HR Influencers
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Dr. Parbudyal Singh is used to being a trailblazer.

As a professor of human resources management at York University, a published author and a renowned academic, Singh is also the very first recipient of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)’s highest honour.

When he received the Distinguished Human Resources Professional (DHRP) award in April, Singh reflected on how it could be construed as a bridge between academia and the professional HR community.

“I think we can learn a lot from each other, so the award has a special meaning coming from HRPA,” he told HR Professional.

Indeed, Singh’s contributions to the field of human resources exemplify the very definition of the DHRP award, which is presented to academics who have made an exceptional contribution to the HR profession through research, innovative ideas, contributing to the broader community and teaching excellence.

Singh embarked on his HR career in 1989 and from there he has steadily built his academic and professional credentials over nearly three decades, with a particular focus on strategic compensation.

HR Professional caught up with him shortly after he received the DHRP award to discuss his teachings, research and advice for those who are just launching their own HR careers.


Congratulations on receiving the HRPA’s inaugural DHRP award. What was running through your mind when you learned you would be receiving this recognition?

Parbudyal Singh: I felt honoured and a sense of accomplishment. I place a lot of importance on the relationship between the academic and the professional communities. By giving these awards, HRPA highlights what the academic community is doing; for the academic community, it suggests our work is important and valued.


When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?

PS: It was about a decade after teaching high school in Guyana, in South America; I really liked teaching, but I felt a move into the HR corporate world was a good move. Many of the competencies of a teacher can transfer to HR, including how to deal with inquisitive minds in a learning organization and resolving issues in a respectful environment. I thought it would be a worthwhile challenge and I’ve never regretted it.


What was your first HR job?

PS: I was an assistant personnel manager in a manufacturing firm. We produced sugar from sugar cane. I was responsible for most of the day-to-day HR functions, including training and development, performance management and hiring. But I also found time to learn about the organization, from the sugar cane fields to the factory, to selling the product. The HR job had many of the typical responsibilities we have today, but I was learning it from the ground up. I was there just over two years and then I went back to school to do my graduate degrees, and then I became a professor.


Tell me about your current job. What are your main areas of responsibility?

PS: As a university professor, we not only teach, but we also do research and have a lot of service responsibilities. York University may be the only university in North America with human resources management degrees at all three levels – undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. – and I teach in all three. Besides teaching, I do other research and I have two books I have co-authored: one on strategic compensation in Canada and the other is an introductory text on human resources management. Both are used in many universities across Canada. The third aspect of my job is service. Since I came to York, I’ve been a director of the school of HR management and a graduate program director. Others are doing those roles now, but I’m still on a lot of committees, helping the university to manage itself.


Describe your HR research and its primary focus.

PS: My focus has been on a few areas, but primarily compensation. I look at how compensation systems drive employee behaviour and organizational performance. I look at all aspects of compensation: profit sharing, stocks, base pay, pay equity and so on, plus its overall strategic role. I also look at new pay systems and increasingly the move towards the use of organizational and team rewards. I’m now looking at something new called green human resources management. That is how HR can help organizations become sustainable over time. In this area, we look at what we call the triple bottom line: the organization’s social, environmental and financial performance.


What do you love about your job?

PS: I like all three aspects. On the teaching side, I like being in the classroom and interacting with students. On the service side, I like working with colleagues and developing and maintaining high quality programs. On the research side, I love looking at new organizational phenomena and how they impact human resources management and the world of work.


What are the challenges you experience in your job?

PS: I think one of them is adapting the material for different contexts. As I mentioned, I teach compensation. It’s very challenging sometimes to teach it to undergraduate students or those without much work experience. It has a practical side to it, so adapting the content for those without much experience is challenging. And, it’s sometimes challenging to navigate the political space in a university. As a former President of the United States once said, it’s perhaps more difficult to manage a university than a country!


What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?

PS: I think leaders need to have a vision. You need to know what you want over the long term, and then you need to acquire the resources and build a team and a plan to make that happen. Of course, you need the political guts and determination to execute it.


What are the necessary competencies for success in HR and how do you think those have changed throughout your career?

PS: First, you need strategic visioning and you need to see the big picture and where you want to be. Second, you need to know the organization and its operations. You need to have some competencies around political savviness and pretty much know when to shut up. And, of course, you need to have emotional intelligence and empathy. When I started, the focus was on the administrative and enforcement side of HR, but now it’s become increasingly more strategic.


What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?

PS: They need to understand their organization and learn about it from the inside out. They need to know how it makes a dollar in profit or how it can balance its books. They also need to become qualified, both academically and professionally. You need to be hungry for success; if you don’t want to win, do not play. Be honest and fair in all you do. But in the end, there is no substitute for hard work.


The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?

PS: It’s actually our acceptance by others in the organization as belonging to the head table. One of the reasons we started the Master of Human Resource Management program in the school of HR management at York was to put more HR professionals in the pipeline to make them the leaders of their organizations. We have been largely successful. Furthermore, I think our role will be expanded to manage the ethical and legal side of the business, but we will need to become better trained for these roles. With all the corporate scandals and sexual harassment issues now facing organizations, it’s the HR people who are on the front line. But we must have the skills and the training and the qualifications to perform well there.


What’s the future of HR?

PS: The future is bright, but we have to become the heart and soul of the organization. We need to be the voice of what’s right to do. People should look to us when they need advice in tough situations. If we combine this with solid knowledge of the business, the future is going to be bright.



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