HR in the Hot Seat: Ravi Bhogaraju, global head HR and talent, Archroma

The global head of HR at the specialty chemicals company on focusing with intent, ruthlessly simplifying processes, and delivering by empowering the team

HR in the Hot Seat: Ravi Bhogaraju, global head HR and talent, Archroma

What motivates and excites you about your current position?
What’s exciting about the current position is the fact that we in the HR team have the possibility to actively enable and shape the beliefs of the organization – to fulfil its purpose - to constantly challenge the status quo in the deep belief that we can make the industry more sustainable. 

Because of the unique nature of the role - it’s a good mix of operational and strategic work - this gives me larger canvas and enables me to create wider impact. The role is very unique - have not found many like these in Singapore - blended with multiple responsibilities. 

The markets / operational role is to lead the HR teams in Asia; the strategic role is to shape and deliver the Talent and Capability agenda worldwide and the business role is to work as the global business partner siting in an international headquarters.

Current setup pushes me constantly to think about how HR initiatives will enable the business, how it will land in the markets, what kind of legal implications will we encounter, how will the HR managers or HR directors in the country are going to deal with this and so on.

By the same token I also have to think about, ‘If I make it work in this country, how does it also help me drive it globally? Can I scale this at a global level? If yes, what can I do right now so that I could learn from it better?’ 

The tension between the three responsibilities is palpable and by design helps to keep me very grounded and focused. The constant need to strike a balance between the three roles to create the impact worldwide keeps me truly motivated.

How are you able to balance these roles?
I think it’s more of an art with a lot of collaboration. However, there are a few key pillars of success to make this work:

-    Alignment
-    Coherence of Experience
-    Empowerment

Alignment is quite critical and this needs to happen with the leaders of the top team. Spending energy in the worn space or push the ball against the grain (drive programs that are not priority) are obvious flaws.
The second thing is always keep the employee / manager experience in mind and that is done through simplicity and coherence. The simpler you keep it, the better it lands. 

For example, a long performance review form would result in low levels of completion or subpar quality. Keeping it simple is critical; it helps them focus on what’s important. It also forces the people to keep it sharp. I am not sure how many of us really can deliver more than a page of high impact goals in a year.  

How important is it to have a team to back you up?
I think the team is very critical. That’s the third pillar of success - an empowered engaged team. Many times the teams are capable but they are not empowered, or in some cases, the teams are empowered but they just can’t pull off that kind of responsibility. This is a deliberate choice. If, as an organisation, you make a choice that you need to empower the team, then put the right people in place and get out of their way. 

One of the mantras that we always remind our teams of is "Don’t ask for permission (‘Don’t come to me for approval’). If you think this is right for your market and it is within the global framework, you’re fully empowered to make things happen. Can you imagine having to approve stuff from around the world? You have no time left to think let alone create impact. Worse still if you are in a market if you keep waiting for approvals - when will you ever get anything implemented?

Most critical is that as a leader you need to walk the talk - if you want to empower the team - ensure they know what is expected of them - trust them to do the job - and support them if they need help. Don’t empower them and expect that they run around circles trying to get approvals even before they can take a step.

What’s unique about HR at Archroma?
We drive three things very rigorously. One is performance, the second is organisation culture, and the third is capability. 

They are not unique - but the coherence and interconnectivity to the purpose of the organisation and meaning that people derive from their jobs - creates a powerful combination.  

Performance culture with the Support from capability programmes builds competence, clarity though communication and culture creates the trust (empowerment), and enables people to deliver. 

We give them the clarity and empower them to make decisions.  We help them become more successful and if they can’t then we have to be coherent with a performance driven culture and part ways. And that goes across the board, whether it be a salesperson or a business leader or it’s an HR person. Same rule applies

The simpler the philosophy, the well defined the culture, the more coherent it is in all aspects - the more it helps to drive success.

What do you see as HR’s biggest challenge coming into the new year?
I think our challenge is going to be the same that we had this year: 
How do we create more momentum in the business to overcome the challenges across the markets? 
How do we rigorously drive programmes and execute without creating complexity? 
How do we continuously challenge the status quo to create experiences which further strengthen the connection between the purpose of the organisation, the quality of employee contribution and the personal meaning that employees derive from their jobs.

If there’s one piece of HR-related advice you could give, what would it be?
Stop using jargon and acronyms. Stay real. We are in the business of people dealing with real problems.  If you want to help solve real problems, then connect with reality. Don’t talk in acronyms which nobody understands or wants to invest time learning about. 

Where’s the best place to go for dinner/drinks in Singapore? Why?
I would recommend Illido at Sentosa Golf Club. It’s a very nice environment to Enjoy a good conversation. However if you want to have a more relaxed place to go then I would recommend the Tanjong Beach Club at Sentosa. 

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