One would not be far from the truth if he were to say that millennials are the reason behind the rechristening of employee engagement as employee experience. Hence, the days of playing Santa during Christmas or a well‑endowed office no longer add to employee happiness. With digitalisation, as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have come to the fore, employees have greater expectations from their work-life as also their employer. And thus, the job of HR is cut out to define the areas which need further augmentation and ensure sustained happiness across the organisation.
Human Capital spoke to Rajesh Padmanabhan, Director & Group CHRO, Welspun Group, who highlighted the various elements that have gained significance in the wake of digitalisation and AI/ML, and the opportunities thus created for HR and the employer for creating an enhanced employee experience.
In the world of AI/ML and automation, which according to you is most challenging for HR: to keep the workforce updated with newer skills or aligning the top management in accordance with the business needs of the day?
Technological advancements, AI, and IoT have started transforming businesses rapidly. However, the target is not a specific function but rather all the transactional tasks where humans can be substituted with machines, so that humans can do something better. Many leading organisations are using HR Analytics, AI, ML, and automation to their competitive advantage by looking at future trends, building future-ready skills, and enabling the right talent to be present at the right place, at the right time.
Now to cater to such changes, the HR function needs to focus on five key ingredients, i.e., People, Structure, Processes, Technology, and Culture. The HR Analytics data points should capture the plan to alter capabilities needed to pivot from the current operational level to being the Innovation Leaders. To drive this cultural change, senior leadership involvement and frequent strategic communications are critical. The biggest challenge for an HR leader so far is to align the top management in a way that paves the way to spontaneous adoption of new age technologies and to accelerate the organisational growth into future. Once the leaders are aligned, then the mission of transformation is on the fast lane.
Do you concur with the view that the digitised business environment has enhanced the relevance of HR in the functioning of an organisation? Why?
Over the last few years, massive digitalisation has led to a continuous evolution in the way HR functions in an organisation. The focus has shifted from being a small rule-based personnel department to being able to take part in decision making. It is no more a KRA of the HR function to percolate the management decision to employees as a one-way road. Now, HR connects the employees to the employers, and facilitates their two-way communication for a more efficient business and collaborative operation. Such development has pushed the boundaries of the overall HR operations from being a support function to becoming a high-level strategic partner in the organisation.
In the journey towards excellence, technology is there to support the process end to end. Through complex algorithms, better inferences are churned out of data, which enables HR to judge a situation better, and take due action accordingly.
1. Technology has had a positive effect on internal operations for organisations, but it has also changed the way human resource management works.
2. Human Resource Information System (HRIS) allow HRM professionals to better facilitate human resource plans, make decisions faster, clearly define jobs, evaluate performance, and provide cost- effective benefits that employees want. Likewise, it helps strengthen communication with both the external community and employees. Technology has also dramatically changed how human resource managers orient, train, and develop employees, and help them manage their careers.
3.Teleconferencing technology allows employees to train and collaborate in groups regardless of their location.
Technology today has a positive impact on the internal operations. It has also changed the way HR works. It has facilitated better human resource planning, decision making, job evaluation, performance management, and communication. Although the aforementioned developments have increased HR’s dependency on technology, the human touch is always there to understand the situation better and take actions accordingly.
“Technology today has a positive impact on the internal operations. It has also changed the way HR works. It has facilitated better human resource planning, decision making, job evaluation, performance management and communication.”
Has the digital transformation resulted in organisations/HR seeking out talent who are more adept with technology, and asking that the existing employees upgrade themselves with technical skills as per their job role? How has this been at adapted at Welspun group?
Digital transformation has reshaped the talent landscape. At the onset of Industrial Revolution 4.0, talent have to be in sync with technology. In such a scenario, talent who are adept with technology for a role are definitely the best fit. However, with time such skills may get outdated and some newer technology may take its place. Hence, this vicious cycle of learning-unlearning-relearning will play a crucial role where continuous learning and development will be the norm.
So, a blended approach may fit the bill, where recruiting talent who are more aware of the new technologies work along with the experienced ones. The tech savvy resources will build the future through the new techs and the experienced will focus on the logic and strategy to remove the execution roadblocks.
In Welspun, the diverse demographic workforce solves the purpose. We have a hybrid workforce of different demographics with varied skills, and it is our fundamental job to leverage experience, skills, and technology, and build a people-process-practice platform. ‘Highly collaborative teams’ is the norm at Welspun group. We synergise, learn, and evolve together as ‘One Welspun’ all the time.
