Meet the Human-Focused Leaders of 2021: Mandeep Bajwa, chief people officer at Gett
About Madeep Bajwa
Mandeep Bajwa joined corporate transportation company Gett as chief people officer in May 2021. Previously she was part of WeWork’s HR leadership across the EMEA region and was HR leader for CloudKitchens in EMEA.
Bajwa has a certification in agile HR and is experienced in organisational design, development and change management. She has also worked at lottery company Camelot and book form Waterstones.
Gett is a technology platform in the ground transportation management sector. It is category leader in the sector, serving more than a quarter of Fortune 500 companies. Gett founded in 201 and is headquartered in London, UK with around 900 people working across the globe, in particular in the UK, Israel and Russia.
The company is expanding significantly with plans to enter new territories. In November 2021 it announced it will go public in a deal valued at $1 billion via a SPAC (special-purpose acquisition company) – a company listed on a stock exchange that does not have business operations. Gett will list on the Nasdaq after the deal closes, which is expected in the first half of 2022.
How I would define agile within the context of HR is very simply about putting our customer at the heart of everything that we do.
So for us predominantly our customer is, of course, our employee but it's also the very many different stakeholders we have across the business. And when I think of agile HR, I think about that customer centricity but I also think about how we work and our mindset with agile as well. So it's really about creating value for our customers.
And it's about creating value incrementally as well. So we don't always have to wait for our next programme of work to be perfect and to be ready to go. We can really start value incrementally as we go.
And it's also about creating feedback loops with our work as well. So going back to our employee population and asking for their feedback through surveys or through focus groups, for example, but never sitting on our laurels and thinking that once we've delivered a piece of work that's it - that's it, it's done. It's always thinking about how we can make it better every time through feedback.
Why HR needs to be agile
It's really, really important to think of agile and to be an HR agile leader today. And the reason for that is really looking at the world around us. So, notwithstanding what we as an HR population have been through in the last two years and leading and navigating our organisations through what has been quite unprecedented times for us, we just don't have the luxury anymore of being able to rely on really bulky processes or best practices that aren't relevant for today. The world is moving so fast in so many ways. We see it right now across recruitment and the pressure there is to bring great talent into the organisation. Through great talent being on the move as well, in many ways, we're hearing a lot about the Great Resignation, for example. And if we were to sit back and just rely on what we've always done in the past, we just wouldn't be able to keep up. And in many ways it's just not a relevant way of working.
So the importance of agile HR today is very much about being able to iterate, being able to adapt to the circumstances around you and the changes around you so that the product that we deliver as HR practitioners is really relevant and it's not something that's archaic and clunky and belongs to another day and age.
Key skills of an agile HR leader
So the skills that you need really today to be an agile HR practitioner are really to be quite humble. So I'm speaking from an attitude or character point of view. It's being really humble and recognising that it's impossible to know everything, and it's impossible to know the answers to everything. And so it's bringing a very curious mindset. It's bringing a very data-driven mindset to say, here is the problem that we're trying to solve, or here is the question that we have in our minds and it's impossible for us to know what the answer to this is. And so you need to be able to mine for data and as HR practitioners we're so fortunate in that we have so much data around us right now. So it's being able to mine for data.
It's also being able to act as a consultant to the organisation as well, but also to your employees. So to ask them directly, what is it that would add value to you? And what are the tools and methodologies that would enable us to bring that value to you? So a number of different things, but I think more than anything it's curiosity. It's being able to ask for feedback as well, good or bad, and being able to adapt your work and your product based on that feedback that you get.
Can HR lead agile in an organisation?
So I've not worked yet in an organisation where the agile mindset was already in place but can HR be the first ones to go with an agile mindset? I would say, yes. I would say that the HR team, the HR leader, needs to be really clear with their stakeholders and with those who input into their work what it is they're doing and why. And sometimes it can be quite hard to articulate. And sometimes you do just need to go ahead and do it and then rather than seek permission, you seek forgiveness afterwards. But I think there is definitely an opportunity for HR teams to be pioneers in this space.
But it does come with education. And I think where, particularly in more traditional organisations for example, where they've expected to be given, or handed, a piece of work from HR, the role of your organisation or your business partners would be very different because we'd be involving them within the creation of a product, for example, rather than just handing something to them at the end. And I think that becomes incredibly powerful from an organisational perspective because people have been, or the stakeholders have been, part of the creation of that product as they go. So is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No. But I think that with the right kind of frameworks around you and the right mindset it has the potential to really revolutionise the way that the people team work within any given organisation.
Getting your people to buy into agile
So mindset and the way that you approach agile is crucial. And getting people to understand that, for me has always been about really explaining the overall value that an agile methodology can bring to the organisation. And sometimes it's best shown through example. So actually taking somebody through the process so that they can see the value that it brings, but that in the real world, everyone's running at a 100 miles per hour, it's not always possible.
So I would always say to any HR team, go for it and educate people as you go bring them in and at any stage of the creation of a new product, be that onboarding or refreshing recruitment or whatever the case may be, educate people incrementally as well. It's very much in the ethos and keeping with agile methodology, but train people as you go - particularly your business stakeholders around you. And though that sometimes through that gradual bit-by-bit education and training, it can be the best way to bring people with you. And then once they finally seen the end results of what's possible through this methodology, I think you'll almost indefinitely get that 'aha' moment of right, now I get it, and now I understand why you want us to work this way.
Three tips on starting your agile journey
So I would say make sure that you yourself have understood the methodology. So whether that means going out and reading up as much as you can on the topic or looking into agile certifications I think that's incredibly helpful. It definitely helped me on my journey. That's definitely one area. And also talk to colleagues, talk to other HR people in other businesses who have started on this journey and understand what's worked for them. Where did they fall down and trip up? And what information can they share with you? I've always found the HR community really open in that sense and sharing information.
I would say really be driven by data as well. So when you're thinking about this problem that you're trying to solve, gut instinct just doesn't cut it anymore. And it's always about going to the richness of data that we have around you, both in terms of quantifiable data but also speaking to people. There is absolutely no substitute for speaking to your employees and understanding what brings them value.
And then my third top tip would definitely be release value as you go. So release pieces of the project or new things, new documents, whatever it may be that you've created as you go. Don't wait until the end for a big bang. Usually a big bang overwhelms the organisation and actually what you want is not to be waiting for weeks or months before you deliver something but you can deliver increments of value within a matter of days. So it's really about changing our mindset and not thinking that it has to be perfect before it's delivered.
This interview is part of our Meet the Human-Focused Leaders of 2021 series in partnership with 10Eighty. You can view more in the series here.