Ransi Dharmasiriwardhana – Leading through ambiguity

From a contract employee to the Head of HR in Sri Lanka, Ransi believes that it is the Bank’s culture that has propelled her career forward

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Born in Kuwait and raised in the US, it was in Standard Chartered Sri Lanka that I found my passion for HR some 14 years ago when the Bank took a chance on me and offered an interim HR Business Partner role on a fixed-term contract basis. Despite having no prior experience, I began my journey in HR and it didn’t take long for me to realise that this was my ‘calling’. I wanted to impact people’s lives and make it a better place to work for than when I started.

Straight out of university in the US, I had worked as a Management Trainee in the retail space and then hopped a flight to Sri Lanka where I started working with the American Chamber of Commerce as a Project Manager, followed by my role as Project Director of a USAID/Microsoft funded non-profit project. Looking back, joining the Bank was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made as it moulded me to become the person I am today.

Since then, I’ve held various roles within HR, including Talent Acquisition, HR Business Partnering, Employee Relations and even a stint in Singapore in the People Capability team. I’ve been heading HR for Sri Lanka since 2018. I see my career as a testament to the strong performance-driven culture and the focus the Bank places on grooming talent. Starting out as a contract staff, I've climbed the ladder to now be part of the Country Management Team. The Bank provided me opportunities to pursue my aspirations, and I see our global network and policies and processes as a unique advantage to anyone daring to dream big about their careers.

Apart from what I love about my function, one thing I always believe stands out about Standard Chartered is our unique culture of togetherness and our human-centric approach of making people the focal point in every decision.

I know it seems a bit cliche coming from me being in HR, but I’ve witnessed how the Bank has always put the well-being of employees first. The work we’re doing on the ground to assist our colleagues navigate the pandemic as well as the worst economic crisis we’ve experienced in Sri Lanka gives me a great deal of purpose and satisfaction, and I feel deeply encouraged to work for an organisation that’s here for the people.

Sri Lanka is currently battling an economic meltdown with depleted foreign currency reserves to manage import of important commodities such as fuel and is facing a severe energy crisis. With hyperinflation and local currency depreciation over 60 percent within this year, Sri Lankans are probably going through one of our worst times in history. We still stand resilient as we did during the 30-year civil war and during the dark period post the terrorist Easter attacks in 2019, and I’m optimistic that better days are ahead.

To support the ongoing challenges, the country’s leadership and HR teams were instrumental in responding to the country’s evolving challenges by putting our people first. We worked together to derive unique solutions that were first in the market and included initiatives such as reimbursements for power, staff transport, an introduction of an ex-gratia payments to cope with the sharp spikes in cost of living, mindfulness sessions, financial well-being sessions, and various activities driven through the D&I committee. We have also over 80 percent of our staff working from home and we are given the flexibility to choose.  It is times like these that remind me why I’m in HR all these years, as I see first-hand how we can make a real impact in the lives of our people.

Beyond my core work, coaching is a new-found passion that I discovered in the last 4-5 years. I am a Professionally Certified Coach through International Coaching Federation, and I’m also a part of the Bank’s IGNITE coaching programme where I coach female leaders across the global network and get to see and be a part of their individual transformation. Seeing them transform and grow gives me a deep sense of fulfilment and makes me connect with my purpose in a meaningful manner.

There’s still a lot to do on the ground in Sri Lanka as we continue to navigate the crisis. There’s quite a lot of anxiety on the ground, and it has never been this important to be with the people and work with them to create a sense of stability. Communication and transparency with employees will continue to be a priority for us, and it gives me comfort to know that we as a Bank can give our people some relief in these tough times.