If growth, development and innovation entail the dream of any organization, a versatile leader at its helm is an uncompromising factor. Mapping a growth-oriented organization to right leadership talent calls for a lot of focus and commitment to the cause.
With a passion for recruitment flowing in her bloodstream, Jaya Kumar, Founder and Managing Director, Kalpavrksha (a wish-fulfilling divine tree in Hinduism) spearheads her brand to do just that - Find the right leader. She aimed at successfully fulfilling the wishes of mid-sized organizations aiming at scaling up into large players by acquiring fine talent at a leadership level.
Approximately a decade ago, in November 2011, Kalpavrksha was founded to offer extremely customized solutions, which encompassed:
· Understanding each job role
· Identifying the right person in a very small talent pool through their unique search process, and
· Connecting both the talent seeker and the talent for the top roles
The singular focus while doing these is finding a person who can go in-depth and, at the same time, view the big picture for the brand’s growth.
Today, Jaya leads Kalpavrksha, a unique name and brand focused on critical role recruitments to skyrocket the clientele’s growth in her own right. With a reduced hiring cycle and streamlined leadership hiring for organizations at the core of her initiatives, she focuses on providing a seamless pipeline for clients by undertaking competency mapping, market intelligence, and talent insight from pre-screening, positioning, and negotiations.
Jaya’s journey goes beyond Kalpavrksha, as she has witnessed the transformation of the recruitment industry through entrepreneurship since 1997, with her first endeavor in HR journey, J K management Consultants.
In an exclusive interview with the woman of the moment, Jaya Kumar and our Editor Purnima Narang, conversed about various aspects of her journey, challenges, dynamic team and the future of Kalpavrksha. Here are some edited excerpts:
The CEO: Jaya, first of all, thanks for sharing your precious time, why don’t you tell me about the journey leading up to the inception of Kalpavrksha?
Jaya: Similar to a classic startup story, I started my journey from a home-based startup catering to niche requirements back in 1997 with a brand called J.K. Management Consultants. Eventually, my small team rode the wave of expansion and scaled into a huge organization in the year 2000. By the time the IT curve was at its peak in the hiring graph, I spearheaded my company’s branches in different locations with a team of hundreds of employees meeting the huge gap in the industry.
From 1997 to 2004, we enjoyed a rapidly upward scaling wherein J K Management Consultants became synonymous with a reputed bulk recruiting firm assisting hundreds of hires for each company. However, in 2009, the recession hit, the requirement for hiring a large number of IT professionals died down, and I realized that the IT recruitment landscape will change and become commoditized. Eventually, this led to the end of J.K. Management Consultants.
I moved to Singapore for a couple of years, but my passion and experience in the recruitment domain forced me to venture back into the industry. In 2011, registered in Singapore, Kalpavrksha Associates was born. After shifting back to Bangalore, we brainstormed on the question “What is the next problem we can solve?” Bulk recruitment didn’t excite me anymore. This was followed by comprehensive research, inclusive of meeting old contacts and understanding their problems.
The only problem that emerged was hiring critical roles of organizations - roles which were more strategic, not easily available, and more peculiar search-based excited us. I strived to carve a niche for the same. That became my mental compass to form Kalpavrksha, a unique positioning solution providing firm.
The CEO: Enlighten our readers about Kalpavrksha solutions
Jaya: Kalpavrksha offers a highly customized recruitment process, inclusive of engaging directly with the hiring manager to grasp a deep understanding of the talent they are unable to attract from the market, which can get lost in the long communication process otherwise. “The people who can hire the purple elephant”, is how we identify ourselves.
This is followed by a comprehensive understanding of the company, its culture, business strategy, people, and the role they are searching for. These details help us craft a detailed assignment specification that can be shared with shortlisted candidates. We, then, start our unique search in the industry’s talent landscape, identifying and researching deep into a network of fine talent who match the decided criteria.
This is followed by various rounds of assessment starting from their nature and persona to their background and eventually to technical competency, cultural compatibility and behavior. We share with companies, the candidates' CV’s supported with the snapshot and objective analysis of each interview conducted by our internal search consultants to offer fair & unbiased information about the candidates before they are introduced to the employers. This minimizes their screening and recruiting time and focuses on sharing the organization’s vision and goals.
