Our assumptions about talent reflect in our behaviour: Abhijit Bhaduri

Our assumptions about talent reflect in our behaviour: Abhijit Bhaduri

In an exclusive interview with Human Capital, Abhijit Bhaduri, a leadership coach, talent management expert, author, advisor, and Founder of Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates, shares why organisations will hire fewer full-time, long-term talent in the post-COVID-19 world of work, the need for rethinking talent acquisition and onboarding strategies, the impact of the pandemic on company culture, and why organisations will increasingly use a “try before you buy” model to engage CXO-level talent.


The pre-pandemic war for talent and the pandemic-triggered acceleration of digital transformation across organisations is further bound to enhance the scarcity of talent. Do you believe that a blended workforce (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) can help organisations rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Will the pandemic transform how talent is acquired and onboarded?


The pandemic has moved organisations from a scenario where employees used to be primarily co-located, came to the same office, worked with the same infrastructure and delivered whatever they had to. Today, people are working in distributed places. Moreover, the time when people are available is also becoming fragmented. Some people prefer to start and finish work early, while others may begin their workday later, depending on the kind of challenges or commitments at home.


Because of these shifts, we are now suddenly looking at a place where two variables have changed. One is the talent engagement model, and the other is location. Organisations are thinking about whether people will be working full-time, part-time, or in any other capacity. Are they going to be in-office or remote? Contingent workers are becoming more pervasive. The freelancer economy is thriving. On top of it, robots, bots, and algorithms are now increasingly becoming part of the workforce.


When I think about the workplace, the image in my mind is that of a blender where you put in multiple kinds of fruits and get a mixed product with remote workers, in-office employees, bots, full-time, part-time, and contingent talent – all of that.


Given all this, talent acquisition and onboarding strategies will need to be different. Over time, organisations will engage less full-time, long-term talent. The importance of the employer brand will go up dramatically because it determines the quality of the responses that you receive when you’re out there looking for talent from different places and with varying models of engagement. Organisations will need to consider their leadership brand, talent brand, and culture brand and how all three interact to impact the quality of the people they attract.


What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation? How can they be addressed?


Several factors impact culture. Saying what an organisation’s culture is like is similar to measuring the flow of a river. It’s hard to say what it is exactly like, and you can only get a picture at a given point in time. As the nature of work is changing, so is an organisation’s culture, depending on how many people are co-located and how different it is from the previous setup. Many companies have been remote historically, so nothing has changed out there.


However, many organisations changed to the quasi-remote kind of setup or a hybrid model, which will have a deep impact on the culture of the workplace. Senior leaders will have to work with the employees to re-establish cultural norms, processes and rituals. We’ve been into other people’s homes on the other side of the computer screen, seeing their pets, children, and loved ones. We never had a situation like this before. So, we are now looking at a very different world, and it will have a significant impact on an on the culture of an organisation.



In developing a blended workforce, do you believe that the senior leadership is required to bring about a mindset shift within the company that full-time employees alone cannot ensure the completion of work/ projects? If yes, how can leadership channelise such a mindset change?


That’s a vital question because our assumptions about talent reflect in our behaviour. For instance, if we think that a certain kind of talent is scarce, we tend to be more careful in attracting them, onboarding them, and engaging them. We are mindful of their comfort. However, if we start thinking about talent from the mindset of abundance, then we deal with them very differently. We are now in a time where we will see a lot of scarcity of the right talent, and I’m not talking about the kind that’s available a dime a dozen in the workplace.


Just thinking about full-time employees is not going to be adequate. Looking for specialised talent for a short period is like needing a certain kind of surgeon when you have an injury, say a broken bone. It doesn’t matter how many general practitioners you have — at that point in time, you are looking for somebody who can fix your bone. Similarly, you might not need a specialist every day, but on the day that you need one, you’re looking for the best person.


As I mentioned earlier, the strength of your brand as an employer is going to determine the quality of talent that you have. For some of the top organisations and best places to work, it will be easy to hire the right talent. For others who don’t have a strong brand, it is going to become increasingly difficult. However, before you get down to looking at your talent acquisition and onboarding strategy in this new world of talent shortages, think about the assumptions that you make because your beliefs about talent reflect in your behaviour.


In light of the pandemic, organisations are hiring CXO-level talent on an on-demand basis. What are the pros and cons of such an engagement?


Organisations are hiring CXO-level talent on a contingent basis for a few reasons. One rationale is that sometimes companies are looking for somebody to fill a gap; for instance, when the previous CXO is unavailable for whatever reason, such as quitting or being fired. By the time you begin your search for that position and allow people to apply, screen them, and then they serve out their notice period and so forth, there’s a gap. For many businesses, it is hard to survive without a senior-level talent for a few weeks or months. So, they bring in a person on a contractual basis or work with them on a “you’ll come in for four months, extendable to six” kind of model. They then work with a temporary CXO until they find the right replacement, who might also then get absorbed into the organisation.


This model of “try before you buy” to test whether a high-profile candidate will fit the organisational culture and can do what they claim they can will become increasingly common as organisations hedge their bets.


Depending on the sector, the nature of the work that people do, and the setup an organisation prefers, many companies are rallying to get employees back in-house or piloting a hybrid working model. Do you believe the office to be an important hub for collaboration, creativity, and innovation?


It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all scenario. It will depend on the preferences of the people working in an organisation, if their job can become location agnostic, and if the projects need spontaneous collaboration. When working remotely, life can become extremely planned. For instance, you cannot simply tell your colleague about a brilliant idea you had. You need to come online, and the other person may or may not be available. In some jobs, it is very important to have spontaneity.


Some people like to have the flexibility that remote working offers and are happy when they can work by themselves. However, for many others, isolation is a quick by-product of not meeting people in person.


Until we can travel safely without infecting others, I think organisations will stick to the current model. However, when it’s safe for people to move around, I believe we will see many people return to the office space. The reason is that work is not just about the tasks that you are performing. There’s a relationship aspect to it.


People who are new to the organisation can’t get mentored by somebody unless they have seen people in different settings and surroundings. You can’t walk into your colleagues and have spontaneous conversations. So, there are huge limitations.

Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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