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Coaching Chronicles with Tapas Acharya

About the Interviewee: Tapas Acharya

Tapas Acharya has 29 years of multifaceted experience from varied industries including Manufacturing, Telecom, Retail, BPO, IT Technologies and Energy. He is at present the Founder of ’The Acharya’. Before that, till December 2020, he was the Senior VP HR- Renew Power. He has worked closely with Promoters, Business Heads and CXOs across various roles in Human Resources. He has joined organizations in the start-up & initial year of operations and worked to establish them.

His expertise has been around organization change management, setting up human resource practices for new businesses/ start-ups including working on culture, value and performance. He has administered initiatives around building employer brand and national presence.

Mr. Acharya has also graced as guest lecturer at prestigious management colleges and HR forums to talk about his work and on subjects of change management and people development. He enjoys writing blogs on building effective people relationships through deep listening, conversations and authenticity.

Tell us about your journey, Tapas.

I have been in the human resource profession for nearly 29 years and have worked across industries and geographies. I have been in a leadership role for almost 16 years. I have worked in organizations where I have been responsible for setting up the organization. The last three responsibilities have been very critical as they required creating a national presence. In my previous work assignment, I was with an Organisation in Renewable Energy. I managed the HR operations for the Indian operations. Setting up a business to launch the best HR policies that people feel connected with the broader organization. I have worked very closely with the MDs, CEOs, and Business Heads of the companies.

When did you realise you were ready to be a coach?

My upbringing has been in a defence family. That has helped me connect with different sets of people, different cultures, and different traditions. Subsequently, I took over jobs where traveling was an essential element. So the attribute of working closely with the different types of people has always helped me reach out and connect with people better. The same has been very helpful for me in coaching as well.

Being in the leadership role, by default, I had frequent interactions with the leadership team. We worked closely in setting up the business and building up teams, finding critical talent.

So formally and informally, I have had many discussions with leaders where I have spent time helping them sort out questions that they struggled. To be part of that question and responses, finding a solution to those problems. So, I do believe that I have been into coaching for a long while. And that skill has always helped me have one-on-one discussions in the most fruitful way with leaders.

How important is it to get an ICF Certification for being a coach?

There are two-three areas where I can visualize the difference. Earlier, the structure of discussions used to be pretty open. But after certification, it gives me more polish and finishes. ICF certification helps you know how to bring in the flow in your coaching conversation.

I remember coaching before my certification was constantly juggling between things to be kept in mind and things that need not be kept in mind. I will look at all discussion points that can come and will prepare my responses. One thing that is a realization is that now I let the conversation flow with complete openness. Coaching is being present at that moment rather than going with thoughts that drive the conversation. So I go in the session with complete fairness and with absolute transparency.

Please tell us about our breakthrough in the coaching journey?

While I was getting myself certified,  we had sessions where we had our fellow coaches conducting coaching interactions. It came as a kind of find for me during one such free flow of the questioning session. I could see the wow effect in that sessions when he or she was talking to me. That opened me up. Also, my realization of not having a structure in my mind while doing a coaching session? Let it be a free-flowing discussion.

One thing that was also a realization is that my questions have to be sharp. My questions should have some purpose. It should make the coachee think and come out with reflections that are stopping him or her. How do you make the person realize what is right and find the solution within them?

One more thing which I have done for myself is I have slowed down in my conversations. I spend more time at the moment.

How has your experience been with Erickson?

It has taken me two years to realize that I now need to get myself certified. I felt this was the right time for me.

There were a lot of changes that happened around me to take this decision. Number one was COVID. It made me realize my inherent needs. It also made me realize that I am good at one-on-one discussions with people. One-on-one discussion or team discussions can only happen when one has that kind of a timeframe or approach. Coaching made me realize that this is where I can do a lot of good work with leaders. This realization helped me get into Erickson and interact with Gaurav. It is all about the right timing. And I believe that COVID made me realize why this was important for me to go through.

Covid has indeed impacted the lives of everyone. Do you see COVID impacting leadership patterns?

I agree with you it has impacted most of the leaders today. We have been at home, connecting with people over the web. And so whatever was my need, brand new car, brand new home, traveling, everything is on hold now. So I spend more time with myself than ever.  I realized what is important and valuable for me and what makes me happy. Every leader today believes that individual space is critical. Every leader is giving space to individuals to enhance their potential and capabilities as we evolve beyond COVID.

How have you kept yourself going amidst the pandemic?

I have been deliberating upon my new way of working after spending so many years in human resource, was looking out to create my value.  What should be the meaning of my job?

I have worked for organizations with big employee numbers. Have introduced policies and processes that impact large sets of people. Some people relate to the initiatives, while some people will not.

But when you start connecting individually with people, you understand what you are doing and how it impacts their lives. How does it improve their level of performance? That is where you start getting a feeling of great value to that individual.

A friend gave me a point of view, which has stayed with me. So during this lockdown period, I realized that I  have never written anything for my HR fraternity. I have never shared my views on topics of common interest on LinkedIn or never written blogs. During this period, I started writing. My four or five articles got published in various HR magazines.

It is not important how many people will like your views. It is for the one this could be important.  That is a job well done. And that changed my perspective.

Coaching has taught me to be myself and not be completely focused on what people expect and what I deliver.  I am researching a topic on leadership and I intend to write a book.

Looking back at your coaching journey, would you like to share one achievement that is close to your heart?

I do have one incident which changed the way I was looking at coaching. I was coaching one of the coachees who went through a tough time. He went through cancer. He came back to his work and was struggling to prove himself. During our conversation, he shared that he cannot sleep because of the pain and trauma. I was not sure whether I  was going to do any help to him. I thought he needed some medical attention rather than a coaching session.

Our coaching session went forward. My biggest acknowledgment came in after the third session when this coachee said to me that “I have slept for a couple of nights now. I feel that it has changed the way I was looking at my own life. I always was in a hurry to prove myself and wanted to cover up the lost years quickly. So your discussions have slowed me down”.

The feeling that I have made an impact in somebody’s life is a big success. We both opened up in those sessions and I am happy that he found it valuable.

Last but not the least, what is your message to all the coaching fraternity?

In Coaching sessions, I have slowed down, which has helped me. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t jump to results in a couple of sessions. It has to be mutual. Coaching is all about how beautifully you create an environment for both. Look at every coaching session as a unique session. Use new learnings to address the new session. Slow-down and make sure that you slow down the discussion so that the environment is very soothing, participative and you feel good about them.