Shaakun Khanna is the Head of Human Capital Management Applications, Asia Pacific, Oracle Corporation. Before joining Oracle, Shaakun was the CEO of Right Management, India. He is also the Co-founder of Consentus Advisory, a speciality HR consulting firm.
Q1. What are some of the key challenges that the HR organization will face in an AI-ready world?
The key challenges can be bracketed into two buckets: 1) Business and environment and 2) Talent/People.
In today’s world, there is a constant disruption of business models across sectors – whether that’s banking, transportation, entertainment, or food etc., Technology is the reason and the solution to navigate disruption. In a way, the cause is the solution and vice-versa. So companies are dealing with a kind of vicious circle.
On the people front, I think the biggest challenge is the shift in the paradigm of work. People’s outlook towards work has changed and it’s not just restricted to a specific generation of the workforce. People want to work less, and they want to work across multiple domains. For the HR organization, these shifts mean three things:
- When companies undergo disruption, there are a number of challenging process transformations – right from the composition of the workforce, the supply chain model, service delivery model etc., The role of HR is to be the ‘predictor and mitigator’ of these disruptions.
- The second significant challenge is to do with culture. How do you build a culture that can sustain itself through ambiguity and continuous change?
- How do you maximize the contribution of your employees in the context of this change? For example: If employees want to work 4 hours a day, how do you make the most out of that time?
Q2. There’s a far greater focus on productivity in HR Tech today. Why is this the case? Should companies be worried about productivity as a central metric?
The focus on productivity is somewhat misplaced. Productivity is not a good indicator. In a disruptive environment, it is not the right thing to focus on. For example, One can argue whether or not the mobile phone is making humans more productive. That’s because the tools themselves are agnostic. Instead, the focus should be on the leading indicators like the level of collaboration, engagement, investment in learning & development etc. It is the responsibility of the leadership to identify what these measures should be and how technology tools can enable a workplace culture.
As long as humans are around, there will be human touch. And technology cannot override them.
Q3. Research from Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends suggest that the workplace of the future will be driven by networks of teams. What are the skills that will be critical to this way of organizing work?
A. The world of work is moving towards becoming more unified and well connected. This means fewer permanent teams and a primary focus on tasks. These shifts will necessitate new skills. The first skill is to do with technology. It is about being able to evolve with technology and be comfortable using it. The second skill is to be open to ambiguity. People need to be ok with the lack of clarity. Most virtual teams operate in this medium.
An understanding and appreciation for cross-cultural diversity will be another critical skill. We are moving to an era where diversity will be a hygiene factor, and we will have to think about how to better manage diversity.
Other critical skills will include the ability to articulate and comprehend. And finally, focus and mindfulness – it’s going to be far more important than ever before.
All these skills are fundamentally human skills. No technology can replace them. As long as humans are around, there will be human touch.
Q4. You spoke about how being comfortable with ambiguity is a necessary skill for the future. However, there is a lot of literature in HR that is premised on how clarity is what motivates and drives people.
I would say how we perceive it depends on the context. When we talk about role clarity and goal clarity – we are talking about a short-term view. In the long term, what matters is passion and purpose that individuals pursue. The world in my view, has moved from ‘Do I know what is expected of me?’ to ‘I know what is expected of me.’
Today’s employees are beginning to thrive on new challenges and risks of working in suspense, specifically in startup environments. Todays’ enterprises are constantly fighting ‘disruptions’ in business, disruptions that are unknown and unseen. It is often the passion and self-driven learning agility that drives innovation and therefore the ability to sustain in disruptions.