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HR priorities for 2015

January 20, 2015

HiringI was trying hard to avoid the temptation to jump onto the bandwagon and write this almost de-rigueur blogpost. And then I a chance conversation on the subject triggered a few thoughts, so I said "what the hell" and decided to share my perspective. Would love to hear what you think and your comments will enhance the dialog and add to the collective thinking of all HR professionals.

First and foremost, I think HR should ask themselves if they’ve met all that they decided for 2014. As HR professionals we are wont to get enamoured by the next big thing and move on too quickly before we fully implement what we started.

1. 2015 is going to continue to be VUCA (as if the last year wasn’t bad enough already!), which will mean high volatility for us. Business decisions will not always be clear or forthcoming and HR partners will have to be flexible and agile in their ability to respond rapidly to requests or quickly put things on a back-burner. All this without being overwhelmed by emotions. It will call for a very pragmatic but emergent mindset and attitude. Volatility is the new reality and if you’re going to be unsettled by volatility then you’re going to be unsettled everyday. So the first callout is to accept it and operate from equanimity.

2. From an India perspective, with the Govt. budget announcement around the corner, all pointers indicate that there are going to be some key policy announcements; these will result in an uptick in business, almost as rapid as a reverse bungeeHiring and retention are going to be key. I have always believed you can only do so much to retain someone who has decided to leave. Hence, it makes sense to invest more energy on the input pipeline. Hiring is going to be the key challenge, equipping the organization so that strategic plans can be put into action is going to be a competitive differentiator. Not all HR functions will get it right. Those who do will be seen as business partners.

3. Drawing from the above, this is also the year that the talent crunch will be strongly felt, hence organizations will need to focus on all contributing employees as talent and while the investments on high potential will continue, appreciating and acknowledging the High and Steady Performers will become critical. The bell curve will soften or vanish altogether. HR must lead this charge. Not easy to destroy something you created and embedded, but that’s exactly what’s required.

4. As the size of the development audience goes up (HiPos+HiPerfs+SteadyPerfs), budgets are not going to stretch appropriately. Hence using novel solutions for employee development will become critical. Micro-learning, gamification and the 70% (of the 70:20:10) will gain traction. HR will need to learn how to run each of these, as skills are yet to develop fully.

5. Digital. More than ever before, digital will have an impact on communication, culture and employer brand. HR heads and teams who do not understand the medium will not be able to leverage it. If you don’t have twitter on your phone, laptop and tablet, you’re behind already. If you do, but are a passive observer, take lessons – ask someone to mentor you and get on it. Digital is probably the greatest tool HR could have asked for. It can help speed up your delivery/execution. It will disintermediate distance, democratize hierarchies and enable you to reach and converse with a wide population of current, past and future employees.

6. HR for HR. Oft neglected, HR will need to ensure they invest time and money on developing the skills of RubberDucksthe function. Reskilling HR is going to be critical across organizations and HR heads must have a budget for this. While there won’t be many lead indicators of impact, there will be clear lag indicators in the long-term around organizational readiness for business challenges. This is where boards and CEOs need to encourage investment. The ones who do, will reap the rewards.

There are some of my thoughts on the subject. I’d love to know what resonates with you and what else you can add to this list. Thanks!

The changing role of L&D and the CLO

November 11, 2014

LD2004logo06The world is changing and the dynamism we are going through now has a name – VUCA – which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. In simple terms it means the world is more dynamic than ever before, more unpredictable than ever before, which makes it difficult to do business, make decisions, predict the future or even know how to impact it. As a result a lot of our past ability to do well and succeed is no longer relevant.

Try this. Hold a pencil in your wrong hand i.e. the hand you don’t normally use and attempt to write your name.

Easy? No.

And that’s what the VUCA world has done to us. Rendered our competence and skills irrelevant. MgtWhackAMole

If you have children and have been to the playzone at a mall or a theme park, you must be familiar with the game “whack-a-mole” – Doing business in a VUCA world is like playing whack-a-mole, you have no idea where opportunity will open up next, how long it will last and which one’s will disappear. There is no linearity of prediction, there is no algorithm, it is all random.

So what does this mean for professionals? In a world that is dynamic, ever-changing and random? What capabilities do you need?

  1. Adaptiveness
  2. Rapid reaction times
  3. Constant ability to learn new things and evolve as the environment changes – Learning agility
  4. Flexibility
  5. No one man will always have all the answers, hence the ability to crowd-source answers and solutions – which means subjugating your ego, walking away from the “leader is hero is saviour” mythology and being comfortable with letting others lead when they know better than you – practicing a facilitative leadership style. All this demands:
    1. Humility
    2. Fairness
    3. Self-awareness
    4. Equality versus hierarchy
    5. Openness versus parochialism
    6. Resource awareness

This list comprises of traits and therein lies the new frontier for L&D – a focus on traits over skills/competencies. And this is where the line between L&D, Talent Acquisition/Management & Development will blur, since traits will need to be assessed at every step of the talent lifecycle.

