Connect: Inspire: Achieve - Interview with Anil Puri, HR Head of Dabur Nepal
Anil Puri, HR Head of Dabur Nepal Private Limited oversees Nepal and Myanmar businesses with over 15+ years of experience as an HR professional in Human Resource Management in a generalist role.
Anil Puri is fascinated by empowered leaders who support companies and top executives with unique perspectives and appreciations. He believes that human capital is the greatest asset of every company. As a genuine influencer, he thrives on tough challenges and converts visions and strategies into actionable, value-added goals.
Rolling Nexus features an interview with one of the top HR professionals of Nepal. Here is the conversation that follows with Mr Puri.
Talking about your education and career background, you completed your MBA from Ace Institute of Management and started working as an HR & Operation Manager in the same institution. What necessary changes did you make from the management perspective while transitioning from a student to a manager of the same institution?
I completed my MBA in 2006 from Ace Institute of Management, and during my fourth semester, I was offered a job in the same institute. It was a matter of pride for me then. I was happy to be a part of the institute, and back then, I was more inclined toward teaching and knowledge sharing. I was responsible for managing the HR & Operations of the institute and was also an adjunct faculty of HRM Course for MBA regular and MBA evening batch.
The transition from being a student to a staff member of the institute is what I still cherish today. Back then, I had more of a student perspective mindset. After I had completed BBS from Campion college, I could not have any work experience since there were no BBA, internships, or first-hand corporate experience back then. It was all the MBA experience that drove me to the real-life experience from a classroom setting. The valuable insight that I remember today is whatever you read in the books will remain at the back of your mind and adds value to the way you think.
The transition I had to make in the institution was to become involved in the departmental setting to contribute to its interest. It was a great learning experience for me while transitioning from a student to a staff member. It was more of helping myself and changing myself as an individual. My snit at Ace helped me understand the linkage between the three pillars of the institute (Individual, Department and Organization). Overall it helped me acquire soft, and organizational skills that further helped me become the person I am today. As I reflect on my initial days, the major transition was that I learned to become we from I to meet similar objectives, which I think is a must to succeed in any job or role.
Having worked in a company for 11 years, what differences do you find in the field of Human Resources over the years in the context of Nepal?
From my MBA journey, I never preferred to call it "Human Resources." I would like to promote it as "Human Potential Management" or "Human Capital Management" as human resources are much more superior to other resources of every organization. As human beings can think, feel, behave and respond unlike any other resources of an organization. Dabur Nepal, being one of the leading MNCs, an Indian multinational company and being operated in Nepal for more than 35+ years, has a system and processes in place for the functioning of the HR department.
I became part of the Human Resource fraternity in 2006 and, if I have to compare that to 2021, I can proudly say that there have been immense changes in the HR field over the years in Nepal. At that point of time, many organizations didn’t have a concept of ‘Human Resource’ and, even if the concept was there, ‘Human Resource’ was positioned as regulatory watchdog carrying out activities such as giving salaries, maintaining attendance records of employees, handling unions etc. but now from local players to large MNCs, they have understood the real essence of the HR department, and have realized that HR does add value to the overall success of an organization and HR is an investment center as opposed to cost center.
Now almost all organizations have HR departments in place, and they invest in human capital. I see many vacancies in HR nowadays. Companies have realized the need for HR and how HR is not limited to day to day operations only and is more of a strategic business partner, employee champion, human capital curator, capability builder, culture and change agent and so on. Over the years, the role of HR has also evolved. Now the management has a different expectation from the HR department in terms of their functioning. Now the management views HR professionals as someone responsible for mobilizing information, accelerating business, fostering collaboration, simplifying complexity, Champions Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, drives agility, leverages information and technology, manages talent, focuses on driving performance, drives culture and engagement within the company.
