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TecHRseries Interview with Narayanan Nair, Chief People Officer at NESS

Narayanan Nair, Chief People Officer at NESS takes us through some of the company’s employee culture and work practices while sharing a few tips for HR leaders to follow in 2021 in this recent chat:

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Tell us a little about yourself Narayanan…what are the highlights of being in HR in today’s workplace market in your view?

I have had the opportunity to work in Human Resources across industries for 27 years and I’ve worked for companies ranging from start-ups to large enterprises. On a personal note, I live in Pittsburgh with my family and I enjoy wildlife photography and painting.

The conventional way of looking at HR as a control function is largely outdated. As I like to say, “HR is dead. Long live HR.” The pace of change overall in our organizations, economies and our own lives has changed drastically over the last few years and it continues to accelerate every year, every week and almost every day. HR’s core functions used to be about recruitment, compensation and performance management, but these items are the table scraps. HR’s role should be to empower business managers to be able to drive their own operations and this is how HR’s success will be measured. New age HR means being a culture curator for your organization and acting as a coach and facilitator to the entire organization at all levels. Organizations that manage and lead this transformation are the ones that will succeed.

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We’d love to hear a little about the core HR / Employee practices at NESS and how these have evolved during the new normal?

The year 2020 has challenged much of our preconceived notions of how we live and work. While not a new school of thought, the pandemic quickly and thoroughly helped debunk the myth that productivity is only ensured by having people physically present in the office. Ness made the decision to send employees to work from home very early on because the most important thing we can do is place our trust and respect in our employees and as a result we see that reciprocated in kind.

We will continue to see disruptions in the workplace, influenced either by technology or by factors not within our control, like the pandemic. Organizations should remain agile and flexible in order to respond appropriately. Ness is proud of the speed with which it was able to send employees home to keep them and their families safe, and my colleagues and peers have observed at other companies that productivity has largely remained the same, if not improved. I’ve not heard of any situations where people are seeing a decrease in productivity as a result of a remote work situation.

What are some of the top engagement and team culture initiatives that Ness undertakes for their global team?

Ness employs self-paced learning opportunities and certification programs with added incentives. One of our most successful initiatives is a forum that employees can participate in to solve real-time challenges for clients across the company, not just those accounts they might be placed on. This gives them the option of working on a plethora of activity, including cutting-edge technology. This is value added for the client, but it is also great for tech-minded employees that enjoy problem solving.

Working remotely has naturally changed Ness’s employee engagement programs, as most of them would take place in person at large gatherings. As a global company, we take great pride in celebrating regional holidays and festivals but unfortunately, we were unable to participate in these practices this year as we normally would. But we adapted and took the opportunity to host virtual events that we were able to open up to a larger audience. We’ve encouraged our employees to invite their families to participate in events and programs. In addition to holiday celebrations, we’ve encouraged employees to get their families involved in our health and wellness programs, which Ness has always championed. The feedback we’ve received from employees has been great.

When it comes to building a stronger team bond within a globally distributed team: how would you advise HR heads to bridge the gap?

Bridging gaps and building a globally distributed team is something that Ness has worked diligently to refine. Four years ago, Ness was more fragmented than it is today across its centers in Europe, India and North America. Each one ran almost as if they were distinct companies, each with their own processes and tools. For example, to get a headcount for HR, I would need to get one from five different sources and aggregate it. We’ve come a long way from that and have addressed the issues tactically, implementing the common practices and policies which need to have a common corporate wrapper, without losing the regional flavor of each center. This has helped the business accelerate growth and present the unique value Ness brings to customers through our strong entrepreneurial and engineering culture. However, there is a fine line between being entrepreneurial and process-driven that organizations need to walk as they grow. Process can take over and employees can begin to feel it’s too bureaucratic.

While there are some core processes that we have consistent across the company under a corporate wrapper, we still empower teams at the unit level to implement processes as they see fit because it’s important for us to celebrate the unique capability that each region brings. Each of our centers across the world has a unique abundance of talent that can be leveraged to put together any program, be it in HR, sales, marketing, engineering or any other function.

To help foster this culture, we have practice champions from each region. These champions participate on the forum I mentioned earlier where they ideate and discuss new solutions. This brings a cross-pollination of minds across the different centers and elevates our employees as thought leaders.

In what ways do you feel the role of HR in the tech marketplace is changing today?

The pace of change in this industry is incredibly high. Everything we do in the tech marketplace touches the end-user and it reaches them very quickly. In the past, a product would take a certain amount of time to reach the consumer. Those timelines continue to shrink. Every few weeks or months there is a new update for your mobile OS or apps. Any small changes to technology and software are reflected in updates across the devices and services people use.  That translates into constant evolution in terms of the technological capabilities your organization has and the need for your talent to keep learning.

When I first started my career in the manufacturing industry, when we wanted to upgrade our technology it would take years and we would hire and train employees and that training would be of value for a set amount of time. Now the tech is evolving at a much faster rate than that. To keep up, HR professionals in the tech industry need to understand their business and the nature of it and what services and value does it provide customers. It is also important to understand the customer’s business to be able to speak the same language as them and make their priorities your priorities in order to continuously deliver value to them. Strong financial acumen and the ability to appreciate and leverage data to make decisions without getting too siloed is also valuable. At the same time, don’t skew to the other end where you are purely data-driven and lose the human touch.

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The changing talent marketplace and changing skillsets as a result of evolving technologies requires recruiters to be more aware of what updated skills are needed in new hires. How would you advise younger HR executives to address this better and to stay updated?

Any professional, HR or otherwise, needs to be hungry to learn, explore and experiment but organizations need to adapt to this culture and the changing expectations of our workforce. Gone are the days where your talent, especially millennials, can be kept engaged with a simple Friday afternoon pizza party. Today, people are asking, “How are you going to add value to my career, help me grow, develop and learn?” Organizations and the HR professionals need to sustain a learning culture to deliver value for both employees and clients. Everything we do in the organization, regardless of job function but especially in HR, has to be measured by the experiences we create and the outcomes we deliver.

What HR Technologies do you typically use as part of your daily processes?

As a digital solutions company, Ness uses technology extensively and over the past years we have invested systematically in building strong, culture-sensitive processes and the technology to make those processes sustainable, fast and accessible to employees. We continuously invest in building small homegrown solutions that help us improve the efficiencies of the processes.

One of those solutions is a performance management platform built by Ness, called Matrix. The genesis of this solution is to provide transparency and control on productivity, quality, predictability and engineering efficacy of software engineering outcomes. While this dashboard measures employee’s productivity, it is not used to police productivity. Instead, it is used as a talent management tool to make sure employees are investing their time in the right way and that we’re leveraging our talent in the right way.

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A few parting tips on what every HR should be doing in 2020 to help businesses succeed?

My advice would be to not measure HR success on sustaining the traditional core functions of HR: recruitment, compensation, performance management, etc. That shouldn’t be the priority and they will not differentiate your organization. Instead focus on the culture you’ve built and on empowering employees that are hungry and passionate to see change, do more, learn more and contribute more. Every HR professional should strive to build a company culture where people are uncomfortable with the status quo and want to challenge it.

Ness

Ness is a digital solutions company with product engineering in our DNA backed by a global collective of software engineers, data experts, user experience designers and innovators. Combining our core competence in engineering with the latest in digital technology, we build customer-facing platforms and software products that help businesses thrive in the digital economy. As your tech partner, we help engineer your company’s future with cloud and data.

Narayanan Nair is Chief People Officer for Ness. He has over 25 years of global HR experience across diverse organizations ranging from large multinationals to start-up organizations across manufacturing, IT products and services, and process outsourcing industries.

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