17 Jun 2019

India’s No 2 HR Influencer, Sharad Verma, reflects upon technology, behavior and the Future of Work

Interesting perspectives from the CHRO at Iris

Recently named India’s no. 2 HR Influencer by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), Sharad Verma is Iris India’s VP and CHRO, leading Human Resources for the company. A graduate of XLRI Jamshedpur, Sharad spent his entire career in HR. He joins Iris after being the HR Head at Polaris Consulting and Sears Holding.

Even though he has 30,000 followers on LinkedIn and close to 15,000 followers on Twitter, Sharad does not see himself as an ‘influencer.' “I started a blog to share my thoughts on HR but I also wrote pieces around mindfulness and special interviews such as the Facebook workplace. Another piece called ‘talent hacker’ also got a lot of traction. The blog morphed and now reflects a cross section between technology and behavior.”

Sharad Verma


HR is getting complicated with many specializations such as recruitment, rewards, training, etc. What do they mean and how do they fit together?

There is a lot that HR has to achieve between leadership, capabilities, strategy, retaining, competencies, rewards and culture. Some of it is quantifiable and measurable but much of it is not. Some, like culture, is palatable and you can see it. As I have had opportunities to do many ‘hands-on’ HR tasks either individually or as part of the whole, it gave me a wholesome ‘HR function’ perspective for an organization. My approach, which has been deliberate, has helped me understand the complete picture by working alongside business leaders to achieve both, people and business goals.

You were acknowledged as India’s 2nd biggest influencer by the recent SHRM report. That is a pretty big deal, considering India has close to 1 million HR professionals. What does the acknowledgement mean?

I have always been passionate about Twitter, seeing it less as a social media platform and more as a medium of expression. Traditional HR is more about process and policy. Influence, on the other hand is about how to influence another’s opinion, discovering your key message, what you stand for and building an audience around it to create a brand for yourself and for your company. I write about data, analytics and HR, with a focus on how technology is affecting HR today. The confluence of both is a really interesting space. A recent study by Stanford Labs, for example, talked about how to change behavior in small bites; I now apply it at Iris as well as share it in my writings.

Tell us more about this intersection of data, analytics and HR. How does HR interact with data today and why is it important?

My starting point has always been the insights that come from the intersection of capabilities, technology and data. When I joined, I conducted values workshops to discover what values were important to Iris. What is strong in our DNA? What do we live on, on a daily basis? What would we like to change? The results? Client delight came out as a consistent factor with a natural desire amongst team members to understand and be curious about clients to see them happy. Empathy and people-touch were also strong. The empathy part being intentional and upfront was a pleasant surprise, as many companies hope that it comes up but is usually difficult to preserve as a value. As the future of work continues to morph, empathy will continue to be key.

Iris is a good company; it takes care of clients and employees. The challenge is to continue growing while preserving our strong culture. We are, therefore, focusing on the three pillars of process, technology and policy. We will be investing in an HR management system because without the proper tools one cannot achieve what we have set out to do, no matter how good the intention.

At the end of the day, business is about people, especially at Iris. It is therefore important to understand how to unleash the creative function of the employees, so that they, in turn, can expand the client portfolios that they manage. It is important for HR to understand the whole picture along with the business value; otherwise it only adds value from a functional perspective. My belief has always been business value first and function next.

The Future of Work is changing. In that context, where is HR heading?

HR as a function has become more agile. The data from simple metrics such as ‘Where are we hiring from?’ ‘What is our success rate?’ ‘Did they join or not join?’ ‘What are the drivers to stay?’ and so forth, can help us do some predictive analytics. For example, data showed us that engaged teams + collaborative colleagues + exciting work = higher retention. We found out that we need to do some more work around coaching and mentoring and that a 3-month feedback cycle may be more effective than a 1-year feedback cycle. We also found out that appreciation may mean different things to different people. In this and many other ways, data generated from HR can be used to drive strategy.

Do you have any advice for young HR professionals graduating now?

Human Resources, at the end of the day, should be about people. Ask yourself if you are genuinely interested in people and be naturally curious in them, rather than in excel sheets. As AI takes over several functions in an organization, the ‘human’ side of business will become even more important. Secondly, HR is more interesting when you are interested in more than its traditional boundaries. I urge students to see it as the key to understanding companies and businesses by not constraining yourself to the traditional HR boundaries.

Any advice for Iris team members?

The great thing about Iris is the close partnership between the 3 founders. I have had in-depth individual interactions with all 3 and each meeting has been really inspiring. Business is about people, especially at Iris, which, as I mentioned earlier, is very customer and people focused. It is therefore important to keep that Iris DNA of small teams and committed team members while we continue to grow at the exponential rate that we have for the past few years. I am excited to be part of that journey and taking it to the next level.

“As AI takes over several functions in an organization, the ‘human’ side of business will become even more important” – Sharad Verma, VP and CHRO, Iris

What gets Sharad out of bed every day?

The prospect of being a life-long student with the advantage of indulging my creative side is an exciting proposition. “I see myself as a little bit of an artist and a writer, with an effort to bring that side into the corporate world. It is important to keep that side of me alive in what would normally have been a rather straight jacketed job.”

Follow Sharad Verma on Twitter @isharad

SMHR’s recent Influencer report for 2019 can be accessed at: https://www.shrm.org/shrm-india/Documents/HR%20Report2019.pdf

About Iris

Iris Software is a professional software services organization serving customers in the USA, Canada and India for over 25 years. Iris focusses on developing ready-to-deploy Custom-Off-The-Shelf solutions, Application Software development services, as well as services towards the maintenance, testing, integration and support of software.

Iris services the information technology requirements of companies ranging from the Fortune 100 to medium-sized firms by utilizing specialized domain knowledge, best-of-breed technologies, rapidly deployable proprietary frameworks/solutions and flexible engagement models. Iris provides thought leadership to solve business problems creatively by conceptualizing and delivering uncommon solutions, leveraging existing technologies and new computing paradigms such as Digital Transformation, ML, Analytics and Insights, Cloud Computing and Process Automation. Iris continually innovates to accelerate outcomes such as time-to-market, lower costs, ease of maintenance and reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Iris’s core strengths of software engineering best practices enables it to deliver high-quality solutions consistently.