Putting the ‘human’ back into HR

Nitin GoilThe process of understanding, counselling, coaching, and empowering people has always been an underlying focus for Nitin Goil, who traces his academic roots to psychology and now with his expertise as a leadership consultant, advises and helps leaders and organisations change and transform, and become more human. 

“I’ve always loved working with people,  bringing out the best in people and really being very passionate about inclusion, equity, and topics of diversity,” he says.

Goil is Senior Advisor to the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI), a US-based leadership consultancy and research think tank targeted at making organisations more human and high performing through science. His role now uses “Neuroscience” and combines that with leadership to help organisations adapt and change faster.

Prior to working in Singapore, Goil specialised in higher education in the United States, teaching leadership and communication courses at different universities and consulting for their HR departments. His last academic affiliation was with Michigan State University, where he worked and taught for two years before his move to Singapore.

Goil says his world has come full circle. “My experience in psychology has definitely helped me through these years in understanding people,” he says. “Now, instead of just being a counsellor, I help, at scale, large organisations and leaders transform across Asia-Pacific and globally.”

Referring to his professional journey as “falling in love with leadership and being curious about people,” he says that he most enjoys his work around consulting, facilitation and business development.

From Michigan to Singapore

Family circumstances led to Goil packing up everything in Michigan and moving to India. For a year, he stayed close to his mother and ailing father while consulting as Director of Corporate Affairs at the Indian Institute of Technology.

In 2010, he moved to Singapore to help start the Global BBA  programme of the SP Jain School of Global Management.

This set the ball rolling for his career as a transformative leadership expert in Southeast Asia, as he went on to work with the Training Vision Institute, the Centre for Creative Leadership, Deloitte, and Bridge Partnership, all in roles in executive vision, directorships, and client solutions. In 2020, he founded Innergy Asia, a consultancy offering youth coaching and mentorship to nonprofits and SMEs in the APAC region.

For more than four years, Goil has co-chaired the Human Capital Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmChamSG). “That’s where a little bit of ‘what-are-HR-leaders-looking-for?’ and a lot of topics related to human capital comes into being for me, and it’s a great platform to be involved in,” he says, adding that he prefers the word ‘human’ over HR.

Three essential focuses for HR

Asked for an overview of how HR is doing in Southeast Asia, Goil points to a 2022 Forbes study that revealed 98% of HR professionals are burned out. He says that both globally and in Asia, “HR professionals today are doing too much. They have too many things they are doing and, as a result, when you are doing too much you are not able to focus on the things that are truly meaningful.”

The same Forbes study highlighted the following:

  • 88% of respondents said they dreaded work;
  • 97% said they felt emotionally fatigued from work;
  • 83% said that office politics is disrupting workplaces;
  • 29% feel that their work is valued;
  • 78% are open to leaving their current job;
  • 73% say they don’t have the tools and resources needed to do their job well.

Goil sums up his evaluation of what HR should be doing in three points: people focus; technology focus; and performance focus.

People: ‘Wellbeing has to be organisational’

“People focus has to stay,” he says. He points to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); the principle of ‘every voice matters’; transparency, and accountability in organisations; and the intentional creation of psychological safety for employees.

That’s not to say all these must be shouldered solely by HR. Goil says: “We need to take ownership in terms of other stakeholders. For example, wellbeing doesn’t have to be an HR agenda; it has to be an organisational agenda.”

The importance of mental health and employee wellbeing came into light for many during the Covid-19 pandemic. While this spelled positive changes across various company cultures and the notion of work-life balance, it took an extra toll on HR, since arranging for counselling sessions, facilitating seminars on wellness, and other strategies under the wellbeing agenda had fallen entirely on their laps and taken a toll. Something’s have to be taken off their plate.  We need to bring the ‘human’ back to HR and help and support our HR folks whenever we can with compassion. 

Technology: ‘HR needs to be equipped’

“As we are getting into artificial intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT and all of these platforms, I think HR needs to be equipped and use that hand-in-hand in terms of some of the processes and policies they drive forward,” says Goil.

This is imperative, given the widespread calls for technology to be more human-centred. Leaders in HR ought to be well informed regarding ethical challenges, data security, and interpretability when it comes to AI, while also being able to leverage technology to streamline their own work processes. 

As global analysts such as Goldman Sachs have revealed the potential of generative AI to disrupt labour markets, HR needs to have a strong grasp of technology to upgrade learning and development, implement reskilling, and maintain employee retention.

Performance: ‘HR needs a seat at the C-suite table’

Overall, “HR professionals need to be more strategic in terms of what they do,” Goil says. “We need to get that seat at the C-suite table a lot more, where we can be doing things that are more strategic and more collaborative across the organisation.” As more leaders across various industries recognise the importance of involving HR in top-level leadership, these are still “baby steps” and there’s more work to be done. 

“HR needs to have an ambidextrous approach, with a focus on people, and at the same time having the strategic focus on the business,” he says. The people’s focus needs to be through an “equitable lens”. “HR needs to drive fairness in recruitment, fairness in retention, and fairness in promotion, and for themselves, have that fair opportunity to have that “strategic” seat at the table.”

HR Stars Awards

With more than 20 years of combined experience in counselling, training, coaching and leadership development across various organisations in the United States, India, and Singapore, Goil is proud to sit on the judging panel for the Chief of Staff Asia’s HR Stars Awards. 

His personal mission is to develop more compassionate workplaces that are truly people-centred, especially through initiatives for DEI, wellbeing, and employee engagement.

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Chief of Staff Asia