“There is no place for complacency” : An interview with Dr. Premarajan

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“There is no place for complacency” : An interview with Dr. Premarajan

Dr Premarajan has about 15 years of work experience as an academic and as a Practitioner. Currently he is also the L&T Scholar of HR. Prior to joining XLRI, he worked on the faculty of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of National Dairy Development Board, and with the HRD Division of Larsen & Toubro Limited. His areas of consulting, training and research are Competency Based HRM, Organizational Career Development, and Assessment & Development Centre. He also teaches a course on Organizational Structure, Design and Change.


Sir, you have been teaching at XLRI since many years and are now also part of the Board. How do you think that XLRI as an institute has evolved over the years, be it in terms of academics or in terms of administration?

Brand XLRI has become stronger. It is increasingly seeing itself as a global player, going beyond the shores, and there is a well calibrated approach to its global positioning –both collaboration and curriculum wise. Its ability to seize opportunities in terms of exploring cutting edge learning platforms to reach out to newer and diverse target groups also needs mentioning.  And perhaps more importantly amidst all these growth and success, it has not compromised on its core values of ethics and stakeholder sensitivity.


How do you think the aspirations and attitudes of students have changed over the years?

There is an increasing entrepreneurial spirit that is making the current crop significantly different from those in earlier times –perhaps the reflection on the opportunities around.


You were the first in India to introduce Assessments Centers in academic curriculum. Do you think Indian institutes today are lacking in recognizing and teaching cutting-edge industrial techniques as a part of their courses?

I do not think it is true.  With so much of cross-pollination of ideas happening and ease of collaboration with truly global schools and academics, I find more and more such cutting edge techniques are finding their place in our curriculum.


XLRI has been a pioneer in HR, IR and related subjects but today is facing stiff competition from other institutes in this field. How do you think XLRI is still able to maintain its competitive advantage and what it should do to remain a leader?

There are many competitors today clamoring for space in the HR/IR arena.  However XL still is sought after maintaining its numero uno status.  I think the concept of ‘causal ambiguity’ may be at work here as a source of our competitive advantage. We must also remember that the genesis of the Institute was partly due to the need for training the trade union leaders and members, so there is no surprise to see it flourishing as the cradle of HR and IR in India. However there is no place for complacency. We need to build on this further as opposed to getting castaway by mimetic isomorphism.


‘Competencies’ are a popular field in HR currently. Many organizations have come up with their own competency frameworks, but are yet to integrate them with other HR functions such as recruitment, performance appraisal, etc. Why do you think that is?

Most of the HR organizations simply imitate what is fashionable. I suspect whether they use competency based HR as a strategic tool at all.  For instance we keep talking about the need to use competency approach to vertically and horizontally align HR with business.  And unless the HR processes are aligned with the competencies the results are hard to come by.  There  indeed are some organizations who are willing to go the whole hog and results are there to see –they do not seem to be going to town talking about it, though.   I think the fundamental issue is the nature of HR profession in our country.  It is still dominated by people who are more externally focused on opportunities for themselves as opposed to a true commitment to the profession. Arguably the most networked professionals in India must be from HR function


Would you like to share with us some cherished classroom memories or those from alum interaction?

Apart from the usual feedback that most of us receive like what you taught was very useful, and I owe my job to MCD course, etc.,  I am very happy to see many of the students realizing their ‘Path with a Heart’

From my first batch of students there was this girl who had written in her ‘Ideal Job Description’ exercise, that she wanted to start a restaurant chain and do something in the area of food and hospitality.  Of course she started off in her first job in Sales function and later on dabbled a little with social sectors, etc., but 3-4 years ago, I saw her in the BBC’s segment of unusual careers; that how she is creating a successful enterprise focusing on Food Tourism!

Another student a couple of years later had written in her SAR (Self-Assessment Report for Career Planning)  that her dream was “ having an IAS to my name… there is that thrill…IAS to me means a chance to serve society.” And today almost 15 years later, she is an extremely successful young IAS officer who has become a pain for the morally disengaged, uncouth politicians.


Is there any message that you would like to give to all your students over the years?

I have been connecting with many of my students from the early years as part of a research study I am pursuing on changing career dynamics.  I must say I feel overwhelmed by the support and encouragement they have extended to me whenever I approached them.  That invigorates me. To the youngsters I would like to say go not go after fashionable careers, go after things that you are truly passionate about.

If you truly want to understand life in its rich and diverse perspectives XL is the place for you. Opportunities for deep introspection far away from the hubris of metros, understanding yourself better and thereby prioritizing your life and career and much more…. is what you will get at XL. Welcome to the land of opportunities!

When not watching or gabbing about football, Sarthak can be found reading books, proposing and supporting illogical theories and cracking jokes that are often offensive. He believes that MUFC is the finest football team ever, LOTR the finest series of books ever written and Sachin Tendulkar the only God that exists.
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