In the past, the “What does HR do” & “What value addition does HR delivers“ were the predominant questions HR professionals had to face. But now, “What differences can HR really make to an organization” has been realized by all. Previously only HR professionals would advocate that, but now investors, CEOs, CFOs, and other stakeholders also advocate similar notions. Young folks are interested in pursuing their career in HR these days, which is a positive sign to establish that HR function has evolved over the years because back then, youth would go for Finance or Marketing after completing their MBA.
Your LinkedIn profile mentions that you enjoy meeting new challenges and seeing them through completion. Would you like to share some of the major challenges that you have faced and overcome during your journey in the HR field so far?
I believe in continuously challenging the status quo and stepping out of my comfort zone. I accept the challenges and would like to take calculated risks. There can be many challenges within an organization. From my point of view, I continuously keep on advocating that the other functions of an organization deal with non-living things. It's normal for everyone to think that their department holds the utmost importance and value. So I feel we as HR should also showcase the true essence of HR.
Many organizations are still not ready to give full-fledged autonomy or flexibility for the HR managers to function. This is one of the major challenges that many HR professionals have faced over the years and are still facing today. I have also faced such kinds of challenges during the initial phase of my career. As Dabur is one of the leading FMCG companies in Nepal, almost all the processes and systems were in place so I didn’t have to start from scratch.
Another challenge that I had to face was to change the mindset of the people. Every individual is different, and I love to understand, deep-dive, to know about their thought process and ‘why’ mindset. For instance, the finance department deals with numbers and numbers don't retaliate. The Marketing department deals with the products and products don't retaliate. But whatever the HR department does, it directly impacts the individuals because HR deals with living beings and human beings can Think, Feel & React.
I have come across many people who consider HR as a mere function that does what is being told by top management. I think I have been able to change that mindset of the people over the years during my career and I am still doing so today. In the context of Dabur Nepal, we have an excellent HR system, processes, and policies. We have been able to connect the dots and inculcate the feeling of human touch within the organization. When an individual wants to be part of an organization, HR should be able to give employee experience to them from the very first day till the end of their time in an organization. Hence, changing the mindset is the most challenging task that lies ahead of any HR professionals, which is the key to driving any of your agendas, process, and system within the organization.
According to you, what roles do consistency and perseverance play in one’s career?
Perseverance can be summed up to mean you're committed to your goal. Additionally, it enhances the goal's value for you and intensifies your motivation level. It leads you to wonderful findings and broadens your knowledge about yourself and your goals. Perseverance & consistency are two important character traits for you to be successful in life. It means you are determined to work hard regardless of any odds or obstacles that may exist. It is to insist and to be firm on getting something done and not giving up. I stand by these two words and have seen their importance in my career as well. Each of us thrives on being successful, and in doing so, we often forget the difficulties lying in the path to success. We set targets and want to achieve them right away, but we are humans and may fall short on those goals, and that's where perseverance and consistency come into play. No offence, but I think youth these days lack the required level of patience and perseverance. They want to fast-track their career because they are frantic about growth. We are so fascinated by digitalization that whatever we see in the virtual world, we feel that should happen to us in real life. That’s where we go wrong.
Failure at the start can lead to frustration, and it shatters the self-confidence you had at the beginning. You might consider giving up on your dreams because you may feel like you can never succeed in life. I also felt that way after graduating from one of the top B schools of Nepal. I would think that I should be the Head of the department in 3, 4 years but, no, the reality doesn’t work that way. When you become a part of an organization, you need to have patience, perseverance and be consistent or else, you will become dissatisfied soon enough. You should acknowledge and analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Whether you are an entrepreneur, business owner, or CEO of an organization, consistency, and perseverance are the most valuable aspects for an individual which we need to learn.
Many people keep on changing their jobs quickly. They perceive their successes as growing from one organization to another, but how long can they do that? According to Nepalese Labour Law, the retirement age is 58 years, and how long can you shift from one organization to another without becoming a part of any organization in the first place? From an HR point of view, 1-2 years is a kind of investment to an individual by an organization, and it’s usually said that after 3 years, an individual starts contributing to the organization, so I think at least 5-6 years is the minimum threshold period that any individual should be part of the organization, and for that, an individual should have consistency, patience and perseverance.