We act as a facilitator to allow both candidates and clients to get satisfied with the right remuneration package, secure a verbal acceptance of the offer, obtain reference checks where required, and manage the process that leads up to signed acceptance before onboarding. We continue to invest in people and move a step closer to achieving the larger picture.
The CEO: Share with our readers, the challenges that you surmounted?
Jaya: The major challenge which we faced was helping our clientele understand our value proposition. The value addition we bring to the table cannot be understood comprehensively, unless one engages with Kalpavrksha. In such situations, we have realized that the clients have eventually turned towards us after recommendations or after failing at the tiresome search process.
Our search is what differentiates us from the people who have command over the talent pool in the industry. In a recent conversation like this, we managed to roll out the offer and shock the hiring manager of a company, who already had an in-house recruitment team and was well connected with various industries. He mentioned, “it is such a niche market that I can count on my fingers the number of talent available. But you have managed to find that one unique talent for the company.”
The CEO: How did you build your dynamic team?
Jaya: Well, recruiting for our team was also a major challenge, as we focus on hiring the Kalpavrksha team members from non-recruitment backgrounds and grooming their search skills ourselves. To be a part of our unique search and engagement, the recruitment fraternity employees have to unlearn the ‘wrong ways of search’, which is a cumbersome process.
At Kalpavrksha, we hire people with experience, irrespective of their professional background. However, they must be equipped with passion, a flair for communication, dedication, consistency in their approach, drive to deliver results and most importantly, an inherent interest in connecting with people. Each one of our team members is trained exclusively right from making calls to pre-screening searches, etc.
The larger workforce is the candidate market and to do it right, I have to manage my client relationship by matching the hiring managers’ expectations. We segregate the roles in a way distinct from merely serving the customers.
Both the client and candidate interaction has different languages and requires dealing with two distinct mindsets wherein the candidate management team can walk out at 6:00 P.M., but the client management team may have to take the call at 10 in the night. The segregation of roles allows us to scale more by distributing the load to complete tasks from both ends. At Kalpavrksha, you can find at least two people working to fulfill a talent gap at any point in time.
I, as a leader, ensure motivation and value-addition tips on an ad-hoc basis, whilst my self-reliant team, thanks to fighting through the challenges of the pandemic, crafts a path towards success as future leaders in their own right.
The CEO: From when you incepted the business, what are the changes that the industry has witnessed?
Jaya: When I started, in a wide-domain recruitment era, IT recruitment was an unheard and unfamiliar term, which ended up becoming a huge success. Today, the same junior roles have become an untouchable domain for me. In my Kalpavrksha journey, I believe, the industry is witnessing a sea of change currently in terms of leadership requirements.
Leadership expectation has drastically evolved, wherein the demand has shifted to leaders who can add value, put strategies together and at the same time, dive deeper to scale the organization. Unfortunately, the talent has not up-skilled to meet the change.
In typically large organizations, employees are motivated to deliver better in their roles without focusing on personality attributes and traits, which leaves the employees without an identity beyond their job roles. This creates a challenge for leadership, as we expect leaders to possess a persona and skills to hold communications with employees, clients, and their stakeholders.
The CEO: What are the core values imbibed in your team?
Jaya: The key value, which every Kalpavrksha member has imbibed in their work, has been empathy. The core value of empathy while talking with the candidates couldn’t be tested more rigorously than it was during the period of the pandemic, which financially and mentally disrupted many lives.
During Covid-19, when people have not been responding officially or answering their calls, we emphatically approach to understand their challenges on a personal front, before draping them as candidates. The year has taught us to be patient and helped us to understand the emotional quotient of the candidates during and post the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team has been coached and mentored to handle the upcoming candidates. While the business continues to rise, it’s important to leave individuals we interact with hope and trust in a value-driven relationship.
Our prospective leader candidates of today can become the clients of tomorrow. From the same standpoint, we work closely with the candidate, understanding their challenges, identifying their career growth roadmap, and helping them build a successful career plan.
