Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Richa Gupta on the Value of Technology + Empathy, People and Purpose

Welcome back to Faces of HR. The subject of our installment today is Richa Gupta, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at Globalization Partners, a company that helps organizations build a global team quickly and easily. As CHRO, Richa leads all facets of Globalization Partners’ global workforce, while playing a key strategic role in scaling the company and culture to meet the surging demands of remote work across the globe. Richa, who has more than 20 years of technology human resources experience, manages a fully remote workforce.

Richa Gupta

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Richa Gupta.

How did you get your start in the field?

I kind of fell into it. It was not by design. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. So, I completed my first master’s in psychology, as I wanted to work in the mental health field. I was 18 years old and not ready. Then I started to think about what else can I do with my knowledge? What other setting could I apply that to? Organizational psychology came to my rescue. I learned about this thing called HR, and what people do, and immediately fell in love with that. And thank God for it because I really like what I do.

Istarted with learning and development, a lot of work around culture, and understanding what it takes for the companies to be successful, what kind of leadership capabilities and expectations we set. So my initial couple of jobs were all about leadership, and culture, and values, and purpose. I got lucky because that was my start. It really grounded me in a good way because for all things people, all things HR, it all starts with people at the core, and then the purpose that binds people together.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

There are so many, but the more I think about it, there’s one name that comes up in my head repeatedly, which is Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. He wrote the book called Hit Refresh. When I was a part of GE, I had an opportunity to hear and listen to him live. It was such a wonderful session as he was talking about how technology and technological advancements are going to come to the rescue. In the ever-changing world and complexities in our world to make our lives, our societies, our communities more connected and more successful, but empathy being at the core of all of this. Technology without empathy is nothing.

So how do we understand what it takes to make humans successful, and then build technological solutions to do that. The second point that resonated a lot with me and has become the core of my leadership mantra as well, is how individuals, and societies, and companies ought to constantly refresh themselves to remain relevant, significant, and helpful to the broader ecosystem. So those two points, just technology with empathy, and then the constant focus on transformation and relevance. Those two have kind of shaped who I am as a leader, what I like in other leaders, what I teach others as well, and what I value in my day-to-day life.

In this age of COVID-19, how important is connection, empathy, and technology, especially for those who have been working in silos for nearly three years now?

There is no replacing the direct in-person human interaction. But it’s also true that there is so much that can be done on the screen digitally. It was such an interesting takeaway for me. I was reading a study a few months ago where it said during COVID-19, the employee engagement for a lot of companies were at the highest levels. And those two are contradictory things. You’re not seeing your colleagues. You’re working in isolation. There’s only so many virtual coffee chats and happy hours we can go to before we say, “You know what? I’ve been on Zoom for the whole day. I don’t want another happy hour on Zoom.” Right? So, we all got excited about that framework, then it got old again.

But what came to our rescue was how much attention employers and managers actually gave to their employees. How much care happened. It didn’t matter if it was happening in-person, but the care happened. The basic questions like, how are you? What can we do to help? How do we make you, employee, more successful with whatever we all are dealing with? It showed that human interactions are important, but the empathy in any format is more important than any of this. But right now, where we are, in year three of this thing, COVID is not over. How we are approaching it at GP, we are saying, “Your well-being, and health, and the health of your family is the top priority.”

We have all also learned that we don’t always need to be together to work, but we need to be together to build trust, to get to know each other, to have that familiarity, awareness, and comfort with each other. That needs to happen. So, we at GP are still figuring out our ways on how we enable those human connections. The first effort has been around organizing road shows. We have a new CEO and a newer leadership team, so all of us traveling to our major hubs, getting people together, having conversations about strategy, making connections possible, having a wonderful social time together, and then sending everybody off to work in their home settings. We are also dropping words like “office” and “headquarters” from our terminology. We are a remote first company. We enable that for our customers. So, we are being very serious about it.

There’s a lot of work on defining what does being a very successful remote first company at GP means. So there’s a huge initiative underway. We are listening to the employees very carefully, very intently, on the ways of working as a remote first company. So there’s a lot to be uncovered, but we have designed our initial ways of gatherings and hubs. Thinking about our collaboration hubs, not our offices, but collaboration hubs, where employees can go to socialize, and connect them, and work on things that they need to really work as a team on, and then go off.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? And what’s your least favorite part and how would you change it?

What I love most about being in HR right now is the amount of courage and risk taking it requires to be a very successful executive and more successful executive in the HR profession. You’ve got to trigger both sides of your brain, the data, the information, and the critical thinking. Balance it with empathy and the human need being that human leader, and both of those parts of your brain and style coming together. I naturally operate like that, so it has been good. So, this is filling my energy per se, and energy of a lot of leaders we have at GP because that’s the core DNA in our leadership.

COVID is just one thing that is happening, but globally, there’s so much more happening. The Ukraine War, a lot of sociopolitical issues that are very emotionally charged, and figuring out the role of corporations and leaders, and supporting employees through all of that. As HR leaders, it’s important to be at the forefront of leading all of that, not leading from the background, and helping our leaders lead. It’s a huge ask. But personally, that’s my favorite part of my job.

