Power of the People

By Meenakshi Shivram

As I am gearing up for the interview with Anubhavi Kongadi, I wonder how an episode on HR would fit into our largely financial-oriented segment. Minutes into the conversation, bowled over by Anubhavi’s conviction, I was quickly convinced by the mammoth role that people management plays within the organisation.

Anubhavi is an HR CoE leader at Aris Global, with 14+ years of experience in Global HR Operations from end-to-end employee life cycle, Payroll Management, Performance Reviews & Metrics, Recruitment & On-boarding Engagement, and HR Compliance. 

Read below some edited excerpts from our chat to understand how connecting with people can make or break a business, what his experiences with the life sciences and pharma space were and how technology and technical expertise can be a game changer. 

Meenakshi: As is customary on our segment, why don’t you start by telling us a little bit more about your journey to where you are today. 

Anubhavi: I am an MBA grad, studied BSc in computer science, but eventually landed into a master’s in business administration. The journey started way back in the 90s.

I really wanted to be a techie guy, seeing my brothers all together to be in the technology side of it. But when I completed my degree, I thought, “Okay, why do I have to be on the other side of the coin? Why can’t I manage the people?”. That is when my interest towards MBA started. It was haunting me for a long time to manage people, to learn about people because people always matter! They surround you everywhere. Within the family, you are surrounded by your family members, outside the society. And when you go to an organization, they call it employees. So even though the terminology changes, people always remain the same. During my MBA, I learned a lot about how to manage and monitor people.

The biggest takeaway from my MBA was on how to connect with people. You can only get things done when you connect with people. That’s how my journey went from a technology-minded guy to a people-oriented person  now.

Meenakshi: That’s wonderful. I’m really curious to see how tech itself intersects with your role because you work in the software and life sciences space, but from an HR angle. So having that background of tech, has it added any advantage to your role as an HR leader here?

Anubhavi: 100% Meenakshi. Let me give a little background about what our company is all about. We are into the Life Sciences domain and a product development company. So the domain that we work in takes care of the patient data. Our product helps the pharmaceutical companies or the CROs (clinical research organizations) capture the patient history, process the patient history and derive some meaning out of it for the betterment of drug development activity. So we are into four different phases of drug development lifecycle, which start from clinical trials, safety, pharmacovigilance, regulatory, and medical affairs. We have applications which support all the phases of the drug development lifecycle industry there. This is the background to what Aris Global does. Our product is used by almost all the top pharma companies you see out there in the market. Whoever in the world, they use our product to capture data within their organization there.

For us, people have to be technically sound to develop because the skill that we are looking at is a niche skill. Life Sciences is a small set of entities who are playing in this domain. Unlike others in the service industry or in any other product industry, you have significant competition, but here the competitors are very handpicked. When I started as an HR here, my initial notion was just to connect with people. Over the period when I was growing, I learned that you should be technically sound to help resolve any kind of queries. You might be a good listener or you might be eloquent in talking, but to get into the root of anything, you should at least know what it is. So that’s how my technical background helped me. I take care of the Center of Excellence along with People Analytics. I am a techno-functional HR manager with hands-on experience in the technicalities, blended with human resource skills. When we have a grasp on the technicalities, it helps convince and control change.

I also take care of all the sub-functions of HR: from the onboarding to retirement, including performance, compensation, learning, succession, etc. So I always help the team to get what they want and need. A common scenario in a workplace is the team not attending trainings. It’s important to understand why they don’t come! You need to give them a reason to come. That’s the way you can show your persuasion skills: to be able to convince them why they need to attend, why they need to complete something. Techno-functional skills help me a lot to derive our strategies, many of the things initiated within the company here.

Meenakshi: I completely agree about how it can give you a little bit more bargaining power and negotiating power to know what you’re talking about from both perspectives, especially when you’re convincing a whole variety of stakeholders. I have a couple of questions actually pertaining to HR, which I’d like to ask. But before going into that, if we can just pause for a moment and sort of look at the landscape of this life sciences sector, right? How would you characterize the current challenges that it’s facing today, especially through your interactions, either direct or indirect with a variety of pharma companies and life sciences companies? What do you see as the main challenges that they are facing? And what do you see are the key opportunities for your company? 

Anubhavi: Let me start with key opportunities: to know about humans. There’s a lot of things out there in the market and one has to do a lot of research on that. Ours is an application which helps capture the patient history. That’s how we differentiate ourselves in the market there. The actual pharma companies, they have a lot of challenges getting the right drug, you know, getting it cured.

