Values and Culture at ACI, Future Of HRM, Career, And Life: An Interview With Md. Moinul Islam, Director, HR, ACI Limited

Values and Culture at ACI, Future Of HRM, Career, And Life: An Interview With Md. Moinul Islam, Director, HR, ACI Limited

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HR was a relatively obscure discipline, particularly in the context of Bangladesh, just 20 to 25 years ago. Things have significantly changed over the past several years. Today, not having an HR Department in your organization tells a lot about what kind of organization yours is. Of course, we have a long way to go where organizations will truly realize that investing in their people is the best form of investment they possibly could make, but the progress we have made in the last two decades is in no way insignificant. You could go to UshDhanak.com to learn more on HR and its importance in organisations.

Md. Moinul Islam is the Director, HR at ACI, one of the largest and most important conglomerates in the country. Mr. Islam was born and bred in Chittagong. Growing up, he was greatly influenced by his Grandfather, who was a teacher by profession and his father, who was a teacher by heart. Philosophical discussion around life and life’s meaning was a commonplace thing. In University, he studied Pharmacy, then most in-demand major at Dhaka University, but his natural inclination was more towards teaching and helping people to train and grow which eventually led him to build a career in HR. Since he joined ACI, he has been on the go, experimenting with new ideas to improve productivity to identifying better ways to help people find fulfillment at work and creating an environment of continuous learning and growth.

Mr. Islam is a thinker. He is one of the less intimidating persons you would ever meet and instantly puts everyone around him at ease. Unfailingly polite, with a warm, laid-back disposition, and seems to have inherited a sense of curiosity, drive, and ambition that is quite unique and he speaks insight. Here is an example, “I consider goodness to others is the best form of a spiritual act”.

In this immensely insightful and intellectually empowering interview, Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader sits down with Mr. Islam to explore his personal journey to what he is doing today, his works at ACI as Director of HR, how people work at ACI and values and culture that drive people, designing HR policies that work, how you build a culture and why it is important for an organization, what he looks for in a candidate, history of HR in Bangladesh, the most sought after skills in the market, his take on the future of work and workplace, what you need to do today to prepare yourself for the future of work and why goodness to others is the ultimate form of spiritual act.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Let’s start with the story of your journey to what you are doing today. You graduated with a pharmacy major and then moved to human resources management. Please also tell us about that transition.

Md. Moinul Islam

I was born and bred in Chittagong and had my primary, secondary and college education there from St. Xavier’s, St. Placid’s, Chittagong College, respectively. Afterwards, I came to the capital and opted for an undergraduate degree in Pharmacy from the University of Dhaka.

All along the course of my higher education, I wanted to be an Academician, to teach. But my academic scores failed me. There were other career choices I could pursue, but because of my passion for teaching or you can say guiding or motivating people, I became a professional trainer at a pharmaceutical company. It was back in 1997.

While training Salespersons in that job, I learned the importance of Managerial effectiveness. I also understood that in order to be recognized as a Trainer in the field of management I needed more academic knowledge. So, I instinctively began to study especially on management and attended talks and seminars. My experience as a Trainer also helped me since I used to provide first and second line sales managers with managerial advice. By 2000, I was designated as the managerial trainer and started developing & designing management plans.

But soon I felt that a formal education in management background is essential if I want to go further in this field. So, I got admitted myself into an MBA program at the University of Dhaka and passed with a fair CGPA.

Afterwards, I started receiving offers from different universities to join as a faculty member. I was also invited to join an overseas resident management program around that time. I attended there and came back with appreciation and experience.

Compliment works as a great reinforcement for passion and that is what exactly happened to me. I had an inclination for teaching and when I got recognition for my ability to teach or train people, it gave me the confidence to establish myself in this profession.

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FS

Do you think there is a connection between the nature of your upbringing and your passion for teaching?

Moinul Islam

Yes, I think so. Let me share a story. When I completed my secondary level from St. Placid’s in 1983 and was waiting for getting admitted to college, I used to provide free tuition to students whose families were impoverished. This was the first time I felt that teaching was something that I want to do in my life.

My grandfather was a teacher and my father used to teach part-time and they were well respected in the society. I thought that through teaching I could make some positive contribution to the society and people will also respect & recognize me as a teacher.

FS

Knowledge is often combinatorial. It seems our, largely, liner style of education often ignores this reality. You studied Pharmacy at University and now are working in the field of HR. Given your multidisciplinary experience, do you think it favors someone if s/he has an understanding of different fields?

