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Winning reflections of an HR professional

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It was a moment of pride and pleasure. It was also a moment of confidence and conviction that I have made the right move in transitioning from “an engineer of electrical to an engineer of hearts and minds”. This is definitely not a monkey praising its own tail. Neither is it an attempt for self-glorification. What my intent is to reflect as an HR professional and also as (most probably) the youngest winner of the IPM Lifetime Gold Award 2014. Overview The Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) has been having this cherished tradition of awarding the Lifetime Gold Award to an outstanding HR professional annually in conjunction with its National HR Conference. It can be regarded as the highest honour a Sri Lankan HR professional can achieve. The transparent criteria and the involvement of an eminent judging panel amplified the significance of the gold award. All Lifetime awards have one universal significance: It is given only once to a person and obviously a carefully-chosen one. This is why I am humbly happy about it. Samitha Perera, President of IPM, and a CEO turned HR professional, who was also the Lifetime Award winner last year, read a lengthy citation about me. I felt it was a bit larger than life. This time, the IPM Lifetime Gold award recipient is a HR Professional who portrays a unique blend of being a proactive practitioner, competent consultant and an acclaimed academic. With an illustrious career spanning over two decades, he has proven himself as a sought-after HR thought leader. Further extracts from the citation I thought of looking at it from a distance. Hence, I kept the terms he, his etc, as they originally were. It goes on as follows: Having worked at Upali Newspapers as a Science Journalist, he commenced his post-qualifying carrier as a Technical Management Trainee at Unilever Ceylon. That’s where the transition from engineering to HRM took place. He moved to Hemas as the Head of HR and Admin in the Apparel Sector and subsequently to Clipsal Lanka to handle HR and Admin. After a successful overseas stint as a Management Consultant with Sensei International, he joined Nestle Lanka as the Head of HR of its Technical Division, comprising Pannala and Polonnaruwa factories. The cross over from private sector professional to a public sector academic took place thereafter. His valued association with IPM is multi-faceted. He was the Chairman of the Technical Committee of the National HR Conference 2013 with the theme, ‘In Search of HR Excellence: Thoughts, Tools and Teams’ with the highest-ever number of participants. He has also been serving as the Chairman of the Research and Publication Committee for the past three years. He was instrumental in developing the IPM’s definition of HRM for Sri Lanka whilst being actively involved in obtaining the Charter status to the IPM. Among the other involvements, being an active member of the current governing council, the Editor-in-Chief of the HR Perspectives Journal, Co-author of the book, ‘HR Challenge,’ the first-ever research book published by the IPM, a key resource person for several national HR conferences, a keynote speaker and a moderator for several evening sessions organised by the IPM, appear prominently. He is currently a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has engaged in HR consultancies in more than 14 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He serves as a Non-Executive Independent Director at Citizen’s Development Bank (CDB). He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He is eagerly waiting to visit Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK as a Commonwealth Postdoctoral Fellow, later this year. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa. He is a Chartered Electrical Engineer and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Management, UK as well. As an academic scholar, he has presented research papers at international conferences in more than 10 cities in Asia, America, Australia and Europe. He has published articles in local and foreign journals, and is also an author of five books. He has won many accolades including gold medals for best papers in two international management conferences, and in 2010, the platinum award by the Alumni of the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIMA) for outstanding academic contribution. He has been a contributor to the national level HR related policy development in working closely with the Public Service Commission, National Education Commission and Sri Lankan Association for the Advancement of Quality and Productivity (SLAAQP). He is a fellow member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Training and Development (SLITAD) and an advisor to the Old Royalists’ HR Professional Association (ORHRPRA). He is a keen advocate on work – family – society harmony in meaningfully enriching both personal and professional spheres of life. He prefers “simplifying” complex theoretical perspectives for the betterment of student community, in line with practicing simplicity. Owing to the outstanding achievements of this unique human being much related to the field of HRM, continuing contribution to the fraternity of HRM, and exceptional career progress in HRM, this time, the IPM Lifetime Gold Medal goes to an “Engineer of Hearts and Minds”. Life story in three minutes I was reluctant to agree with IPM when they wanted to create a three-minute video about my life. Later, I realised how it has inspired many who were in the audience based on their feedback. It is available on YouTube and can be selected through a simple search. I still recall being a bit emotional in watching that video on the wide screen at the BMICH, just before the award was given. Let me once again look at it as an observer, and the narration went on as follows: Ajantha Sujeewa Dharmasiri was born to a middle income family in Pamunuwila, Gonawala, Kelaniya in September, 1967. Both his parents Ernest Dharmasiri and Clara Dharmasiri are teachers. He has one brother, Amal, who is an engineer. With rural roots, he did his primary education at St. Joseph’s College in Colombo. After passing the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination, he entered Royal College, Colombo for secondary education. He excelled in studies in obtaining eight distinctions in GCE Ordinary Level and three As in GCE Advance Level. He obtained a BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa, MBA with a Merit and a PhD from Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenapura. During the turbulent times in 1988-1989 where the universities were closed for a long period, he joined Vidusara Science Journal as an editorial member. That exposure enabled him to share the rare scientific knowledge with masses and also resulted in writing two Science Fiction books in Sinhala. He married Ruklanthi Hettiarachchi, a medical officer in 1996. They have two children, Navodi and Nadeepa. Among his multitude of interests, writing, researching, teaching, training, coaching, consulting and parenting appear prominently. His affection towards HRM began at Unilever, where he made a conscious decision to walk on a road less travelled. Thereafter, he became a thought leader in HRM, with global reach and local touch. Having worked in multi-national and multi-local environments, he joined the academia ten years ago. Now he is a sought-after international consultant, reputed author, acclaimed trainer, renowned teacher, reflective researcher, and most of all, a continuous learner. Greater recognition of HR professionals I tend to think the IPM Lifetime Award is one clear and concrete way of recognising HR professionals in Sri Lanka. As we discussed many a time, an HR professional can be viewed as a senior person engaged in Human Resources activities as an occupation. In other words, a manager with experience and qualifications, handling the responsibilities associated with the Human Resources function of an organisation. They are the designers and delivers of HRM policies, practices and processes. I continue to encourage Sri Lankan HR professionals to be more strategic. I believe that they can do this in three main ways. 1.Strategic involvement of HR: Ensure that HR professional is involved in the strategic decision making process of the organisation. 2.Strategic alignment of HR: Ensure that HR policies and practices are aligned to the organisational strategic direction, and are reflective of organisation’s long term goals. 3.Strategic contribution of HR: Ensure that HR function, and particularly the Head of HR is accountable for people-related strategic matters and thus should achieved agreed targets. Quantification of targets with appropriate matrices should be a perquisite for this. Moving ahead I am a dreamer and a deliverer. I relooked at my life vision after a while. It goes as: I choose to be a radiator and a reflector of positive energy by way of exploring and sharing growth-fostering knowledge with humankind. This is because I have a genuine desire to utilise all the gifts that I have received from nature and nurture, unleashing the creativity in me with global reach and local touch. Whilst doing so, I consistently maintain a balance between ongoing learning development, leadership growth and relationship richness. I would continue to love, learn and lead, as a simple humble human being. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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