Catching Them Young

Catching Them Young

Human Capital spoke to Milind Apte, Senior Vice President – Human Resource, CEAT Tyres Ltd., who mentioned the challenges that Artificial Intelligence and innovation in auto technology brought forth and the acute requirement to nurture young talent through CEAT’s “Young Executive Board” initiative.


According to Mercer Talent Trends 2017, it is estimated that there shall be a significant rise in virtual jobs in India during the next three years, and therefore, those in management roles shall relish greater control. Do you believe that this lays the roadmap for greater days ahead for corporate India?


There has definitely been a dramatic change in the landscape. Today, youngsters are open, flexible, willing to take risks, and are on the lookout for challenging work. They look forward to their contribution towards larger organisational goals and undertaking greater responsibilities and opportunities. Youngsters today do not want to do mundane 9 to 5 jobs and appreciate flexibility in the ways of working. They prefer flexibility in work timings and locations as long as they deliver what is expected from them. This functions as a game-changer for HR since it enables us to re-invent ways to attract and inspire the best talent in the organisation.


Do you believe that there is a middle management crisis in the Indian corporate realm today? Is this the prime reason for companies across India coming forth with accelerated process towards nurturing young talent?


Middle management (Managers and Senior Executives) always prove to be a valuable knowledge asset for any organisation. They carry a mix of substantial insights about various measures that can help improve business and boost growth within the organisation. As they are the link between front line employees and senior management, the role of middle management in an organisation is extremely crucial. Today, many organisations realise where the talent lies, and they emphasise on devising training, re‑skilling, and development programmes. This helps middle managers to acquire newer skills and scale upwards in the career growth ladder. I have been fortunate to have worked with evolved organisations, where I have seen genuine commitment to building leadership across levels, which has provided them with accelerated growth paths. What is really exciting is that our young leaders shoulder greater responsibilities today, than we did in our times, and, we need to guide them in their success path.


In Quotes “Middle management (Managers and Senior Executives) always prove to be a valuable knowledge asset for any organisation. They carry a mix of substantial insights about various measures that can help improve business and boost growth within the organisation. As they are the link between front line employees and senior management, the role of middle management in an organisation is extremely crucial.”


What according to you are the HR trends in India for 2018? And, which is the biggest challenge confronting HR in the manufacturing sector?


Increased usage of analytics in HR, digitisation of HR processes such as gamification of engagement initiatives and simulation based assessments are some of the major HR trends expected in the year 2018. Additionally, the much talked about topic - change in the timeline of performance management system moving away from once a year to more regular real-time performance feedback, will also come under the limelight. Furthermore, Bots will soon be more prevalent, as well. From an L&OD perspective, there is a paradigm shift in learning methods that is leaning towards simulated online bytes of learning, which may be done on the go, as against classroom training. And, the situation certainly demands employees to be well-equipped with the required skills. Today, the market has become very dynamic in nature, and in order to sustain in such a growing and a competitive environment, enhancing skillset is the key to success. Going forward, in order to help employees develop newer skillsets given such background, the aspect of coaching will play a vital role in people development. In the future, holistic caring for employees will be defined as extending wellness beyond office. The concept of virtual workplace, I believe, will be more about the overall employee experience, and this will be along the lines of customer experience. Lastly, investing in making the organisation future ready by increased HR participation in business discussions will also be crucial for HR to be successful. Besides, the biggest challenge for HR in the manufacturing sector will be keeping up with the changing technology. Continuous research and implementation of new technology is of prime importance, especially in order to maintain a competitive edge and thrive in the business.


What are the various HR policies that are being undertaken by CEAT Limited to cater to the aspirations and demand of the young employees?


Today, the younger generation is open, flexible, willing to take risks and is seeking challenging work. In line with the expectations of the present generation, we have rolled out a number of forward looking policies - right from flexi working hours to maternity and paternity leaves that genuinely bring balance to work and personal life. Our maternity leave allows for part time working until the child is one year old, which is hugely appreciated within the organisation.


