Article: Tata International’s Head HR on managing a global workforce

Talent Management

Tata International’s Head HR on managing a global workforce

Manish Kumar, Head HR, Tata International discussed the challenges of managing a widely dispersed workforce and shared how he is dealing with them.
Tata International’s Head HR on managing a global workforce

After working for companies like Steel Authority of India Limited, Philips and Kotak Securities limited, Manish Kumar joined Tata International as Global Head, Human Resources in 2013. An arm of Tata Group, Tata International Limited [TIL] is a global trading and distribution company with a network of offices and subsidiaries spanning more than 39 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. 

Sharing insights from his extensive experience in various areas of HR across multiple industries, Manish Kumar, Head HR, Tata International, in a recent interaction with People Matters, discussed the current talent landscape in the industry. Given the various countries Tata International has a presence in, he also talked about some of the challenges of managing a widely dispersed workforce and shared how they are dealing with them. 

How does the current industry of trading and distribution look like, globally? What are the challenges and opportunities for businesses?

The trading and distribution businesses are heavily impacted by the economic and regulatory changes happening around the globe. The businesses need to be watchful and nimble given the trade wars between global superpowers, socio-economic and political disturbances in Africa, the Middle East and Brexit. The current sentiment, especially in the historically established trade flows in bulk commodity trade and logistics is subdued. Furthermore, marginal and small players who have limited financial backing and depth are the most affected. 

The opportunities for businesses are to assess and evaluate new source and selling markets, looking at innovative and cost efficient ways of managing the supply chain and financing, and at the same time looking at multiple ways of value addition in the trading value chain. This is also a time for companies to look at internal processes and controls and invest in stronger risk management mechanisms. 

Additionally, this is also a great opportunity to look at top quality trading professionals that may become available. 

In light of these business trends, how is the talent landscape in the industry shaping? What are some of the key roles and skills in demand?

While the overall talent mobility in the industry has reduced, the nature of its engagement with companies has also undergone a change. This can be seen from the modest attrition rates, especially for key talent within the organization. Given that information arbitrage is an important consideration in trading, product and market specialist roles continue to be in demand. We have experienced a higher proportion of trades happening through these specialized and exclusive agents. 

Top notch legal, finance, technology, marketing and HR professionals are also in demand given internal restructurings and optimization drives. 

As Tata International has employees working in diverse geographies, what are some of the challenges you have experienced in managing a widely dispersed workforce?

Being fully compliant with the laws of the land in letter and spirit becomes critical in a geographically diverse workforce. The cultural norms and local market practices need to be considered while forming and implementing employee policies. 

Companies need to have a customized approach on attracting local talent in international markets across the developed and developing economies. 

To be able to communicate and engage with a diverse, globally spread workforce is a unique challenge experienced by companies. How would one engage, with let’s say, a front line vehicle sales executive in Ghana or a trader in the US who operates from home-office or a lady production-line worker in India? 

How are you overcoming these challenges? Can you share some best practices?

As one would expect, technology has helped us reach out and dialogue with a global workforce. 

Upgrading and optimizing usage of tools like video conferencing, telepresence, e-learning has been a constant endeavor.  

Given a global and diverse business of Tata International, there are many opportunities for employees to move across diverse career streams and pursue challenging assignments. Encouraging and managing internal mobility is an additional opportunity. We think that the internal mobility process within the Tata group is a much sought after process for employees. 

Establishing and strengthening shared services for our global offices for core HR operational processes has enabled HR colleagues in businesses and locations to focus on business and employee partnering.

At the risk of sounding modest, I must admit that all of these sounds commonsensical. 

As the saying goes, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else!”  It is the effective deployment of the people processes that would differentiate and add value to the company direction and objectives. 

Have you used technology to overcome any of these challenges? Can you share what tech solutions have helped you manage employees across geographies?

Every process, especially people processes can be digitized. The use of technology to take care of some of the basic operational HR requirements of the business, such as HR ERP, ESS and e-learning applications, are now considered as hygiene. Common communication and engagement platforms, whether with global employees through an Intranet, or with external audiences using the digital and social space, are also given in today’s day and age. 

Our endeavor is that use of technology should help improve the productivity of our teams, while ensuring data security and sanctity. 

We believe that technology improvements alone cannot help overcome operational challenges, it is quite the reverse, and hence, we regularly revisit our processes, and upgrade our systems to match the latest functional practices.

What are some talent challenges that you foresee in the future and how are you preparing for them?

To be able to attract and engage with the Gen Z needs organizations to adapt and influence a different set of aspirations and behaviours, that is indeed exciting. As an extension, the transition to a gig economy is also a real challenge and an opportunity. Companies need to be flexible and open to optimize on these demographic shifts.  

Topics: Talent Management

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