Bhuban Raj Joshi is a senior HR professional with hands-on people management experience and relevant academic knowledge. He has extraordinary exposure to working in the fields of Hospital, Humanitarian/Development agency (INGO), Educational Institutions, Hospitality and FMCG industries.
As a Sr. HR professional, Mr Joshi is competent in administering human capital from 360 perspectives of HR management. He is someone who has a fair comprehension of the labour laws of Nepal and India. He believes that strong people approach with an understanding of leading HR from a strategic front for win-win is very crucial for any HR professional.
With almost twenty years of experience, Mr Joshi is well versed in analyzing the training/development needs of people, developing plans and conducting/facilitating sessions on his own whenever required.
How did you start your career and when did you realize you wanted to become an HR professional and why?
Well, honestly there was no HR in our coursebook, we studied it as “personnel management” in MBA. I did my MBA in finance a long time back. I was the batch of the year 1997. Then I taught in college for some years. And in the year 2002, I joined Om Hospital as a marketing head. Within three months of working there, management over there believed that I would be much better in people management/admin HR. I think that Om Hospital saw my competency for HR before I realized it myself. Then I was handed over the responsibility of admin/HR. I started overseeing both marketing and admin/HR together. I worked there for almost five years. I had become assistant director there eventually and then I left Om to join an INGO, The Lutheran World Federation, Nepal. It’s a Switzerland based one of the oldest INGO in Nepal. It had its operations in 27 countries at that time.
I am not aware how many countries have been added to the list since then. I only worked there for almost two years and left in 2008. While the organisation was old, I was the first HR person over there. So being a first HR, I established a couple of HR-related policies in the institution and Om Hospital as well. I did all I could do in two years of my working in the INGO. While I was fully engaged there, I felt that I wasn’t doing much learning. This is because there weren’t any seniors in HR I could learn from nor the companies were established with a strong HR system. So after I had that realisation, I left the INGO to join Hyatt Hotel. I had joined Hyatt as an HR manager. I had heard that they follow the HR system similar to in the USA, ranging from software and everything else was under the same system all over the world. So I thought why not get the exposure in HR from a multinational company and joined Hyatt. I started working as an HR manager but I was heading the HR department. There was no one above me in HR. I got promoted after ten months. And then I got the position of director of Human Resources.
I was happy that I got the company’s trust in such a short period. People usually don’t get promotions alike without working for two to three years. I worked for five years at Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu. A new Hyatt was taking over in Bangalore where I had applied. You see one cannot automatically transfer from one Hyatt hotel to another. One has to go through the process of applying and job interview etc. and if the hotel management thinks that you are suitable then they will hire you. The recommendations from here don’t work since the owners at both places are different. Luckily, they liked me and I got the opportunity to work with Hyatt in Bangalore, India. I joined there on July 1st, 2013 then I worked there for almost four years. Then I thought that it’s better to come back to my land where there are opportunities for networking and professional growth. The family was also one of the reasons. Then on 2017 February 15, I joined a corporate house in Kathmandu.
Even though I had studied MBA in finance, I used to teach about HR during my teaching years. I was working in HR so I wanted to learn about it and hence I bought HR books, read them and began teaching in colleges. And while teaching in college, I started acquiring more theoretical knowledge and concepts and working made me understand the practical aspects of HR. This helped my students as well since they were getting the best of both worlds - practical information and industry exposure. Similarly, the industry could also benefit from it seeing how the students were getting combined knowledge.
As someone who graduated in 1997 and have been working since 2002, what are the changes that you have seen in the field of human resources from the early 2000s to 2021 in the context of Nepal?
In the Nepalese context, when I had initially started, and I would talk about HR as it came up in conversations while talking about jobs, then people would ask me what HR means and what does the work entail. If we look at the international arena, HR is a very important department of any organization irrespective of smaller or larger scale. Especially in cases of multinational companies HR is a very strong and recognized part. It wasn’t the same in the context of Nepal. It was just the personnel administration type that predominantly would focus on recruitment and full & final settlement. HR then would also concentrate on organizing social events, record keeping, attendance and payroll management. These activities were under the HR was a general understanding.
Even now the understanding is similar in many companies in Nepal. But comparing the situation with how we used to work and how we work now there are significant differences. There are several hierarchies in the HR department now such as vice president, general manager, director, senior manager and more. People have now understood that HR is important. That concept seems to be growing in Nepal. Whenever a new organization is established now it comes with a job vacancy for HR as well. Unfortunately, the job openings are for a junior position but still, there is a vacancy. To summarise the changes, the term has changed and there is more seriousness now.
You have shared a status on Linkedin and Facebook that goes like this “Companies do their best in attracting applicants by saying that they are people-focused so people should join them for career growth, great learning, better engagement and likes. I wonder how a person at such a junior level in HR can match the company expectations of driving all HR initiatives to obtain the company purpose of becoming a preferred employer and how rational is it to expect from the person in HR to role play as one of the strategic business partners of the establishment.`` What exactly are you trying to mean in this status? Please enlighten us.
