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Regional HR Director | Keynote Speaker | Devika Valsaraj

Devika Valsaraj

Devika Valsaraj

"As a leader, it's a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow." Devika Valsaraj

Building an Early Foundation:


The simple answer is that it was not always that clear cut – my career evolved over a period of time. While in high school I aspired to join the Bio-Informatics program at the University of Sydney as my strongest subjects were Biology and Computer Science. However, with the demise of my father around this time, it made me re-evaluate my priorities at home and I opted for a program that would help me contribute to the household faster – that’s how I joined the Business Management program at a prestigious all girls college in Bangalore.

Being a science student, this was an interesting experience where I gained subject proficiencies in Business Law, Personnel Management and Business Communications – being awarded as the Top Two in the entire university, while also contributing to the community as the President of the youth wing of our local Rotary Club. This experience made be believe I would end up being an entrepreneur supporting a socially relevant cause in the future – but, like most millennial – my initial career trajectory wasn’t exactly as I had pictured – it saw me exploring Talent Acquisition, later honing my analytical skills in Compensation and Benefits making me question what more could I apply my mind and heart to this process and I started diving deep into scoping out tech projects to improve the experience across the employee lifecycle within my organization, finally culminating into the important work of moulding culture and finally business strategy setting with the leadership team. One thing I’ve learned is to never allow myself to remain in my comfort zone as my growth as a person and a professional has always been beyond its seams. As lifelong learner, I continue to acquire several certifications and learn from some amazing professionals in our industry.

My career was shaped organically and as I look back and reflect – I would concede that it was by embracing a ‘can do’ attitude in everything that came my way that gave me the distinct opportunity to experience diverse industries and functional domains within HR. Meticulous preparation and cultivating a voracious appetite for current events and business has helped me earn credibility and my voice at the table.

As aleader, I always encounter people who underestimate my abilities / capacities be it due to their own unconscious bias towards race, age or gender, but I’ve learned to view this as a challenge to win them over with the value my team and I are able to generate for them. I get a lot of energy in working with people - learning about their unique stories and through my work help unleash their latent potential – I do believe that’s one super-power I would like to continue to hone over the next few decades in my professional life.


Beyond the Barricades:

I’m currently at a stage in my life where I constantly ask myself – if I lost everything I have today, will I be ok? If all my dreams come true, will I still remain humble and true to myself? As long as the honest answer is YES, I have the inner strength to continue to take risks and strive for being a better version of me as a parent, daughter, friend and a leader. Being a single mum at a young age and facing loss in varying degrees has taught me to be independent and have my own back but at the same time, I have learned to look at the real picture and practice forgiveness. My family and friends form a close-knit inner circle who continues to be my biggest critics and my loudest cheerleaders. This has always been my safety net despite all the challenges life has thrown at me. I don’t believe that people are the sum total of the choices they have made but rather of the learnings they have imbibed over the course of their life. From starting up trekking and summiting Kilimanjaro in my thirties to taking up acting in Short plays to dropping 38 Kg, teaching Kriya yoga and running my first 10K, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have had the ability to recognize these opportunities that have come my way and to challenge myself to take them up despite the uncertainty. I’m petrified of height but continuously push myself to go on treks, conquering the fear a little more than before. Making peace with discomfort and finding a sense of freedom in not knowing what’s next – is never easy but I can assure you is one mantra that can stretch and transform your thinking patterns for the better. One of the most transformative books that I read has been ‘the Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle which fundamentally made me question ‘who am I?’ This is a question I continue to seek as I peel away the metaphorical onion layers of labelling and conditioning to reveal all the possibilities within me. This has added incredible value in my professional life and also as a parent, it has helped me challenge my beliefs; the what ifs’, why nots’ and the what could bes’.