Generic medicines are out there in the market. So they always have a competition there. But for us, our company is more to capture the data of the patients. Let me give an example so that it is easy to understand who we are. Assume that you get a headache, you go and take out a medicine stating that there is some pain in the body, and so you go and take a paracetamol.

When you go to the doctor, they say that, “OK, take it for three days. And if something happens, take this  antibody medicine.” Why do they add this caveat? Every drug out in the market comes with an adverse effect. Some would be minor effects, some completely critical.That is the reason whenever you are in the ICU, they say that they need to give a lot of medicine. Why? Because one will only cure A. But since it is curing A, it will have a damage on B or C. So for that, after this drug, they’ll give another drug which will compensate the organs of B or C there. So whenever you are doing that activity, somebody has to capture the administration, the side effects. There needs to be a tool to capture what’s missing, what’s happening, what are the negative impacts.

That is where our tool comes in: We will process your data, whatever is getting captured and tell you about the impacts of the drugs on the patients. Then, they can go back to the R&D in the pharma company and do more research. Each of these things has to be reported to the FDA or the drug regulators in their respective countries.Unless you report it, it becomes an offense. That’s the reason if you see in the market for the pharma company, the biggest challenge is adverse effects. So that’s the reason they need to invest a lot of things on the R&D, get the clinical trials out in the market, come back, get it approved by the regulatory bodies, then go for a mass production – they face a lot of challenges there. And the investment goes in billions to get that done. 

Meenakshi: Thank you for speaking from both the perspectives of the pharma company and as a software player in this space. I’d like to understand how or what best practices you do in HR to ensure work-life balance and employee wellness? 

Anubhavi: Okay. First thing is that we need to understand our people. Unless you understand your people, you cannot come up with any kind of initiatives. Let me give a real-time example. If you know, okay, you have an age-old parent at home and you have teenager or a toddler: you need to accommodate each one’s individual taste. If you only prepare one kind of dish, they are bound to complain and fight. If this happens at home, a similar situation can happen in an organisation!

Every organization will have different set of age barriers: there will be complete freshers who are 20-22 years of age, some will be in the 40-45 age range. You need to cater to all of them! So you need to understand your people and accordingly you need to build your strategies, HR strategies: how can I make their life easy so that they can contribute more for the organisation?

That’s the reason we always do a mix and match of initiatives to keep the different groups engaged. If you have engaged members, they’ll always have work-life balance. If you don’t create that within the company, they cannot create it by themselves. Nobody will create their own work-life balance. Just like ahorse will keep on running without a direction there, we need to provide employees with directions to help them with creating balance. That is the biggest challenge that we face here.

We may know that certain teams require a lot of attention. We do a lot of analysis within the company to understand their login times, understand their work, what they are currently doing, understand the pressure that they are going through from a customer. That’ll help us with insights on staffing and resourcing as well. Unless you relieve employees from tension, stress will build up. A stressed out employee cannot contribute more.That’s the reason you need to always connect with the business, understand what each of the business functions are doing. You might know that your finance team during the year-end is completely occupied. Why? Because there is a deadline for them. And for the other periods, that might be not to the extent of what they are in the year-end. Smaller initiatives like fun Fridays, breaks for 10 to 15 minutes of time, can go a long way. This can help motivate and relax the employees. An employee should have that eagerness and zeal to work. If the employee doesn’t get that, if the HR doesn’t provide that environment there, it’s a failure. Lack of motivation will spiral to lack of job security, growth aspirations, recognition.

Meenakshi: For my final question, I’d like to understand how HR can serve as a strategic partner, not just someone who’s sitting in a silo, like you said, but as a strategic partner to the overall growth of the business, especially in the context of a smaller or MSME business. 

Anubhavi: Okay. Currently, people think that HR is for nothing. There is a impression that people will come and go. But if you see it from an organization’s perspective, without HR, no business will run there. The HR manager or the HR leader has to ensure they are involved across all the business functions because only then will they be able to say that a person may not be a good fit for a team, or the environment might not be there.

HR needs to be a proactive agent. If you don’t make them a proactive agent, and if you make them a reactive agent,in majority – the reaction will be too late. A proactive measure has to be there. That’s how HR plays a strategic role in the business, in the development of the company as well. If you want the company to grow, you need to involve the HR in all the key elements so that we are aware, we can make the people be productive or bring the people who are required for that. If you made them aware, the internal sub-functions will work together and come back and give the right things back to the business. For every business to run, people matters. For the people matters, HR has to be there at a key point or key agenda in their discussion point. If you don’t bring that key agenda in all of your meetings, HR is just like your record keeper.