The ownership for keeping skills and competencies sharpened will move to the employee. With the emergence of MOOCs, social media enabled knowledge and connections, that facilitate you to identify and appoint mentors across dimensions and distance, the role of L&D as provider of knowledge and provider of resource is soon becoming extinct. Individuals need to own their own development and leverage the resources available in social media. Just recently, IBM cut salaries by 10%, of employees who had not kept their skills updated. The world is changing! If you’re an L&D person and you don’t have a MOOC app on your phone, you’re are already endangered!

What does this mean for organizational culture? It will require a culture that supports:

  1. Rapid responses
  2. Adaptive thinking – mistake making – promotes exploratory thinking – safe-fail v/s failsafe
  3. Inclusive and tolerant

As Jack Welch said “If the rate of change inside your organization is slower than the rate of change outside, the end is near”. In such a scenario, the thinking and orientation must shift from being able to manage change TO being able to change on a dime i.e. Dynamism.

702010work-learning1The role of L&D thus becomes key in influencing the above cultural pillars. And to do so, is to select for the relevant traits, focus on interventions that help hone those traits. Traits and skills are honed by Experience. And that brings me to the 70:20:10.

More than ever before, CLOs will need to leverage the 70% that is experience on the ground. So far, L&D have focused 90% of their time and attention on the 10% i.e. training. More and more focus will have to be drawn to the 70% and it will involve a reframing and reorientation of how L&D conceptualize their roles and their partnership with the business. IBM’s corporate services corps is an exceptional example of leveraging the 70%.

L&D professionals will have to move away from training calendars, move away from content and leverage MOOCs, move away from smile sheets and Training needs analyses. They will need to develop an appreciation of the culture that will drive strategy. They will need to develop an understanding of the attitudes and traits that will support the culture. This will entail and complete reconceptualization of their roles. They will have to give up the “control orientation” that underpins ownership of delivery, creation of content and the front-end appreciation of running workshops in sexy locations!

They will need to develop the ability to “marshall” resource i.e. leverage MOOCs, leverage mentors in the system, identify in partnership with business – experiences that will develop, test and hone traits and competencies. They will need to move from doing to orchestrating. From delivering to consulting.

If you are not going to be leading the change, or being part of the change, then you are going to be redundant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you are seeing this transition for yourself and for the community.

10 things that Spirituality means to me

October 7, 2014

My good friend Sanjay Dutt, put up this post on Facebook and I resonated with it so strongly, I requested him to Guest-Blog it for me here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and I hope it answers some questions for you, or helps clarify something that was at the back of your mind. Happy reading!

The last few years brought many setbacks to my life and even more gifts of life. It changed my priorities, my values and me. Going through many crises of meaning, I turned inward to ask life questions. The paths included process work, therapy, vipassana, psychometrics, self help literature, spiritual and philosophical writing, deep conversations, coaching, metaphysical explorations, mentoring others (quite a list!!). I of course saw others on these paths and connected / disconnected with them.
Either way I learnt something.
hand, reaching, glowing, light, glow, finger, ... 
All this has clarified for me what “spirituality” means to me. Curious to know what it may mean to you. Here are the top 10 that guide my life now. 
  1. The spirits or the path are not out there. Turn inward.
  2. There is no “getting there”. There is no “better”. This is it
  3. If I face resistance – outside or within – its because I am not present fully yet to ALL the spirits in the here-and-now
  4. Invoking spirits beyond the visible world, abstract concepts, visualizations or philosophy works only if I am fully present to current reality. Any other invoking is my running away from dealing with the “here”
  5. Yes, love is always the answer. If I think its not, i am yet to find the most present question
  6. Love is commitment in face of fear. Love is speaking the truth not because I want to, but because the other wants it too and may be too afraid. Love is to accept that I am broken and so are all others. Love is going out to the world and making most of my given gifts
  7. Life is f***ed. Suffering is real. I have choices though
  8. I am not uniquely screwed. There are others like me out there. Finding and embracing them is the most healing hug for me. Others heal too!
  9. Humiliation, shame, guilt, resentment, anger, envy, greed, sadness – express them and they reduce my power and presence. Explore them and I open gates to unlimited potential.
  10. Picture hamesha baaki hoti hai dost. Yun hi chala chal.
What are your top 10 (or 5 or 3)? I’d love to know.