To reaffirm the role of consistency and perseverance in one’s career, I would like to quote what the great Muhammad Ali had to say when asked if he liked the training he replied: “I hated every minute of training, but I said to myself, ‘don’t quit, suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
Having expertise in recruitment and selection, do you believe that hiring the right person in the right place at the right time leads a company towards success?
Hiring the right person, who respects customers and co-workers alike, cultivates the best customer service experience in the market, and the best employee experience within an organization, which eventually will lead to the success of an organization. Hiring the right person is essential to any company's success. Your business is only as good as your employees. From the front desk to the executive offices, every employee represents a facet of your business to customers and the community at large. Hiring the wrong person can cost you more than just money.
The employees that a business hires are the main factor for the growth and success that a business will experience in the future. Managing the people in your company takes time. But dealing with a ‘poor performance’ employee can take up to 70 per cent more time than a ‘good performance’ member of your workforce.
One of the most important functions of the HR department is recruitment and selection, and now we call it Talent Acquisition or Talent Management. For an organization to be successful, the right individual should be hired at the right time at the right place. These days, we are more inclined towards creating an employee experience in the organization because employees spend most of their time in the organization. The individual and organization may have different personalities, and to match the personalities, we need to have a very scientific recruitment and selection process. In Dabur Nepal, whilst the recruitment process is going on, we don’t generally consider the family background, creed, educational credentials, or MBA scores of an individual. Yes, these are secondary aspects to consider. We have our assessment processes and interviews, and if we are hiring the individual, we consider whether that individual can be part of our organization or not. One of the key facets of the recruitment and selection process is to look for the right attitude.
Each organization has its culture, and Dos and Don’ts. Even if the individual is talented but their personality doesn’t match with the organization’s, that individual might not have a successful career with us. Those are the predominant factors that we look at from the perspective of the behavioural dimension to acquire the right talent. Recruitment of the wrong talent may lead to suffocation for both the individual and the organization.
Dabur Nepal doesn’t have a massive recruitment process to be done every year because our attritions are quite low compared to industry standards. After the individual becomes part of the Dabur family, employees also look upon the organizational acceptances, likes, and dislikes. Once we acquire the right talent, Talent Management rigorously invests in the candidates' learning, on-the-job training, off-the-job training for higher employee performance.
How is Dabur Nepal proudly able to achieve employee motivation and retention?
We have a very open-book management style in Dabur Nepal. We know that employees appreciate the freedom to express themselves. So, we focus on giving the human touch to the individuals, which are intangible and immeasurable. Employees’ engagement focusing on employees and their families is carried out for the security and connection of the employees and their families to the organization, so the employees' families may feel that they are also a part of Dabur. Annually, we organize lots of interactive activities, to name a few like Dabur Baal Chitrakar, Dabur Fun Milan, Dabur Learning Hub, Dabur Wellness, Dabur Chautari and so on. We have successfully created a brand for all our HR activities which gets promoted through internal communication or digital platforms. Our objective is to rope in not only our employees but also their family members.
When you feel connected and respected within the organization, the likelihood of you staying and performing well within the organization increases. Individual employees should not be afraid to go to the room of the CEO, Line manager or to HR to discuss work performance, etc. Most of the organizations are matrix-driven or top-down driven. If employees feel secure or as if they are a part of a family/company then they might stay for a longer time. We try to build a good employee experience throughout the individual’s journey within Dabur.
What according to you is the most challenging part of talent acquisition in the context of Nepal?
