Faces of HR

Putting the Humanitarian into HR

Note: Jignasha was an HR Works Podcast 5-Minute Friday guest. Listen to that here.

HR is one of those jobs that provides the opportunity to be more than just a job. HR professionals interact and engage with whole organizations and therefore often have a significant amount of influence over the employees and leaders. People-oriented HR professionals can even be said to sometimes play a humanitarian role. Today’s “Faces of HR” guest explains. Meet Jignasha Amin Grooms, EVP, CHRO/Legal at Epicor Software.

How did you get started in HR?

Well, I am an accidental HR person. I actually started my career practicing law. Then, when I moved to Austin, I got introduced to Dell. They were looking for someone with a JD to sit in sales and sales operations. I decided to give the opportunity a try, and I ended up loving it. Then, through a high-potential program, four or five years after being in that role, I was asked if I would move to HR. This was 16 years ago, and my younger self wondered, “Ew, why would anybody want to be in HR?” But somebody knew something more than I did, because it’s been a great fit. HR combines my ops, sales, and legal experience with my passion for people. You see, I went to law school to do human rights work, and I actually worked at Legal Services of Greater Miami for a time with Guantanamo Bay Cubans and Haitians and Bangladeshi refugees. It kind of feels like I’ve come full circle with all the skill sets I enjoy that come fairly naturally to me.

Do you feel like you’re doing humanitarian work now still while you’re in HR?

Absolutely. Although it might not seem obvious to others at first.

Can you talk about that?

Well, when I was in law school, Jim, I focused on international business transactions and international human rights. I’ve always believed that if you can help communities and countries do better, that raises the standard of living for all of their citizens.

And I’ve watched it happen firsthand in India, where I was born. I moved to the U.S. when I was eight, and I’ve watched how the GDP growth in India has finally created a real middle class. When I was living in India, my parents were truly part of the very tiny middle class that existed.

I think that the best part of my job during my journey over the last 16 years is that people and culture are really relevant to business strategy now.

I appreciate that our board at Epicor loves discussing culture and supports our approach to put our employees at the center of our business value proposition. Because when you do that, your employees will then reflect it forward to your customers, and that will create a better customer experience. It will naturally generate better top-line growth.

Absolutely.

So, I do think it’s humanitarian work. But the best part about it is when you fundamentally believe that and when you can be the person who evangelizes and gets the leadership team on board, then it gets the entire company on board and you all feel it. I feel we get the palpable, tangible part of who Epicor is now, and I love it.

I talk about this all the time, but it bears repeating: Work has a massive impact on people’s lives. I mean, probably one of the most profound ones, just by virtue of how long you spend at work. They call it your “work family,” right?

And when organizations do things right, it ripples throughout a lot of people. You can make a pretty big splash.

Yes! I say this all the time. We spend more time with our work colleagues and friends than we do with our actual friends and family. It’s such a large part of who we are. As an HR practitioner, if you don’t make it matter, then shame on you. It doesn’t have to be that way. Think of all the big strategic things you and I can talk about. We can talk about org design and workforce strategy and how you’re leveraging a global workforce and all of that. It can be all those things, but sometimes it’s really the tiniest simple things.

I’ll give you an example. I was at Cisco before I joined Epicor four-and-a-half years ago. At that point, Epicor had around 3,600 people. And the joke as I was leaving Cisco was, “Jig, you’ll know all of them and the names of their significant others and children in six months.” But the best part for me was that it was actually about only 3,600 of us. Maybe a couple of months after I started, we had a storm go through part of the U.S. You’ll remember this way back if you think about early 2017. I asked my team, “Can we please pull a list of all the employees who are in the path of this storm? And then let’s divvy up that list and let’s call them. Let’s make sure they’re okay. Let’s see if they need anything.”

And that’s exactly what we did. We all started dialing. And it really wasn’t very hard. We only had about 60 to 70 employees in the path of the storm. But almost every single one of those employees reached back out and said, “No one’s ever done that before. Thank you so much.” And one of them made it a point to say that in a really large group.

Obviously, we’ve done that going forward because that’s become part of who we are as an HR organization. But when you say, “Does the humanitarian part come out?” that’s exactly where it comes out.

Another way is listening to understand without jumping to conclusions or judgment, and just leading with empathy. I mean, it’s so simple, Jim.

It should be, anyway.

I feel like people want to make things very complex so that they sound smarter, but the truth is that the most significant things are the simple ones, and then consistently following through so people know they can count on you. Whether they or their family is struggling with an illness that they didn’t expect, or they are really truly dealing with big, hairy business problems that need to be solved, it comes back to that simple stuff.

I would 100% agree. I’ve given a lot of thought about organizations that still exist despite having bad practices. I believe that what’s happening is there are a lot of different ways to get the job done. If you put a bunch of people in a room and you dedicate their energies toward completing a problem, they will complete it. The quality of that work, however, can be heavily based on how those employees are treated.

If you then apply basic decency of human respect between the leadership and the employees, the outcomes will be better. You will succeed just like you could succeed if you didn’t do those things, but you’ll do better, because the people will be invested in their work.