The CEO: What was your experience leading through the pandemic?
Jaya: From the lens of leadership during the pandemic, we ensured that we were back to work as soon as it was possible. The two major reasons were people and our value addition, which made me push back persistently to get back to work from May 2020.
During the lockdown, people were emotionally stressed and consumed by the fear of the virus, which impacted their focus, productivity, and personal lives. Another reason was the major value addition we offer as an organization that revolves around keeping the candidates emotionally, mentally, and physically sane during the pandemic.
While working together as a team on the same floor to deliver the value, it sourced strength to fight back through tough scenarios. While we were the only ones in the HR fraternity to work offline during that time, since the time we are back, we have been effectively managing a high workload and supporting the job requirements for open positions without any slow down.
The CEO: What were the initiatives you undertook during the COVID-19 period?
Jaya: Apart from being physically in the same space, a rescuing step in its own way, we, as a team, kept our focus on mental well-being regularly. During this period, we also implemented the initiative of introducing a meditation app called Black Lotus.
This initiative helped us ensure the mental well-being of our employees. Eventually, the initiative transitioned into an extension of our HR benefit we offered to companies to help them understand the value of meditation. The mental wellness application is also a CSR initiative that allowed us to help the employees of our clients unleash their potential.
In our conversation with the hiring managers, we have counseled them to come out of the fear, which was well-settled in their minds across the industry.
The CEO: What is success? Who would you like to credit it to?
Jaya: Success is a journey for me, not a destination. And one should enjoy the journey. In every aspect of my life from pursuing a passion to professional duties, I believe, if you don’t focus on the results with a firm belief that you have done your best, success is inevitable.
I credit Kalpavrksha's success to the entire team who has travelled together in decades of the journey especially Anjana James, Director - Search, who has been associated since 1998 and has successfully acted as an anchor to keep the team together.
The CEO: What is the role of technology in your brand today?
Jaya: Today, our operations are highly dependent on exclusive searches, personal interactions and engagements with the clients, rather than technology. Our specialization today does not demand technology to assist with the interviews for our services. At the same time, back in the days of our bulk recruitment period, J.K. Management Consultants, we engineered in-house custom-made software.
Since we do not work on the portal and chose to physically research and identify the right talent, our solutions cannot be met by filtering the searches on a portal. It has to be a customized search based on the demand. Today, indeed, a software can be made to our custom demands that suit our unique searching expectations. We plan to look into that idea post-Covid-19 normalization.
The CEO: What are the achievements you are most proud of?
Jaya: Our clientele’s recognitions have been the most gratifying achievements of the brand today. We, as a brand, have not been a firm believer in promoting ourselves to attract more accounts; rather our work speaks for itself.
The CEO: What’s next on the cards for the company?
Jaya: We have successfully come out of the pandemic situation. We plan to immediately work towards scaling up this year. We are already ahead of its time brand compared to any other recruitment company in the industry today. I foresee 100% growth of our brand this year.
We have been actively approached by start-up companies today; our references have increased along with the brand’s visibility. We have associated with more than a couple of clients last week and hired a few recruits in the company. Things are looking good, and we plan to soon celebrate our 10 years of existence in November this year.
The CEO: What advice would you like to share with the upcoming entrepreneurs?
Jaya: An important lesson that I grasped during the pandemic was the need for a pure passion, that an entrepreneur should have in their DNA, to succeed. One must lead from the front and lead by example as a motivated player to eventually help employees handle their mental wellness and support their peers. Commit and deliver, and seize the opportunity.
For women leaders, I believe, we are great at balancing our roles. We should not create a gap for ourselves by waiting for permissions from others.
To sum up the interview, Jaya reiterated, “Excellence is a habit. Drive it passionately.”
She added, “In the 21st century, there is nothing like learning new. We can become better by unlearning the irrelevant. The faster we unlearn, the better it is. Post Covid-19 situations are going to be drastically different from the pre-pandemic situations. If we quickly unlearn and figure out the market with a blank slate, we can unlock huge potential in the market.”