There is a need for a culture of innovation to ensure that each idea gets merit
Stretch assignments at GE are not about giving someone another job to do, but about providing the opportunity to gain exposure in areas that one is passionate about
Aarif Aziz, Head - HR, GE Global Research, John F. Welch Technology Centre, GE India Technology Center shares the unique demands on HR in developing leadership in a high IQ environment.
GE India Technology Center’s focus is on building leadership for the 'next generation' of technology. How does this translate into HR’s role to drive such an agenda?
GE is a pioneer in creating next generation products like jet engines, or even concepts like MRI and CT scanners. So, innovation has been at the core of the company’s evolution over the last 100 years.
At this juncture, we want to be a company that is focused on technology and that which develops products and solutions to meet the consumers’ needs. If you translate that into an engineering and technology organization like ours, there are a few critical aspects. Firstly, there is a need for a culture of innovation to ensure every idea gets merit and is given an opportunity to evolve into something meaningful. The second aspect is creating an environment where people as a team have the opportunity to look at things differently. For example, if someone working on aircraft designs wants to develop skills to create next-generation aircraft, the organization builds that environment to allow the opportunity to develop those skills. The third aspect is to be conscious of how these products are impacting the environment. ‘Ecomagination’ at GE aims at reducing the company’s carbon footprint by making products that are efficient, consume less fuel and reduce pollution.
HR’s role is to create the culture to make all of this possible through an open environment which allows anyone to walk up to anybody to share an idea; to emphasize on developing both depth and breadth of skills through a learning and development culture; and to provide people the opportunity to learn beyond their roles through stretch assignments. HR is also helping GE in becoming the next generation organization by enabling GE leaders to become better coaches. As more knowledge workers join the workplace, the differentiator will be the ability to leverage the potential of these knowledge workers.
How do you ensure people take up stretch assignments?
The stretch is not in terms of giving someone another job to do, but to provide one the opportunity to gain exposure in areas that one is passionate about. Take the example of Gopi (Dr. Gopichand Katragadda) who heads the business center today. He started as the first line manager at GE and has grown to become the Managing Director. When he joined the company 11 years back as a technologist, he showed passion in many aspects like creating next-generation technology, handling projects globally, etc. The organization provided him with the opportunities to develop and acquire skills through structured training programs to grow into these roles. This eventually made him the head of R&D and now the MD, GE India Technology Center. So, stretch assignments at GE are not about doing an added role, but about taking up work that one is passionate about, and providing people with the opportunity to work on such areas.
Does India have that quantity and quality of talent?
We have a lot of talent in India, but finding the right talent is not easy because of the competitive landscape where there are many organizations that are doing well and looking for quality talent. While it is not easy to find the right fit, we have hired a lot of people over the years and the rigorous selection process helps in identifying the right talent. In the last 12 years, the GE technology team has grown to 5,341 employees from only 546 people in January 2000.
What talent management challenges do you face?
More than 60 percent employees have advanced degrees which is either a Masters or a Ph.D. and have high IQ and high caliber. Thus, HR’s challenge is in ensuring a healthy buy-in to HR’s agenda from all. There is a need for adequate rationale and logic when dealing with such a population. So, clear communication and articulation is important, along with being open to debate on any new introduction that HR makes. HR has to partner with people when rolling out new initiatives. Thirdly, HR has to leverage technology and social media inside and outside the organization.
How do you ensure the high IQ talent also acquire the required EQ?
As we hire, train and develop people, we focus on one basic thing – that it is not ‘what’ they deliver, but also the ‘how’ part of it. And this ‘how’ defines the DNA of how people work at GE. We focus on social forums where people interact a lot. One such event is the ‘Tech Fest’, where people showcase technology and come together to talk about what they have been working on. This gives these high IQ technology experts a chance to share their stories and engage with others about various projects they are working on. We also encourage people to take up volunteer activities like organizing a science fair for children where school children are invited to the GE campus to learn about how they can leverage science for experimentation. These activities act as an outlet for scientists to express themselves, which is invigorating as compared to their focused work within the narrow walls of their work area.
How has HR’s role evolved?
Today there is a need for specialist expertise within HR to be able to deal with these changing times. HR at GE is focusing on creating Centers of Excellence, which have specialists to deal with these unique aspects. The next critical facet is coaching, where HR needs to coach leaders as well as develop a coaching culture in the organization. And the third aspect is to leverage technology in identifying how HR can connect with people more efficiently as well as use social media platforms to connect with the external world.