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The skilled engineer behind OMRON’s HR success

Words of wisdom on HR management from an engineer? Why not? After all, this deeply experienced people leader heads up the OMRON Management Centre in the Asia Pacific — the company behind the design and manufacture of some of the best-known health monitoring devices throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Virendra Shelar is the President of the OMRON Management Centre in the Asia Pacific, which also offers a wide range of industrial automation solutions. His second hat, however, is as the corporation’s general manager of HR strategy.
 
He spoke exclusively with Chief of Staff Asia about managing the company’s most important asset: its workforce. He also shares a little about his highly effective style for overseeing global staff, while simultaneously hurdling the challenges of the current pandemic workplace setting.
 
The native from Mumbai, India (and now settled in Singapore) graduated from Mumbai University with a degree in instrumentation engineering, and at that stage had aspirations to continue following his father’s footsteps in that field. However, he realised that HR — and learning and development in particular — was his other key passion after just a few years in his first job.
 
Working with Sony, he set up its corporate university in Singapore in 2012, something that still stays with him as a career highlight today. Shifting from learning and development, he became the head of corporate HR.
 
Fast-forward to today, Shelar leads the staff at OMRON, a Japanese multinational leading in the factory automation and healthcare domains. Now, more than ever, innovating for the community and working for the benefit of society via its business solutions is of utmost importance for the company.
 
Walking the talk
 
COS Asia: How can HR managers encourage a loyal workforce in the current workplace context?
 
Shelar: Leaders and HR managers will have to “walk the talk”. Acting with integrity, and following the principles of your organisation is the first and foremost step to gaining a loyal and committed workforce.
 
Employees observe very closely how leaders act when the business environment changes, and everyone in the company will resonate with the same mind when leaders act according to company principles.
 
Empathy and dialogues with teams are essential. When the HR and leaders in organisations trust their teams, it helps them perform at their best. With open communication, HR managers can understand and support the team in its challenges. This creates a strong harmonious relationship, making it easier to work together for a stronger organisation.
 
Building trust is a long journey so I strongly suggest leaders take small steps. Don’t wait for things to become normal. Take small initiatives and continue to move ahead adapting to the situation.
 
COS Asia: How about those who underperform? How do you engage them and help them improve?
 
Shelar: Leaders and HR Managers also need to take care of the low-engagement levels, and the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and disconnect that this prolonged work-from-home and hybrid work arrangement have created. It’s leading to stress and mental fatigue, which can cause miscommunication and perceived aggression.
 
When the sense of connection and team spirit is lost, the employees start feeling more and more disengaged. This impacts the work quality, making them start looking for a change. Hence, making efforts towards full employee engagement is another key to a loyal workforce.
Lastly, continue to be closer to the ground.
 

Take sincere note of the sentiments and what people are feeling and saying. If we remain ignorant of the ground reality, we will end up making decisions that will not work.

Innovating in diversity

The head of the company’s Global HR strategy division describes the principles of handling a hugely-diverse global team that also aims to contribute to a better society.

COS Asia: How does OMRON’s principle-based management prove useful in managing its diverse workforce in the current work environment?
 
Shelar: OMRON Group’s mission is to improve lives and contribute to a better society by solving social issues through our business. To realise this, we have been focusing on creating a diverse talent pool that can lead innovation to solve current and future social issues. When diverse talents work together and challenge themselves with shared principles, it leads to greater innovation.
 
Here, the role of OMRON’s principles-based management and staff behaviour comes into the picture, irrespective of the business situation.
 
COS Asia: What are those specific principles?
 
Shelar: One of our core values is “Respect for all”. It’s the strongest virtue driving our human capital management. We strive to become an organisation in which people with varied beliefs and value perceptions can fully demonstrate their capabilities and bring out their unique potential by following OMRON principles. This leads us to become a sincere and strong company where people can grow, enjoy work, and continuously improve performance.

OMRON has been around for 88 years, and I am glad to state that we have sailed through varied challenges by thoroughly focusing and following practices completely based on our principles and values. This has made us stronger and more agile than before.

OMRON’s unique HR strategies in a pandemic

What are the important lessons for HR amidst the ongoing pandemic? Shelar points out the strategies that OMRON Asia Pacific has utilised to overcome some of the Covid-19-related setbacks in its workplace.

COS Asia: How has the Covid-19 pandemic transformed the HR arena for you? What are some of the key learnings that you’ve experienced over the last two years?

 
Shelar: The pandemic has made the business environment uncertain and dynamic. It has also led to an enhanced focus on well-being, empathy, trust, and inclusion in the workplace.
There is a change in the attitude and preferences of employees, too. They have reached a loyalty inflexion point, where remuneration is not the only prime motivating factor to join or stay with an organisation. They are strongly inclined to work with organisations that care for employees’ well-being led by resilient values and principles.
 
A psychologically-safe work environment has also come to the fore as HR managers realise that it is a key to higher performance and long-term association. Progressive organisations are transforming and adapting to a remote or hybrid workstyle, which has significantly accelerated the adoption of digital solutions that support business growth, including HR processes.
 
The pandemic has also paved the way for the upskilling of the learning and development teams. Investment in developing employee skills and capabilities will determine organisational success in managing future crises. It’s easier said than done, and HR teams will have to continue striving to build a future-ready organisation.
 
COS Asia: What have been some of your key HR strategies throughout the current pandemic crisis?
 
Shelar: Another insight this pandemic has underlined is the importance of robust succession planning. OMRON strongly believes in placing the right talent with the right capability, in the right position, and at the right time. This has been one of our key HR strategies. We’ll continue to concentrate our efforts on it to emerge better and stronger.
 
COS Asia: Any last piece of advice for HR leaders struggling with the current uncertain environment?
 

Shelar: In the end, I would like to state that the HR management world is not linear, and there is no rule book to control the changing dynamics. Situations like this pandemic might resurface, impacting diverse economies and business environments. Only agile and truly open-minded organisations would survive such dynamic turbulence. HR will play a significant role in overcoming the challenges and in preparing a future-ready organisation.

Getting to know: Virendra Shelar

Job Title: General Manager – Global Human Resources Strategy

Company: OMRON Corporation

Location: Singapore

Years in the role: Eight

Family status: Married, with two children

Academic background: Bachelor’s Degree in Instrumentation Engineering from Mumbai University, India

Corporate background: Led learning and organisational development initiatives for International Rectifiers, Schneider Electric, and Sony Electronics across Asia, a key player in setting up Sony University in Singapore.

Favourite sports team: The Indian national cricket team

Leadership philosophy: Make a positive impact on individuals’ lives and society by being authentic, doing more than what was asked for, giving more of everything, and having more fun.

Inspirational quote: “Could I have lived my life differently? Maybe yes, but probably not. At each stage, I made what was then the best choice. Having taken that decision, I changed direction and there was no turning back” – Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister.

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