Moinul Islam

My point of view is slightly different here. I think it’s essential first to have expertise in a single field. When you have a functional knowledge of a certain field and stay involved in learning new things, your experiences will help you to attain greater Managerial, Leadership and Social skills. It’ll also enable you to project a multiplier role.

For example, if you’re working with a team, it’s better to focus on fulfilling your functional roles at first priority rather than spreading yourself to various roles. It does help when you have knowledge of diversified fields but it is more helpful when you are good at your core function.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I had no prior planning to study pharmacy before I actually made that choice. It was a discovery that I stumbled upon along the course of my life. Sometimes we don’t have a definitive plan but if we discover our passion and do have a strong purpose then we can make a change in our life. We do what the time demands. It applies to our choice of education as well.

FS

It’s a common phenomenon for graduates to discover them in a career which differs greatly from their major. Since you transitioned from a science background to HRM, a field you love, can you share any particular insight that other people can use to make a similar transition?

Moinul Islam

Our life, as I understand, is an ever-changing landscape. We invent and reinvent ourselves as we make our journey. We discover ourselves, our passion, and strength as we grow. We can’t always pursue everything that we hold dear to our heart. That’d create a chaos in the world. If everybody in India train and practice to become Sachin Tendulkar, nobody would be left to watch Indian cricket team play. Similarly, when we think we are actually pursuing the right choice, it could also meet miserable end due to our lack of interest and enthusiasm.

Growing up, my scholarly cousin Professor Dr. Shahidul had a great influence on me. For the record, he never stood second in any exam and currently, he is working for one of the most prestigious institutes called Karolinska Institute. It was the time before my university admission test, I went to see him and we were discussing the progress of my preparation. At one point he asked me, how many hours do I study per day? I replied that I usually study for 7-8 hours a day. He simply replied, “How do you manage to sleep studying only 7-8 hours when a day consists 24 hours where I can’t sleep without studying 18 hours”. All of my life he has been a mentor and inspiration for me.

When I was young, I felt that education is one of the most important factors in life and by teaching people someone can make a great contribution to the society. From that point on, I aspired to become an educator. To do that, I needed the better& higher education.

Eventually, with hard work and guidance from my cousin, I obtained higher education in pharmacy. My parents had a great influence on this decision and also there was this catchy phrase which was very popular at that time: “study pharmacy, go to America.” It implied the fact that many people who studied pharmacy around that time went to the USA later.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I had no prior planning to study pharmacy before I actually made that choice. It was a discovery that I stumbled upon along the course of my life. Sometimes we don’t have a definitive plan but if we discover our passion and do have a strong purpose then we can make a change in our life. We do what the time demands. It applies to our choice of education as well.

FS

You have several decades of experience in helping companies and people to grow, what are some of the biggest lessons from your journey so far?

Moinul Islam

Everyone longs for success, no doubt about that. However, very few people usually often show the willingness to pay the price.

There is no way you can make a meaningful difference if you don’t love your work.

You have to take the ownership of your work and definitely, you need to go the extra mile. And you have to do it consistently for a long time, only then it will yield a result. Sporadic hard work does not produce any good.

Young people these days have the idea of work-life balance. I don’t believe in such a balance. Instead of separating work, we should be making it an integral part of our life. I feel as much homely in this office as I do in my actual home. Honestly speaking, there’ve been many holidays in the last several years which I passed in the quietness of this very room.

I think the idea itself that our life has to be enjoyed separately from our work is a quite premature idea. We spend a significant portion of our day at work. By calling it work and not life, are we trying to prove that work is not that important part of life? I think the idea should be to find a way to integrate our life and work in a way that is coherent and meaningful.

I am a strong believer of the idea of meritocracy. But I think our society is more evolution driven. To me, continuous practice and effort help to make desired changes and surprisingly it can be done by anyone in general. We can see countries like Japan, Korea, and India which made remarkable changes in their society by continuous improvement. It is about time that we bring changes to our core ideas and thoughts.

Our life, as I understand, is an ever-changing landscape. We invent and reinvent ourselves as we make our journey. We discover ourselves, our passion, and strength as we grow. We can’t always pursue everything that we hold dear to our heart. That’d create a chaos in the world. If everybody in India train and practice to become Sachin Tendulkar, nobody would be left to watch Indian cricket team play. Similarly, when we think we are actually pursuing the right choice, it could also meet miserable end due to our lack of interest and enthusiasm.

