Girish Ganesan: Inspirational HR leader enabling an inclusive, people first organization with intention.

Top 10 Most Influential HR Executives to follow in 2023

As Senior Vice President of People at S&P Global, Girish Ganesan oversees the People function for multiple businesses and functions including S&P Global Ratings, S&P Global Sustainable1, Digital Technology Services, Legal, and Global Risk Assurance. Collectively, these groups include over 8,000 employees across more than 30 countries.

S&P Global is a publicly traded company headquartered in New York City. It provides financial intelligence solutions – offering credit ratings, benchmarks, data, digital and traditional financial research, and analytical tools to markets globally.

The world’s leading organizations have relied on S&P Global throughout its history for the essential intelligence they need to make confident decisions about the road ahead. The company’s roots stretch back to 1860 and a vision for how essential intelligence could accelerate progress in the industrial revolution. Integrity, discovery, and partnership are embedded into its identity.

Finding Purpose Through the Value of Human Connection

Girish recalls that there was no singular reason why he chose a career in human resources. He wanted to pursue law, but there were too many hurdles to get to law school after his undergraduate studies. One of his family friends guided him toward HR, but he wasn’t sure if it was the right path until he joined Accenture in 2005.

He soon realized that, as a people-focused business, partnership with HR was critical to achieving every business goal in management consulting. It gave him a great appreciation for HR’s contribution to the top line. His first formative moment was standing up a global compensation infrastructure, an opportunity that allowed him to expand his experience across markets.

“I learned that I really enjoy building and fixing, whether it be capabilities, teams, or businesses. I was motivated by the idea that people and culture drive business strategy. It also cemented the idea that I wanted leadership to be part of my future path. I haven’t looked back since, and every role in my career further validated that my value of human connection is what gives me purpose in my work,” he maintains.

“Inclusivity takes practice. Part of it is giving everyone a voice, learning to listen and not assuming.”

Understanding the Bigger World Picture as a Global Citizen

Girish’s first career move was from India to Canada to pursue higher education. This was followed by his first expat assignment in Singapore early in his career, building out the HR function for South-East Asia. He recalls that living and working in Singapore and overseeing HR for six countries was a transformational experience, both professionally and personally. He also had to learn to navigate an environment where his style and approach were different than the prevailing cultural norms.

Girish’s second career move brought him to Hong Kong and the Philippines, overseeing shared services for Asia. There, he learned the importance of building and managing an off-shore setup, and how to bring various HR functions together to create an end-to-end employee experience. His third career move was an intentional decision to move to the U.S. with TD Bank, and now S&P Global, because he wanted to see a different side of corporate America.

Girish points out that today’s world is more global than ever. It doesn’t matter how geographically spread your organization is. With the movement of talent, every organization spans cultures and needs to understand the bigger world picture. He believes that the CHROs of today need to be global citizens, and he feels fortunate to have experienced the world, not just through travels, but lived experiences.

“A global assignment doesn’t just prove your multicultural credentials, it exposes you to different ways of working, thinking, and doing. Geographical moves will undoubtedly benefit you in the way you assess your career options. Working in a different environment will help you to appreciate the career possibilities open to you. And if you don’t do it, you may well wonder all your life what would have happened if you did,” he observes.

Choosing a Career Path with Many Differentiated Experiences

While his career moves were both intentional and organic, Girish feels fortunate to have had great leaders and mentors, who guided him through the right career journey. One of the best pieces of career advice he was given was to ‘take the job that no one else wants.’ So, that’s what he did when the opportunity presented itself.

“From the start, I had an eye on how many differentiated experiences I could get in my career. I started in compensation and operations and held a variety of roles in those functions, then moved to pursue my first Regional HR Head role in Singapore. I am so glad I pursued it as the opportunity accelerated my career growth in a new direction,” he remarks.

Another formative experience was leading a Shared Services/Operations team where he learned the inner workings of the function, from running payroll, data operations, technology, analytics, and all back-office functions that are the lifeline of people experience.

The same thing happened when Girish moved to the U.S. to step into a role leading the Talent and Diversity & Inclusion Center of Excellence, which included learning, leadership development, talent management, recruiting, DEI, and organizational effectiveness. This was a role that rounded out his experience.

