Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #34. Finding Purpose in your Career with Mukta Arya

September 23, 2022 Jean Balfour Season 1 Episode 34
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #34. Finding Purpose in your Career with Mukta Arya
Show Notes Transcript

Jean is joined by Mukta Arya

Mukta  and Jean talk about

  • Her journey from science to HR
  • The importance of relationships in our careers
  • The importance of listening to feedback in helping us find our purpose
  • How important self awareness is in our career
  • Creating a coaching culture
  • The role of data analytics in HR

Mukta is a genuinely passionate, creative and adaptable Human Resources Professional with over 24 years of experience in multiple industries and locations in APAC.  

Starting her career with Essar group in Mumbai, India, she worked in Tata TD Waterhouse Securities and Asset Management, Ogilvy and Mather Advertising Mumbai In 2006, she joined Societe Generale in Mumbai as Head of HR for India and has been with them for the last 16+ years. She worked in Hong Kong as Regional Head of Talent Development and Inclusion since 2010 and as Head of HR for SEA for Societe Generale in Singapore for 4 years, before being appointed as the CHRO for Societe Generale, APAC, now based in Hong Kong.

Mukta is passionate about creating effective and innovative HR solutions for global companies. She focuses on crafting tailored HR programs and solutions at the local, national, and regional levels ,that range from increasing employee engagement to staffing solutions to identifying and retaining high potential talent.

She is people person with a positive outlook who manages by building trust and relationships

She is a Certified Coach and is also a Global Fellow in Talent Management by Wharton University.

She is a published author with 4 books till now- Wanton Thoughts, 3:15 PM- Musings in Hong Kong, Whimsical Times and Criss Cross- A Medley of Thoughts.

Connect with Mukta  here

https://www.linkedin.com/in/muktaarya/

You can find Jean here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanbalfour/

Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/jean.balfour/

Jean:

Hi everyone. And welcome to making sense of work today. I'm delighted to be joined by Mukta Arya, who is somebody I've known since I moved to Asia, we first met in Hong Kong a few years ago. And then you were here in Singapore and I'm really looking forward to our conversation today. Mukta welcome.

Mukta:

thank you, Jean. I'm happy to be here.

Jean:

Great. So Mukta is a really seasoned and experienced HR leader. She is genuinely passionate and brings a really creative and adaptable approach to human resources and has over 24 years of experience in multiple industries and locations in APAC, she started her career with the Essar group in Mumbai, and then she moved to Tata. Ogilvy and Mather, and finally joining Societe Generale more than 16 years ago, starting as head of HR in India, and then moving to Hong Kong where she was regional head of talent development and inclusion, and then coming to Singapore to add, to that portfolio as head of HR for Southeast Asia. And then about two years ago, I think Mukta, you were appointed as chief HR. For APAC for Societe Generale and you moved back to Hong Kong during the pandemic. So as I've said, Mukta is really passionate about HR, about creating effective and innovative HR solutions. She really focuses on tailoring HR programs at a local national and regional level end. Interested in increasing employee engagement, staffing solutions and identifying and retaining high potential talent, and a few other things besides which we'll talk about Mukta is a people person. I don't know that I know any. Anyone who's more of a people person than you Mukta and you bring a huge, positive outlook and a big smile to everything you do. And along with that, you're also a certified coach and a global fellow in talent management by Wharton university. But in your spare time, you are also a writer and you've published four books. And I imagine growing. Which are want and thoughts 3:15 PM musings in Hong Kong, whimsical times and crisscross a medley of thoughts. So really huge. Welcome to you today. Mukta.

Mukta:

Thank you, Jean. and it is always a pleasure talking to you and I'm looking forward to this conversation.

Jean:

Great. Me too. How's work at the moment.

Mukta:

I must say that it is intense, but quite exciting also because things have changed over the past, few years as all of us know. And it has also led to a lot of changes in the way we think the way we do things, the way we. Actually come up with solutions, uh, creative solutions because there's no precedent. So for me, these are exciting, intense times and I'm enjoying it very much.

Jean:

I know. How do you respond when things are intense?

