Sharpen Your Saw

Sharpen Your Saw

You will never reach your true potential living life in comfort and routine. You've got to take some risks – Kyle Francis


This was a life-changing piece of advice for me. I started my career as a trainee in a boutique executive search firm helping companies find the best talent. I adored my boss; he was a walking encyclopaedia and he taught me the a, b, c, of recruiting. I was happy with the small stipend I was making as the learning I got far outweighed the money. Like a true introvert, I was happy in my shell.


It is very rare to see people, other than your family who genuinely care for you. My MBA faculty, Dr Deepak Chhabra was teaching us Organisation Behaviour. I don’t know what he saw in me and one day he invited me for breakfast to the famous India Coffee Bar in Bengaluru. Like Virender Sehwag hitting the first ball for a boundary, with the first bite of bread omelette he said, “Yaar Ravi, you are a BE, MBA…why are you wasting time in this small company. You should go join a Corporate…you are cut out for bigger things”. I looked at him flummoxed like the hapless bowler. It took me some time to understand what he was trying to tell me. And the rest as they say is history.


I moved on to my current company with renewed confidence. After all, I was an MBA in HR. Aren’t MBAs supposed to be Managers? That’s what we were told during my MBA days especially when solving business cases which start with, “you are a manager with XYZ International….”.


It was time for my first performance review with my manager. I thought I had done a brilliant job, but little did I realise that my overtures of being a “manager” and someone “who knows it all” had ruffled many feathers. I was told, “You are good, but you can be a lot better. You have potential, but you need to improve your skills”. These words by my manager were like thunderbolts. I then realised the competition was crazy and the only way to stay afloat was to sharpen the saw, continuously. Thus, began my journey of continuous improvement.


Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago – Warren Buffet


I enrolled myself into a Fellowship Program in HR & OD. The learning was great, but I could not implement much in my role as the skills were more helpful for freelance consultants, or so I thought. It did improve my confidence though. Many years later when we had a process transformation happening, I could put my OD learnings to practice and it really helped the business manage the transformation and change comfortably. I was recognised with a global award for the impact my efforts created.


If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary – Jim Rohn


We wanted to conduct an industry level HR conference and discuss on various aspects on HR transformation in the VUCA world. I was again entrusted with the task of leading a core team to make this happen. We were initially tasked with working with an industry partner like NHRD, SHRM etc., and roll out the conference.


However, the costs were exorbitant, and my HR Head threw a challenge at us asking - why not go it alone? Why not run an industry-level-conference solely sponsored and led by Thomson Reuters for an audience of about 300 HR folks?


 It was like our second-string India team trying to win against the mighty Aussies. With no experience in nuts & bolts of running such a conference we decided to take the risk. Where there is a will – there is a highway as they say. Leading the conference gave me an opportunity to learn invaluable skills like setting an agenda, work on the various action points, getting the right set of external HR leaders for various panel discussions, project managing the entire event, managing communication with external HR leaders and internal stakeholders, interacting with vendors and ultimately delivering the program. My Global Head of HR recognised us after the conference by saying, “Never in my wildest dreams I imagined we could do such a professional event”.


Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft – Will Smith

I believe, we HR professionals should be story tellers. We should have the knack to influence leaders and employees with powerful story telling skills. I picked up this skill by enrolling myself in the Toastmasters framework. It took me nearly four years of focussed efforts, spending many weekends away from family in attending learning sessions and giving speeches in front of multiple audiences to earn the “Distinguished Toastmaster” award. This skill helped me create a learning culture in my organisation during the pandemic when nearly 3,500 people were working remotely. I put together a byte-sized learning initiative to help people learn the art of public speaking and storytelling which was very well received in the company.


So, friends, let me summarise some key takeaways for you after reading my career journey.


• Comfort Zone is good, but it will not take you where you want to be. Take risks.


• It’s an extremely competitive world out there, especially in HR - the higher you move up, the lesser the opportunities. You should differentiate yourself by your skills and most importantly how you have implemented those skills.


• Never stop investing in yourself. You never know when it will come handy.


• Be willing to experiment, not everything can be learnt in a classroom. There is no best teacher compared to experience. Take on projects that give you the opportunity to learn new skills. Trust me, it’s like bungee jumping. Darr ke aagey jeet hai.


• And finally, it takes years of practice, persistence, and perseverance to be good at your craft. Patience is the key to develop a skill. Like my mentor Dr Ushy Mohan Das says, “It has taken me 35 years of hard work to become an overnight success”.


Wishing you all the very best!


Ravi Rangaraju is currently employed as Sr Manager HRBP for the India Technology business of Thomson Reuters India. He is also a Certified Master Coach and a Distinguished Toastmaster. Ravi has BE in Electronics Engineering, PGDBM in HR and a Fellowship in HRM & OD.


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