Interview with Shreya Sarkar-Barney, President of Human Capital Growth

ScienceForWork shares the contribution of scientific research  in the field of organizational psychology and personnel management with HR professionals, managers and consultants. Evidence-Based Management is the driving vision of ScienceForWork. We believe in the added value obtained by matching research and daily HR Management.

We would like to give you the opportunity to introduce yourself to our readers: who is Shreya Sarkar-Barney?

Shreya Sarkar BarneyI am an entrepreneur, academic, consultant, wife, and a mother.  Some days I am more of one than the other, and it’s a fun medley of jobs.  In terms of titles, I am the president and founder of Human Capital Growth and a lecturer at University of California, Berkeley.

In which way is Human Capital Growth different from any other Talent Management Consultancy?

We specialize in evidence-based talent management.  We like to think we help optimize talent for business using science, data, and empathy.  You might wonder how empathy fits in. We believe the first step to helping our clients is to understand their pain and their goals and aspirations.  In other words, walk in their shoes at least imaginatively.  This simple act is a significant step before we try to address their needs.

What does a company have to gain from developing an evidence-based approach to HR management?

There are many benefits to using evidence-based approaches to HR. I’d like to highlight two points.

  1. The most obvious benefit is faster results with the least amount of waste. Sit in on any talent review meeting or an HR strategy meeting, you’ll find that most people-related decisions are made based on gut feelings and popular opinion. It is no surprise that the outcomes delivered are negligible. The good news is that we don’t have to rely on trial and error to get things right. We have 150 years of science to help us make the right choice.  The field of Organizational Psychology has been researching questions such as what leadership behaviors relate to effectiveness, what predicts performance on the job, what practices improve team performance.  Businesses ask the same questions but do not realize there are methods with known efficacy levels just like in Medical Science.  If it came to your health would you not want the most efficacious treatment? I bet you’d be unhappy if your doctor decided to experiment on you, particularly if there’s treatment available that are known to work.
  2. Credibility – HR’s identity rests in a state of flux, and their value is being questioned the world over. Being able to provide credible, evidence-backed advice, on people aspects of the business can make HR a valued partner, as opposed to a compliance partner.  Let me give you an example.  Most organizations are facing a leadership pipeline crisis.  Even though investment in leadership development has been at an all-time high, organizations are simply not seeing the results.  When we look at the practices we find that the models and methods commonly used by organizations, such as situational leadership, are only about a third as efficient than other known but uncommon methods.  Imagine making a financial investment that yields only about a 3rd of the returns compared to other investment options.  I bet your CFO would be very disappointed.  That’s what we see happening in HR.

What are the key steps to ensure an evidence-based approach to HR management? Can you explain how you make sure to help companies only with methods that were proven to be effective by scientific research?

We are constantly combing two sources of information to build a database of evidence-based intelligence.  We use industry surveys, blogs and whitepaper to identify trending topics, and the scientific publications for rigorous studies.  When our clients come to us to address a particular area, we are able to draw upon this database to ask the right questions.  With our clients, we focus more on the dialog, trying to uncover their needs, wants, and challenges, all along problem-solving with them.  During the problem-solving process, we recommend solutions that are based on evidence.  However,  very rarely we do begin the conversation explaining the evidence.

What made you so interested in evidence-based HRM?

I am a big believer in evidence-based methods.  My life changed in many positive ways because of all the times decisions were made about me using data.  I grew up in a small industrial town in southern India.  As a young teenager I knew I wanted to be an Organizational Psychologists.  Being a female child from a middle-class family that had been through times of significant hardship, my path was not easy.  But it did not stop me from dreaming big.  I started working when I was 16 and saved up pennies, hoping one day I would have enough to make it to a well-known university.  I did end up saving enough to pay for my GRE exams and admission fees (don’t underestimate the power of a piggy bank!) but not enough to pay the tuition.  The first year I applied to graduate schools in the US, UK, and Australia, I did not get funding.  I saw my hopes slipping away.

I tried again a second time.  This time luck was on my side (I’d like to believe I had worked hard enough to earn the good luck!).  Not only did I get accepted to a master’s program at the University of Central Florida, and it came with funding.  My family nor I had the funds to pay for my initial expenses.  At that point, I had applied for several scholarship in India.  Six of them came through and one as an additional award.  I was ecstatic. It felt like a miracle. No one asked who my father was, my family background, my pedigree (after all India is not known for psychologists) but my GRE scores, grades, and essay, in other words, the evidence gave me a chance that changed my life.  I can recount numerous stories such as this.

I have become a believer in the evidence.  I believe it’s the only way to give people an opportunity to have a fair chance at growth and success.  When the evidence is rigorous, it is neutral. It is blind to color, gender, or any other divider.  That’s the reason I started Human Capital Growth and have dedicated my life to promoting evidence-based decision making about people at work.

How do you try to promote an evidence-based approach to HRM?

One of the main ways in which we promote evidence-based methods is by helping HR professionals and leaders grow an evidence-based mindset and expertise.  We do this primarily through our curriculum and certification process that anybody anywhere in the world can take.  My team and I have spent five years reviewing meta-analytic studies to isolate efficacious models and practices on 17 talent management practices areas.  We also developed technology to deliver this content as an application-oriented learning product.  I am pleased to share we have participants from all around the world.  We have one particular client, a large technology multinational, that has made our certification mandatory for job progression.  I also teach at UC Berkeley where my goal is the same, grow future leaders who operate with an evidence-based mindset.

Additionally, Human Capital Growth has a consulting practice, and many of our projects have come directly from the business. I am pleased to share that by leveraging the evidence we have been able to deliver sustained results.  Some of these include saving failing global collaborations that have gone on to become long-term partnerships, accelerating the onboarding of sales professionals to close a revenue gap, helping hire the right leaders and much more. We owe our success to knowing what practices drive the desired outcomes and having a data and analytics orientation to fine-tune the results.

Dr. Sarkar-Barney, thank you for your inspiring contribution to this cause and your continuous effort to make HR management more effective, reliable and accountable.

If you liked this interview, share it with your network by clicking on the buttons below!

Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter to receive all the quality of scientific research in less than 1000 words!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.