FS

Let’s get a little off-script here. There is a longstanding debate over nature versus nurture aspects of genius that is whether genius is inherited or attained over time. What do you think about it?

Moinul Islam

This is an interesting issue. As far as I think, this is an ongoing discussion and there is no conclusive decision yet.

But, if you want my opinion, my wager would be on nurture. If someone takes a true interest in something and attempts to understand it fully, s/he can reach a level of genius. And once s/he masters it, s/he should keep practicing it because knowledge and skills are degenerative.

Moinul Islam

Moinul Islam | Photo by ACI

FS

Please tell us about your work as the Director of HR at ACI. How do you approach your job?

Moinul Islam

I consider people are the most important resource in a company. They drive the company and define the fate of any organization. In an organization, employees play two vital roles – one is in decision-making and another is operational. The first role requires knowledge and expertise in a given field and the latter concerns productivity, efficiency, and precision.

One of my important job responsibilities is that I’m required to take recruitment decisions. While hiring someone what I try to do is to match her/his skill with the functions of the advertised position. Apart from functional skills, we look for right attitude and cultural fit.

If you are willing to learn, you can learn almost anything. Hence, attitude is very important for us while hiring. We put people we hire in different situations and try to judge how they operate, work and respond to different challenges and situations.

In my professional life, I take a simple approach that is I simplify the job process to make it easier. I identify its stakeholders and their demands. According to those demands, I attempt to broaden my knowledge and improve my performance. I try to be as much cooperative as I can and ask for regular feedback from them.

Everyone longs for success, no doubt about that. However, very few people usually often show the willingness to pay the price. There is no way you can make a meaningful difference if you don’t love your work. You have to take the ownership of your work and definitely, you need to go one step extra. And you have to have the continuity.

FS

How does the HR department at ACI work? Can you please tell us about your organizational culture?

Moinul Islam

On the basic level, our company is divided into different Strategic Business Units (SBUs). These SBUs have their respective HR teams who take care of their HR needs. As Head of HR, I accumulate all of these teams to some extent administer their work. I guide them to deliver their actions.

As for our organizational culture, ACI is a value-driven organization. There are six core values that influence every part of our company. Fairness and transparency are our top priority which is evident in our organization. Then, there are customer focus and product quality which are related to our operation.

The remaining values are continuous improvement and innovation. These two helps us to keep our business growing. We take our values very seriously and when a new employee joins our team, we try to instill these values through training and workshops so that they practice these values to further our cause.

FS

How do you design an effective HR policy? How do design an HR strategy that works?

Moinul Islam

Frankly, content-wise, there’s nothing too special about our HR policy. It’s quite generic. What makes our human resource management especial is the implementation of our HR policy.

At ACI, we strictly abide by our HR guidelines. This commitment to policy implementation matters the most. Apart from that, two principles drive our policy formation: legal compliance and employees’ interests.

FS

What are the challenges you face in your job?

Moinul Islam

My job as an HR Head, by its very nature, is challenging. In recent times, hiring and developing people have become a critical issue since the existing talent pool in the market is quite dynamic. And once hired, it’s important to retain the talent. Other challenges include keeping employees motivated and development of effective leadership.

There are some aspects of HRM that are quantifiable while the rest of them are not. Working environment, for example, is an aspect of a performance indicator that can’t be measured. It becomes all the harder when the work environment includes over 14,000 people, which is the case for ACI. So because of the absence of numerical indicators and inability to receive feedback from each of the employees, sometimes we face difficulties in these intangible cases.

Young people these days have the idea of work-life balance. I don’t believe in such a balance. Instead of separating work, we should be making it an integral part of our life. I feel as much homely in this office as I do in my actual home. Honestly speaking, there’ve been many holidays in the last several years which I passed in the quietness of this very room. I think the idea itself that our life has to be enjoyed separately from our work is a quite premature idea. We spend a significant portion of our day at work. By calling it work and not life, are we trying to prove that work is not that important part of life? I think the idea should be to find a way to integrate our life and work in a way that is coherent and meaningful.

FS

What is your opinion of the overall HRM practices in Bangladesh?