This is the link to Sanjay on Facebook. And this is him on LinkedIn

Engagement and Purpose are linked

October 1, 2014

Mid-life crisis“I’m not enjoying myself” “Need something exciting” “Is this all there is?” “I’m bored” “We can’t hold on to employees” “Our employees don’t seem engaged” “We’re doing everything we can but, staff attrition is high” “We are losing middle managers”

Engagement. The big conversation today. Whether for organizations or individuals. Whether at work or in personal life. More people than ever before are disengaged. I was too. Through personal experience and conversations with over 100 professionals at a CXO level, who are dealing with similar challenges I realized that we needed a different approach. For ourselves and for organizations.

The Context

When we start out in life, we are driven by our dreams to earn money, be financially independent. Every role has new learning and gives a chance to test ourselves, we’re challenged and find constant approval. However, by the time we reach middle management, our primary purpose i.e. financial stability/independence is either achieved or within reach. Role changes become fewer and further apart. As an outcome, we begin to miss the activity that used to keep our minds engaged. At the same time, the initial purpose is no longer relevant and we haven’t realized that.

Organizations too, are stuck in their paradigms and don’t realize this emotional transition that employees go through.

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park...

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park bench plaque, facing Sacramento River, Redding CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A working solution for the self.

Over time and exploration, I realized that the key to breaking out of this state of ennui and constant dis-satisfaction with the present was to raise levels of self-awareness and engage in a re-purposing conversation.

Step 1. is to acknowledge that the problem is not outside of yourself but something that lies within. That it has to do with what engages you or excites you. But even more important to understand that the world changes and that what worked for you before may not be working now.

Step 2. Is to realize that now that the primary purpose is irrelevant you are anchorless and need a new anchor. One that is more consciously derived than the existential purpose you “inherited” at the outset. Re-Articulating your purpose is key.

Step 3. Identifying the mediums that will help you live the purpose. Identifying the possibilities that your purpose can unleash and the tangible impact they will have. Identifying the personal changes you will need to make in order to achieve the purpose. Identifying the constraints within which you will work and seeing them as challenges to be overcome, as the path that you must travel. This is the key.

A suggested way forward for organizations.

Organizations must recognize the above and redefine the employee value proposition via rejigging the conversation they have with employees.

1. Move from performance conversations to purpose conversations

2. Enable employees to articulate their personal purpose and possibility and enmesh it with organizational purpose and possibility. The organization is the platform, the stage, where the employee can achieve their desires.

I have the privilege to work with a global FMCG-like organization that does exactly this and they have found tremendous success with engagement and achievement over a 6 year period that this process has been in place.

How do I redefine my purpose?

For self-awareness, start by reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Relook at the 360 feedback results you received – what do they say about you?

Seek feedback from friends.

Reflect on what makes you happy, where you find joy and satisfaction.

Explore – do new things.

Give of yourself – find people who need help and support them.

If you have a skill, teach it to others, you’d be surprised how many others need what you have.

In doing all this, you will open up avenues that will help you redefine what gives you joy and that will be the start point of helping you define/redefine your purpose. Don’t hasten the process, there’s no telling how long it will take. All I can say is, the more you do different things, the quicker it will come to you.


HR needs support, not judgment!

August 19, 2014

HR!Search the web and you will find countless judgments and diatribes about the inefficacy of HR. For a while I was part of this group of people who denounced HR. But the more I engage with my colleagues and partners who have the difficult job of managing this function, the more I realize that the blame cannot be laid at their feet, nor can they be held solely responsible for the present state of HR.

Let’s park our judgments and take an objective look at the HR function and some of the challenges they face.

The first challenge they face is clarity of expectations. Few leaders or leadership teams are able to clearly articulate what they expect from HR. Everything that doesn’t belong elsewhere can tend to get dumped on them. More often than not, issues relating to people (which leaders and managers should handle) are pushed on to HR. In the less developed organizations, Admin is clubbed under the HR function. Many times facilities too. This dilutes and diverts the focus of the function leaving leaders stretched thin and defocused. Any performer or function is only going to be as good as the expectations you lay before them. There is an overwhelming focus on Talent Acquisition and often HR is judged by their ability to hire quality and quantity on time. Leaders who are part of the recruiting effort tend to forget their role and failures are only attributed to HR. And the same happens with Performance and Talent management too.

