Leading talent transformation in a hybrid era: In conversation with HR Leaders
A performing organization is always in the middle of a transformation – be it a technology transformation, changes to the operating model, or creating a global organization with increasingly efficient use of capabilities. The success of any such transformation lies in the ability of the organization in building enduring talent capabilities for the future. The question then arises, how do organizations build the talent capabilities that help them in their transformation journey?
To drive this discussion forward, key HR leaders from across the length and breadth of the country were asked three critical questions in a series of interviews conducted in partnership with SAP Success Factors. Each leader offered a unique and significant take on sustaining a hybrid workplace, the skill sets in demand when it comes to talent leaders and how we can digitally drive the learning agenda in the new normal.
Here are some excerpts.
What are some of the challenges you foresee in implementing a sustainable hybrid workplace for the future?
“As an HR Professional, I see a twofold challenge. First being the mindset of the individual. Organisations have to understand what people on the ground want, the focus isn’t about what leaders want out of their people but rather what people expect from the new workplace strategies. That’s the mindset challenge leaders have to tackle where they must bridge the gap between management, work and people's expectations in a hybrid setup. The second biggest challenge is the collaboration piece. With half of the team working in office and the other working from home, how do you enable visibility and an inclusive culture is a critical question the leadership must answer,”
-Megha Gupta, Human Resources Director, Fiserv
“What we at SAP want to achieve through our technology is that the human connect remains at the core of your workplace strategies. Considering that, we launched an experience management platform to tackle the issue of burnout and conducted a number of surveys which revealed how widely this is felt. A number of strategies were devised following these findings some of which were Fridays post noon being a no meeting day along with a flexible, hybrid work environment being created for all employees where the choice is upon them.This platform ensured that employees could choose where and how they want to work according to their convenience.”
-Arun Suraj Dadich, RSM, SuccessFactors
“What we have witnessed in the last one and a half years courtesy the pandemic and the technological disruption that is happening, I would say there are a lot of challenges which are rather opportunities. In terms of mindset, people have been used to working in a particular way and we can leverage the changes that have turned up in terms of adaptability rather than going back to how things used to be. We have to pick our learnings from the crisis and move ahead. A hybrid workforce calls that the entire spectrum of HR from a policy perspective be looked at again. What’s important is the feeling of inclusion, those working remotely or on a contractual basis should feel that they are a part of your organization because only then the passion comes out of the people. People also need to understand and appreciate the various digital options all around and choose what suits their needs. Digital should be taken as an enabler that will work well for their industry needs. These are some of the key areas that I perceive as opportunity areas for the hybrid workplace moving forward.”
-Atul Mathur, Executive VP, Aditya Birla
“During the pandemic, most of the people got used to working at home because it offers plenty of flexibility to manage work-life balance. Employees are looking forward to the future of work where a part of the team would be in the office and the others would be scattered across the world. Managers have to get used to working with this distributed workforce and achieve the team’s goals. Another key challenge is getting the workforce accommodated to the work culture as well as monitoring their accountability when it comes to their assigned tasks. The workplace policies that are arrived at must also be applied uniformly across all levels of the organization.”
What capabilities or skills would a talent leader have to lead the ongoing transformation in a hybrid era?
“The first thing is empathetic leadership. Employees are going through a lot of challenges physically and emotionally and leadership really needs to put themselves in their shoes and understand what the employees are going through day in and day out. The talent leaders also have to be cultural ambassadors and in every interaction, the cultural pillars of the organization have to be reinforced. The third capability is to create as many platforms of collaboration and connection possible even within the limitations of a hybrid setup. The fourth would be being digital and tech savvy, we have to look into what digital platforms are available to learn, connect and collaborate and following this, the leadership has to adapt and adopt these latest technologies from across the world. Finally leaders have to ensure psychological safety especially in a virtual space and that is where the magic of engagement, culture, values will merge beautifully to build a cohesive team and a cohesive organization”
-Ashwani Bhargav, Senior Director Lead-People, Learning & Development, Biocon Biologics
“Firstly, empathy to create an environment where employees feel included, supported, engaged and recognised for their efforts. Then, comes the ability to lead teams with a positive and problem solving attitude which is a must in a VUCA world. Listening and learning are also critical skills along with being a people coach to effectively develop the team and leaders in that group. Strategic planning to align goals with the business strategy so that it gets reflected in the balance sheet is also one I would vouch for. Also significant is being able to build the competitive advantage and resilience of the organization, in other words its USP. Finally, being able to drive engagement which leads to retention is a must have skill. Afterall, retention is key to countering the threat of ‘The Great Resignation’.”
-Ajay Sinha, HRBP-East, Ambuja Cements
“These past two years have revealed that the old frameworks of talent management will no longer give you the desired results. Talent leaders must now build awareness of business insights because the business model has been continuously changing. Newer competencies are now being asked for from the current workforce. For instance, faster decision making for one can no longer rely on the chain of command as before because they might not be aware of the happenings at the ground level. Another would be the digital skills because while technology is readily available, how it will be designed for usage within the organisation will be critical. Further, talent leaders with appreciative intelligence are a must who will envision the growth of the organization and accordingly hire the talent the organisations need. Active listening as well as the ability of the talent leader to garner top management’s support for experimentation and exploration because there are no fixed talent management models to completely rely upon. Risk analysis has become a critical part of the planning process especially in light of the pandemic. Talent leaders’ speed and agility will play an important role. It is no longer only businesses that need to be agile, even talent leaders need to be agile.”