Mukta:

It's very important for us. So I think all of us as human beings. Really balance. So, and again, it's may sound cliche, but really having work life harmony, you know, me taking care of ourselves, making sure that we are taking care of our bodies, our health, and then our mental health will be better. And I think it's true for all human resource professional also because we are not only looking. At our employees and looking after them, but also looking after ourselves and our families, et cetera. So it becomes quite a, quite a daunting task, I would say. And for me, it is really a combination of working on yourself, taking care of your mental wellbeing, taking care of your, uh, families going out for walks, you know, going out for lunches and dinners. Mm-hmm and. life is fine, you know,

Jean:

good. And I know you that that is your approach to light. That light is fine and you bring such positivity to that. When you have a good day at work, what does a good day look like for you?

Mukta:

Okay. So a good day for me is when things are moving. So, you know, my learning style. Initiating. And I like to see things happen, you know? So when I have meetings where people are productive, happy I feel good when we see something being rolled out or implemented. That gives me a high when I meet people coffees, lunches for work or external partners, I dunno, it just gives me energy. So when I'm meeting people, when I'm interacting with people participating in an event or a training program it gives me the high. So for me a good day is when things are not. Being sorted out, but at least moving in the right direction, you know, and, and constructive discussions, we may disagree on particular things in meetings, but at least these are constructive and respectful discussions. I mean, that, that's what I would value the most and I would say it's a good day if all these things happen,

Jean:

mm-hmm yeah. I've got such a sense of motion as you're talking about that, that there's something about always being in motion. That seems important for you.

Mukta:

Yeah. I mean, I do like to slow down on, on weekends. Sometimes not all the time, but again, it's personality driven. So for me, this is what makes me happy.

Jean:

Yeah. Yeah. I can see that. So I shared a little bit about your career earlier, but would you mind just sharing with us a little bit of the story of how you came to be in this chief HR officer role?

Mukta:

Yeah, it has been a long journey now. And when I started, you know, in my childhood, since my mother is a doctor, I always wanted to be a medical professional, a doctor actually. It didn't happen. Then I. Went on to do my bachelor's in life sciences. So I still wanted to stay within the science school because my father's an engineer. My mother's a doctor and I never thought of moving, you know, away from it because I think your environment does influence the way you think. I did my bachelor's in life sciences then in biotechnology, my masters, but then suddenly, you know, when I was in the lab in when biotech, we were. Waiting for the bacteria to grow in the Petri dishes. I got a little bit bored and I felt that the solitary life, you know, of research is not for me. And at that time, MBAs were a big rage in India and I got admission into MBA and I thought maybe marketing is something which I should do. So I got admission. First year was. I was introduced to organizational psychology and somehow I got very much attracted to human resources. At that time. It was called personal management and industrial relations. So in the second year I made a conscious decision to take that as a specialization. And that's where my HR journey started. And I have been in human resources since 1997. And. It has been exciting because different companies, different industries, different locations, the challenges are different, uh, though the essence remain the same, but, the challenges are very different and I'm still excited about the field. So here I am.

Jean:

I know I can, it can see and feel your excitement every time I talk to you, how intentional were you about your kind of career moves over the.

Mukta:

You know, sometimes we cannot plan. I mean even the best late plans, can fall by the wayside. A lot of things happen to me, um, accidentally. So I call it an accidental career move, you know? So in the beginning, being within HR is intentional. I want to. In human resources, because I think that's where I bring most value to any organization. So when I moved from Essar to Tata TD it was my boss who actually, uh, you know, asked me to join the next company. But when I joined, it was really accidental. It was one head hunter who was like, um, Asking me, whether I would like to go for interview for Ogilvy and Mather and I was quite, you know, for me at that time, media was very glamorous. So going to advertising agency, which is the best in India, winning a lot of awards and it was in newspapers all the time. Very exciting to me. So that one for me was accidental, suddenly happened and I was happy in Ogilvie and I learned a lot. And then one of the head hunter asked me for SocGen in India. It was again accidental because I, I really love media feel at that point of time. But somehow I, I read about societe generale. Uh, it was not very big in India at that time, but the growth plans were there and I ended up there. So again, for me, it was. Unintentional, but it came my way and I came to know later that, of course I was not the first choice for Societe Generale because my background was not banking, you know, mm-hmm so it was advertising. So it was a very different kind of profile for, um, for corporate and investment banking and private banking at that point of time. I was there for four years and then now I'm here for more than 16 years, you know? So, and, and my move to Hong Kong also happened, you know, you know, my boss who was my regional manager. She asked me if I would be interested because she knew I'm interested in talent development. So she offered me that position and I moved here. Um, then some of the things happened by chance. but within HR, because intentionally I thought about, um, being in HR, I didn't want to move out of it. So it's a big of both.