In the Nepalese context, there is a clash of opinions. There are lots of talents available in the job market, but the job openings are very few. That’s where the classical phenomenal difference lies. At Dabur, when we recruit individuals, we prefer someone who has relevant experience in the relevant industry or is related to our field of domain. And our focus is always on finding the talent with the right attitude because we believe functional skills can be taught but the attitude to a large extent is inherent. In today’s time, most organizations want to recruit individuals with a mixture of youth and experience. We can’t solely focus on a single dimension. We also need to induce youth within the organization, and we also need experienced ones in the organization. So when we are recruiting for a specific position for a niche segment like supply chain, trade marketing, or technical function, we, at times, find a shortage of talent in the Nepalese market. Moreover, the current brain drain is accelerating the thinking that, “life is easier in foreign countries.” You can’t change that. Just deal with it.
When we look for talent for a position and search into the market, we find skill gaps or competencies gaps. You will get many profiles for one job position, but you might have difficulty finding individuals with specific skills such as the right KSAO’s. Our overall education system lacks the practical skills required in an organization. We do focus on grades, but the skills needed from day one in an organization are not taught even in the big schools of Nepal. You need to have excellent people skills, business acumen, and Data Analysis skills in the present time.
During the situation of COVID-19 pandemic, how are you focusing on maintaining your employees’ well-being and helping them achieve their work-life balance?
In Dabur Nepal, we value our employees’ well-being. Physical and mental health along with other aspects of employees are important during, after or before COVID. We believe in giving the right atmosphere to the individuals for them to be mentally happy and physically well. During the COVID-19, being the manufacturing company, we could not completely shut down as we needed to produce and supply day-to-day essentials to the large consumers’ base.
We needed to run the business at such a stake plus provide a well-being atmosphere to the individuals. During the period we launched our flagship program named “Dabur Wellness”. We practised work-from-home, flexible working, working on rotation etc. We have tied up with the hospitals, made doctors and counselling sessions available for our employees. The HR department was in regular touch with the employees. Now, we are more focused on the mental health of our employees. Under Dabur Wellness we launched Dabur Employee Assistance Program to help improve the psychological and emotional well-being of our employees during these tough times. We try to help them cope with the situation. We understand that our employees can be more productive if they are mentally well. Health management was there with companies for a long time already. Yet, the awareness of the impact of mental health and well-being increased during the pandemic. Furthermore, progressive HR departments tackled the topic.
What advice would you like to give to people who want to start their career in the HR field?
This is a difficult yet interesting question. Being in an HR fraternity, I would like to share one of my reflections here. During my MBA days, I wanted to pursue my career in banking. This is why I took a specialization in Finance. Although, that’s where I think I made a mistake then. After studying Finance specialized courses for two months, I realized that Finance is not my cup of tea. So I requested my College Principal and then shifted to Human Resource Management. If I reflect today, I feel I made the right decision because I believe we should do what we love doing. We should always choose our career based on our interests, our strengths and likes. We should never choose a career based on market demands and we should ask ourselves what we want to be in life. (self-evaluation/assessment is the key).
If you can understand people, empathise with them and can listen to them, then you are well-suited to be in the HR fraternity. Meanwhile, HR individuals need to have a sound principle. You need to maintain an amicable relationship with the employees so that they can express their ideas with you and simultaneously, the organization expects you to maintain decorum, drive culture and maintain discipline within the organization too.
HR is becoming even more central to the success of the business. Skills like general management, broad-based business acumen, strategic mindset and emotional intelligence are going to remain non-negotiable for the HR job going forward. I think this is such an exciting time to be in HR. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a leadership role in the current global conversation about the future of work, starting with the future of how we work.
You have got to have an eye on detail, identify right and wrong and be able to create a collaborative atmosphere within the organization. The first and foremost thing is, close your eyes and ask yourself “Am I fit for HR?” or “Am I fit for Marketing?” and only then choose your field. The HR individuals who aspire to lead the organizations need to have the skills and competencies required in this 21st century like focus on the big picture, stay flexible, show a genuine interest in each employee, business-first mindset, being able to simplify complexity, mobilizes information & should have a human touch. So, I would like to suggest to them to know themselves, create their path and eventually success will come to them.
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