The Art of Human Possibility

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Anjani Panchal Bhargava, Senior Vice President, chief human resources officer, Topco Associates, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Anjani Panchal Bhargava has worn many hats. These professional experiences — from the corporate to the entrepreneurial, from small to large companies — have given her a well-rounded perspective on human resources and its role within the business.

Her work history includes roles such as organizational development consultant for Motorola; a consultant at the then-startup Axiom Consulting Partners; and executive director in charge of culture transformation at Lenovo. She eventually started her own consulting company and went on to become the CHRO of one of her clients, Topco Associates.

“I was able to see a lot of different sides of different industries as well as get experience in the different aspects of HR,” said Bhargava. “Joining a strategy firm versus a pure HR firm gave me a much more rounded-out view of all the levers that HR can actually push.”

The ability to look at a situation holistically helped at one company she worked at that was having severe turnover issues. “The traditional answer for HR was to stop turnover,” she said. But, in this case, they looked at the business model, the labor market and at the types of positions they were losing. To their surprise they discovered that the turnover wasn’t actually that bad.

“The right answer was, let the turnover happen. It’s OK. We just need a better plan for this,” she said. “I would rather take two years of a smart, hungry, type-A person than four or five years of someone who’s just looking to skate by.”

Her varied career also gave Bhargava the opportunity to find several mentors, influences and advocates. Early in her career at Motorola she got the chance to work with senior leaders in HR as well as the CEO. Some of the best career advice she ever received is to be value-driven. You can’t go wrong if you make decisions based on your values, she said. “And if the right thing isn’t in front of you, you just have to wait because it could be right around the corner. Don’t ever compromise on your values.”

wf0117_womenofhr_200pxwideAs important as values are, so is a willingness to negotiate. A fatal flaw for HR leaders is when they just stick to their guns and don’t seek a win-win, said Bhargava. “Especially within the role of CHRO, what I’ve learned so far is you have to be a really good influencer and negotiator. Sometimes, you can be very data driven and have your facts all lined up, but the CEO or CFO have a fundamentally different viewpoint guided by their beliefs. Your role is to influence by being an adviser and coach. You’ll win some and lose some; it’s all part of the deal.”

Being versatile in negotiations, varied in experience and connected to a network of mentors and advocates are all significant to being a good leader, but there’s one other aspect about Bhargava that’s impressive: mindfulness.

She exudes focus and energy. “I’m a lifelong learner. That’s what gives me joy outside work,” she said, and her history of learning has included the tango, photography and, most recently, how to raise her two children to be balanced and anchored. She also is interested in yoga and meditation, and studies “the art of human possibility.” She’s curious about what people are capable of physically, mentally and spiritually, and this interest in people, combined with the sharp business expertise, is what makes an HR practitioner effective for her people and her business.

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Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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