Anant Garg is the Director, Human Resources at Becton Dickinson (BD), India/South Asia. As the Head of Human Resources and Administration Functions, Anant is responsible for leading the design and execution of people strategy across the commercial, manufacturing, R&D and technology entities based in the region. In an interaction with People Matters, he shares his thought on the changes in the workplace post-COVID-19, profile of the new workforce and adapting to the new normal.
What skills have emerged as important, and conversely, what skills are de-emphasized? How should employers change the way they hire and reskill?
Rather than technical skills that may vary depending on industry and roles, I would like to reflect on few behavioural skills (that are relevant for most jobs) that I have seen becoming more prominent already, esp. for leaders.
1) Ability to innovate: People are now coming up with new ideas, finding ways to deliver results in ways they never imagined were possible. Look around and everyone is trying to do their job a bit differently.
2) Ability to prioritize: With the resource constraints, leaders are having to make choices between “equally important things”. That is difficult. E.g. you want to be customer centric and have your people serve customers, but you also want to be caring for your employees and not put them at any risk. So winning leaders will be those who are able to strike that balance.
3) Ability to simplify: Making complex things simple is an art. But leaders will (hopefully) realize that they may have to change their approach at a short notice. With all the anxiety and clutter in the environment, customers and employees will appreciate simplicity even more.
This crisis is offering great insights about our talent. One can see how talent and leaders are reacting, innovating, overcoming barriers, leading teams and so on. Everyone has a learning opportunity (that they never asked for!) and those who have the willingness to reflect and agility to learn will shine. This is almost serving as an involuntary “Leadership Development” program for companies!
Health and safety considerations and the experience of WFH have changed the way we view the physical environment in which we work. What are the new expectations around the physical working environment, and what adjustment would employers and employees alike have to make?
Firstly, we need to wait a bit to conclude whether ‘virtual working’ is the new normal- whether this is just a temporary effect or a permanent behavioral shift.
There will be takers for both physical and virtual work options. Within a few weeks, we already have people who really want to get back to the office for multiple reasons (e.g. better infrastructure in office, connect with the team, better work-life boundaries, overall environment, etc.). Therefore, companies will have to enable the combination, not just through technical infrastructure but also mindset changes and etiquette training.
One of the key reasons why virtual working does not always work effectively all the time is related to virtual meeting etiquette. When there is a room full of people physically present, the minority joining virtually tend to get excluded (E.g. cross-talk in the room, presenters forgetting those on the call etc.). The participants also tend to get distracted by other things and detached from the conversation (esp. when not on video).
So, the physical environment may not be replaced, but will rather coexist more effectively with virtual.
Some HR leaders have said COVID-19 is really the time for the HR function to shine. How can the HR function make its own adaptations? Will the CHRO rise to the same level of prominence that the CFO did after the global financial crisis?
“Wear your own mask first before assisting others”- that’s what HR Leaders should be guided by. Leaders and employees are relying on HR for several answers in terms of ways of working, employee safety, people investments etc. And this is new for HR as well, so the capability of the HR leadership is being tested.
Amongst the regular responsibilities, three areas will require additional focus from HR-
1) Keeping the organization true to its culture and values: What’s written on the slides about values and culture will now need to be demonstrated on the ground and HR will have a big role to play. Of course, companies will have to take tough decisions and rightly so, in which case people will observe “How” they do it, “Which decisions” they take first, and whether they live the values WHILE doing it.
2) Enabling work in adversity: This is the time when HR teams can MOST DIRECTLY impact business results. The function has a critical role to play today to help people get back to serving their customers, build capabilities, manage talent pools and be effective in the new environment.
3) Building sustainable organizations: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”- goes the saying. In good times, organizations often build fat and unsustainable cost structures as that’s the easy way to do it. But one of HR’s role is to always think few years down the line and build an organization with that in mind. Understandably no one predicted this situation, but now HR leaders can help optimize available resources and help take more prudent calls.
Overall companies will be reminded of the importance of investing in creating best in class (not the biggest-in-class) HR teams with progressive mindset, ability to think ahead and the right “personal values” so they can lend the right advice in tough times. And many great leaders who have done that in the past will reap the benefits now.
As we rethink the workforce, we also rethink productivity and performance. What should these look like in the post-COVID world? What will the profile of the new workforce look like?
I am not sure if the profile of the workforce will suddenly change due to this crisis. Perhaps some of the transition already going on maybe accelerated a bit. Workforce profile usually evolves with business models and talent demand-supply equation.
Definitely productivity will be high on company agenda and for many, it may not be a choice for companies to strengthen the P&L, but to actually survive. People are talking about doing more with less, but I feel companies may have to opt for “doing less with less”- meaning they may have to let go of the frills and good-to-do things. Else they may face the risk of burnout or defocus. Similarly, performance management may get intense, as leaders and companies will have lesser patience to live with what they qualify “under” or even “average” performance.
As all this happens, I hope companies will avoid knee-jerk reactions based on the current outlook (of course beyond what is needed to survive) and take a more long-term view.
Many employers have been forced to step up the level at which they use technology, with positive results that are moving them to embrace digital transformation. What will the new technological environment look like? Where do companies stand now in terms of technological preparation, and what more must they do going forward?
In most companies, the digital transformation has been going on, though at different speeds, so this might force them to advance that agenda. One good thing that happened was that leaders and companies were forced to try out things (as a simple example, virtual meetings), even if that was against their natural instinct. Hopefully, that will stick. So, companies will invest further in digital platforms and infrastructure, and employees will adapt to this change faster than before. Even the companies that provide these technologies have jumped on the opportunity to add features and make them user friendly. So, the entire ecosystem is improving.
But more than the technology itself, the key is people’s ability and openness to use the technology. In most companies, the current technology capabilities are hardly used optimally. People have access to tools, but they continue to maintain parallel excel sheets and even hard copies. Many don’t even know how to use basic IT tools. And because the adoption is low, the technical teams tend to take it easy as well. So that cycle is going to get an involuntary boost.,
What companies can do to help with the transformation 1) Not just introduce new technology but invest in training people on using it. Help people get hands-on, insist on using it for reviews and create more excitement around using tools. 2) Create offline and online versions of your key processes and use a combination of channels 3) Put “thinking about the future” as a key expectation from leaders. Don’t be afraid to run pilots and do them seriously rather than as a check-the-box item. Don’t insist on seeing immediate results as that’s the easiest way to kill innovation. If required, create specific roles whose sole focus is to push that agenda and empower them to change behaviors.