What I feel is, for example, an organization is established to do something and to achieve something. It can be hospitality, manufacturing, trading or any kind of company. They have their purpose. And say for finance, sales and marketing they usually have openings for senior positions such as VP and GM whilst in case of HR department they only ask for an HR Officer or Asst. Manager/Manager. Even though it’s not the same in the case of all of the companies, there still is this prevailing notion that HR is not a strategic business partner. Most companies and people there have this idea that only one person is required in HR who will deal with everything encompassing recruitment, organizing events, attendance and so on. In addition to this, people tend to think that one junior staff would do just fine since they work under the shadow of finance and accounting. It’s almost as if they do not want to separate HR from finance and accounting. And that is not something that HR is.
HR is a part of a company that does strategic roleplay. HR is not just confined to paperwork. HR focuses on the sustainable growth of an organization without keeping its people behind. Employees working in a company need to have a certain kind of growth too. And that is not always possible through finance and oftentimes it’s via learning and sound mental health. They need to be happy with their work. The working environment should be engaging for them. With due respect, it’s not about age or position. For instance, a company hires a fresher as an HR and say, they meet basic requirements. But focusing on strategies and being approachable comes with experience meaning academic background doesn’t always cut it. If you look at banks, a vertical exists under the CEO leading up to it but not in the case of HR. While it is changing now, the situation still is very much the same in many companies. So that means it doesn’t tally and there is no balance.
So who do you think is at fault for this? Is it the organization since HR is responsible for designing the jobs?
Organizations need to hire senior-level HR professionals to be in charge of payroll budget, short term and long term career path. When a company has job openings for senior positions for all departments except for HR then that means there is no HR department there. They have planned and thought that one person would be adequate for HR. And since they hire for a junior position the employee most likely won’t have a proper vision and cannot challenge the obstacles in the work environment. They also lack the daring quality. So it comes down to an entrepreneurial mindset. And it has also become a cycle even with big companies; they do not separate HR as an individual department and most likely finance supervises it.
What according to you is the ideal way to manage employee performance for the overall organization? What roles exactly does HR play in helping unleash employees' highest potential?
Performance management is very vital to get the best of people. This is because people aren't always in auto mode. They need a certain cause to work. Say, you are energetic and have passion for what you do but at the end of the year, you don't get a thank you or any financial reward or non-financial recognition. On the other hand, there is a colleague of yours whose input is almost zero compared to yours. Both of you get the same annual increment and benefits but without any recognition. And with no recognition maybe you could work for a year but there is a limit to self-motivation. Perhaps two or even three years but after a while, you start asking yourself why and for what. Let's not get into that for now because people might disagree saying one is supposed to work for their growth so why do you need others to thank you. But it's in our nature to want to be recognized.
Another thing is there should be some kind of rewards for people’s work. The optimistic thing here is good people stay good despite being unrewarded. But due to this people who purposely slack off on work are even more encouraged to not work because they see how the company keeps unrewarding its active employees for their hard work. Thus performance management is about creating a working environment for people who lie down on the job and even a better working environment who are committed to their work. And HR’s role here is to act as a coordinator. HR cannot drive the entire performance management system. There could be a hundred people in a single department so HR cannot possibly follow each of them daily. What HR does is prepares a system and informs about the importance of performance management to supervisor and staff. They too need to know what influences their performance management for better or for worse.
In Nepal, people tend to link performance management with salary increment only. But performance management is not limited to that. It is all about monitoring and tracking employee performance so that the company understands where the skill gaps need to be filled and more. Performance management is for positive purposes such as motivating people, identifying their gaps, providing the right training, equipment and tools, giving them clarity and making employees comprehend what is expected of them. Performance management is also about seeing if the problems are due to lack of team cohesion, machinery, supervisor’s guidance, support etc. And it is also about finding out if too much is being expected of employees. So to figure out all these and set accordingly, performance management is important.
How do you ensure performance appraisals are free from biases and human errors in your particular organization?
I don't like to be particular because I have also done a lot of changes in my company. But what I would like to say about bias in performance management is that it occurs when the performance management system itself isn't clear, there is room for manipulation and the questions and ratings are subjective. In the case of many companies, what needs to happen is at the beginning of the year, associates need to sit down and discuss the company’s goals, department’s goals and what they need to achieve and how they can meet those goals. Associates need to understand that their role is also important in an organization. They further need to grasp that if they fail to accomplish their goal then it will hamper their department goals which will eventually affect the company’s goals.
And the job to make them understand this responsibility falls under HR. Another thing is you cannot force-feed these roles to them. They need to be aware that the goals are possible to achieve and they will have your support. They need to be given SMART goals. There needs to be one on one discussion and goals should be handed to them with consent. If your associates cannot do the work then you are supposed to help them identify the issues and find possible solutions to them. If there is clarity, consent and mutual understanding then the person will accept their role. They also start feeling ownership because it is something they agreed with the employer together and not something that was imposed on them. It can be done imperatively afterwards since there is clarity. And there won't be any space for biases because everything has been defined. You can convert it into a numeric system so even if the manager changes the employees won't be facing any kinds of problems. The reasons behind biases in Nepal are the norm of not setting goals prior, and subjective questions that invite unfair judgments. So it's the system that is at fault.