Jean:

Mm. Yeah. That's interesting. It's also I'm hearing a lot about the connections and the relationship. That you had with people that kind of helped to facilitate that as well?

Mukta:

I think it's mostly that I would say I mean, though, of course I was placed by head hunters. Uh, and by the way, I went to India recently and I met the head hunters who placed me in general in India.

Jean:

So it was quite interesting going full circle. I, I understand that purpose is being very important for you and is very important for you. Could you share a bit about your journey? Understanding purpose and the role it plays for us in our career.

Mukta:

Yeah. You know, I've been hearing about it and all of us hear about purpose of life in various forms. So I was thinking about it and it was when I was in Singapore and that was around, I would say now six years ago when I was thinking about it lying down. On my couch on a Sunday afternoon. And what I realized is that the things that really make me happy is when I'm able to help people in whichever way I can, you know, whether I give them some advice or I help them in their journey or finding what they want to do. And this is what then I realized that this is my true purpose in life is to really help people in whichever way I can. And it is very well aligned with my job as HR, because here I'm also helping. Employees in some way to find their potential, you know, or if they need some advice when they are feeling confused, or if there are certain things I can give them feedback, which could be a blind spot for them. Mm-hmm and this is what really, I felt that my purpose is aligned to what I'm doing. So I'm, that's why I love what I do, you know, and once you know your purpose, then you become more focused and more calm. So now, for example, I'm not tempted by things which are coming my way that I should do this. Maybe I should join this company. I should do you know, much more in this field, et cetera. What I feel is that if I'm doing something, which really makes me happy and aligned with my purpose, then I should stick to it for some time. Really. And, and I can tell you I'm a very restless person generally, but. Calm me down and give me a sense of direction, you know? Mm. And that's why I'm here 16 plus years, I'm still in the same company. Mm. Cause it's so aligned with your purpose that you're able to sit comfortably in that space. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. It's it can be hard for some people to get to finding the essence of their. What would you suggest as a way of helping us to get to that core? It does require a lot of self-awareness and of course we do have many tools where people can understand about themselves, but if you, if a person does not have self-awareness, it'll never happen. So I think for me, this is. Really important, getting to know yourself first, before you get to know others mm-hmm and, and be Frank about it. Be brutally Frank about it. Sometimes we do not like to hear about things which are not the best. When we are looking at ourselves, like for example, I've been told quite brutally and frankly, in the past that I did not listen I was cutting people in meetings and all those kind of things. In the beginning, I felt really bad, but, but I realized that this is something which is true. So I worked on it and I'm still working on it because it's not something which will get over, but, but this really helped me to understand myself better and what I should do, for example, if I want to be somebody of help to others. I have to be a good listener. Yeah. So I worked on it and the coaching training which I did. Uh and I got my certification, Jean, through your coaching actually, it really helped me in becoming a better listener. Yes. So again, self-awareness comes through various things, but we need to be open about it. A lot of people, and a lot of us sometimes do not want to listen to. Things, which are not very nice to hear, you know, about ourselves. So if you wanna find your purpose, one of the best thing to do is to really understand yourself, better ask people what they think about you and be willing to, and be open to hear and, and listen to it very carefully and what you can do about it. I think that's the first step. And of course you need to really deliberate upon it because it will not happen if you are in the hustle and bustle of. And not sitting down to think about it. Mm-hmm you have to really think, what is it that makes you happy? What I did actually was list it down what are my strengths, my weaknesses, what are the things that really make me go on a high? What are the things that really put me down in the dumps, cetera, what are my values, which I'm never going to compromise. So it's a number of things. It's a questionnaire which I had for myself and listed down all these things to. Nail down, what is it that makes me happy. And that's where I went to, you know, the, the purpose that I told you.