To put it another way, it’s like that saying, “Everything we needed to learn we learned in kindergarten.” And we shouldn’t forget it.

People will go the extra mile every single time. I love what you’ve just said, and I think it’s so true. And here’s the other truth: When you start with that understanding and fundamental belief deep in your heart, then you can align all the business stuff around it.

We are managing our bottom line. We are driving top-line growth. We are on our way to being the vendor of choice in the markets we serve. All those things are happening at Epicor, but we decided that we needed to start with our key differentiator. And for us, it was very simple. It was our employees. We have some employees that are deeply tenured and some that are brand new. But they each bring deep expertise, and it’s all about making sure they feel valued and understand the impact they have in the company – that they each matter as individuals.

My favorite quote is by Maya Angelou and it’s, “People won’t remember what you said or did, they’ll remember how you made them feel.” If you start with that premise from a customer mindset, an employee mindset, and even from a partner mindset, that all will just come full circle and drive the business objectives and results you want.

It really will. As a customer, when you talk to somebody, a representative of an organization, and they’re clearly upset or distraught or distracted, you feel bad for those people, and it makes you question how is this organization operating? It also makes you question the service itself. If it’s an isolated incident, that’s not a big deal. But if the people at an organization always seem upset or they always seem concerned, it makes me not want to support that business.

I had a recent personal example where I had placed an order for a very popular, well-known electric car because I really want to reduce my carbon footprint, and it was just one bad customer-service experience after another. Finally, I said, “Why? Why wouldn’t you just work with me to solve it?”

And the answer was, “Well, they don’t even solve it for us. They’re even harder on us.” It’s exactly what you said illustrated. I got my deposit back, and I was like, “I’ll just buy something else.”

I still want to reduce my carbon footprint and I’ll still work on that, but I want to support a business that supports its people. If the people there feel like the company is so stringent that they don’t have any flexibility, it matters.

When we hear about great places to work, the places that make the top of the list are the ones that empower their employees to drive solutions. That’s our aspirational goal.

The wonderful thing is that our message to our employees remains consistent, which is, “You are the most important thing for us to drive our business objectives.” And then to our customers, it’s the same, which is, “Without you, we would have no business.”

I wouldn’t want to get a car from an organization that wasn’t treating their employees well. I want my car with all the nuts and bolts tightened on it, thank you very much. I don’t want the wheel to fall off because some guy’s angry at his boss because they don’t give him enough time off.

I think all that matters, and I think it’s a work in progress. We are a work in progress, and I’m sure that most of my peers would agree with that. I also think it’s great work to be doing right now.

There has been a mindset shift that came with COVID. Whatever you thought about COVID—the good, the bad, and the ugly—there were some small but significant silver linings.

That’s true.

One of those silver linings is that it gave a lot of people around the world a chance to reflect and say, “Is this what I want to do? Does this make me happy?”

That’s important to bring back to Epicor and say from a culture and an employee perspective. We may not be able to make 100% of the people happy 100% of time. But do they feel like we’re working as hard as we can to be in the service of their success?

That doesn’t mean just their business objective. It also means can they bring their whole self to work? Can they be authentic in the workplace? Do they feel valued for who they are as individuals, regardless of their background? To me, that’s important. That equity and inclusion piece is so important to me, because I want everybody to feel like they’re coming into Epicor being set up for success and being given equal opportunity to succeed.

Absolutely. Any big projects that you’re looking forward to that you can share with us?

I am so excited about our global onboarding project. The reason I’m excited is because it’s not my baby – it’s not even the baby of the HR leadership team. We took it one level down and we gave everybody a pretty significant task. Which is, thanks to COVID, we now have to hire and onboard virtually, which while not new to any of us, we weren’t expecting to do with this many people.

So how would you do that? How would you onboard people to success? It didn’t matter what level they were, whether they’re interns coming in or senior vice presidents, or what function they’re in—what can we do to onboard them to success?

I will tell you that the team has done a great job of making sure that we can do that virtually so  it’s engaging. It aligns with our overarching company mission and vision, and it’s individualized enough so that it helps the person either gain the business acumen they need or the functional acumen they need, or really whatever they need to be successful.

They’ve tied it to these wonderful touch points where, in addition to a lot of people kind of holding your hand the first 30 days, you get check-ins, not just with your manager but with your aligned HR business partner, to see how things are going and if we need to tweak anything so that you feel good about joining Epicor and feel like you’re getting set up to succeed for years to come. That’s my favorite new project that our team is working on.

It’s very wise to ask the employees that. I mean, they’re the ones that go through the experience and have all experienced it themselves, at least experienced onboarding in general. They’ll know where the kinks are, right, and how to work them out.

Yes. The other thing we’ve done is we’ve moved our employee engagement survey so instead of getting it at a random time once a year, you actually only get it once a year on your work anniversary.

Oh, that’s interesting.

I like it because it gives us a constant pulse, because we all have different work anniversaries. The comments I love reading, Jim, are when they say, “This is exactly what I thought it would be. I feel like you told me it was a great culture, and it feels like a great one,” or, “Wow, I really feel like people want me to succeed here.” That really, to me, resonates and tells me it’s the right project to focus on.

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