Moinul Islam

In most of the local companies, there is lack of belief in the idea of seeing their employees as “Resources”. But this is one of the core principles of HR practices. The lack of such an attitude can be blamed on the nature of our economy which is still largely opportunity driven with quick profit rather than sustainability.

While other countries are shifting to a more human resource-driven economy, our emphasis on human resource development in Bangladesh is meager. With a population of 160 million and counting, it should be our top priority to capture the demographic dividend.

FS

As technological advancement soars, the professionals have to keep pace with it. Jobs are becoming more ambiguous in nature and their scope less restrictive. What kind of people do you think will thrive at workplaces in the coming days?

Moinul Islam

With the advancement of technological revolution, the future will be lead by tech-savvy people. Innovation, idea, and adaptabilities to change will be the key to success. A new set of competencies will rule this digital age like big data, Analytics, AI, Cloud computing, BI, Robotics augmented and virtual reality related expertise will play a dominant role.

Early adaptors will stay ahead in the race of competition. Workstations will be more paperless day by day. Apart from it by nature of employment will be also changed; short-term project-based employment will dominate rather than long-term employment.

I consider people are the most important resource in a company. They drive the company and define the fate of any organization. In an organization, employees play two vital roles – one is in decision-making and another is operational. The first role requires knowledge and expertise in a given field and the latter concerns productivity, efficiency, and precision.

FS

What is your management philosophy?

Moinul Islam

I believe in the purpose driven philosophy of management where people will find a definite meaning of enjoyment and accomplishment.

I engage with my team as a catalyst to facilitate and formulate the solution to their problem. So that they keep up the passion for learning and contribute to the organizational goals and achieve their own goal.

My decision making includes defining the purpose of the job, creating a common interest point and it is inclusive of employee’s opinion for ownership or involvement.

FS

How do you deal with the stress that comes with your profession?

Moinul Islam

Whenever I face a critical issue about which I can’t take an effective decision, I try to get in touch with the connected stakeholders. I listen to what they have to say and take into consideration their opinion when making the final decision.

Stress is often a result of decision making failure; I try to minimize this and try to look at things from a more holistic perspective.

I believe in the purpose driven philosophy of management where people will find a definite meaning of enjoyment and accomplishment. I engage with my team as a catalyst to facilitate and formulate the solution to their problem. So that they keep up the passion for learning and contribute to the organizational goals and achieve their own goal.

FS

What does a typical day in your life is like?

Moinul Islam

I do believe that physic and psychology has a great connection. I start my day with an hour of physical exercise with a view to keeping myself healthy. That’s almost become a ritual. Then I arrive at the office and check my to-do list for the day. I also look at the to-do lists of the other Managers of my team.

I set out the priorities beforehand and at the end of the day I get back to it to monitor the progress and reflect on the day. Apart from that, I often go to meetings and attend different sorts of programs. I try to read and watch lectures on Youtube as much as I can during my free time.

When I was at School, I engaged myself in many activities like politics, I took interest in writing poetry, in sports, and many other things. Actually, I wanted to be an all-rounder. At that age, it seemed if I could not be good at this or that, I would be a failure in life. But in reality, it does not matter. All-rounders are basically a jack of all trades and master of none. Now when I look back, I find all those precious milestones as mere trifles.

FS

What are some of your favorite books from 2017?

Moinul Islam

It is hard to make a top list among so many. Still, I would like to name, Drive by Daniel H. Pink; Leaders Eat Last and Start with Why by Simon Sinek and lastly Learned Optimism by Martin E.P. Seligman. Also, I would like to mention my fondness for “Havard Business Review”.

FS

Is there a spiritual background or understanding that informs the way you look at the work and world?

Moinul Islam

My understanding of spirituality is a little different. I consider goodness to others is the best form of a spiritual act that anyone can perform.

If you are serving the humanity in your every work then you are enlightened, you are serving your soul. For example, if you are doing justice to human, animals, and plants then you are doing a form of spiritual work. That’s how I look at it – treating all living beings with justice and not disturbing the environment.

First of all, your action, even the smallest ones, should not be harmful and destructive to other people, that’s where I think spirituality begins, from the self.

Personally, when I’m doing anything I try to do good for the people. When we are taking any initiative at the organizational level, we try to minimize the sufferings of the people. These are the things, whenever I get chance I try to help people who need our help.

For me, I always feel good when I can help people by helping them to acquire knowledge and skills which I think really serve an individual for a long run.

