Seema Iyer has worked in HR for nearly 25 years—from an early role as an HR metrics specialist at Sun Microsystems, where she spent more than a decade in various roles, to HR leadership positions at SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, SSL and, since 2019, as CHRO of MetricStream, a provider of governance, risk and compliance software.
Throughout that time, the HR industry—and expectations for HR leaders—have evolved significantly.
Today, “HR is far broader, more strategic, highly analytic—and all with a sense of speed never seen before,” Iyer says.
All of those capabilities were put to the test for Iyer and her team in the last year. She recently shared with HRE how the company has overcome the people challenges of the pandemic.
HRE: What were your HR priorities before the pandemic?
Iyer: Interestingly, before the pandemic hit, the HR team was focused on functional excellence by upgrading our HR infrastructure and offering more HR programs to employees. In addition, we were supporting business acceleration by growth in more geographies and upskilling our employees. As the pandemic hit, while our first order of business was to ensure the health and safety of our employees and provide business continuity, we were fortunate that we had already started focusing on areas that were key to increased productivity and success in a virtual environment. We doubled our efforts to get our HRIS rolled out, virtual training, employee engagement programs, presence in new countries and hiring for key talent. From an HR perspective, it was one of our best years; we have an HRIS, we doubled our presence in Europe, a new presence in APAC, rolled out 100-plus virtual training programs and successfully hired for multiple leadership positions. And focused on employees’ safety along with it.
HRE: How has the HR team at MetricStream addressed the growing crisis of employee stress and burnout?
Iyer: Throughout the past year, we offered webinars on destressing and health and a one-day-a-month mandatory holiday. However, we’ve realized that productivity or remote work is not an issue. Employees are working too hard and are burning out. We’ve instituted a no-meeting Friday, we may bring back mandatory days off and we continue to speak to employees about having a healthy balance around working. Managers are prompt about recognizing employees’ hard work and we have to stress about having fun.
HRE: How have you sought to ensure career development and learning aren’t falling by the wayside despite the disruptions of the pandemic?
Iyer: The new hires are the most impacted. There is a learning by osmosis that we aren’t truly able to replicate. And we do see higher attrition in early talent, which we are trying to tackle. Otherwise, the learning and development opportunities are just immense. We have a labs program that employees can participate in, we have an Accelerate program to present to senior leadership, we have a weekly seminar, etc.
HRE: How do you think the pandemic has affected the employer-employee relationship at MetricStream in the long term?
Iyer: There is a general frustration with the situation. However, most employees have settled in and there is a sense of appreciation that the company is trying hard to keep things as normal as can be. But, the war for talent right now is like the early 2000s; the market is really hot. And we are seeing retention as a big issue if we don’t focus on the relationship with the employees.
HRE: How is MetricStream aiming to use data to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded throughout the organization?
Iyer: Our diversity numbers are a bit higher than industry average; however, we are struggling at the more senior levels to fill positions with diverse talent. The leadership is very involved in trying to improve the situation, and we are focusing even more on inclusion. We are trying out an approach with setting up Councils, which are level-agnostic and so get a wide variety of employees from all geographies and functions to participate.
HRE: What is the best piece of HR advice you’ve received?
Iyer: Sometimes, things resolve themselves! As HR, you automatically become a problem solver or a coach, and I have to tell myself that sometimes it’s OK not to do anything.
HRE: What has been your personal coping mechanism for tackling the stress of being a CHRO during the pandemic?
Iyer: I tell myself that my demeanor is going to impact the whole company. Work is important but even more important is how I appear, my positivity, my availability. I focus on that, and it’s a calming effect on me.