Defining D&I- Why is it important in the workplace:

Diversity is a complex term as it goes beyond gender and these days there are so many ways of celebrating the unique qualities that every individual brings to the table for ideation, brainstorming and problem solving. I’ve seen our domain evolve from insisting on culture fits to recruiting for culture adds – but more recently into the domain of being sensitive to the unconscious bias that seeps into the way we communicate our policies, directives and general office language that by virtue of having originated from the industrial age tends to be very clinical and robotic. Even the bots that we have in our offices have been trained to be more humane and inclusive in the language they use. The advent of the Gen Z’s and the social media culture has tremendously helped to dismantle this rigidity and to also humanize the way we communicate and emotionally connect with our people. As HR practitioners, we need to influence and build an ecosystem where every member of the team not only feels accountable for viewing inclusion of diverse talent and perspectives as a positive in the organization but also has the safe space to be vulnerable and ask questions to help clarify myths and stereotypes prevalent across our generational/ cultural timeline. The bottom line is to carefully nurture a company culture of conscious curiosity and empathy for the people we work with and those for whom we as a business exist - our customer. This could manifest in the form co-creating committees, policies, training and organizational values that convert good intentions into the right actions that can be quantified in terms of ROI.



Transformation of the HR Industry:

I think it’s the other way around – how can HR create value through business transformation. I’m of the personal opinion that HR is no longer the singular domain of one function but the shared responsibility of the senior leadership team. At a time when we are talking about VR and the Metaverse – we are further blurring the lines between what’s tangible and the expansive collective intelligence that an organization harnesses to create remarkable experiences for the end user. That means that the HR leader is playing a pivotal role in building capability in the leadership team to access this collective intelligence of their people and also among each other – to prioritize time to zoom-out and review their business practices and strategies to better understand the direction they would like to take or course correct their current path. I always refer back to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle – identifying the Why, How, What at the core of the business is what ultimately helps to bind the hearts and minds of their brightest and best employees – it helps define the purpose behind the seemingly non-living corporate entity into a pulsating, thriving ecosystem for work to be done in a value based, purpose led way. People no longer work for only a pay check but for the sense of knowing they have contributed to something larger than themselves. This is where an HR leader plays a key role in educating, advocating and instilling a commitment to the company culture coming to life and evolving to the needs of the generational context of our times. Even Performance Management is no longer a tick box exercise or a hygiene maintenance practise but rather a key component of the emotionally mature conversation that needs to be had at every level of the structure to adapt and realign to the changing business environment we are currently operating in while helping us retain the best talent, and organizational knowledge.



Sources of Powerful Lessons:

I owe a large part of the type of leader I am and my conviction towards not giving up on the important work around Culture building and Analytics - to have had the good fortune to be mentored by  Olivier Lambrecht, Chief People Officer, Emaar Group - who I used to report to directly. He would often quote Carlos Brito (his own mentor) saying, ‘Dreaming small or dreaming big takes the same energy, so why play small when you can dream big.’ And ‘Dream Big’ I did and continue to do so till date. I also had the opportunity to be mentored by Sushma Ceasar, Head of Talent Development, Emaar Hospitality Group – who took me under her wing and helped shape my understanding of the importance of personal branding as a career development tool to ensure that you need to talk about, look and dress for the role you want versus the role you currently have. Her maverick ways of teaching and garnering buy-in from senior leadership continue to shape the way I coach my team to communicate with the business. My yoga teacher who influenced a lot of my thinking patterns on facing adversity would cite the example of an Indian sage named Dattatreya who attributed his knowledge to his 24 teachers – they ranged from different people, animals, the environment and even natural phenomena that he encountered along his journeys - by paying close attention to how they behave / thrive / survive he gleaned a lot of learning and deep insight. Similarly, in my journey I have had the good fortune of learning from many and hope to always remain a humble student for life. Not a mentor (yet) but Leena Nair has been a role model since 2016 for me, I would’ve read every article and watched every YouTube video there is of hers as every fabric of who she is a leader and a human, inspires so much conviction in the value the employees of a company hold in shaping the profitability, sustainability and ultimately the viability of any business model in the long term. I still feel I haven’t reached where I set out to be in my career, I have a lot that I’m yet to learn about and a long way to go in this journey and would love to pay it back by witnessing the successes of my mentees. 

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