CHRO Talks: Workforce Development and Inclusion Strategies

March 8, 2024

Sunita Menon

Chief Human Resources Officer, DataFlow Group

In this episode, Sunita Menon, the CHRO of DataFlow Group, shares her journey to her current role at a company with a large number of employees across various locations. She reflected on her 20-year journey in HR, which spanned multiple industries and domains, and the benefits of her diverse experiences.

Sunita emphasized that integrity and ethics are key qualities in a successful HR professional. She also discussed how her varied educational background in statistics, operational research, and cyber law has helped her respond to challenges and achieve business objectives. In her current role at Data Flow, she is contributing to the creation of an inclusive and innovative mindset through their people.

Below is the transcription: 

Hello. This is Omnia Al Desoukie, Editor of The HR Observer. Today I’m speaking to DataFlow Group’s chief human resource officer, Sunita Menon. She has been recently featured as one of the top most inspiring women leaders in India last year. She leads the organisation’s HR initiatives across all their locations. It is very good to have you, first of all, it is amazing to have you during Women’s Month, I call it that. Also, it’s great to have you as you lead human resources for the company within India and outside. That’s a lot of locations and that’s a lot of people that I imagine. And I want to ask you the first question. If you could share your journey on how you arrive at your current role and what were the challenges that you could have faced?

Sunita: Thank you, Omnia. And that’s a very flourishing introduction and I’m really humbled, but thank you once again. So a great question about my journey into joining DataFlow as a CHRO. It is indeed a lot of people across different locations. Fantastic people I must say, with more than two decades of experience in HR which spanned over multiple geographies and industries and domains like aviation and consulting.

I must say, my journey has been exciting as well as immensely fulfilling because it was very diverse. I have had the opportunity to learn and enhance my knowledge and skills from the exposures of the different organisation. And I strongly believe that whatever role or level you are passionate about in HR, whether you are an executive or at a senior level, your execution is focused on believing in having strategic partnership, the hallmarks of being an agile practitioner is being highly ethical and demonstrating values of integrity.

That’s what makes a complete HR professional [would be], I think working in different companies has enabled me to continue to work and operate on this. And on that professional front, I have a very degree starting from being a master in the statistics, operational research, MBA and recently covering cyber law just assisted me to respond and react and achieve business objectives as we go along to the triage of people and processes and technology of this world.

My current role at DataFlow gives me a white canvas, I must say, to contribute to and enrich the leadership vision of creating an inclusive and innovating mindset through our people. Currently, it is so diverse and agile. And that’s what makes me come to work every day.

Omnia: How do you assess that and address the skills gaps within a workforce?What are the steps that you look at first and say, okay, this is missing.

Sunita: That’s a great question. So at various levels we look at the skill gaps. Starting from internally, we do several, several initiatives or several interventions for our people, which would be from just coaching, an intervention which happens on a regular basis in our team from performance management, from development centers that we conduct across the locations.

We bring in people from all the locations to one place and have them interact because the vision is more product index related organisations. So we assess them at every level, whether you join us as a newbie or a new rookie or you are at the senior level, different competencies and skills that require doing different roles. We assess them at various stages.

We have 30, 60, 90 days. As you walk into the organisation and we train you up on a particular domain, look perfect you’re going to work on. We also enable you to think different by doing programs which is like six banking types of program program problem solving, training or coaching by the senior leaders, or simply just having a conversation with people and asking them why you’re doing this and how do you think it’s going to even make a difference in the lives of an applicant that comes to us?

That’s where our journey is structured, but we also do unstructured and more people conversation that have things from which to do it.

Omnia: Which one do you think is more effective? Structured programs where people go through training, assessments, etc., or unstructured programs where you have those conversations on them?

Sunita: Great question. That has been around. A lot of this is a struggle that we have, but I do believe the framework of 60, 2010 and 20 works for us. That is because as an example, I can say we have 27 nationalities in the organisation, we have a Gen Z and a Gen X but one size doesn’t fit all. Really hard to say. A structured program may look for a course that is like scrum training or a program in project management because you bring the people along at a particular level and train them.

But mostly you will see unstructured, always on video conferencing that program works very well through coaching and mentoring interventions. Give them a bigger role to continuously coach them, give them little nudges along the way and say hey do you look at this leadership framework for perspective on view? Do you think you could solve a problem by the way that you looked upon it myself or by personal experiences that work very efficiently?

