The tricky thing about the future is that it’s already here. We are building our way into an AI controlled, IoT world, buzzing with conversations about robotics and the gig economy. Everyone is asking the same question: What happens to us? Will the robots really take over? If history is anything to go by, there’s no way to tell. Remember how the telephone, motor cars, television, personal computers, the internet, the iPhone and online shopping were all initially written off? Why am I referencing this? For two reasons. First, it doesn’t matter what the exact disruption is. Just that disruption is the new normal. Second, disruptions aren’t new. Much of what is debated today echoes similar conversations from the industrial revolutions. People didn’t go out of fashion then and I don’t believe they can now. If anything, they will only become more important.
At Godrej, we describe ourselves as ‘antevasin’ - Sanskrit for someone who lives at the border, with one foot firmly rooted in the past, and the other searching for where to go to next. This curious dichotomy is how HR should approach the year(s) ahead. There are some things that will never go out of style — these ‘good’ things that make our companies who they are — like our values. Alongside that is the need for us to constantly change in sync with the times.
My thoughts on what to look out for in 2019:
Discover your purpose
People want to work at companies where they connect with a purpose and make meaningful contributions. It’s not just about a designation or paycheck for them. Also, interestingly, it’s not just the employees. There’s a perceptible shift in expectations of customers and investors too. They want companies to achieve their targets while continuing to do good for their communities.
Your purpose must be central to decisions — grounding, inspiring and challenging. If you tap this, you will be able to solve ancillary aspects of engagement, retention, multi-generational and cross-cultural team dynamics.
Skill, skill, skill
Jobs, we know today, will dramatically change. How we work and the skills we need will be very different. So, we must learn to adapt faster, unlearn and relearn ways of doing our jobs, adapt our core skills to new opportunities, and be able to thrive in disruption and volatility. Companies have to start upskilling their people and encourage them to learn new things. We will have to reimagine learning and prepare for likely disruptions. Knowing the basics of digital, for example, will be a must across all roles; at the same time, the softer skills of management will become increasingly important.
Transform with technology
Technology is transforming the ways in which we interact and feel, and also who we are. No surprise then that by extension, this is intricately linked to how we craft and deliver people experiences at the workplace. Big data opens up all kinds of insights on people and trends. This can help customize experiences and significantly transform engagement and productivity. Many of us have years of data accumulated in different places. But that’s not good enough; we need to get the data to “talk”. That’s when the magic happens. Increasing connectivity, smartphone usage, the Cloud and of course, AI, are all powerful, transformative aspects. While we have leveraged these aspects for Marketing and Supply Chain, we have just about started scratching the surface of the possibilities in HR.
Tap the gig
Traditional approaches to hiring are undergoing a dramatic shift. Companies are exploring the new free market systems for contractual talent. Enter, the gig worker, who, as the name suggests, steps in to perform a “gig”. Projections show that a significantly large part of the workforce by 2020 will be gig workers. This opens up the flexibility to hand-pick projects and people. Also, if you thought this was just something happening in the West or that this is just about millennials, think again. The gig economy is very much in India. It’s for anyone who wants flexibility, including people who have retired and are now reskilling themselves. Of all the shifts we are seeing, this probably requires HR to sit up and take notice the most. Imagine your company comprises people who move in and out on the basis of their gigs. Imagine what that does to engagement and team identity.
Becoming more inclusive to stay competitive is increasingly critical. Becoming more global and diverse is key to our transformation at Godrej. Today, nearly half the revenue of our FMCG business comes from our international businesses. Our footprint extends to a variety of geographies; two-thirds of our team members and a significant number of our consumers are based outside of India. As a result, we are navigating diverse geographies, cultures, and brands.
The other big piece we are grappling with is how to effectively bring together multi-generational team members. There’s as much to be valued in years of experience, as there is in the curious, experimental approach of newcomers. We have to engage, balance, and leverage these different styles and skills; and one size won’t fit all. Simultaneously, we need to find ways to create more awareness around issues of gender and sexuality and modify our major people policies to make them more inclusive for our LGBTQI team members.
Experiment much more
We don’t, and to be fair, can’t have the answers simply because we are solving something that is changing in ways that we don’t really understand. So if there’s one thing we must learn, it’s how to experiment. This can’t be a long, intricate process. We have to shift to rapid prototyping and testing, changing on-the-go, and then starting all over again. If we must fail, then we have to do it fast so that there’s time to fix it and move on. There are lots of great examples of how startups are using these approaches to test product ideas that we can borrow from. This agility will be the game-changer.
Abraham Lincoln once famously said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. That’s probably the best way to sum up the exciting opportunities we have today, to reimagine and build for the years ahead.