What is my least favorite part? How do you keep your cohort of HR leaders, HR teams intact, which people are starting to push back on? We are a growth company. We’re investing a lot. There’s a lot of build-in scale. It takes a lot of effort. And how do we balance that need for growth with what’s happening out there in the societies, and keeping everybody balanced, focused, and supported through these complex times? That’s where the real challenge is. It’s both an opportunity to operate in a differentiated way and support and care in a differentiated way, but it can be overwhelming.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

There have been so many. Let me pick one that has taught me some of the biggest lessons. This happened about 25 years ago, and it was my first job in the U.S. I came to the U.S., to Cleveland, Ohio, with $4,000, a suitcase, and went to school to study. I didn’t have much of anything at all, but I finished school, and got my first job. That put a lot of pressure on me to prove myself and I had aspirations where what I did mattered more than how I did it with my team. I also was excited and felt I had to rise and shine, because I’ve been working so hard, and I deserve it.  

In all vulnerability, there was a project that I was working on with a couple of other colleagues who were more seasoned and experienced than I was. That was my first rodeo, not theirs. We were working on a leadership program. One day I was working late in the evening, and our second level supervisor came to my cubicle. He said, “I want to send something out to the executive leadership team on the program that you and the other two colleagues have been working on. Prepare something. Maybe we can do it tomorrow.” In my head, I was thinking this is my opportunity to shine. I can be the hero tonight as other colleagues of mine had gone to bed already. So, I prepared decks, messaging, and everything else. I followed up with my boss that evening with everything I’d prepared and completely discounted that my colleagues needed to see it, give opinions on it, and such. I didn’t care about any of that, right? The next morning, my colleagues woke up to the email. And, of course, I heard from them, and I felt sorry. Well, angry first because I didn’t know what I had done wrong.

I was trying to do good by the team. And, of course, they were not convinced. That tarnished the trust with me and them. It took a lot of time for me to rebuild that with them. And that was a good lesson in a hard way for me to kind of shape my working style, to say, a lot of times, how is more important than what. What lessons did I take from that event? I could have waited the next day. I didn’t have to be that worried about what I was trying to build for myself. It was a team effort. So, the team had to shine, not me. I was in my early 20s, wanted to conquer the world, wanted to be the hero, and wanted to sacrifice everybody for my own benefit. The how is so important for the team. I understand how we communicate with each other, how we work together, how we give each other credit for where the credit belongs is so much more important in a team setting and so much important for the culture and the trust.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?

The permission has been granted in very explicit ways for HR and talent professionals to lead from the forefront. As COVID hit, the nurses and doctors were at the forefront of the healthcare. I felt like HR professionals were at the forefront of the workplace settings. So I don’t think there is any more business case to be built. We all have that empowerment and responsibility. It’s both a responsibility and a privilege to be in the seats that we are in—and it’s a lot harder.

It takes very high standard of ethics, compassion, empathy, operation, understanding of the business, understanding of the data, understanding of what’s going on at the macro level, translating it for what it means for your employees and companies, and operating that way. So again, I say it’s not for the faint of heart to be in HR right now, but it is such a fulfilling profession to be in. So, we are already at the forefront.

Where do you see the industry headed in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

Going back to Satya Nadella, the two lessons that I’ve learned around technology. How do we believe in technology, leverage technology to make this world better, to make the lives of the employees better, make them more productive, connected, and inspired? Because the in-person connection might or might not be possible all the time, so that’s definitely trend number one. Trend number two, I would say, is all around the employee value proposition and the expectations of the employees have drastically shifted in the last two and a half years. Employees often look at their employers for the source of inspiration and support. And even the information on what’s going on in the world, and how do we operate, what the dos and not to-dos, all of that.

So, the line between work and life has blurred in drastic ways. A lot of that responsibility falls on the employers to support the full human being, and the ability to bring your whole self to work. And now we are, right? There’s no hiding, right? We are our whole selves, right? All of us. So, it takes just a different level of a role that the employers must play in the lives of the employees and what the employees demand, right? Again, the purpose, what position employers take on any of the sociopolitical issues, what support that they provide. How the employers and the purpose of the company serves the communities better, right? The employees are really paying attention to that part of the employer value proposition as well. So, it has really shifted.

What are you most proud of?

I would answer it in a different way. It would be who I’m most proud of because what really puts the focus on me, puts the focus on the people that I’m here to serve. I would say at GP, my team. I am incredibly proud of them. They are special humans. They have a lot of potential, expertise, knowledge, skills, and they’re doing amazing work. And again, leading from the forefront, not shying away. So I’m really proud of my team here.

Do you have any advice for young professionals entering the field?

I do. First, I would say if you are up for a good amount of challenge and risk taking, HR is the place to be. But you also have to be truly empathetic and very intellectually humble to be successful in this profession right now. So check all of those boxes. Or at least have the appetite to learn those dimensions if you want to be successful in HR, because it is not an easy profession, but very fulfilling right now. Also, read more. Read about what’s going on in the industry. Don’t be inward focused. The knowledge is out there and there’s so much good work that is being done. If you are up for a challenge, pick up the phone, and call a colleague in a different company. Learn from each other. I think we’re all here to support each other and build the HR community together. So do that, and just have a lot of fun. I think, again, this field allows us to do great work, be very fulfilled, and have a lot of fun. So don’t miss the fun part. Don’t take your jobs too seriously. We have serious jobs, right? It’s very overwhelming. But care for yourself well as you care for others.