Article: We owe our workforce the opportunity to reboot: Srikanth Balachandran

Strategic HR

We owe our workforce the opportunity to reboot: Srikanth Balachandran

In an uncontrived conversation with People Matters, Srikanth Balachandran, Director Bharti Group (and previously, the Global CHRO, Bharti Airtel) shares his perspectives on the telecommunications biggest leverage, the future in wake of dynamic technology, and the imperative of rebooting employees.
We owe our workforce the opportunity to reboot: Srikanth Balachandran

From a business perspective, what is exciting for you in the next couple of years?

From a macro perspective, I think there are many things that are coming together that will define the nature of the dynamic transformation India is going through. It feels right to be sitting at the center of this big opportunity. Speaking about the telecommunications industry in particular, it is transforming itself from the traditional ‘Voice and Internet’ into much more of the digital play. The smartphone power in the hands of the consumer is also redefining the game of mobile. 

A lot is already happening and I am sure there will be a lot more of it in the future that is difficult to anticipate at this moment. But this really characterizes the excitement of the business. And although it is difficult to predict what will happen 10 or 15 years from now, all I can say is the computing power of mobile/smartphones in the hands of the Indian customers is going to create a revolution — and what that power would do, only future can reveal. 

What are the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that you want your people to display to meet the challenges in the years to come? 

If I were to zero in on the specific set of skills that are going to define success in future, then it is about understanding the points of intersection between customer's needs, customer's expectations, and technology. If we are able to develop a deep understanding of these elements, then it is going to define us. The current learning agenda is made of two buzzwords. The first buzzword is design thinking and the second buzzword is digital thinking. Design thinking entails understanding the customer first and then moving backward to set the agenda; and of course, understanding what digital does to the life of customers. But most importantly, an attitude of intellectual restlessness has to be exhibited along with a willingness to unlearn. These aspects will really be the differentiating factors of learning and development in the future.

What jobs do you think will be automated in the next few years?

I think many jobs are going to be automated and this will be end-to-end. Every job is going to see some form of automation to some extent. But there will also be a whole lot of other jobs that will be generated, and that is the opportunity for our workforce. There would be many newer opportunities coming up in areas of design and digital, and I think that really will be a big opportunity as well as change. 

How do we deal with that change in the workforce if the current jobs disappear and new ones appear?

I think gone are the days when people went to universities for their degrees and prepared themselves for a work career – one career in a life. The future is going to be about multiple points of going back to learning, rebooting the skills, and coming back to work. In the future, it is going to be probably 3 or 4 different career points in an individual’s life rather than a single career.

But as employers, the one thing we owe to our workforce is to provide them with the opportunity to reboot.

That is the single most important thing. For example, someone who has been working on the backend technology or is deep into the silos of tech development, a reboot for that person could be a customer-facing role; or people who are there in the field, maybe a reboot for them could be an R&D role. So completely different kinds of work and that is what I am implying by reboot – not incremental change, but a complete transformation of oneself. I think those are the sort of opportunities people really look for. As leaders, our responsibility is to invest in their development and nurture their strengths.

What are the skills, attitudes, or talents an individual needs to have to be able to engage with that kind of rebooting?

Building on the expectation of every employee having to embrace concepts of design thinking and digital thinking, I would zero in on 3 skills — the first is Creativity and Innovation. The time has really come for this. If machines are going to do a whole lot of standardized things, the only real thing left for us will be to show human excellence — in terms of creativity and innovation. The more we let people focus on creating things and innovating, we are really paving the way for next round of innovation. That is one skill we really need to nurture and exert our people to spend more time on. The second would be Problem Solving. I think problems are getting intricate and we need to get our workforce to adopt better methods of problem-solving. The last skill would be Critical Thinking – this is something that has been with the human race for centuries and something we should continue to focus on. Most importantly, one needs humility in thought and character because these qualities enable in rebooting and molding oneself. 

At Bharti Group, we are sort of trying to shape our own thinking in line with some of the best practices that are happening in the world around us. And to that extent, we have discovered that when you use gamification, you make learning more intuitive which in turn contributes to the learning environment becoming comfortable and convenient. I feel if learning is more intuitive and gamified, people invest their own time, energy, and mind in developing their skills.

Do you think you can develop people to be more creative?

I think it is about inspiring one another. Of course, there is a lot of folklore about invention. But I think, if people work in a community of learners and inspire each other on a general basis — that is the best learning environment for unleashing creativity. Community learning, learning from each other and getting inspired by leadership make a big difference. For human excellence to cross new frontiers, you need an environment in which leadership encourages inspiration and nurturing of employees. Empower your people so that their thinking is not shackled. Give wings to their thoughts and expressions. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, Life @ Work

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