Thiru Nagarajan is the Vice President and Head of HR for IBM India/South Asia. He is responsible for the people strategy, leadership, skills, engagement, employee services, and diversity & inclusion of the workforce across India/South Asia. Thiru brings over 20 years of experience in human resources, including expertise in the areas of HR Services, Talent Acquisition, and Global Mobility. In his most recent role as the Vice President, HR, for IBM’s Global Business Services’ Global Delivery, Quality & Solutioning functions, he was responsible for executing on talent strategy, reimagining, and delivering digital HR solutions, and driving culture transformation. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, he talks about how technology can be leveraged to build the right work culture while simultaneously driving productivity in the face of business disruptions.
Here are a few excerpts.
With increasing automation in the workplace, how can HR technology be leveraged to support performance management in a more transparent and bias-free way?
Technologies like AI, analytics and automation on the cloud have become pervasive across organizations, including the HR function. We are seeing it being leveraged on multiple fronts related to talent such as skilling, matching employees and external candidates with career opportunities, supporting managers with better salary investment guidance, eliminating manual tasks in benefits administration, payroll through robotic process automation, and many others including performance management. It is all about translating multiple structured and unstructured data points regarding the employee and business outcomes into talent insights that enables managers to make better performance decisions.
AI is judgment neutral at the outset, but it relies on data that is collected and the basis on which it is trained on. It is therefore essential to continuously test evolving datasets and model outcomes for bias and make adjustments as necessary.
As driving productivity becomes one of the top priorities for leaders moving forward, one cannot deny the critical role a positive employee experience plays. What are some of the key strategies that can help achieve this among a distributed workforce?
In the current environment, employee engagement is very vital for organizations than ever before. Employee experiences must be meaningful, simple and cohesive. Organizations must invest in designing highly personalized, digital experiences for employees to help them succeed in a virtual, distributed, and agile environment. It is also crucial to adopt an organization-wide approach of extreme collaboration, communicating with impact and cultural intelligence, which cuts across traditional silos and can enable employees to be resilient. These experiences must be constantly improved and continuously aligned to the needs of the business and clients.
Given that there is a rising trend in shifting from performance management to performance enablement, how can technology be leveraged to augment human capabilities and build a highly skilled workforce?
In the knowledge economy that the world has evolved to, skills have become the core of how work gets done. Every employee is an asset, and their skills must be fungible. They have to be relevant and valued by clients. Technology, which has permeated every level of an organization, is now at the driver’s seat for performance enablement and skilling initiatives. It is absolutely necessary for organisations to have a technology platform which enables online, self-paced, multi-channel, highly personalized, curated learning. They must have consistent investments in technology and superlative content as the foundation of learning & development strategy and further create career progression roadmap for employees based on their learning.
Organizations can apply AI to personalize learning at scale, providing every employee with the right learning at the right time. Predictive analytics can be used to identify - with precision - the skills that organizations have in the workforce at all times.
Companies can also use AI to assess external data sources and trends. This prevents obsolescence by detecting the skills needed in the future. Another key focus should be to foster a culture of perpetual learning that rewards continual skills growth.
Aligning employee growth to organizational growth plans is a key move for leaders. What can organizations do to ensure that employee growth journeys can yield to not only increased productivity but also business growth?
Talking from my experience of being part of the information & technology sector, here are some of the ways that organizations can evolve and grow - to not just boost productivity, but also better attract, develop and retain employees-
- Move talent across the organization to give differentiated experiences & provide them a better understanding of the business imperatives
- Alternately, provide opportunities for short term assignments or stretch projects that are location-agnostic
- Conduct real-world problem-solving hackathons or ideathons to nurture innovation
- Empower teams to function like start-ups to imbibe entrepreneurial skills
- Provide opportunities for formal and structured on-the-job learning for employees to earn credentials which has significance not just internally but externally as well
- Adopt incentive-based learning and skills-based compensation
- Provide transparency in job postings with priority to candidates who have taken the efforts to reskill themselves as relevant to the position and business priority
What are some words of advice that you would like to share with fellow talent leaders to build a future ready workforce that is driven even in the face of business and digital disruptions?
On similar lines as I mentioned earlier, skills are the new currency in today’s talent landscape. The future of work demands much greater volume, velocity, and variety of learning for the organization and for employees. Executive leaders must create a culture of continuous learning that increases organizational resilience. Employees must become continuous learners to keep their skills up to date for success in their current role, and they must reskill periodically to advance their career or to jump into a new high-demand role.
Organizations should embed learning directly into work design so that people who need to acquire new skills can do it as needed on the job, at their own time and pace. Agile learning is the discipline for making this happen. Agile learning future-proofs employees, which, in turn, future-proofs the organization. And organizations must ensure that employees translate learning & exercise skills into action, in their everyday work.