Leader’s Voice – Interview with Edwin James, Head HR at Marico

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This time Your HR Buddy is honored to present a Leader’s voice who has Global experience in HR, Mr. Edwin Vinod James, Head of HR at Marico Limited for North Africa Region. Being an Indian he has studied and worked in different countries and brings a unique global perspective on HR and in dealing with a diverse workforce. Thanks to social media for making this interview possible given that we are a few thousands of miles apart. Although I would imagine that discussing this with him over a cup of coffee would have been a great personal experience for me. I am so excited to bring my conversation with Edwin to you.

Q. Hey EdwinCan you talk a little bit about yourself and your journey as a Global HR professional?

A. Determined, restless, passionate are words that describe me best. Routines are boring, challenges are exciting. Never want to rue the road not taken.

Started my career in 1996 as a Lecturer with St.Xavier’s College, Kathmandu – Nepal. A place I had never been before in my life, a vocation for which I had no knowledge or qualification.

After a few successful years of seeing the first batch of BSW students passing out and getting placed and as routine setting in, the bug of restlessness hit me and I wanted to move on to my main domain – Human Resources Management..

I explored companies where I could add value and also make a positive difference. Soon, I found myself making an entry to Marico Limited which is one of the HR Driven companies to work for and made entry as a HR Generalist in one of the small village’s oil manufacturing unit in Kerala, India in the year 2000 and learnt the dynamics of Industrial Relations especially working with blue collared workmen and their demands on a multi unionized complex environment.  Next I knew I was doing good in IR and thought that I need to explore myself in HR in a differential product company and thus placed myself with Tata Docomo as HR Head for the state during 2007 December  and when I left was designated as Regional HR Head – South during 2011 December. It opened up my horizons into HR Management and sharpened the skills in handling expectations and motivating the highly aspirational white collared telecom employees.

Realization dawned upon that IR & HR was not sufficient but I need to experiment myself in a different culture in a different country to truly become a global professional. Took the plunge, I did, and rejoined Marico where it gave me the roots of Industrial Relations, joined them as Head-HR for North Africa Region based out of Cairo during December2011.

Twelve years into this journey of HR Profession, my adrenaline still runs high at every intervention I conceptualize, experiment and receive feedback. The learning is constant and employee results are the reward. Meaningful and fulfilling, the journey has always been.

Q. What are the important points that any HR professional needs to take care of while dealing with multi cultural environment?

A. I would say –

  • Adapt To Environmental Challenges – Ability to adapt to physical environment, quickly understand the culture traits, Socio-political situation, religious values, work environment and most importantly employment laws and adapt to it swiftly.
  • Non- Judgmental – It is important to take a non judgmental approach when you deal with people at internal interface level and at external interface level too.
  • Apply native intelligence: One need to be sensitive in approach with the teams and carry the native intelligence in working in a multi culture environment. If the environment demands ranking of individuals in terms of importance rather than on equal terms it is better to quickly adapt to such working norms lest the fact is that you may unknowingly unsettle people. “If you start treating people below you as equals, you will make people at your level uncomfortable,” “An example would be inviting the driver of your car to join you and your colleagues at the same table for dinner. Doing that would make your colleagues uncomfortable as well as the driver. You’re asking them to violate the social structure.”
  • Be Comfortable, Display Dynamism: In certain culture it is expected everyone in a group to have a voice and an opportunity to speak; this isn’t necessarily the case in a multi culture environment. “People have a group identity and expect that the head of the group will speak for them,” As a result, HR professional must aware while dealing with groups where He/She need to  strike a collegial tone, and where it would be appropriate to be more brusque.

Q. Employee Reward and Recognition programs is a cost-effective way to strengthen employee engagement and retention. Please share your thoughts on this.

A. Yes! Reward and recognition program is essential to any organization to strengthen employee engagement and retention program for our valuable human resources in the system.

Any R&R would be beneficial to the organization if it is designed on Return on Investment (ROI) principles wherein both individual/teams and organization derive mutually beneficial output. To quote an example, we have recently launched a sales incentive program wherein we have implemented the payout scheme in a way that motivate the individual to aspire for every increase of % in sales volume with multiplier effect on incentive payout and have embedded with an extended foreign trip for members who achieve 100% in 3 consecutive quarters. This will enable/create a drive for every individual in the team to align with organization purpose and also for the organization to gun for outstanding Sales figures.

Q. What would be your advice to organizations wanting to achieve excellence in HR?

A. In todays competitive environment HR plays a pivotal role in facilitating the future of organization. It is essential that organizations provide an ambience that create

  • Encourage Knowledge Management Initiatives wherein HR is viewed as human capital rather than mere human resources.
  • Effective Communication that keep information sharing without losing Human Connect.
  • Succession plan strategy and career pathing initiatives that shows line of sight to the employees in the organization.
  • Encourage social media usage in the right way that paves differential benefits to the organization
  • Environment Responsibility – Institutionalize green programs and recycling policy so as to maximize the potential.
  • Workplace ethics
  • Devise policies and engagement initiatives that keep the Y generation highly engaged.

Q. As an HR leader, what keeps you up all the night and what is the biggest challenge that you have faced as an HR professional?

A. The things that keep me up are –

  • Handling Complexities and providing optimal solutions that bolster business in which I am involved.
  • Constantly striving to adopt various mechanisms to wards people development.
  • Confront status quo and adaptive to change management.

The biggest challenge I have faced in my career is of handling IR in Marico where the stalemate of Union confrontation was converted to a WIN-WIN solution with NO-HIT to market. Also in telecom experience where the Revenue Market Share (RMS) is down by 30% and when competition was eating in, have persuaded the leadership and  enabled with collaborative approach to bring back the business to profitability by restructuring and repositioning the market segments and by suggesting viable solutions for product portfolios that have shown degrowth.

Q. What do you advice to the jobseekers who are looking for jobs in Fast Moving Consumer Goods Industry?

A. As FMCG is going through a stiff competition in the business world, the qualities below are becoming more and more essential in potential new hires:

  • Action and detail Oriented: works effectively with groups with a Fire in the Belly (FIB) and a hawk’s eye for details.
  • Confront the Status Quo: As FMCG industry continuously operates to strive for excellence, it is essential for talent to challenge the status quo and come out with optimal solutions.
  • Dealing with Ambiguity: Making sound decisions with minimal information in less time (Bias for Action) and no precedents on how it was done before.
  • Hunger for Success: Inbuilt passion to crave for success and put in the best in class efforts for one’s and organization success.
  • People Connect: Ability to rely messages on all fronts and levels of the organization without bias through different patterns in an effective manner without losing focus on listening to the other side.
  • Innovation: Originality in value added solutions. Thinking of uncommon solutions and applying the same in one’s domain.
  • Influencing skills: : The ability to influence peers, leaders on desirable course of action
  • Solution Provider: The ability to analyze situations through Root Cause Analysis and be part of solutions on business transactions.

Thanks Edwin for the insightful answers!!

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