The chief human resources officer at Grameenphone considers getting a seat at the decision-making table the biggest challenge for HR in Bangladesh
Syed Tanvir Husain is a well-known human resource (HR) professional in Bangladesh. Currently, he is the chief human resources officer at Grameenphone. Over the years, Tanvir has worked with many organisations and made significant contributions to their human resources management. In a recent conversation with The Business Standard, Tanvir spoke about his experience as a human resource professional and reflected on various aspects of a career in the HR sector.
TBS: What motivated you to pursue a career in human resources management?
STH: When I joined the human resources department of British American Tobacco back in 1998, the HR department was mostly known or perceived in the country as a personnel or administrative one. It did not take me long to understand that the department has the scope for fast evolution, and it will eventually shift from the idea of controlling employees' behaviour to enabling their potential. As I was working, I believed that the responsibilities would shift very fast in this sector. I wanted to join this fast-paced evolution and be a pioneer of this transformation. Besides, I also wanted to contribute to the success of the company. I think that was the fundamental logic for me to pursue a career in human resources management and not in finance, marketing, or sales. As I am not an engineer, obviously, I could not join a manufacturing team, but as a business graduate, I did have other options, but I chose HR because I knew this was going to change and I wanted to be a part of this journey.
TBS: You joined Grameenphone in 2013 and five years later, you became the CHRO. How would you describe the journey?
STH: I would say that my seven years plus with Grameenphone has been an amazing journey. There has never been a boring day at work. The Grameenphone HR team operates in a very large HR domain in the country under a very complex and challenging business environment. In these years, learning has been the biggest motivator for me. Also, I am blessed to have a very capable and courageous team to work with me.
Telecom has a very fast-paced work environment as new technologies and capabilities are evolving on one side while on the other, challenges and issues are popping up at a frequent interval. When I joined Grameenphone, there were a few long-pending issues to be resolved. Many of them had been resolved over the years and a few are in the pipeline. We as a team had to juggle between the day-to-day operations, resolving long-pending issues, and navigating through the transformation journey. All these have taught me and my team how to prioritise at a very complex level. The journey with Grameenphone so far has been very rewarding and filled with learning, success, and achievement along with the team.
Definitely, there were failures as well along the way, but I would consider them as part of learning.
TBS: To what extent do Bangladeshi companies neglect HR and how can such practices impact the overall performance of an organisation?
STH: I have been working all my life in the HR sector of multinational companies (MNCs) in Bangladesh. After so many years of experience and learning, I can say that most MNCs value their HR at very high regard. If any organisation wants to grow, it cannot do so without its people. People are part of the growth strategy of most companies. So, HR's view is always there. If I look at the local companies and the feedback I have received from my HR fraternity who are working there, it might give us a different landscape and not everybody will say that HR is always at the driving seat. That is because many local companies are family-owned businesses and run by the family members. Hence, most decisions are made at the family level. Now, at the MNCs, we are the professionals who run the management. There can be a board of directors who represent the owners or the shareholders, but the company is run and led by the professionals.
Therefore, when the business is run by the professionals, you need data, analysis, and decisions to be made by the employees or professionals. Thus, you need the HR department recruiting the right people, giving training for the right skillset, striking the right balance, having the right control, and making sure your employees are engaged and motivated. In Bangladesh, I have seen both the spectrum where the HR is playing a very critical role in the success of the company as well as taking a backseat. So, I would say in some companies, the scope of HR is big while it can be limited in a few companies as well.
TBS: Why do you think HR plays one of the most important roles for any company?
STH: If you look at the HR scope, you will find that it deals mostly with people, up-skilling, reskilling, transformations, modernisation, digitisation, employee welfare, and engagement activities. Nowadays, the way technologies are evolving, it is no longer the five-to-ten-year time horizon to shift from one technology to another. That means the technological shift is happening at a very fast pace. This requires the companies to transform themselves at a much quicker interval. Thus, the change management capability has become a critical factor to survive and succeed.
I will give you a recent example: Covid-19 has put us in a challenging situation where we had to leave our office and start working from home. Many companies in the country never experienced or believed that people could work from home and earn a salary because we had never done this before. Companies with an effective HR team under the right leadership were the ones that were able to manage the transition at an incredible speed. Other companies also made the transition but took more time than the highly adaptable ones. In business, many times we have seen that the ability to shift gears ahead of others makes all the difference. Hence, the speed of change management has to be very quick.
In most well-run companies, HR also fosters an environment based on trust, mutual respect, inclusion, and a performance-driven culture where employees can boost their potentials.
TBS: What are the three traits that a person needs to have to be an HR professional?
STH: I have not come up with the three magic traits. Hence, I believe there is no right or wrong answer to this question. I think it depends on the country, the culture, the context, etc. You see, I have worked in various industries and learned many things from there. Thus, I say there is no one set rule. However, I would say that these are important: creating value for shareholders, employees, and stakeholders; and having the right balance. You cannot take sides. Be fair. Be a role model and a trusted leader. Your words, comments or commitments, and values are your currencies. Last but not the least, keep an open mind.
TBS: How should the young generation prepare themselves to pursue a career in HR?
STH: Before joining the HR team or making a decision to pursue a career in this sector, a person must know why they want to go into HR. Let us say if someone says that they want to pursue a career in HR just because they like working with people, I would say that should not be the only reason to join the HR team. HR is not about drinking tea or coffee and hanging out with your colleagues. The modern HR domain has become highly dependent on technology, people analytics, and digital platforms in addition to the human elements which can be described as the cognitive scope. Hence, the next level HR professionals will have to be comfortable in the cognitive as well as the digital space of HR.
TBS: What are the biggest challenges that you think an HR professional faces in an organisation and how to overcome them?
STH: If I consider the Bangladesh market, then the biggest challenge for HR would be to get a seat at the decision-making table. As I said earlier that in most MNCs, HR is valued at a very high level but there are companies where HR's scope is limited. Considering Bangladesh, if you get a seat at the table, then you can start talking about employees and create values. So, I would say getting the seat is the first step. Understanding the business is the second step and then HR leaders need to come up with solutions. Otherwise, business leaders will not see the value they create for the organisation.