“The creation of a digital workforce in tandem with the digital culture.” What are the ways in which this can be achieved by the HR function from an industry perspective?
The creation of digital workforce can only be possible after understanding the fact that, each individual has different learning needs. If such needs are addressed appropriately, it results in a skilled workforce that is ready for the future. The right technology in the hands of such a workforce will lead to optimal output. Approaching digital transformation with a human perspective in mind creates an environment where support for change starts at the bottom. With a people-first approach, the organisation will not have a hard time holding onto the essential talent it already has.
Digital transition is not a one-time transition, but a continuous process. An organisation therefore has to consistently provide:
1. Digital Culture: A culture created by embracing digital transformation- an agile, innovative, and tech-savvy culture.
2. Digital Workplace: The Smart, digitally-integrated workplace, which enables easy data exchange and allows a diverse set of systems to work together in cohesion.
3. Digital HR: An agent to embrace various digital platforms to take up the dual challenge of transforming HR operations on the one hand, and transforming the workforce and practices on the other.
Once the three aspects mentioned above are woven together, the fabric for digital transformation will become strong.
“Building a digital workforce goes beyond just recruitment and talent development.” Can you elucidate a little more on this?
As mentioned earlier, creating a digital workforce goes much beyond the scope of just recruitment and talent development. It depends on various other aspects such as a culture of change, agile processes, effective communications, ability to find innovative solutions, etc.
Below are few more aspects to keep an eye out for:
1. Leadership mind-set and Strategy: Change begins with purposeful leadership that models culture and spearheads the required behavioural changes. Top leadership should be actively involved in initiating the transformation of their organisation and assume responsibility, both internally and externally, to ensure its success.
2. Culture Change:
a) Culture Change-Broad: Culture change must be broad. Unless the effort reaches across the organisational boundaries, verticals, and structures in order to align strategy, processes, and behaviour, it is likely to become little more than boilerplate language in corporate communications.
b) Culture Change-Deep: Unless individuals change their behaviour, the organisation will revert to its old ways as the default choice. Changing people, especially people who are fairly successful, requires great care and effective learning methods.
The focus should be on positive change, not negative reinforcement. Organisations that focus narrowly on compliance are likely to see it backfire, resulting in lower morale and the kind of resentment that often fuels disengaged employees. It is necessary to build pace, momentum, and engagement across the entire organisation for transformation.
Is Mobile Learning the only way forward in the D domain to ensure that learning is more cutting edge and forward-looking? Why should there be more thrust to Responsive Learning Management Systems?
Mobile Learning is not the only way, but a more prominent way of learning. Adult learners have different styles of learning, and hence not all learning can happen virtually. That said, Mobile Learning is one of the most preferred modes as it allows self‑paced learning, any-time-access to content, even on the go. At Welspun, we are making steady strides towards incorporating digital learning into the fabric of our learning strategy. Several programmes on statutory and compliance requirements have been converted into e-modules with interactive animation that allows a relatively less engaging subject to be more interesting. We have invested substantially in implementing SuccessFactors LMS, which has enabled online migration of all activities in the lifecycle of an L&D function. We have done away with paper-pencil feedback, and all the programmes are executed through the LMS. We have also partnered with LinkedIn Learning to access byte-sized, curated content for our Leadership Development programmes. These learning plans are curated according to the specific development needs of the individuals and are administered through our LMS. Additionally, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are also incorporated into the programme design for Leadership Development promoting learning from various platforms, and as per the pace and comfort of the learner.
“APIs and Integration are important cornerstones of a digital workplace.” Are these by themselves sufficient to ensure that the workplace is a better place to work and more productive?
In the era of Technology, the focus has shifted to productivity through intelligent automation. Waves of disruptions are transforming businesses. By not “disrupting” their business, many companies have seen business models become old and outdated, which has resulted in employee dissatisfaction, high turnover, inefficient management of resources, etc, and has also impacted their revenues big time.
APIs and Integration have become important cornerstones of a digital workplace. AI and IoT in Recruitment and Engagement, and JIT Recruitment and Workforce Analytics in Manpower Planning and Succession Planning, along with many other changes in the conventional ways have taken over the world of today.
However, only through technological advancements one cannot comment that the workplace is ‘a better place to work’. Collaborative environments, where all the resources get ample opportunities to learn and grow, platforms to share knowledge through social learning, and learning management tools etc. could go a long way towards providing a nurturing environment to the workforce, where they can experiment and use mistakes as learning opportunities to grow. It will result in increased satisfaction among the employees, which in turn will result in higher productivity.
