Article (January-2018)


A year of mastering change and adopting technology

Dr. Sanjay Muthal

Designation : -   CEO

Organization : -  Kontempore Leadership Solutions & Services (KLSS), Mumbai


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As the new year unfolds, it gives rise to new hopes, new optimism. Year 2017 was very tumultuous. Globally we saw disturbances in Europe and America. UK bore brunt of terror attacks. USA saw many disturbances. Similarly, business environment tasted real VUCA times. In fact, VUCA has become near normal today. In India post demonetisation effect was followed by GST launch. Both these events had some immediate impact on the GDP growth. Although we know and understand both these steps mean good in long term but in short term we had a setback as GDP growth got stunted. Employment outlook hence became weaker. We also saw many job losses particularly in IT & Services sector. Employment outlook though now seems to come back to optimistic levels, but the trajectory needs to be picked up. In this tumultuous journey, organisations are facing many challenges. When VUCA times exist, nothing works as planned. In fact, you have to search solutions for problems that you don't know off. How do you deal with this syndrome? How can CEOs and leadership deal with uncertainty and still ensure that the business grows and achieves shareholders expectations and delivers the value. We today have in many industries where 4 generations are at work. How do you deal with each of their perspectives and expectations? HR Leaders are today challenged not only by external market forces but internally by employees, their aspirations and their expectations. In 2017, talent management, leadership development, employee engagement, performance management were some of the things those occupied major mind share of HR Leaders in their respective organisations. "Ability to do more with less" has become mantra for HR Leaders. Hence cost management has become important agenda item for HR manager. Cost competitiveness in VUCA world apart from other things is a key driver for business outcomes.
2018 though promises to be a great hope. We shall see economy rebounding to higher digit growth for sure. Optimism is clearly palpable. Already, we are hearing we will grow at 7.5% GDP next year. However, given that VUCA world is a real, what would be the agenda for HR in coming year? This gets further compounded when our economy is grappling and is trying to rebound. There is a dichotomy in such a situation where business leaders & HR Leaders are besieged with one reality that they need to track leading indicators for growth but while doing so they can't neglect to track lag indicators. Confused that as it may sound, but reality of life is we still need to manage our business, our people, our assets, our resources and come winner at market place. From my point of view in such dynamic, disruptive and uncertain era some of the following will be key challenges & priorities for HR in 2018. 
Challenges & Priorities 
1. Grappling with Digital world : For traditional HR Leaders more and more technology at work is going to be a big challenge. They will need to up their game to master the technology in digital world. Digital wave is only going to go one way and that is forward. AI is fundamentally going to change the entire business paradigms. Keeping on top of technology trends & tools, using meaningful data to track human capital and help drive smart and efficient business outcomes will be a key priority in 2018. HR Leaders will need to spend more time at the market place to understand customer data also with finance professionals to understand business performance drivers and metrics. This will help them to understand and consider business specific needs which will enable them to create HR metrics. Technology has become need of the hour to survive in highly disruptive and competitive business world. Technology helps improve communication flow within the organisation and will help define success and workflow in coming years. Deloitte Report on "HR Technology Disruptions" indicates that HR departments are becoming digital and innovation is now coming from the HR function itself. HR departments are stressing need on becoming more creative. Similarly, in 2018 talent acquisition will also see increase in use of technology investment viz video assessment, virtual assessment centres etc. Thus, for HR Leaders to be successful and effective mastering technology will be essential. 
2. Unlearn "One size fits" approach and tailor an individual approach : As the world becomes more complex, digital & disruptive, people's aspirations are becoming self - centric. People are becoming individualistic and want them to be treated that way. Its futile to make assumptions about what people want. Its very important hence to have tailored individual talent management approach. For this HR leaders will have to know and invest time to find out what the capabilities of your employees are, what are their expectations, where they want to grow and develop! HR will have to accordingly design the opportunities that best fits that specific individual employee. People would want to be treated individually and not in herds. Their aspirations, their drivers in life, their values are unique and hence HR Leaders will have to stitch individual developmental approach for each one of them. 
