View from the Top: Q&A with Sanjiv Agarwal at Swiss Re

Author Sean Tong 唐伯雄
July 3, 2018

Sanjiv Agarwal is an internationally experienced HR leader who is currently leading the HR function for SE Asia for Swiss Re in Singapore. Prior to this, Sanjiv spent 15 years with HSBC in a variety of roles including leading the HR function for the organisation’s Global Service Centers across South Asia covering approximately 25,000 employees – additionally, serving as the HR COO for the Global Service & Software Delivery operations across 7 countries.

1. What new technology will make the biggest impact on HR in the next five years?

HR Tech is evolving very fast today, with promising new solutions coming out every few weeks.  With so many new developments this is a great time to be in HR, especially for anyone who is excited about the potential of HR technology. In my view, however, there is not a single technology that will have the biggest impact on HR. It will be the impact of tech on business that will in turn have the biggest impact on HR in the next few years. A wide variety of tech led disruptions are spreading across industries – be it with RPA solutions, warehouse and logistics automations, Machine Learning and AI, big data applications or just internet interface enabling direct client engagement. These changes will change the talent landscape of organisations embracing such disruptions – which in turn will impact HR and its value proposition.

In terms of direct impact of tech on HR, I believe evolution of HRIS from systems of record to systems of engagement will be a game changer for HR and the function’s effectiveness in the medium term. Evolution of this technology coupled with lower cost of acquisition (for organisations) will lead to raising the bar for HR.

2. What will the HR function look like in ten years’ time?

HR is continually adapting to business structures to remain focused and aligned with the overall strategy. Function will continue to evolve itself alongside the business it supports, and we should see a leaner model taking shape. More HR processes will either be automated or streamlined in operational environments which will continue to focus on execution and employee experience. This part of the function will need talent with operations and technology skills that can adapt new age tools to HR processes covering employee life cycle and vice versa. This part of the function may not need to be part of the CHRO structure, but it will be a key enabler.

The other part of the function will continue to intimately align itself with business structures – over the years, gaining specialisation by business supported – rather than just HR verticals.

The function will continue to get leaner and specialised skills of human capital management and development. The HR function will directly influence business strategy and define relevant people agenda with the business. This will reflect in core teams made up of talent management and development strategists supporting business leadership.

3. What career advice would you give to an up and coming HR graduate?

HR is an exciting place currently – positioned to play a vital role in the shaping of new age economic evolution. A fresh entrant to the practice of HRM should keep three things at the center of their focus:

  • Know Your Business – Like every function, HR professionals need to know the business they work in. It is not an option, but a key to success. Know your business like you know your function.
  • Know Your People – It is easy for fresh HR talent to get sucked into functional processes, spending hours in front of a screen. Get out and talk to your colleagues – get to know them better. Network.
  • Know Yourself – Know your strengths and blind spots. Focus on your strengths and hone your skills – invest in upgrading your skills. Enjoy the journey.

4. What do you enjoy most about HR and its role in business?

An employee spends a large part of their life with work colleagues, in pursuit of a common goal. The potential of HR, as an enabler, to make a positive impact to that part of employee’s life is a huge opportunity for every HR professional. Each member of the HR community gets multiple opportunities every day to make an impact on employee’s time spent at work.

I really enjoy exploring that potential and stretching my imagination on ways to make a positive difference to those who we work alongside. A simple thank you note, a call-back or a smile from happy colleagues (including the CEO) is greatly satisfying and makes my journey worthwhile.

5. Who is the best HR mentor you have had and why?

Early in my career, when I used to work in a hotel, my HR manager Ravi Sekhar had an immense impact on me. Ravi would consistently encourage me to pick up challenges, that I never imagined were within my capabilities. He would support me with every possible resource, showing me key lessons of courage and absolute commitment, before receding in the background to let the success fall in my lap. Ravi showed me the impact of taking risks and backing myself with absolute commitment. I didn’t get success in everything I tried but the lessons were amazing. It changed my approach to work and helped me along my career – I still reach out to him sometimes. Ravi did not mentor me formally, but he is a natural at this – Ravi mentors start-ups currently.

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