relationships first and believes everything else will turn out to be successful then. In his words, “Create smaller impacts and give value to your managers or the key stakeholders and they will then come around and seek your help.” It is the ability to build a connect first and show smaller values boosting belief in your abilities to deliver, that helps get buy-in from the key stakeholders.
Mehta aspires to continue to impact workplaces, as his belief rests on the fact that success comes from being able to manage the happiness of people in an organisation. When organisations put in so much money and resources, the disengagement of employees could prove harmful to business aspirations. Therefore, he says, “My biggest aspiration is to create an environment where 100 per cent of the people are happy and engaged.”
Mehta shares his mantra in life— “One should remain positive about business and optimistic about the opportunities one gets irrespective of how big or small they may be. One should dream big and aspire high as that will lead one to do something really impactful. Thinking big is my only mantra.”