Vidhi Kapoor, Global HR Director
General Medicines and APAC Talent Lead at GSK, Singapore
Ms. Vidhi did her economics degree from SRCC and then an MBA from XLRI, after which she joined consulting with Ernst and Young, as a part of their people advisory practice. Then she moved to Airtel, and was there for about 2 years. Moving to GSK pharma after that, she handled multiple roles like business partnering, rewards, talent development, I&D, etc. She held regional roles as South East Asia HR head, and now handles dual roles of Global HR Head for one of the company’s businesses and APAC Talent Lead role. She is based out of Singapore, and manages work across time zones.
What are the factors that ensure inclusivity and support at workplace?
I have seen that very closely as I was handling the inclusivity development in India and now, I’m managing APAC talent lead role. So, we need to ensure that the talent from Asia shines not just within Asia but globally as well. So, what I have seen is that a single approach is not effective. If you only have targets and push them, or conduct a few seminars on I&D, that’s not going to work. It will look like a tokenism. It needs to be done more holistically, and has to be initiated by the global leaders. if it is not there, then the other leaders will not follow suit and it becomes only an HR agenda to keep pushing. But since it is not a priority so the response is not adequate. So, leadership buy-in is a significant step.
The next aspects can be segregated in two parts: the hardware and the software of a company. The hardware relates to the infrastructure support for diversity, which can be around disability, religion, race, gender, etc. Some of the support can be in the form of prayer rooms, maternity rooms or ramps and special laptops for the visually impaired. That is definitely one part.
The other part is concerning the policies and processes, which have to support this change. I think the one which comes in the software part is whether you are creating the overall culture and atmosphere. Are the leaders saying the right things, using the right language? Are they trained enough to manage situations that they have not handled before? Is it supported by unconscious bias training and the knowledge sharing? So, it is the whole 360-degree efforts that we need to manage, and not working in silos. Now it’s not just around gender but regarding other things too, for which we need to be more sensitive.
How do you identify potential leaders from any team and take forward the process of developing them?
We have a very robust process, which is called talent reviews, wherein all the line managers come together and discuss who the high potential candidates are. So, once a year we have this exercise, to recognize the talent, and more importantly to see what support they need from the organization to grow further. We measure them on performance and potential. While performance is easier to measure, through the scales like KRAs etc. potential is harder since it is estimated. A person who is performing good today may not be able to do so in other situations later. So, for that we focus on agility; how’s the learning agility of the employees, whether they will be able to handle the stretch assignments that is given to them? We see the way they respond to situations where there is crisis, or ambiguity, where there is no clear direction and they have to come up, take decisions and lead the team. These are questions that we ask the leaders, and look at suitable critical situations to identify the high potential people in teams.
We also make a robust development plan for them, depending on their own areas of development. The principal many companies follow is the 70, 20, 10 rule, where 70% comes from on the job. So, they are given responsibilities where they need to stretch themselves. 20% is learning from others, where they need to learn from leaders or shadow others to develop the capabilities. The last 10% is the classroom training. If they want to go for leadership programs, attend conferences and webinars, we support them with appropriate training. So, this is the comprehensive process of identifying and developing talent. All these steps need to be done in collaboration with the line managers.
You have been recognized for your superior performance at various levels. What do you consider as your key strengths for delivering consistent results?
The one thing that has really worked for me is standing up for your own beliefs and voice. Sometimes, we are being told something but we know that it’s not right. Do you question the status quo or just do things because you are being told to? So, what has worked for me is understanding what my own perspectives on things are and then taking the further action accordingly. Sometimes it may be that I agree to what is being said and once we do it, I will have more belief in it. But at other times it also means challenging what is the popular belief. It is tough but helps in pushing the boundaries further.
The other thing is that I get energized when I speak to people. That has helped me to connect to people across the organization, at all levels. This helps to understand the pulse of the organization, pain points, expectations of employees, etc. which lead to appropriate course corrective measures. The surveys would not be as effective as they may not include questions that are important, but not obvious. So more listening sessions are important. These are the two things that have proved to be valuable for me so far.