“I can’t think of a time that I’ve learned more about the importance of an organization’s mission, culture, and values than when I was in this role during a challenging and unpredictable time surrounded by health (COVID-19), economic and social crisis. I had some mentors who told me that I would have to make bold career moves to become a CHRO at a substantively sized company. So, I’ve made some bold moves, and I learned a lot from those. They’ve not always been easy, but they were definitely worth it,” he observes.

“Enterpreneurial attitude can be a leader’s strongest asset. It’s centered around continuous renewal of growth and can set you apart in a league of great leaders.”

Seeing The Inclusivity Landscape Evolve Over the Years

As an advocate of D&I on a personal as well as a professional front, Girish has seen the inclusivity landscape evolve over the years. “I have had the honor to be involved in D&I professionally for over a decade – first as an active employee resource group member, then as a leader, and most recently as a full-time D&I practitioner, and in that time, I have seen a gradual evolution, except for in the last two years when the change has been significant,” he notes.

Girish believes that the inclusivity landscape has changed on many fronts, including:

  • From a focus on race and gender to a broader, more inclusive definition. Intersectionality is a common concept that expresses the complexity of our human differences today and it’s important for these attributes to be recognized equally.
  • The landscape has also evolved to recognize that inclusion is about everyone and that everyone has a role and responsibility.
  • We have also moved from individual development to systemic action for culture change. Early on, most of the effort and resources on inclusion were focused on training as the “fix”. Attention has now turned to policies and process changes to remove barriers to equity and inclusion.
  • Our vocabulary has evolved and there’s greater sensitivity to language. Words like microaggressions, microinequities, and cisgender are now common concepts, and the use of preferred pronouns to indicate one’s gender identity is becoming more routine.
  • Understanding of bias as a human condition is another aspect. Early in the days of Diversity and Inclusion, bias and prejudice were talked about as though they were blots of one’s character that had to be eradicated. Over the years, this work has moved to an understanding that bias is part of the human condition and that all of us need to be aware of it, understand it, and then manage it.
  • The last point I would add is that, as the desire for inclusion has evolved, so has increasing polarization. Radical views have increasingly played roles in societal division, often attempting to discredit diversity and inclusion efforts. This polarization has fuelled a new level of emotionality and makes it more difficult to create inclusive environments requiring us to be intentional about inclusivity.

Building an Inclusive, People-First Organization with Intention

Girish remarks that we have to keep reminding ourselves that while capability may land someone the job, it’s inclusion that inspires an employee to stick around, which is why being a people-first organization is important to him.

For him, this is a philosophy that permeates every aspect of the organization, ranging from a simple belief that every organization is primarily in the people business to a constant commitment to the importance of looking at every decision in the organization, keeping its people in mind, sustaining trust-based relationships, focusing efforts on the well-being of employees, and developing a workplace where every employee can thrive.

Girish believes that diversity without inclusivity is meaningless, that the heart of inclusion rests with recognizing everyone’s humanity and acknowledging that our perspectives can be vastly different. He notes that to inspire true inclusivity in thoughts and actions requires an intentional approach and takes time.

Girish elaborates on this topic in the form of the actions below that, he hopes, will resonate with all regardless of their role, location, or level:

  • Foster psychological safety – Without psychological safety, people won’t risk being themselves at work. It is simple. Before your colleagues can trust you, you must demonstrate your trust in them. They may show up to meetings, but they’ll sit quietly, feeling they aren’t truly welcome or wanted. They’ll be afraid to actively contribute or share opinions that differ from the majority.
  • Listen and learn – Inclusivity takes practice. You’ll get there by giving your colleagues a voice, learning to listen, and discovering who they are. Part of listening is assuming that you don’t know what your colleagues think or feel.
  • Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. To accomplish real and permanent change, one must be willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. Discussions on equity and race are bound to generate discomfort. But don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from those who aren’t like you.
  • Be the change. The real work is when you start analyzing yourself and your biases. You cannot be inclusive if you have the assumption, you are bias-free. Respectfully call out behavior that isn’t inclusive or equitable to the individual engaging in it. Don’t just ignore it. Encourage the awareness that this is how stereotypes get formed and reinforced.

