Faces of HR

Applying Non-HR Tactics to HR to Create a New Culture

We know that professionals come from many other industries before they join the ranks of HR. Such diversity provides a lot of strength to the position. I recently spoke with a professional services and technology expert turned HR professional to learn how she uses that experiences to reinforce her HR efforts.

Meet Pooja Bansal, Senior VP and Head of HR and Corporate Communications at NewDay USA, a leading VA mortgage lender and military membership-based organization that helps service members, veterans, and their families achieve the American dream of homeownership and financial security.

How did you find yourself in an HR position?

My experience is mostly in professional services. Before Barclays Consumer Bank, I was in SEI Investment and I used to see HR being just a talent management area. However, after earning my MBA from Wharton, my whole perspective about HR changed and I realized that HR is way bigger than talent management. It is about creating an organization’s strategy by building the leadership bench and finally helping to increase company value.

I saw myself moving into HR as an organic move. In general, we see post-MBA people involves mostly in doing strategy consulting Or entering into investment banking, or just in the spirit of degree, you will stay more in the general management side. While in the Wharton MBA program, I had the chance to hear from a lot of CEOs, and the core message we heard is how important is to attract the best talent in the industry. If this portion of Human Resources is so important, then why are most of the CEOs spending no more than 10% of their time on it? I see it is an opportunity where we can create more value within the organization by attracting and developing the talent using human capital management strategy.

Is this your first Human Resources job?

Yes. After spending more than a decade in tech, I pivoted towards the professional services side as a service manager at Barclays. While I was doing my MBA and working at Barclays, I started getting wrapped up in a big-picture thought on how can we capture underappreciated investment opportunities? How can we create value in surprising places? In general, we start looking for different cost-cutting opportunities or bringing operational efficiencies within the organization. There is a straightforward path towards managing the human capital to enhance revenue.

How can we design the programs that help us in bringing that pipeline of seasoned managers who perfectly fit in our new functions? How can we compensate people more by not just focusing on their salary or a reward-based system, but also focusing more on their performance? How can we promote those people building various leadership programs within the organization? There is a big opportunity, and the reason is that somehow in a traditional organizational setting, that old traditional HR role doesn’t fulfill most of those actions. That’s why I call it a “new HR in action” because I see this role as more than deploying talent. It’s about designing the programs that will help you generate more value and revenue for the organization.

I agree with you that the old-fashioned method of HR and of conducting businesses is antiquated, and I think it really does ignore the human element.

In the traditional HR role, you don’t see your HR person looking into the finances. You don’t see that person being super data-analytical. But really, in my day-to-day job, I’m spending so much time analyzing the data. Currently, I’m working on a program in which I can see the employee turnover rate and how we can bring employee engagement programs aligned in a way that we can focus on reducing the attrition rate not only when our industry is booming with low-interest rates but also when we don’t have the same circumstances? How can we improve our compensation plan? Again, I’m not just talking about monetary rewards. I’m talking about overall compensation—how you motivate people to stay within the organization. How can you spread the same company culture to the new hires?

Companies are hiring in a home environment. The challenge is to infuse that cultural element in their training, in their day-to-day work. In this unprecedented time, I am leveraging my skill sets and innovative ways to my HR role at NewDay.

Having the background of organization strategy and technology, in addition to talent management processes, will be transforming for my role.

You also have the somewhat unique experience of having a strong data-oriented background. Anybody with even the smallest organization could have instant access to more data than he or she would know what to do with. Your history within the technology fields gives you an advantage, right?

Yes, it is definitely an advantage. I’m talking to the CFO about finance and how we can put up the measurable metrics around whatever the new leadership programs we are rolling out. Instead of finding the ways to promote employee engagement programs on a subjective basis, I can include data, backing up to that plan, and how I can measure the program’s success.

NewDay University has a program to make fresh graduates into a loan officer with a 2-week training program to pass SAFE. Once candidates are done with their SAFE exam, they can be on the floor working with the rest of the team. Managers train them in batches of 8 to 10 people at a time. That’s pretty good because you can go to your manager or your peers to ask for help or get a better understanding. However, in our current reality, we have virtual training that has transformed this whole experience for the candidate. So, to fill the gaps, we introduced the mentorship program.

This one-to-one mentorship program has revolutionized the training. In this program, the whole training will still go the same way—8 to 10 people getting trained by 1 manager. But then every new hire getting trained will have a mentor who is always with you, helping you, paving your path within your day-to-day jobs, solving your problems, and helping you understand the NewDay culture, which is the core of mentorship.  

All the research shows that human connections at work are a huge portion of why people stay. Even when they go on and leave the company, if they still have a connection to the original, to their former employees, that is a great value.

It’s a kind of mind shift because as a manager, you are still doing almost the same job. But now this time, you are not thinking as a manager; you’re thinking as a coach. You can see that the things will give better results, and you will see that your team members are more energized when you are not ordering them but rather influencing them to follow you.

What challenges have you overcome?

The biggest challenge for the organization was that NewDay culture was never an online/hybrid based. We promoted people to be physically present at the office. However, since March 2020, more than 95% of our workforce has been working from home. I joined the company the first week of April and was onboarded remotely. So everybody started working from home, but senior management and everybody in leadership was thinking, “OK, so how can we keep everyone connected, and how can we motivate people to be productive in these uncertain times?”

Other companies have platforms they can utilize to work in a hybrid environment. But NewDay USA was never in that situation before. So everything was new.

If I’m talking about addressing 500 or 600 people at one time virtually, that’s a challenge for NewDay. We had to overcome those challenges to build robust platforms as part of our business continuity plan.

Even with being so new at NewDay, I feel like I am part of so many different initiatives, and I am seeing them getting successful. Within a week or 2 of beginning my job here, I started a new leadership series. It’s an hour-long webinar every Wednesday morning featuring internal or external guest speakers. All these initiatives have been done on a virtual platform. We are doing a lot of different things from an HR and a senior leadership standpoint.

People resist change heavily, especially if they don’t have a real reason to change. I think you have a real opportunity with everything shifting at the exact moment you’re coming on board. In a way, that must be exciting.

True, people do resist change, but they know that our current situation warrants change. And as an implementor, how your top-to-bottom management is supporting these initiatives.

One interesting thing is that all my initiatives are action-oriented. They’re supported by the CEO and COO of the company. Sometimes when HR or different groups within the company try to initiate the programs, you will get the authority to initiate, but senior management or high leadership is not really aligned to those same actions.

But here at NewDay, because our culture is so focused on bringing leadership together—we always call it NewDay as a training company because we train people to be successful—I see that whatever initiatives we are bringing on are getting the pat on the back from CEO and leadership. That’s a kind of cultural shift that helps those programs succeed.