Jean:

Yeah. Yeah. It's such a journey, isn't it? That kind of introspection seeking feedback, hearing the ouch feedback as I call it. Yes. It feels uncomfortable, but it was interesting. Cuz you earlier said that you really came to know it when you were lying on your couch. So it's that we need that time, the stillness time. Really? Yes. To come to a sense of it. So yeah, so true. Mm-hmm you've mentioned coaching a bit. And I know that you've done a lot of work within Societe Generale of building a coaching culture of developing coaches in the organization. And it would be great to just hear about what, how you see the role of coaching in developing employees in organizations.

Mukta:

I frankly think coaching is not only. Corporates it's for everything in your day to day interactions with people, whether it's your family, your friends, or your employees, it is something which is extremely important to have that kind of a culture where you are really making people think about what they want to do in a constructive manner and provoking thinking. So, and this is what coaching does. in the beginning when we started it around 12 years ago, uh, it was still a, a concept which was in its in infant stages. And the acceptability rate was a little bit, people were a little bit cynical, skeptical, but I must say that over the years, people have found value in it because it has value, you know, mm-hmm, when you really have people finding solutions themselves with the help of a coach it is amazing, you know, because you're not directing people, you're not giving advice and, and solutions, but you are actually making people find their own solution. So in, in so general, what we have done is that we, we do invest in coaching skills programs for managers, but also for people who want to become coaches, it's heavy investment, not only of, uh, money from the bank, but also the time. Of the individual when you go through the training, uh, go through the certification process and all it does take time, but I must say that people have found value in it more and more people are asking us to either become coaches or trying to understand how to actually handle difficult conversation. And it all boils down to the skills that you learn as a coach, you know? Yes. So for me, it is everywhere and we promote it, uh, quite heavily. I think now it has become a way of life. Mm. When people feel that there are certain issues that they need to overcome they ask themselves can you please give me a coach where they say internal or an external coach. So for me, I feel that this is a way of life. It's not an intervention, or it's not an initiative. Coaching is, is a way of life it's embedded in the way. Speak to each other or discuss things, you know, with each other or try to find a solution. Yeah. Mm.

Jean:

Because actually, if you boil coaching down, it's about having good conversations where we respect each other and listen well, and assume that the person I'm listening to has good intent has wisdom has their own suggestions. Yes. And we would hope that all conversations of life were like, Really

Mukta:

actually, and be in the moment so which is quite important because that was the toughest part for me because you get distracted and I do have attention span, you know, for mosquito. So, so I think that was quite difficult. But again, being in the moment when you are talking to people, having a conversation with them is respectful, but. Is the baseline for a coaching conversation, you know, it is, it is.

Jean:

I've started saying that I think coaching is a life skill and it's just so important. I think that we bring those skills into everyday life. Yeah. Let's move from coaching, which is very people focused to data. I know that you are passionate about the role that data and data analytics is playing in HR. So I'd love to hear you talk a bit about that.

Mukta:

so my take on human resources is that, you know, human resource professionals are really artists with a scientific mind. So for me, I see ourselves as somebody who can make sense out of the data which we have, and we have plenty of data in human resources. You know, mm-hmm, on employees, on the attrition on succession planning on absence, on variety of data. Now we are actually the ones who. connect the dots. You know, mm-hmm, look at the various data points and then weave it into a story which can help, uh, support decision making by various stakeholders. For me, data is, uh, it's is still necessity. You know, mm-hmm and really as HR professionals, if you cannot make sense out of the data, then it's a problem. You know, then we are not doing our job. We are just being executional, you know, mm-hmm so for me, That's why when people say that HR is touchy feely which is really good because we need to be warm as human resource people, but we also need to understand. Data quite well to be effective in our job. Yeah. It's we can't just have vague kind of things or mother statements to say what is happening in HR. We are to support it with data. And I'm a great supporter of people analytics. We do have a team now which has grown in the past and actually worked on really story making and storytelling out of real solid data. Which is a clean data, because sometimes when you ha don't have clean data, you can have, um, uh, some interpretations which can be wrong. Uh, and, uh, this for. Is the most important thing, which will really make HR much more value adding in future. I mean, the future is now actually. So it is

Jean:

Yeah. I mean, without, um, giving away anything confidential, would you be able to share the type of story or the type of data that you can take from the raw data to create a story?