The Interplay Between Social Capital, Workforce Planning & Sustainility

As Head of People for the sustainability-focused business at S&P Global, Sustainable1, Girish shares some of his thoughts on the interplay between social capital, workforce planning, and sustainability in the near future. He notes that the scope of social issues that companies must consider has progressively widened over the past two decades, which reflects the evolving business environment of the 21st century, where businesses and markets are increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

Over and above human rights, labor issues, workplace health and safety, and product safety and quality, social factors now also incorporate the impact of modern supply-chain systems and the adoption of technology across all business sectors. Girish believes that, as the focus on the social issues grows, companies will need to shift from a reactive to a proactive position.

But, while governance and environmental data are readily available for many companies, the same is not always true of data on social aspects. He notes that the leeway companies have been afforded on these issues in the past is unlikely to continue. While there’s no requirement to be the first mover, those that are laggards will face avoidable challenges and a rising threat to their ‘license to operate’.

Looking ahead to the next decade, Girish predicts that sustainablity performance will become even more important in attracting and retaining talent, as Millennials and Gen Zs come to make up most of the global workforce. These generations place even greater importance on environmental and social concerns – and will expect even more from employers on these issues.

“It is clear that performance on sustability issues will function increasingly as a competitive advantage to companies, serving to engage today’s employees and attract tomorrow’s talent,” he insists.

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through the pandemic is that adversity management reveals who you are as a leader. How you confront it and lead through it are defining moments.”

Organizations Must Invest in The Cultural Shift to Enable Digital Transformation

Girish also maintains that digital transformation is not optional for most organizations; it is a foundational shift that’s making the business world more competitive and agile. The risk of struggling in the move to digital is high, so organizations must invest in the cultural shift that will enable transformation.

After all, he notes, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people. He observes that we’re in the midst of the next industrial revolution powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and other breakthroughs that are shaking up the very foundation of economies. This will fundamentally change what the workplace of the future will look like.

Girish predicts that technology will continue to promote higher efficiencies, productivity, and collaboration, while also embedding an experimental mindset and new ways of working, as proven by virtual work. “My personal view is digital transformation is everyone’s job. You can’t simply push change disruption from the top down. That said, there’s no single blueprint for everyone,” he remarks.

Girish points out that we live in an era where globalization and technology continue to disrupt the workforce dynamics. Automation of monotonous tasks with AI, blockchain, 5G enhanced connectivity, human augmentation, and edge computing, to name a few, are slowly replacing frequent human interventions with machines and codes.

Therefore, digital dexterity, an evident and evolving need for employees to adapt and adopt emerging technology trends, has become critical. However, he believes that it’s imperative for employees to also possess “soft skills” which will have even greater value in an automated workplace.

The CHRO Will Be Central to Business Success in the Future

Girish notes that, with uncertainty in the marketplace and the ongoing disruptions of health and well-being, social unrest, global conflict, and fears of recession mounting, people issues are at the core of most organizations. The CHRO is becoming even more central to the success of the business, and skills like general management, broad-based business acumen, strategic mindset, and emotional intelligence will remain non-negotiable for the role.

Girish points out that CHROs are increasingly required to connect their talent strategy to the company’s growth and financial performance, while also advancing data literacy, digital experience, well-being, equity and inclusion, employee growth, and development on top of relevant governance.

“If you look at just the past year, in addition to digitizing a full employee life cycle overnight, many of us extended into crisis management, communication, risk, and reputation. And then you layer on top of changing rules of ways of working and how that’s catapulted us to reimagining the organization,” he observes.

Know Your Worth & Be Around People Who Bring Out the Best in You

Girish sees himself as a Rubik’s cube because it’s colorful and mysterious. “I find different experiences and challenges in my life. I like to think I adapt well to different situations, which is reflective of the different shapes a Rubik’s cube can get into,” he states.

He also notes that his favorite thing about himself is his judgment of character in people. “I honestly attribute all my happiness to the people in my life. Growing up and especially over the past few years, I’ve realized that not everyone you think would be in your life forever will stay, and that’s okay, and I am so much better off because of it,” he reflects.

Girish firmly believes that it’s important to know your worth, be around people (relationship-wise and in friendships) who bring out the best in you, and make you want to be even better.

“Some of my best friends are people I look up to. Some I have been friends with for over two decades, and some I have met just this year and they have already changed my life,” he observes. “These people are strong, positive, compassionate, and have a sense of humor. These are qualities that I want in my life, and I truly believe I surround myself with people who acquire all of these in their own special way. I’m so proud of the people who are in my life, and I feel so blessed every single day.”