Vodafone's MD & CEO on moving towards conscious change
What are the fundamental paradigms that are shaping the telecom industry and what do they mean when you look at the broader business ecosystem?
Some of the changes that are happening are not only happening for telecom but all industries. We are at the cusp of the new industrial revolution 4.0, which is basically technology based where new technologies like AI, digitalization, AR, VR, IoT all are imminent and will impact industries across the board. We have to be ready for this and it will require making major changes within our organizations. The key message is that some of the traditional ways of doing business will need to change dramatically and if organizations don’t change, they will be decimated. Coupled with all this is the fact that customers are getting savvy, want everything ‘here and now’, and increasingly, conversations are taking place primarily on social platforms to which organizations need to respond in real-time.
As a telecom company, we are enabling a lot that is happening by providing the critical data connectivity layer which brings to life each of these technologies, as these are primarily data-based technologies. In the last few years, data proliferation has happened at a much faster pace than we had envisaged a couple of years back. I personally believe that India will adopt these technologies and changes at a faster rate than its global counterparts. To make the most of these opportunities, organizations need to embrace change, digitalize, and become agile and future-fit. All this can only happen when they change from within.
The world of technology is moving at a fast pace. Through all that noise and everything that is happening, how do you retain that “people touch” and engagement, especially in HR?
The basic paradigms of HR don’t change. One of the largest challenges for senior management is ‘engagement’. How do you keep the employees engaged? People touch is definitely a challenge that will come about with proliferation of technology. The more technology you have, the more you will have machines managing people, rather than people managing people and this will be contributing to losing the personal touch and service attitude. This has to be a key focus area and will be a big HR challenge to solve. However, there is no one solution to it. Ultimately, it will be a solution driven from the top with HR as a strong business partner. It is the CEO who sets the agenda and percolates the changes he wants down the organization. The key in this whole change is that the HR and the CEO will have to work together to build and drive this new organization. There has to be an active program within the organization to keep the engagement levels going. In the future, there may be an engagement manager or an involvement manager to drive this. Establishing a shared purpose outside of work, for example, CSR can be another great way to drive engagement.
Machines managing people will be more than people managing people. This makes ‘engagement’ a key focus area and a big HR challenge to solve
In the context of engagement, how much do you think should be formal or structured? And how much of it is in creating opportunities or engagement moments?
I think the informal moments will disappear with technology and automation coming in. Small teams may have internal engagement but not so much with the wider organization. For example, when you start building squads, tribes, and structures like that, the level of engagement within them could be high but there will be an overall disengagement of such teams with the company on a broader level. That is what is going to require active HR involvement — to resolve and keep the engagement going.
Organizations need to embrace change, digitalize, become future fit and agile — this can only happen if they change from within
What are your views on HR as a business partner? Do you think this partnership between HR and business is something that will give organizations a competitive edge in the face of disruption?
HR was always supposed to be a business partner. This paradigm is not new. HR’s role as a business partner has just become more critical today because organizations need to evolve to adjust to the rapid pace of disruption and technology advancements. Changes need to be driven by the CEO and HR together. These organizational changes are DNA changes, culture changes, the “way you work” changes. Today, you may not have all the answers. For example, how do you run squads and tribes? How do you work in flat organizations which have no hierarchy? How do we handle a paradigm where there are very few promotions? How do we measure individual vs. collective performance? How do we measure individuality? These are the questions that HR professionals will have to answer. At this moment, we can only try, experiment, and learn what works. Hence, HR is an important function for the success of a company in the future.
Vodafone is ahead of the curve in giving a personalized experience to its customers. How can organizations standardize, customize, and create that sort of experience for employees?
Tools that help understand employees better and assist in building skills that can bridge capability gaps are key. Just like you use AI for customers, you will have to use the same AI tools and psychometrics to understand employees. For example, for capability building and taking an employee to the next level, psychometric tests, AI, can be leveraged to make that progression; or if an employee is not impactful in performance, leveraging assessments to ascertain the skills that are short and then developing them through required interventions.
We have a lot of access to data – customers and employees alike. But how do we make sure we aren’t crossing the proverbial line when it comes to leveraging that power?
There is this whole privacy argument happening globally. I don’t say I have all the answers. While we have the knowledge, everyone is trying to monetize that knowledge. That is the whole thing with the startup culture, how can you use AI and deep learning to monetize the knowledge you have about the customer. However, it is important to be sensitive to customer privacy and acting with caution by using collective anonymization rather than using identifiable individual data.
(The interview has been compiled from Sunil Sood’s Talk Show & FB Live during the TechHR Conference 2018 and has been edited for language and inconsistencies.)