3. Improving physical and mental health of employees: As the business world is getting more disruptive & competitive, workplaces are getting highly stressful. Family life, work life balance, children education etc. are at the centre of every employee engagement initiatives. The organisations are becoming more technology centric and are taking away human interface. There are increasing demands form workplace and family creating stress at individual level. Hence physical and mental health of employees is going to occupy amongst the top 3 items in HR's agenda for sure in 2018. Investments in better training to combat mental health issues, counselling, mentoring and coaching to deal with anxieties will be a key challenge as we move ahead. How to deal with expectations is also causing severe stress and imbalance amongst employees at work place. HR Leaders will spend more time creating positive work place shaving stress free ambience including providing more physical training facilities viz Gym, sports facilities etc at work place. Employee health will be more often than not will occupy top mindshare for HR in coming year. What health plans to create, quality of food and nutrition to provide employees, routine health check - ups etc. will further get momentum. Stress related mental health and sickness is already a major issue in today's world. 2018 will see more investments in employee well being and employee counselling. Helping people deal with redundancies and consequent mental anxieties will for sure be another challenge in 2018. 
4. Performance feedback : In India we are at the cross roads of performance management practices. There is an ongoing discussion on efficacy of the current PMS. We imported the GE model of "Bell Curve" which many global corporations today are throwing out of the window. Bell Curve is being replaced by continuous feedback mechanism. Employees want to know how they are doing. They want to know how they can improve? They don't want to wait for whole year to get over to know how they are doing or how they have done. They want constant and real - time feedback. How to change form Bell Curve which propounded "Forced distribution" model to real time and frequent feedback mechanism will be a real challenge in 2018 for HR folks. On one side frequency, capturing real time data and on the other side training the line managers to subscribe to this philosophy of regular, granular feedback will be a huge challenge in 2018 for HR Leaders. Many line managers will have to be trained on performance coaching techniques helping them to change their mindset on performance management and feedback. Helping line managers to change their mindset and embrace continuous, ongoing feedback process will be an important element of HR's agenda in 2018. 
5. Employer brand and culture : Employer brand is at the centre stage of attracting and retaining people. It's your EVP that helps you attract, develop, and retain your talent. More than anytime in the past, my view is 2018 will see this agenda for HR leader to be very critical and crucial. Culture in an organisation is always top down. Here HR leader has a very important role to play. In a competitive "dog eats dog" business world it's your culture that differentiates you form the rest. HR Leaders will be more engaged with creating "culture with purpose" based on the organisations values. They will have to then get these woven into all the work that people do in HR & business viz recruitment, retention, development including business strategies, marketing strategies. Deploying these pillars of culture and brand across all the organisational processes will be a key agenda for HR Leaders in 2018. 
6. Helping organisations and employee adapt better to ongoing change : Organisations are becoming disruptive and technology is becoming a part of every transaction & process. With this reality and combined with that mergers & acquisitions taking place more often than in the past, HR will have to build more "Resilient" workforce. This would entail specific training interventions specifically focussed at coping skills for employees. How to make people accept change which is now ongoing minute by minute and is disruptive in nature. Any change which is transformational at the organisation level or process changing at individual level and to which people react to, has a massive impact on business outcomes. We know human behaviour is at the heart of everything that we do at work. Some experts feel for HR to help employees master the change, the HR managers need to build expertise across 3 important areas viz change management, behaviour science and employee communication. This to my mind will be very critical role for HR leaders. Constant changes in technology, processes & impact of M&A are posing constant concerns for employees. HR here must play a role of friend, philosopher and guide and help people master the change. 
In conclusion I would say 2018 bring in hopes, aspirations and optimism. But to realise that successfully, HR Leaders will have to be engaged in mastering the change, adopting technology and digital way of life and help build purposeful culture. HR Leaders must recognise that every employee in the organisation has a soul and he walks into your office every day to find purpose for his life. Organisations and HR leaders who will help him find that purpose will come out winners in 2018.