Tell us about the importance of international talent exchange forums for employees, and how such trends have changed during the pandemic.
In today’s world, after the pandemic changed the way we all work, the boundaries of location have been blurred to a large extent. So, it does not really matter where you are physically present and where you are working from, as long as you are doing your work.
The need for proximity has also reduced. There are cases where people worked from home after joining a new job. This also works well for employees who can take up opportunities in other countries without having to physically move there, thus expanding their scope of growth.
So, companies are rethinking about whether the international forums and the cost associated with them make sense or not. It is still under consideration. The objective of such interactions is to understand how people in different cultures and countries work, what are the work ethics. We are now somehow able to get that understanding through online interactions. Though such forums have their benefits and will not be completely go away, we will see lesser of such programs going forward, specially when it comes to people who enter the workforce. Once they spend some time and understand the basics, and high potential candidates are identified, then companies can decide that this particular person needs this exposure in a certain country and the training will be more customized to an individual rather than being a blanket program that is there for everybody. This is definitely a change that has come over the past two years.
What have been the pros and cons of working in sectors as varied as telecom and pharma?
They are very different industries and I believe in having a variety of experiences. So, for me, the list of pros will be longer than that for cons, because it opens you up for different challenges, needs and dynamics altogether.
Whatever I learnt from telecom, I was able to use that perspective to solve problems within pharma. Telecom is very dynamic and pharma is traditionally not so dynamic. But now, with the pandemic, we have seen the need of dynamism in pharma as well, whether it is the speed at which they need to come up with vaccines, or find out cures for COVID. Hence, gone is the time when they would go through the set of procedures, do a lengthy R&D, and take five years to come up with a new medicine. So definitely we can apply the learnings from one industry to another.
The only con, I would say is that you cannot be an expert in any industry unless you have spent ample time there. But then again, in today’s agile world, one cannot claim to be an expert of any industry, even after spending a decade there. The pharma industry has changed exponentially over the years, whether it is supply chain, the type of consumers, competition from generics or type of diseases. In fact, the biggest threat that the pharma industry faces today is from tech organizations. The leading tech companies will have their own global healthcare systems, and then the traditional pharma industry will have to reinvent itself.
With many companies changing their work policies after the pandemic, what do you think will be the key focus areas for people and cultural teams across the globe?
One of the biggest changes that I have seen in the expectation of employees is flexibility. They have now tasted it, and know that they can be productive without being physical present in office regularly or in a typical 9 to 5 shift. In a survey we found that people do not want to completely work from home, but need flexibility. Now most of the employees say that they do want to come to office as they miss the team dynamics and feel of collaboration, but maybe for three days a week, instead of five days a week.
The other thing is mental health and wellbeing of employees. Everyone has been through so much stress, they are looking towards the organizations and managers for the support and help, to allow them to take care of their own health and their families as well. So that definitely is the second factor which is changing.
The third that will be important is that to be able to work at a particular position in a particular place, you don’t necessarily have to be at that location to be able to contribute. Companies are changing their mindset and we are seeing a lot of places where people are accepting a situation where they don’t have their team based directly in the same location. So, now it is about whether a person is a good fit for a position, rather than the location of the job. That has changed the whole equation. But again, things will keep revolving and we will have to come to terms with a new normal, and I don’t see companies going back to the ways we worked before the pandemic.
Please share a message for our young readers.
One of the key things that I would like to leave them with is that it is vital to keep reskilling themselves, because everything is dynamic. So, understanding the trend and adapting rather than just following a path that ithers have done before is essential, as they may not find the same results at the end anymore. People are following their own paths, and so many jobs that are present now were not there 15 years back, like influencers and YouTubers, and they are really doing well. So, there are not just pressures around education, but also pressure around finding out what you are good at and follow your own path and be dynamic.