Mukta:

Uh, yeah, for example you can see, even when we are analyzing, say the demographics of the company whether you have a concentration of a certain kind of profile in a particular department or in particular country, it can really throw up certain things, whether it is really sens. To have that kind of concentration mm-hmm or whether we should diversify our risk. It could be as simple as that. Yes. In succession planning, it's not only, you know, spread of gender or international profiles, et cetera, but it's also really, are we really looking at the same kind of people all the time? Are we really focusing on a particular kind of degree or a particular kind of experience. is it possible that we can look at something very different? You know, will it make a difference to the way we work or not? For me, it can throw up a number of questions to challenge the status quo. Yes. But also strengthen things in different ways. So you can do a lot of analysis. I mean, I'm not talking of attrition and all, cause that's pretty simple. Yeah. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, uh, recruitment, attrition, your succession planning data. But even things like when people take leave. Hm, you can analyze it and really see where the issues are. And then we, for example, are looking at new policies, uh, say, for example, for maternity paternity leave, data can really help you support, whether we should really put in something else, which is an enhancement of the leave that we have, or what we have already put in place is working or not working, you know, mm-hmm so. It's not gut feeling. It is solid data and being in financial services, I think it's very important that we are supporting all. Proposals and everything with data and, and people analytics can really help us, uh, to make an excellent case for what we want to do. Mm.

Jean:

Yeah. You know, I can really hear that. And, and one of the things that's coming out from what you're saying is, is actually it really supports the diversity and inclusion agenda as well, because it helps us to look at where the organization is and how it's moving. Yeah. You've been for many, many, many years, a very active, diverse and inclusion champion. We, we are in some cases making good progress in organizations. And in other cases, we are not making such good progress. I was wondering what insights do you have about how we can keep moving the needle forward to creating more inclusive organizations?

Mukta:

It is not an easy topic, frankly. Uh, and I've been now, I think it's almost 12 years looking after this particular topic. One of the thing, what I feel is that we need to really have champions for this. Cause, you know, so whether it's gender cultural, LGBT plus, whether you have differently abled or anything else, you know, in terms of, uh, what your organization wants to, I think organizations need to assess on a regular basis, whether when they have these kind of networks, is it really relevant? Mm-hmm or when times have changed, whether they have become irrelevant. For example, some, uh, we are looking at introducing multigenerational network because, we didn't have it earlier because our demographics were very different at that point of time. But now we feel it's important with the different generations coexisting, and then there could be potential conflicts, et cetera. Mm-hmm so I think that's quite important champions from senior management. Extremely important. Mm-hmm I think you need to have that support from your senior management. Plus you need to have employees champions who can influence others. So I call them influencers in the in the organization is extremely important. Yes. And because if they lose steam, And things can stop, you know, so you really need to have somebody who can, who can really push this agenda forward from employees and then mobilize other resources. The other thing, what I feel is that the HR initiatives that we have related to diversity, you know, for example, when we see when you're recruiting people, when you are promoting people in succession plan and on, it has to be, it has to. Since seriously and sincerely implemented. Yeah. Mm-hmm so that it becomes a way of life. Yeah. Because if you just do an hoc program here for women or something for intercultural and all, it's not going to work, unless it is weaved into the day to day. Work that we do in organization in the policies that are there. Yes. So whether you have policies related to, for example, simple things like, do you have accessible doors, you know, for differently abled people, mm-hmm whether you have restrooms which are catering to all kind of population, uh, without discrimination, simple things like this little, little steps, it makes a lot of difference to really make an inclusive culture. Yes. Are your managers really? Do they really understand, you know, the, uh, the one which we all talk about unconscious bias, but it's still there, you know? Yes. It's still there now. Those kind of things, when awareness is there, people will take care of it. So these little, little steps have to be there. We cannot say that we are doing one big initiative for the year, and then we close the thing and we take the box and say that it is done. It is these little, little. You have to do on a regular consistent basis year after year. Yes. To see results. Otherwise it's never going to happen. And champions are extremely important. You need to have those influencers to keep, keep it going. And from HR side, we have to make sure that in our policies and procedures, it is embedded so that it becomes a way of life. And people think of it. I mean, they don't even think about it. They will just say that. Oh, okay. Uh, you know, for me, everybody. Is equal. And when I don't see, and when I see, for example in the room that there is like no diversity, for example it comes to my mind automatically. Oh I should be doing something about it. Yeah. Yeah. It cannot be forced, you know, but we have to make this subtle nudges just, you know, uh, so that. Remember it unconsciously not remember it unconsciously it's in there unconscious. Yes.