“Social Learning & Knowledge Collaboration tools.” Is the onus on HR to inculcate the values in the LMS system for the new-age workforce?
Technological advances have made verbal communication redundant in many parts of life — ordering a pizza, taking part in a university class, planning a holiday, and even physical fitness schedules are all done via apps. This means that the new age workforce is not used to speaking to someone in person or on the phone as was the case earlier. In such a scenario, the use of social media and online platforms to know and remain connected with each other has become the new mandate.
For such new age individuals, digital means of knowledge sharing is most convenient and effective. Hence, to disperse the values through the Learning Management systems, Social Learning, and Knowledge Collaboration Tools play pivotal roles.
With digital disruptions knocking at our doorsteps, organisations need to undergo drastic transformations to sustain and evolve in such dynamic market conditions. These changes will dwell deeper into redefining the roles and responsibilities like never before. Hence, employees will definitely face career challenges which may seriously impact the organisation. In such a case, digital learning media will be crucial in keeping the entire workforce informed and aligned with the Leadership thought process.
“With digital disruptions knocking at our doorsteps, organisations need to undergo drastic transformations to sustain and evolve in such dynamic market conditions. These changes will dwell deeper into redefining roles like never before.”
Is the changing digital world completely transforming the way organisations are functioning in today’s day and age, defying conventions altogether? Are there any greater reasons apart from cost-cutting that are making organisations go digital?
At the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digitalisation has become the driver of change. Earlier, applications were about people or IT processes communicating, but now it is machines and devices that are communicating, continuously and in ever greater numbers. This Revolution is fuelled by the convergence of computing, data, artificial intelligence, and universal connectivity. Shared economies, technological advancements, and dynamic market conditions with a high level of competition have left no choices for organisations except adapting to digitalisation and agile methodologies as business as usual. With huge strides of technological prowess, many organisations have gotten better at understanding customer needs, designing a better product, improving the process to reduce downtime/faults, and understanding the employee mindset to motivate them both intrinsically as well as extrinsically.
Has the digital world functioned as a catalyst in hastening the process of change management in organisations?
It is unlikely for a successful digital workplace to emerge if people, process, and products are not aligned. Change management is fuelled through successful digital transformation, where people are assessed on their capabilities and competencies, processes on their complexities and criticalities, and products on their customisations and configuration.
On the basis of assessments, we evaluate the gaps and address the transformation holistically instead of in silos. The key drivers as well as goals of digital transformation are:
1. Operational flexibility
2. End-to-end customer experience optimization
Today’s business environment is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), which can aggravate the effects of digital disruption on a firm’s operating model. Indeed, many companies are struggling with the impact of digitalisation on its people, processes, and systems. The human element is key in all the stages of transformation (culture, empowerment, collaboration, and ecosystems) as well as in the goals of digital transformation. Hence, any change management is dependent on the human aspect of the workforce and their capabilities, and productivity and satisfaction are highly correlated in digital transformation. So, it can be concluded that digital transformation fuels change management.
In the digital world “Employees now experience the face of HR as a portal, rather than a person.” From an Indian perspective, where day to day transactions rely more on emotions rather than emoticons, how true is this statement?
The HR processes are updated to be more efficient, productive, and people-centric through continuous digitalisation. However, people decisions are quite different than the algorithmic decisions, taken through analytics and automation. Decision on people can never be in the form of ‘Black and White’ or a simple ‘Yes and No.’ Rather, it has multiple shades of grey in between. Hence, no matter how advanced or complicated the systems become, the human aspect persists and, moreover, technology helps us in performing better. It never takes the human touch away. The way we work might change or evolve with time, but it will not perish. Only human understanding can improve the system. Hence, it is a virtuous loop of hi-tech and high-touch evolution.
Can a digitised work environment ensure that the HR earns a seat of greater prominence in the boardroom?
Yes. Understanding the influence of technology on business and people in order to lead the new way of continuous transformation calls for new expertise at the executive management level - and also at the board levels - in organisations. HR leaders who understand deep rooted culture building of continuous change put the organization through a process like this in a structured manner. Along with this, they also provide and build disruptive leadership all the time and take risks with preparing capabilities for tomorrow, where continuous focus is on learning agility and on technology. These are the select few who will migrate to the board level - not just occupying one chair but leading the pack of believers - as ‘New Age CEOs’.
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