Agraduate of Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Captain Partha Samai has over five years of experience in the Indian Army as class I gazetted officer. He is also an MBA in human resources from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management Pune. He specialises in strategic HR, change management, compensation and benefits planning, talent acquisition, placement and induction and manpower projection and planning. Working extensively in SAP enabled systems, Capt. Partha Samai has ample experience in developing and implementing new processes and procedures.
Q. From the Indian army to HR, what led to it?
A. My whole family background is from army. My father was in the armed forces and all the sibilings were raised in that environment. I was 10 when I moved out from family’s comfort to hostel. I studied in King George Royal Indian Military College. The school trains students to get into army, navy and airforce. They teach you to be good in planning, physically fit and without ego and attitude, so that you become rational and grounded.
I moved into sports and used to play boxing for Karnataka. My mother did not approve of it. The family wanted to see me in uniform, as was the tradition. Hence, I moved into academics and did my graduation, after which I applied for UPSC. Unfortunately, I failed the medical tests as I had developed three holes in my eardrum because of boxing.
However, I was lucky to be one of the 33 candidates selected for Gokhlay Institute of Economics, Pune. There was a plan B in my mind that was IES, IAS or GRE, if not armed forces. After completing the first semester, I joined the artillery in the Indian Army. In one of our operations, things did not go well and I got injured. Though, I was not asked to leave but I felt I will not rise in the ranks. When I was hospitalised, my wife convinced me to do an MBA. I was motivated and she became my mentor. Things moved smoothly and I joined Airtel. The first assignment I got was in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. I learned that you can have best degrees but it is the organisation that makes you.
Q. How was the experience in the Andaman and Nicobar islands?
A. Whatever we learned in HRM and HRD was quite different because the entire team was volatile in terms of moving out of the island, as Tsunami struck. We were launching private telecom operations. I learned core HR from there. The problem with today’s youth is they do not know the business well.
Bringing in people was a challenge in Andaman. I had to build my team with the help of CHROs. Interaction with armed forces was another challenge that Airtel was facing at that time because 75 per cent of land is occupied by them. For everything, you have to take their approval. For me, it was a win-win situation because I knew a lot of them. However, on the other hand, it was difficult for HR to maintain the morale of people. My targets were not employees, but their families. That was one paradigm shift in any HR employee engagement.
Q. How did you manage to recruit the people there?
A. We had many rounds of discussions and thoughts on not hiring people from telecom. Our sales head was from consumer developer sector and he did well by understanding the ROI of business. The people who understand ROI run business easily. We trained the local people of Andaman as part of CSR initiative. My experience says HR management changes with geographies.
Q. How was the experience with Tata Group?
A. There was a shift in culture. In Airtel, things moved aggressively, but in Tata, actions had to be more thoughtful then impulsive. There I managed to do a lot of OD interventions, automated a lot of things, brought in learning concepts from the armed forces. I realised that corporates need to learn a lot on documentations. I made a checklist, an army-centric concept. Being an HR guy, getting in training was the best thing to happen. I designed my own training module called Back to Basics, which clicked well.
Q. What has been your best HR experience?
A. I joined Tikona Digital Networks where the MD told me they did not have any HR set-up, hence I had to start from the scratch. It was a different experience as I typed my own appointment letter. Within no time, we started reviwing all policies and processes.
Q. What are the challenges in bringing out coherent policies?
A. Policy wise, we have kept it simple and for all group companies, policies and processes remain the same. We have been evolving positively. Most of the processes and policies we designed were accepted by all the heads. It is important for the HR head to get a nod from everyone. This is where creativity and innovation come into play. We have been successful in automating a lot of HR processes.
Q. In ideal case, what should be the traits of an HR leader?
A. HR leaders should be firm with their leadership skills. The first thing is to know your people and resources, which is connected to the business of the organisation. A leader must know how to plan and executive things. After the execution, he or she should be able to make a course correction. Winning is easy but to keep winning is difficult.
Q. Do you have any strategy for recruitment?
A. When I started out, I introduced a concept of employee referrals across the board. That is because the organisation is highly complex so it requires more bonding among employees. It made a lot of sense in getting people from references. From last year’s statistics, we came to know that 92.5 per cent of our recruitment in the last three quarters has been constantly from employee referrals. Due to it, the attrition rate has significantly gone down.
Q. How do you ensure best of people in HR and initiatives?
A. For HR, one needs to have a dragon’s heart. You need to develop certain habits to become a better HR professional. We want our HR to be on toes and that is possible if you are running yourself. They should have an ability to sprint the marathon without being tired.