The innovation potential of people can be unlocked by enabling them to be responsible risk-takers: J

The innovation potential of people can be unlocked by enabling them to be responsible risk-takers: J

In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Jaydeep Das, International Head – People & Culture, Children Believe, discusses the rewards and challenges of a blended workforce and shares his thoughts on the hybrid future of work and fostering intergenerational collaboration.

Although the blending of workforces (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) is not a new trend, it has gained new momentum following the COVID-19 pandemic. Which roles in the non-profit sector are best performed by full-time employees, and which are better suited to the contingent talent? Do you foresee certain full-time jobs veering into non-traditional domains?


Even though Blended Workforce is not entirely a new trend, we realise that we are actually adapting to a colossally different reality than what had existed in the pre-COVID era. The Non-Profit sector has for long made use of short-term or technical specialist contracts on an ad-hoc or on-demand basis and in select functional domains. This approach has gained momentum amidst the pandemic that challenged traditional programme interventions and caused severe funding constraints. This lays greater emphasis for us to strategically design the blended workforce model so that we have access to the talents to transform the lives of the people we serve.


Some critical strategic functional leadership roles in Programme Design, Programme Implementation, Finance & Administration, Grants Acquisition, Donor Relations & Sponsorship, and People & Culture are best managed by full-timers. We rely on contingent talent for roles that are cost and time effective, providing a higher level of technical impetus entailing limited risks. Some of the prominent domains for such a blended approach are communications, thematic consultants in the functional areas of Education, WASH, ASRH, Skill Development, M&E, OD etc.


With strategic leaders in place, certain full-time jobs can veer into a non-traditional domain as that yields higher timely technical inputs and releases more money for the people we serve. Certain technical roles are super active in some cycles of a typical project cycle and lie low during the remaining project cycles. By relying on the non-traditional approach, we have the flexibility to tag the best of talents for a specific time period for which we need their services, thereby reducing the long-term liabilities of the organisation. Besides, that is a critical consideration in view of the dwindling funding scenarios of non-profit sector organisations.


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. How do you believe the Non-Profit sector will rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Do you think the pandemic will transform the manner in which talent is acquired and onboarded?


Resilience, adaptability and a sense of urgency are key ingredients that sustains our pursuit to enable the children to dream fearlessly. The pandemic has pushed us to transition from traditional approaches to digital delivery, be it at the grassroots level or the donor level. A few quick amends in workforce composition enabled us to have a digital edge in terms of tools and talents. Talent acquisition and onboarding has gone digital due to the pandemic. I would say that we are on the right track and will have skilled people to do the job for us.


Beyond the current workforce, we need to intentionally work-shadow people who can stand in the gap. We remain open to voluntary engagements and on demand technical hiring as consultants. Through the constant tussle between affordability and availability of technology and talents, we remain purposeful in such decisions so that our priorities are not causing the poor to suffer more.


Social development is a complex subject and the Not-For-Profit sector acknowledges that we achieve more by complementing each other than competing. In that perspective, key partnership and alliances of like-minded organisations are also not shying away from establishing the common resource pool. Corporates and technical giants have lent their expertise to us. Bridging off the geographical divide is another experiential advantage that many organisations have tasted during this pandemic. Borderless roles by local talents for global impact has worked seamlessly. Beyond the intent and the design, heart matters the most and such people propelled by love to serve are the prized souls of any non-profit movement.


Many years ago, NASA engineers were apparently against employing crowdsourcing platforms for the simple reason that they stood to eliminate the culture of NASA—collaboration and brainstorming. What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation?


Collaboration and brainstorming are good points to be pondered upon, but NASA did not face COVID-19 then. When we move away from the precincts of a full-time staff structure towards a blended set-up, organisations will be FAST placed for Flexibility, Agility, Scalability and Tenacity. And my saying here is experiential as we have been benefitted by better diversity of thoughts & ideas, simple solutions to tough problems, faster problem solving, reduced management nuisances, better visibility and improved networking, expanded talent pool to name a few plus points.


As the influencers of diversity & inclusion, we realise that a diverse organisation has the advantage of different viewpoints to engross in higher levels of innovative conversations and come up with new solutions in real quick time. A blended workforce also sets the tone for opportunities to deal with issues from a newer and inventive perspective giving more flexibility.


That said, on the flip side, the use of a blended workforce brings in certain handouts to deal with. As leaders, we need to rise above to ensure seamless integration of the specialists on newer service terms with permanent teams. Also, we need to be mindful of values conflicts. Instilling value filters around certain non-negotiables for the not-for-profit sector is a work in progress.


Adoption of a more blended approach to workforce planning will rely on crisp and clear communication to make sure all stakeholders are aware of their accountabilities, responsibilities and understand the convergences. People managers must inculcate the competencies needed to successfully provide leadership and empower individuals to operate effectively in the dispersed work environment. Authenticity, Clear Communication and Stewardship soaked with empathy will go a long way to make things work for the better.


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


The year 2020 has taught us to leverage additional energy beyond the traditional synergy by going virtual. Despite the pandemic perils, our sector has witnessed tremendous resiliency and belongingness. Our interactions have become more impactful and crispier as against a normal work-from-office scenario. It is also true that certain positions are needed to be in the office and programme positions that are needed to hit the ground miles away inside rural pockets. Traditional leaders do still miss having the crowd behind them at the office. Smart leaders are reaping the benefits of purposeful energy and collaboration with a sense of urgency regardless of virtual or hybrid work arrangement.


The deadly second wave is again provoking the remaining leaders to push their mental boundaries and explore blended working. Given our sectoral experience, I assume that most of our industry leaders would agree that collaboration, creativity and innovation could also happen in a virtual or a hybrid workspace. I say this because an innovative working approach appeals to employees with higher levels of creativity and has helped NPOs to retain their finest talents. In any case, innovation demands a blue sky for thinking aloud. Staff driven innovations irrespective of their workspace keeps its people engaged, happy and motivated.


Regardless of the nature of one’s industry, the innovation potential of people can be unlocked by simply providing free space to our people resources and enabling them to be responsible risk-takers.


With older talent rejoining work post their retirement, we are witnessing a more age-diverse workforce than ever before. How can organisations foster intergenerational collaboration and cohesion given the different types of work arrangements (from full-time to freelance) and work models (from remote to hybrid)?


These days, it is becoming increasingly common to see people work longer years and beyond retirement. With delayed retirement, the career path is no longer the same. This also sets the stage for a multigenerational and age-diverse workforce.


We should not get entangled in the fallacies of generational or employment stereotypes that dwell on differences. Rather, we should explore the common factors and benefit from the value propositions that each individual brings irrespective of their employment and working conditions. While staying off the unconscious bias of auto bracketing, we should inculcate a culture that encourages open dialoguing across generations. This would debunk our preconceived notions and improper categorisation.


Our sector can never strive by relying on pay alone, but by satisfying the need of the soul to make a positive impact in this world. Leaders need to ponder how a request from a particular staff can benefit all other staff. We are witnessing that many employees continually push their boundaries of achievement including their sequential expectation.


Inculcating a culture of ongoing feedforward against a once a year performance process completion mindset is no longer optional. As vertical move has become a luxury in leaner organisations, the need to explore lateral moves like opportunities to lead/colead a short-term project, rotational assignments and access to courses as growth strategies. In addition, staying intentional about cross-generational mentoring is a sure-shot measure.


Intermittent pulse surveys will help us to hear the voices of staff and we need to engage them to co-own the intervention plan to augment their own employee experiences. We need to hear it out and talk it out in the manner they understand. Let us remember this, assumptions can fail us more than we can imagine!


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