Article: HR will have to ‘sharpen the saw’: Kavita John, HR Director, Air Products India

Talent Management

HR will have to ‘sharpen the saw’: Kavita John, HR Director, Air Products India

"HR will have to ‘sharpen the saw’, and build some new competencies to manage the uncertainties of the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world of today," says Kavita John, HR Director, Air Products India, in an interaction with People Matters.
HR will have to ‘sharpen the saw’: Kavita John, HR Director, Air Products India

In this rapidly changing world, sustenance is one thing, but the question is, can we embrace the increasing pace of change and adapt? Kavita John, HR Director, Air Products India believes the answer to that question is yes. 

With more focus on reskilling, better talent strategies, and adaptive leadership, organizations and working professinals can crisis-proof themselves. In a recent interview with People Matters, Kavita shares how the world of work is evolving and changing the role of HR.

How do you see the world of work shaping up? What are some of the people and work trends you think will either stay or emerge even beyond the COVID-19 era? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way we work, think and live. The impact, in many ways, has surprised organizations while also providing a refreshed viewpoint and strategy as to the way things may change in the future.

As a result, we are seeing the ‘world of work’ with a fresh pair of eyes and experiencing many new ‘normals’. Individual efficiencies - the shift in focus to results and output versus the notion of time - is redefining us. The most important thing that has emerged is the resilience and adaptability across everything. Be it technology, processes or leadership involvement, everything is robust. Rigidity has no place in these times and technology and digital solutions that are tailor made will be in demand. In these unprecedented times, leadership that is collaborative, empowering, empathetic, data driven with a productivity mindset is the need of the hour and of the future.   

In the short term, what can we do to shift today's workforce towards the industries and sectors that have room for them? In the long term, how can we prepare today's students and workers for the industries and roles of tomorrow?

As is commonly said, change is the only constant. In this rapidly changing world, sustenance is one thing, but the question is, can we embrace the increasing pace of change and adapt? I believe the answer is yes.  

The shift is possible by reskilling and upskilling as per the need. Society, government and private enterprises all have a key role in this. At Air Products, our agile learning systems provide solutions to develop talent that will ensure we are able to meet both future business and industry needs. Innovation is also essential. The work force must equip itself with the latest tools and technology – irrespective of business or industry - this is critical. In addition, the curriculum for students must be designed to incorporate more practical aspects that are applications based and solution oriented.

How is the role of HR Changing with the pandemic? What do you think are the core competencies the HR of the present and the future need to build? 

Today HR is operating beyond what was considered its traditional role and today plays a crucial job in balancing productivity, the demand for changed processes, policies and most importantly ensuring the health, well-being and safety of employees. This pandemic continues to teach us important lessons, including the importance of gathering data and information to fill knowledge gaps or to enable new approaches to working; that adaptability is key; that every problem has a solution as well as possibilities; and that there are no boundaries to success. Now, more than ever, HR leaders are channelling resources and insights to reshape, evolve and empower organizations.

HR functions will be called upon to collaborate even more with the business to ensure proper governance of systems and processes; encourage agile learning; support leadership transformation in line with new expectations; while also providing the best experience and opportunities within the organization, to stay ahead of the curve.

Having said that, HR will have to ‘sharpen the saw’, and build some new competencies to manage the uncertainties of the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world of today. 

What technologies are currently having the greatest impact on the nature of work?

Use of technology and analytical tools has enabled organisations to make more efficient use of available resources. Technology has helped reduce administrative and routine work, thus freeing up valuable time for analysis, interventions and informed decision making. Today, technologies that enable remote communication and collaboration, increase automation, reduce process time, bring speed; enhance the customer experience; and increase data security are the most essential for business.

In HR, technology has already started playing a pivotal role at every stage of the employee life cycle. It is strengthening talent sourcing processes and enabling the HR function to realize its full potential in partnering and collaborating with the business.

How are you dealing with this crisis? What are some lessons learnt amid the pandemic that you will take ahead with you?

At Air Products, nothing is more important than safety and we have been taking all necessary measures for the safety and health of our employees and their families during this crisis. Even before the major outbreak of the pandemic and country wide lockdown, we ensured our employees had the tools required to effectively ‘work from home’; and we offered regular communication at all levels to help our people feel safe and secure, while remaining productive.  We continue to ensure that all the requisite policies and structures related to health crisis management are in place. Our Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)  and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have helped us develop strong connections with our larger employee base and with the support of our dedicated crisis management team, we have kept a close vigil on the situation to  respond quickly and thoughtfully. 

Without a doubt, these are testing times for business leaders.  Each day brings new challenges. Business challenges are one aspect but maintaining employee morale during such chaotic times calls for a balanced leadership that is both visible and supportive. At Air Products we strongly believe that each individual has a role to play, and that each one of our employees “Belongs and Matters”. We trust in investing in our processes, our employees - who are our strength - and are mindful of the long-term impact of our actions and decisions. Navigating through these unprecedented times, HR teams have partnered with the business, to help keep employees motivated and engaged through open communication channels; leadership interactions; virtual team bonding and connect sessions; whilst remaining focussed on business commitments; continuing recruitment and retention efforts,  and successfully delivering results. 

We will continue to learn; and progressive organizations will undoubtedly flourish from the unforeseen opportunities presented during this time of crisis. 

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Topics: Talent Management, #COVID-19

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