Jean:

Yeah. I mean, what you're saying is really that it's such a systemic thing that that's about the whole organization and the whole system, really working together to create this inclusion.

Mukta:

Yes. And, and, you know, it's not easy because sometimes for example, in financial services, it's not easy to have gender balance because if you look at from schools, for example, if you do not have many people who are taking mathematics and we are looking for people with that kind of skills, and if the women, even they grow up, when they come to college, when they come to workforce, et cetera, then it becomes less and less and less. So finally we may not have that bigger pool of people so we can, we have those kind of issues also. So again, we have to think of how do you. How do you actually target the specific groups where you can get what you want? Yes. But again, it requires a lot of investment, lot of long term thinking, not short term, but long term. Yes. Yeah. And it may or may not work, you know? So for me again It's a journey which is of many miles. thousands of miles, I think.

Jean:

Thousands of miles. Yeah, I think so, too. Yeah. So, yeah. Brilliant. Thank you. Just as we begin to come to the end of the conversation, I did a couple of questions really, to come back to you in your career. I'm curious about whether you've really ever experienced imposter syndrome during your career. You are somebody who exudes confidence and. So I'm wondering whether you ever have, and what do you do when it shows up for you? If it does?

Mukta:

Mm. You know, of course, I don't know everything and sometimes When I really don't know something, I will tell that I don't know. Okay. And I'll say that I will come back, you know, because there's nothing wrong in, we can't know everything in this world. Mm-hmm, I'm not sure whether I have really felt it that strongly, but there are topics where I know nothing about, you know, and what I have done is I've kept my mouth shut and then I've gone back and, and studied that. And then, uh, you. learn something about it before opening my mouth, mm-hmm mm-hmm so what I don't like is bluffing about things. So if I don't know something, I will shut my mouth. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and then work on it. And if, I don't know, I will tell people if they ask me something and I do not know about it, I'll say that. Let me come back to you. Mm-hmm because at this point of time I don't know about it. Yeah. And I think that's the best way, because we don't know everything in this world which is going on. Right. I have topics some business topics. When I attend some of the meetings, uh, in our management committee, there's some topics I have no clue about, but I. I go back and study mm-hmm and when we have presentations in advance, uh, which I think is a good thing, then I try to make sense out of it beforehand, so that when I'm listening to conversations, I can at least have some inkling of what is going on, but it happens, you know, all the time. We do not know everything.

Jean:

No, what's critical about what you are describing, I think is that preparation and that willingness to keep learning, but also I think in your role, Keep learning into the understanding the business and not just HR, so, so that you can be a really good partner to the business. You need to have that understanding of the business as.

Mukta:

Oh that is absolutely critical for all HR people. Yeah. Otherwise, how are we going to hire people? How are we going to develop them? How are we going to talk about succession planning when we don't even know what a person does? So for me, I think that is, uh, that is bedrock.

Jean:

Yes. Yeah. Brilliant. Thank you. Okay. So I always finish with this question. I'm wondering whether there's a book or a podcast that you would recommend that you've found particularly valuable, or you find particularly valuable in your career. That can be anything, a novel HR book, anything.

Mukta:

So for me when I want to read a book, I go back to my favorite Agatha Christie novels, you know, it teaches me so much about human psychology. How people think, why do they do certain things? Uh, there's always a reason and she actually describes it pretty well. And for me, every time I read and I must have read. Many times each of her novels and I have a full collection, uh, on Kindle as well, as in hard copy. I learned something new about human behavior, you know, mm-hmm and this is what I would recommend people to, to read it. It's entertaining, but also. Are you opening about human psychology?

Jean:

Yeah, that's a fantastic recommendation. It would never occur to me. So Agatha Christie here I come. Brilliant. Well, thank you so much Mukta for joining me today and for this conversation. Um, I notice lots of smiling on both of our parts, I hope you go on to have a good Friday today and thanks for your. too Jean. It was a pleasure. Thank you.