The best of both worlds

Shweta Tangri (Director – People, Pearson India) shares the main takeaway from her innings as a consultant and as an HR Head, in conversation with Schweta Chaturvedi

Ms. Shweta Tangri, the pivot of the HR department at Pearson India, joined the company in 2011. She joined Pearson from Bharti Airtel where she was HR Head for DTH Business in India. Ms. Tangri has worked in both consulting and corporate roles across different sectors. A graduate in English literature from Hindu College, University of Delhi, she loves travelling and exploring different cultures.

Q. Being a TISS alumna, how do you see a prominent management institute’s contribution in shaping an HR leader? What unique element does it bring to the fore?
A. I am a firm believer in pedigree and believe that institutions play a vital role in shaping the personality of their students. Being an alumna of an institute like Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) provides strong foundation and a first-mover advantage; it is up to the individual how he or she builds on that important first step. TISS provides each student with an environment that lets you be and explore what will work for you, in contrast to being a place with cut-throat competition. Amongst many unique elements is the practice of doing field-work with several different organisations during the two-year degree that helps students make choices that will work for them.

Q. What do you enjoy the most – being a consultant or a corporate role? Why?
A. I started my consulting career journey with Arthur Andersen in 2000 and joined Ernst & Young in 2002. I did consulting for seven years straight out of campus and enjoyed every bit of it! Consulting exposes you to different aspects such as business development, project management, project delivery and also product development. It gives you an opportunity to work with extremely talented colleagues and that challenges you continuously to be at the top of your game.

On the contrary, corporate role provides you an opportunity to implement your ideas and be there to see the success of the same. One becomes part of a journey and contributes to the growth of an organisation in different ways and roles. I enjoy independent decision-making and seeing its impact over a period of time, as many HR interventions bear their fruits in the long term – and that would lead me to say, it is a corporate role where my heart is.

Q. As an HR leader, have you been able to apply the best of a ‘consultant’ side to your role at Pearson? What kind of challenges do you see here?
A. It has definitely worked in my favour to have had an exposure to both sides of the coin. There are many learning from my consulting days that I have been able to apply at both Airtel (my previous organisation) and Pearson. Consulting enriches you, as it puts you into different environments and trains you to think of relevant solutions suitable to that particular environment.

I have been at Pearson for 18 months now and have introduced many HR interventions focused on supporting the fast pace of organisation’s growth. Pearson is at an inflexion point in India and I believe at a time when people function is central to its growth story.

Sweta Tangri, HR Head of Pearson Education
Sweta Tangri, HR Head of Pearson Education

Q. Leading nearly 2,500 people at Pearson India, what are your priorities as an HR leader? Also, tell us about your HR policies.
A. Pearson as an organisation is growing and transforming at a fast pace. In a scenario where the organisation is exploring new and interesting growth avenues, it is equally important to bear in mind what has worked well in the past and retain those bits. As an HR leader, this presents challenges such as balancing between the old and the new ways of working, identifying skills and building capabilities for the future.

We are proud of ourselves for being known as ‘company with a heart’ and this philosophy is central to all employee policies. We encourage employees to be entrepreneurial in their thinking and approach to work. We have policies that have evolved from our core values of being brave, decent and imaginative – while our global philosophy guides us, each geography or country is empowered to have HR policies that work for its context.

Q. Please share the key touchpoints you have discovered as an HR leader and your employees.
A. HR function can only be successful if it works closely with business and is in touch with the last employee who works on the field. The more we understand business and solve problems from business lens, the better is the value we add to the organisation. The advise to my colleagues in HR is to spend as much time with businesses as they can, attend sales calls, question productivity parameters and facilitate ‘people management’ for line. We all know that the best compliment to success of HR is to make HR redundant but how many organisations have achieved that today?

Q. Please share your thoughts on e-HR. How is it going to help the HR leaders?
A. e-HR is close to my heart, as it helps HR enhance its reach, become efficient, reduce response time and offer flexibility to employees. Given that we operate from a large number of locations and do not have HR presence in most of them, it provides us an alternate medium to reach out to our employees. Employees today want flexibility and assistance ‘any time’ and ‘any where’; e-HR facilitates that. Of course, one needs to be careful and should not tilt the scale to an extent where HR is only ‘e-present’, for employees do need the human touch and interaction.

Q. How can HR lead an organisation into future?
A. Organisations need to consider many aspects to become ‘future ready’ and HR can play an integral part in this journey. HR should be involved in several key aspects – hiring the right people who can lead the organisation; developing skills and capabilities of its employees for the future; putting in place an organisational design that enables future growth and ensuring that HR systems and processes facilitate this transition.