-Sushil Barkur, Associate VP-L&D, TM & OD, Alkem Laboratories Ltd.
“Talent leaders need to typically understand the technology that is emerging on the horizon and based on that interpretation decide how they are going to upskill their existing workforce. If there is a gap, they need to strategize on how they will fill that gap. The talent manager of today no longer simply does recruitment but also needs to actively understand the workforce types they need in the organization. Do we need only regular workers? Or can I use a combination of regular, contract and gig workers that gives me the scalability and flexibility to sail through the choppy waters? All of these needs to be looked at by the talent manager and it is undergirded by their understanding of the business. Lastly, it is to ensure that the business strategy resonates with the personal beliefs and value systems of the people that they are going to hire.”
-Augustus Azariah, HR Leader-Employee & Labor Relations, APAC & East Africa, Kyndryl
“One of the biggest capabilities of talent leaders to ensure the success of the hybrid work environment is the ability to listen. This is where digital tools come in such as Qualtrics which is a listening platform that enables organizations to connect with their employees and capture their sentiments instantly rather than doing it once a year or half yearly. Organizations need to listen to their employees at more frequent and logical intervals. It is also important for leaders to ensure that their employees are empowered, engaged and clear about what work they are doing especially in a remote workspace. Leaders have to focus on the outcomes rather than how work is getting delivered. So to sum up, leaders should listen, actively communicate and focus on outcomes.”
-Avishek Purkayastha, Sales Director, SAP
What are some forward-looking Learntech imperatives that will enable companies to plant the seeds for long-term value creation for a hybrid model of work?
“When we are talking about a hybrid work culture, we also have to evaluate them in terms of the tasks they are carrying out and the projects assigned. Accordingly, we try to figure out how to empower them to carry out their tasks with greater efficiency in this setup. One thing that is highly important today is making the learning process very personalised, we cannot proceed with a one size fits all approach. Technology can be an enabler to making learning personalised and experiential so that there is no separation between work and learning. Whatever method of learning we take up, it has to be business centred and experience centred so that employees keep learning and experimenting as they work.”
-Sraboni Sengupta, Associate VP & Head of L&D, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd
“I believe that for every organization to achieve success in the days to come, the systems have to be aligned. A robust plan for the digital transformation journey must be in place. This is the time when organizations proceed slowly by deliberating upon their digital strategies and what they want to achieve 2-3 years down the line. Critical questions need to be answered: How prepared are we to tackle an unprecedented situation like the pandemic? What is the overall wellbeing of people? What are the systems in place that do not hamper the productivity and efficiency of the employees? How can these systems be more seamlessly integrated to aid the digital growth of the organization?”
-Deep Kaur, Sales Director, HXM, SAP
“The philosophy of hi-tech and hi-touch is a good way to start when it comes to learning imperatives, a good balance of both is necessary. Reskilling and repurposing has been one of the narratives for the longest time. I believe organizations will have to invest in deep partnerships with experts to push this agenda within the organization. Creating a culture of learning and learnability is also imperative, how quickly can your people pick up skills is important because the lifespan of skills is becoming shorter and shorter. The adaptability of your people to pick up skills and go about their careers will be continuously important so work and learning has to be intertwined. Investments have to be made in tools and techniques to aid this endeavour according to what suits the needs of the organization whether its built-in or buy-in and how different segments react to it. Taking account of these reactions will be key to creating a personalised learning experience. Lastly, social learning is critical because one of the best ways to learn is through peer to peer learning and lateral learning. Such learning initiatives have immense potential within any organization.”
“One thing that I feel is that learning should be made flexible and accessible to people so that they can engage with it according to their time and convenience. Post the completion of the course, proficiency levels also have to be accounted for so that we can clearly evaluate where each employee is standing. Further, learning programs have to be linked to capabilities because that in itself will push people towards their growth and development and empower them to take up the next role and the next job profile. Finally, learning programs should be personalized for greater engagement.”
-Mahua Chakravarty, Account Director, SAP
“So the first thing is that more than ever, this phrase ‘Learning in the flow of work” is now coming alive. So how do we enable this? How do we hyper personalize learning to each individual and each job? And how do we create, identify, reflect upon teachable and learnable moments in the flow of work? I think that is going to be the key imperative. The second is going to be learning through projects. And so, how do we create immersive experiences for participants? A strong piece in hybrid workplaces is also going to be how do you pass on the culture batons through effective mentoring. So how do we create mentoring programs that still create the human connection and are technologically enabled to be widespread and to create maximum impact? Finally, I think we need to have, as learning professionals, a clear understanding of learning for performance and learning for development. How are these pieces differentiated? So what do I need to learn today to stay effective and grow in my job? And what do I need to learn to become more and more effective as a professional and climb my career ladder? And how much emphasis are we providing to both of those pieces? How are we integrating both of these pieces? Myopic organizations focus a lot on learning for performance. But unless you're helping a person develop holistically into a professional that becomes useful, relevant and impactful in the newer work environment, learning's job is not done.”
-Priya Malhotra, Executive Coach and Leadership Learning Professional