Deepika Pillai

From Intern to HR Maestro

Deepika Pillai

Senior Director Human Resources,

TELUS International India

Deepika Pillai’s career’s genesis at 17 was an unconventional yet formative start. Her potential was evident despite her tender age, navigating the complexities of a corporate world far earlier than anticipated. This transition, rather than deterring Deepika, became the crucible that ignited her resilience and determination.
Navigating through the burgeoning BPO industry during its nascent stages, she found herself among seasoned professionals, challenging her own capabilities while working with unwavering dedication. This period of discovery and self-reflection sparked a revelation: experience, although valuable, didn’t supersede Deepika’s dedication and willingness to learn. Transitioning from a humble start to pursuing her post-graduation in HR and marketing, her career trajectory unveiled a penchant for nurturing connections and a deepseated understanding of people’s dynamics. As Deepika delved into roles that supported newcomers and shaped employee engagement strategies, her proficiency in fostering a cohesive work culture became unmistakable.
Joining TELUS International India marked a pivotal chapter, where she ascended the ranks swiftly, channelling her experiences into refining core HR operations. Guided by a steadfast commitment to integrity and an unwavering belief in respecting every team member’s voice, Deepika has cultivated an environment that values individuals’ contributions irrespective of their tenure or title. In her current role as the Senior Director of Human Resources, her approach embodies the tenets of genuine leadership: championing values, nurturing an inclusive space, and ensuring every voice finds resonance within the organisation.
TradeFlock interviewed Deepika to uncover her journey, which reflects a profound commitment to fostering a workplace culture that cherishes every individual. 

Can you share a pivotal career moment during your shift from BPO to HR that significantly shaped your trajectory?

My career commenced at age 17 in the BPO sector, but due to my age, I was soon made an intern. Competing against seasoned professionals posed challenges, especially struggling to make sales in the first six months. However, a supportive manager emphasised that skills trumped experience, propelling me to become the top performer and debunking the myth about experience’s paramount importance. Transitioning from the BPO sector to HR was influenced by supportive mentors. Starting in onboarding roles, guiding newcomers became fulfilling. At TELUS International, my roles expanded into global mobility, employee engagement, diversity & inclusion initiatives, and core operations. Assuming full HR operations management within six months was a significant challenge, prompting the implementation of structured processes to align the organisation’s growth with defined policies. I have had the honour of working with some of the best industry leaders who have helped me shape up my career and have been the guiding light throughout.

What unique HR operational strategies have you implemented?

We navigated HR operations by spearheading change management, particularly transitioning from manual to system-driven processes. This shift demanded aligning the team with a vision emphasising efficiency and guiding them through the transition. With the onset of COVID, remote work became the new norm, especially in the BPO sector. We swiftly adapted by equipping teams, redefining managerial practices, and ensuring seamless operations even during unconventional hours. Redefining performance assessments and crucial conversations while accommodating unforeseen challenges or genuine medical situations among employees became our priority

Any insights into aligning HR with business objectives?

Aligning HR with business objectives is pivotal for us. We’ve ensured that HR isn’t an isolated function but a collaborator with the business. Understanding market skill sets, client needs, and organisational objectives helps us tailor HR policies strategically. We function as an integrated unit with operations, ensuring that our HR strategies are in sync with the business. This alignment allows us to understand the impact of HR initiatives on efficiency, attrition, and engagement, speaking the same language as the business for a more comprehensive approach.

What challenges do you expect in hybrid work, and how did remote work impact engagement, prompting adjustments?

The shift towards a hybrid work model brings challenges in balancing office and remote setups, emphasising the need for inclusive environments and operational efficiency. Maintaining engagement during remote work has been challenging due to the absence of face-to-face interactions. To address this, initiatives like town halls, recognition events, and team-building events at the site clubbed with frequent virtual interaction opportunities such as leadership sessions, skip meetings, and one-on-one interactions have positively impacted engagement, especially within our Delhi NCR sector, guiding our strategic adaptations in this evolving landscape.

How crucial is HR feedback, and how do you encourage employee input?

Feedback is paramount to HR’s continual progress. We’ve diversified feedback channels, allowing employees to share thoughts with managers, senior leadership, and anonymous third-party platforms. Also, continued interactions through the HRBP model, allowing opportunities for focus group discussions, team connections, skip meetings, etc., have further strengthened our engagement model. Our commitment to transparently acting on this feedback has built trust and effectively addressed employee concerns.

What's your career's primary strength and weakness?

Empathy stands out as my primary strength, enabling me to understand and support team members effectively. Yet, my strong inclination towards trust, while mostly beneficial, has at times posed challenges in decision-making when trust was taken for granted.

Could you share a transformative initiative from your current organisation?

Our emphasis on diversity and inclusion stands as a transformative initiative. Engaging directly with supported communities and bringing generational community impact has reshaped my perspective, highlighting the importance of investing in meaningful social causes beyond mere organisational growth.

What impacts have you seen from utilising CSR funds?

The conscientious utilisation of CSR funds is pivotal. Engaging directly with communities has revealed the transformative impact of these initiatives. It’s an eye-opener, emphasising the need for organisations to invest in meaningful social causes that create lasting change.