And to get into that role, you need to know your people. And our leadership is extremely one that people think have because they have regular connections. They can clearly tell me that this requires an unstructured forum and I can take this through or we can have a person coming in and we can just do a coaching mentoring session and it will work effectively.

And it just kind of gives me a way to tell you that because we are so involved with people, I’m very proud to share with you that we have been certified as a great place to work in all five locations and it’s been a fact for all of us. You never, ever thought that something like this could happen for an organisation which is spread so far and wide and so diverse.

Omnia: Lovely. Lovely. Can you talk a little bit about some of these innovative strategies and initiatives that you have implemented that help you reach this position of being one of the best places to work for?

Sunita: Yeah. So I will tell you what we have done along the way and HR has just been a catalyst,can never say that H.R. ran any of these programs, right.

It’s the leaders and the people on the ground. So the things that we have done are consistent and connect to hiring the right person. And because we are in an industry where we have to ensure that our people that we hire are majorly above board and we are ISO and BSA and GDPR compliant and we need to have skills, the right skills and the right people on the ground, at the very first day by making sure that our workforce across a while, it’s diverse, it’s inclusive.

We have had several different forums where people have had the opportunity to share with them, you know, share with us in a way to ideas where we could just maybe tweak a process, bring the new technology, which would really work efficiently for them and for our business. And therefore, the people say that they trust the leadership. The leadership walks the talk they are not just delegating.

They are around with them and they give them the full focus and encouragement to perform, which is what really makes people around the world do different things and perform at their best. There is nobody who there is no one that I have heard of in all of my interactions. And by the way, I meet all the people, new and old.

We have a structured way and that’s what I believe in, structured in going around and talking to new people, being with people who have been in the organisation for a long period of time, seeking out to understand what really makes a difference for them. And all of them have shared with us that they have immense pride in what they do.

They believe in the management’s credibility. They also trust us that what we do for them would always be right and ethical. Being also kind of hands on some programs around the way because people have said, Hey, I want some work life balance by taking some sabbatical. So we’ve introduced that. They said we want to do something like education for myself, for the education.

So we have introduced that we all are seeking more feedback and also implementing it. I think that is something that we are very, very passionate about right there.

Omnia: There would be bottlenecks, right? There are still people who would not go with the flow. What would happen? How would you deal with such challenges when you’re faced with that in terms of managing human resources?

Sunita: If you are saying that people who don’t follow, what is our vision? Is that gap, clearly it is an opportunity area for us to understand the rationale and the cause of why people don’t want to go with the flow. What’s blocking the mindset is not in line with our vision.

Do we feel that this is disruptive in the way he approaches or she approaches his professional career?

Have we not provided enough opportunities for him to develop on how to develop and grow?

Sunita: Clearly there are interventions and we go out and understand what is really making him on an orbital floor. Once we have kind of agreed or ascertained about the rationale of what’s not working for us, we certainly have a clear dialogue with the individual to say, What is it?

It’s not working for us. Maybe you want to look at something else or what is it that we can do? Because that is a realm at which we operate.  Which means you have to have somebody who is working with the position of being an ethical organisation and providing the best services to our client and we have great conversations.

I don’t sometimes use very thorough conversations held by our leaders, but they are very well articulated, very respectful to their conversations.

Omnia: All right. Thank you very much for this. I would like to ask you as a final question, you have been in the field for two decades. How do you stay up to date with all the industry trends and the best practices?

Sunita: Great question. I thought you were going to ask me for two decades, you are a dinosaur already. That’s a great question. As you as I shared with you earlier. And I think how I keep myself updated is I do love to read. I do love to interact with what’s happening, not just on the front end, because sometimes it could be just eccentric.

It is  therefore attending seminars and conferences about how the future’s going to lie ahead. You need to get upfront and know how it’s going to impact your business and your people and that’s one of the reasons I recently did the degree in cyber law to keep myself updated on that.

The other big interesting thing that we do out have the data pool that I must mention is that we have regular leadership conversation, which is every 30 days, every quarter we bring all the the leaders in different locations together and we discuss what’s new that’s happening that could impact us as a as an organisation, and it could generally impact the why do we in the pioneer space that we are need to continuously enhance our skills and it can be just learning how to decode and code.

Editor’s Note: This year, The HR Observer celebrates International Women’s Day by rolling out different perspectives on how to empower women.