We have had cases of youngsters who change jobs and later come back to CEAT, and in order to tackle this, we have created ‘Re-hire Policy’ that welcomes such employees back to their very roots. All our young managers hired from campuses (both engineering and B-schools) are given senior mentors to strengthen their capabilities and sharpen skills. It is an opportunity to learn and grow while working closely with a mentor who will guide, support and assist you professionally, as well as personally. With support of such guidance, we look forward to youngsters shouldering more responsibility and working with autonomy. This year we have also introduced a unique initiative ‘CEAT Ventures,’ wherein we invited business ideas from employees. The ideas that were found viable have actually been converted into real time business projects, one of them being a new venture in itself. Employees from within were selected to take over this venture.


The very nature with the younger talent is that they prefer to keep learning different aspects of work, and stay away from being labelled as ‘Stereotypes.’ In our company, they are free to apply for open positions without seeking approval from anyone. We also have associations with Premier institutes such as Harvard, ISB etc. Our tie-up with a reputed University for the general MBA programme is quite popular with the youngsters who choose to join us after their graduation. And, in this segment, we provide strong financial support to the employees by funding the entire cost of education. We continuously work towards having progressive policies, and a workplace that is conducive for the young managers.


What is the concept of ‘Young Executive Board’ (YEB)? What has been CEAT’s Ideology behind this, and how do you scale its success, and the reception amongst CEAT employees?


We have introduced ‘Young Executive Board’ (YEB) initiative in CEAT and have been running it successfully from last eight years. CEAT believes in creating leaders at all levels and with the YEB model we shall continue to do so for several years to come. The primary objective of YEB is to develop young talent and offer them differentiated development opportunities through critical business projects. The idea is to get your best minds to work together on projects of strategic importance and make recommendations that have a direct bearing on the company’s future. The projects are directly mentored by management committee members.


Typically, the year consists of three projects that each individual works on with guidance from the concerned business heads and several development inputs given to them to help build their business acumen and individual personalities. The YEB members have worked on projects that have led to strategy decisions, change in compensation philosophy, revamping of customer complaint portal, new business ideas, reduction of carbon footprint etc.


In addition to the learning through the project based route, we deploy several other methods to groom our YEB.  Exposure to Critical decision making forums, learning opportunities with premium business schools and experiential learning through innovative formats makes the journey enriching and exciting. As an example, this year the YEB members had a unique experience to participate in “Young Executive Chef” challenge. Experience to work with the team with precision, speed, quality and anxiety led to an outstanding delivery. YEB offers holistic learning through multiple methods, which makes it such an important intervention.


Can you elaborate over the need for such an initiative in the Indian corporate realm today? Could you explain the process of employee eligibility, the selection parameters and the decision makers who are involved with YEB?


The younger talent is always looking for meaningful work opportunities and constant challenges. Also, it is the responsibility of the organisation to constantly keep future leaders sufficiently challenged so that they give their best at work. We have observed that interactions with senior management can help them get inspired and motivated, and that provides them with a much needed push towards work.  Our selection process for YEB is a mix of performance and potential assessment, wherein we nominate our top young talent. There is a definite criteria of age limit for this. After analysing all the necessary elements, the decision of selecting the potential member of YEB group is then made by the Management Committee.


With the kind of success that you have managed to gain from YEB, are you planning to introduce newer talent management initiatives in the near future? Could you share some of those concepts with us?


We are pleased to witness such an encouraging response that we have received within the organisation with the ‘YEB’ concept. YEB has a greater impact on the people learning curve who are associated with the programme, wherein the organisation also gets benefitted. The mentoring engagement with senior management, cross functional projects and inputs towards additional development help transform the talent into fierce leaders. As a testimony, many of the past members of YEB now occupy positions such as GMs and VPs in the organisation. ‘Coaching’ is another initiative started by us last year to enable building the leadership skills of not only the coach, but also the coachee. It is a very critical programme to develop a culture of coaching within the organisation. While introducing new HR initiatives in the company, the focus is not on volume, but quality and the relative impact on employees and the organisation.  At present, YEB will stand out as an aspirational board, and we have no intention to create another forum and risk diluting its significance. Additionally, it shall remain as our continuous endeavour to improve the format of YEB, and strengthen its position as a tactical talent management tool in the company.