I do believe that physic and psychology has a great connection. So, I start my day with an hour of physical exercise with a view to keeping myself healthy. That’s almost become a ritual. Then I arrive at the office and check my to-do list for the day. I also look at the to-do lists of the other Managers of my team.

FS

Five advice you would give to your young self.

Moinul Islam

1) Get clarity of your purpose; 2) Define your success; 3) Develop expert power; 4) Measure performance and challenge; 5) Take feedback from the customer, and finally, don’t be complacent.

FS

There is a saying that it’s the things you don’t do that you regret most. What are a few things that you did not do and now regret not doing?

Moinul Islam

I was late to discover my passion for studying.

I was trying to do many things at once, learning many skills. I wanted to be a news presenter, a commentator, a poet and I wanted to be many things rather than focusing on one thing. Focusing is very important if someone wants to be outstanding at something.

My understanding of spirituality is a little different. I consider goodness to others is the best form of a spiritual act that anyone can perform. If you are serving the humanity in your every work then you are enlightened, you are serving your soul. For example, if you are doing justice to human, animals, and plants then you are doing a form of spiritual work. That’s how I look at it – treating all living beings with justice and not disturbing the environment.

FS

A few things that you considered very important in your youth or a few years ago for yourself but now looking back all of it feels like trifles for life or success.

Moinul Islam

When I was at School, I engaged myself in many activities like politics, I took interest in writing poetry, in sports, and many other things. Actually, I wanted to be an all-rounder.

At that age, it seemed if I could not be good at this or that, I would be a failure in life. But in reality, it does not matter. All-rounders are basically a jack of all trades and master of none. Now when I look back, I find all those precious milestones as mere trifles.

FS

One unconventional principle or belief that you maintain that other people consider a little crazy but you know by heart that it is the truth.

Moinul Islam

Usually, people tend to be diplomatic and do avoid speaking the truth, particularly in front of the other people, because they don’t want to take the risk of falling out of favor or becoming unpopular. They don’t speak their conviction, sometimes, they consider what the other person would think and so on.

But I consider being honest is better than acting different roles and being diplomatic, be it good or bad, and I simply tell it as it is. I have found that it works in both ways; it makes me psychological baggage free as well as when I speak the truth as it is, in most of the cases people often take it positively, and it helps in the long run and improves credibility.

FS

What do you think about life, given the fact that life is short and it is temporary in nature?

Moinul Islam

I believe we should live our life in a way that has an impact on others’ lives positively. When we are living our lives, we shouldn’t disturb other living beings.

We should always show goodness to people and gratitude to the things we are blessed. As a superior being on this planet, we hold greater responsibilities for the well being of others.

FS

How to do use of modern technologies such as mobile phones and social media given that many of these technologies are designed to take advantage of our cognitive weaknesses and over-use of it can take a toll on our productivity?

Moinul Islam

I’m an optimistic person. However, I’m particularly concerned about the way we are using technology in our society. It seems to me that instead of being a harbinger of growth and progress, technologies like social media and similar platforms are taking our valuable time away from us.

These platforms are taking away our concentration and focus and that’s a matter of great concern for us.

If we can’t focus and concentrate, we would not able be to produce our best and I think this would diminish our ability as a supreme being.

I don’t know how people can deal with this, but this is a worrisome issue as a distraction is harmful to everything we do and detrimental to excellence. If we don’t handle this situation properly right now we may have to regret later in future.

It seems to me that instead of being a harbinger of growth and progress, technologies like social media and similar platforms are taking our valuable time away from us. These platforms are taking away our concentration and focus and that’s a matter of great concern for us. If we can’t focus and concentrate, we would not able be to produce our best and I think this would diminish our ability as a supreme being. I don’t know how people can deal with this, but this is a worrisome issue as a distraction is harmful to everything we do and detrimental to excellence. If we don’t handle this situation properly right now we may have to regret later in future.

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Bdjobs.com has introduced Employability Certification Test. The Employability Certification Test is a computer adaptive test which measures job applicants in critical areas like communication skills, logical reasoning, quantitative skills and job-specific domain skills thus helping recruiters identify the suitability of a candidate. By adding this test to the Job Ad, you will be able to significantly cut your recruitment lead time and effort. Learn more here.

Notes

1. Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sheikh Rahatil Ashekan

2. Further reading on HRM, Career, and Future of work here.

3. Part of the introduction reproduced from this interview.

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