How have you as an HR leader adopted and adapted technology to deliver human resource functions especially regarding performance management?
In our times let alone excel we didn't even use to have computers. There was no email like there is now for communication correspondence. We used to use yahoo. There was no WhatsApp and apps as such. So if you wanted to get something across to someone you had to meet the concerned person. It was challenging. So far we are adapting. And it is possible only when you believe in learning and you accept the fact that you are not perfect and there is always room for improvements. You take learning as something you do on a day to day basis. You can’t upgrade yourself when you become rigid. If something doesn't interest you and you stay not learning then you will never learn at all. Many things in life aren't rocket science. One simply needs to have the will to learn. It's the same thing with technology. I realised that without technology we cannot ensure efficiency.
There are new systems that keep on coming. The HRIS has cut down the old manual system. For instance, attendance used to occupy people till late hours but now the biometric system has made it super fast and error-free. Technology has made a lot of things easier. There is no option other than adapting to technology. We had studied digital skills in management. And now digital skill is a must in this day and age. Technology has been incorporated in so many aspects of our personal and professional lives. People who aren't tech-savvy are forced to learn and adapt to new technology. And HR is no different from everyone else. In terms of performance management, we sit down with staff and set goals. We upload that goal in the system and managers review them and suggest corrections if need be. So we have that system. In every quarter we do a periodic review. We have updates and scorings coming quarterly.
Are there any HR leaders that you look up to, nationally or internationally? If yes, who? If not, do you see any promising HR figure in the near future?
As I had said earlier, there was no one to guide me or any senior folks in HR when I began my career. I learned via trial and error and eventually gained experiences. Another thing is when I meet people from the HR field in professional networking events, I can't tell apart what kind of person they are based on their attire. So this question is difficult for me because I haven't worked with HR leaders. Although, because I have worked in Hyatt I'd say yes. We used to report to HR. There was a person in Dubai, Mr Nirvik Goyal who was vice president of HR for southwest Asia. He had a superb personality. When I first joined Hyatt here, I went to Mumbai for training purposes for 10 days. There was a senior director of HR Mr Sridhar KR who became like my mentor. I learned a lot of things from him.
In Nepal, what I want to say is that you don't necessarily have to be an HR to have someone look up to you. People management is not entirely an HR designation. For example, when I used to work in Om Hospital I worked with Dr Bhola Rijal who was the chairman. He would guide me. His styles, ways of communicating with people, respecting others can be called HR learning. He was not an HR but his skills were superb and something that a good HR has. His people management skills were great. Then when I worked in an INGO, there was Mr Mareline Rozario who was the country head. He was a people person who had maturity and experiences. He wasn't an HR professional but I did learn HR skills from him. Again while working in Hyatt, I learned people skill from Mr Gadi Hassin and Mr Patrick Iserlohe who were then general managers of the hotel for two different tenures. If you look at them they are super HR leaders. They were involved in overall aspects of the organization but they always guided me. They are a real kind of HR leaders not by designation but by the way they managed their team and how they respect their team. They introduced a great culture and a system of mutual respect in the company. So I learned how to deal with people and maintain mutual respect at work from them. So suffice to say I have learned about HR from non HR leaders.
What message do you have for anyone and everyone who wants to start their career in the HR field and want to make it big through their HR professional service in Nepal?
I think the scope of HR is growing day by day because ultimately people need to understand that HR is also important like other verticals. As you said, first people need to have that plan of grabbing placement and that is someone who easily HR does. HR is very critical in every organization from the right beginning to the closure. HR is important but you cannot do it haphazardly. You need a person who can manage very diplomatically with maturity following the legal guidelines at the same time. Legal understanding is also equally important as we all know that ignorance of the law has no excuse. So for all these reasons, there are vacancies for HR in different companies. Job openings with senior positions for HR are slowly on the rise. So to everyone who wants to get into HR, a simple MBA won't be possible.
It isn't possible in the sense you won't be able to enjoy it. And if you do something that you don't enjoy then there won't be any growth. You also need to be a people person, empathetic and have great listening skills. While working in HR, you need to listen a lot and talking should be done at right time and place only. Say someone comes to you and they are aggressive but instead of listening to them you react in anger. And that isn't helpful to them because aggression against aggression doesn't work. Likewise, empathy in the sense that you should be able to feel what the other person is feeling. If you cannot understand the impact of the decisions that the company takes on each associate then you are not fit to be an HR. You are also required to be smiling, pleasant to talk to and people-focused. The other essential part is being able to contribute to the company’s purpose and strategies. It is also necessary that you can enable the return of investments through financial or non-financial ways such as employee engagement.
You should know how to measure their engagement level via technology. You should have the awareness of business analysis and return of investment. Your focus should be on associates, raising their productivity and the company’s goals and investments equally. Focusing on one aspect more than the others means that you are not suitable to be in the HR field. You need to have business acumen and should possess the ability to strike the balance in the company. Fundamental understanding and common sense are a must.
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