In light of your vast experience, what differences have you observed when it comes to talent management in India as compared to the global level?


There is not much difference between the talent management practices followed in India vis-a-vis internationally. All organisations that I have worked with believe in the action learning concept. Huge emphasis is given on the job rotations, project stints, coaching, shadow stints along with Long Range Development Plans, exposure in different geographies and multiple projects. This helps the organisation to not only develop the talent, but test and build the leadership quotient as well. With many leading organisations going global and our complete openness to acquiring talent from across the globe, it becomes very important to have Talent Management practices that carries a global flavour.  


With the advent of AI, companies are replacing humans with bots for such tasks that are seen as repetitive? From a talent management perspective, do you believe that this as a good initiative?


Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be inevitable, as it will play a significant role in the industry. However, human intervention can never be overlooked. In my view, AI will help in taking care of all the repetitive and technology-heavy jobs. This will be a fantastic opportunity for doing a meaningful job for the workforce. Given the technology thrust, from the HR perspective, there will be a dire need to ensure retaining empathy in dealing with humans, as well. There may be a resistance and inertia to the change but eventually reskilling should be beneficial to all people.


In Quotes Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be inevitable, as it will play a significant role in the industry. However, human intervention can never be overlooked. In my view, AI will help in taking care of all the repetitive and technology-heavy jobs. This will be a fantastic opportunity for doing a meaningful job for the workforce.”


How will the concept of driverless cars impact the role of HR in the auto sector in India in the near future?


Mobility is undergoing a massive transformation, from electric vehicles to shared mobility and from driverless cars to hyperloop, auto sector will face massive disruption. Some of them shall soon be a reality in the near future, while some are still at the conceptual stage. In the wake of such scenario, the auto industry is preparing itself for such a disruption. The Human Resource element in the auto industry has a huge responsibility of understanding the trend, futuristic skill sets, and get into the critical task of reskilling. What I see is, with the changing demand, the ability to be technology savvy will be critical.


Unavailability or limited supply of employable talent from various technical institutes is being seen as the biggest challenge to the Indian economy? What are your recommendations to bridge such a skill divide?


Generic technical talent is easily available across the country. There are number of good institutes which supply good talent. However, there is a definite scarcity in niche areas, such as digitisation, automation etc.  There are many areas where we are confronted with talent scarcity in our own plants. In my opinion, the best option is therefore to collaborate with some of the premium institutes and design a curriculum to develop these skills.


Differentiated inputs through industry visits, interaction with senior leadership, attending top management meetings, sessions with SMEs and leaders, and relevant training inputs to develop their competencies are the methodologies recommended to nurture talent. How have you seen this bear fruit at CEAT?


Well, all the aforementioned elements help to mature and broaden the perspective of our talent. It goes a long way in building their leadership character. It offers a holistic view point of a situation which helps them to understand the business inside out. It instils huge confidence in young managers, working on projects outside their comfort zone and thus push themselves to their very limits. Finally, when they see the result of their hard-work turning into a real business strategy, it develops a sense of accomplishment within themselves which further helps in boosting their confidence. Confidence is also something that comes from the kind of visibility young managers get in the organisation after being selected as a YEB member and receiving coaching by the management committee members. Young talent largely appreciates such an exposure as it inspires them to do a better job, and helps in developing willingness to explore challenges in all situations. We also conduct personality assessments and have one-on-one coaching sessions to help young managers understand their skills and ways to strengthen them. It further helps them realise the areas to avoid which might prove to be the derailers in their career path.


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