Secondly, I wonder how many leaders are really aware of how much the function has changed in the last 2 decades, demanding a change in skillsets and orientation of HR professionals. HR has largely been left alone to manage this change and upskilling in almost all organizations. Josh Bersin quotes data to back this up in his fantastic blog on the same subject. The qualities and skills needed by HR professionals 2 decades ago are very different from the ones needed today. Sadly enough most HR Heads today hail from that era, and while some of them have made the transformation, many have yet to do so. This equally limits their ability to mentor their younger colleagues. Outsourcing has meant that the operational and transactional content of the HR role now lies outside the organization and outside the direct purview of the HR function. HR professionals are encouraged to be HRBPs (business partners) which is a different order of skills, attitudes and competence. Lacking mentorship and investment in re-skilling, this is not happening at the pace required. Spring

Which leads me to the core issue i.e. Support. Organizations where leaders are supportive of HR and understand the value and impact of the function have exceptional HR practices and a function that is respected. Others languish. I believe that great HR is an outcome of a CEO or leadership team that values and supports HR. More than anything else, it is this factor that drives the health and strategic impact of the HR function. I see support lacking in 3 areas:

1. The role of Leadership: Leaders who are unable to harness and leverage the function appropriately, do little to support it or develop it. HR is treated transactionally, has transactional expectations and hence is reduced to a transactional function. Yes, it’s up to the HR leader to influence this, but try influencing someone who doesn’t “get it” and you will realize that after a particular point in time, it is better to cave in and do what’s asked for, or quit.

2. The role of Academia: Premier B schools and even specialist HR colleges have done little to revise curriculum and pedagogy. Content seems to stay the same. Disseminating knowledge is redundant, since that knowledge is now available at the click of a button. The course curriculum and competencies that colleges develop has to change. And not just for HR professionals. When B-schools are able to educate leaders about the impact of human capital and how they need to leverage the HR function, we will see change. I am surprised how little attention is given to this area even in Management courses for senior leaders.

3. Selection: Even today I meet young HR aspirants who want to get into HR because they believe they are “People oriented” and HR would be a good fit. Enabling conversations that help prospective candidates understand what the function will require will help make more appropriate career and education choices. Refining selection criteria for college admissions and hiring will help ensure the right input and accordingly, appropriate output.

HR2In order for HR to be effective, you do not need to “split the function” as Ram Charan says. You need an ecosystem fix. We need to ensure we attract the right people for the right reasons. That we equip them appropriately and that the function receives appropriate support from a leadership that understands the strategic value of HR.

To all the nay-sayers and ridiculers of HR, I ask you this, how come HR functions do extremely well in organizations that have CEOs/Boards who leverage the function, set clear but demanding expectations and support the function appropriately?

As a practicing HR professional or a Leader of a business, do you agree?

Staying relevant in a VUCA world

July 6, 2014

For quite some time now, all those who are responsible for or concerned about Talent and Leadership have been struggling with the challenge of developing leaders for a VUCA world. The ability to predict potential in a world that is volatile and ever-changing is questionable – how do you define a set of skills or traits for a future that is uncertain? And then how do you develop them, not knowing if they will even be relevant by the time you get there?

And if you are a professional, then the same question holds true for you. How will you continue to be relevant in a mercurial future? Time was, the Peter Principle took a few years to catch up with a professional; today, it can happen in a month! How then, will you avoid irrelevance? 

I had a chat with Abhijit Bhaduri, CLO of Wipro and one man who I think has an incisive intellect and a solid opinion about the above dilemmas. After 2 chats, I realized what he said was valuable and requested him to share one of his blogs on the subject. As always, he doesn’t disappoint. Here’s his insightful take on what individuals and nations need to do.

Abhijit, thanks a ton for this. 

In another twenty years more than a billion people will be more than 65. The greying population will largely be in the developed world. The old people to working age population will get severely skewed in many countries. According to The Economist, by 2035 Japan will have 69 old people for every 100 in the 24-65 age group. Germany will have 66 and America will have 44.

Across the rich world the well educated people are working longer than the less skilled. In the age group of 62-74 in America, 65% people with a professional degree are still working compared to only 32% of people who didn’t go to college. The incomes of the highly skilled are rising at the expense of the unskilled. Ironically the employment rates are falling among younger unskilled people.

The source of labor will have to come from Asia and Africa which will in 2035 have 22 people over 65 for every hundred who are in the 24-65 age group. While we keep flaunting India‘s demographic dividend we conveniently ignore the dropping rates of employability with passing year. Less than one out of four MBAs is employable. One out of five engineers can claim to be employable. Only one in ten graduates is employable. What are we missing?

Historically, colleges ensured employability. The gap between what the employer needed and what the new hire came in with was met by mandating a certain number of training days for the employees. The world was slow to change. Hence the skills that a person picked up and sharpened lasted a lifetime.

The world outside is changing rapidly. Business is not booming as it did in the pre-dot-com era. Opportunities are like rainbows. They appear for a brief while and suddenly vanish. Those who are agile and skilled get the spoils. By the time the competition has caught on, the opportunity dries up and appears in another unexpected part of the world. That basically means that people have to constantly reskill themselves. The skills have short life spans.

Academic institutions have not changed over the years. While the real world problems are often solved by cross functional teams, colleges and business schools are still organised by the silos that existed decades ago. Information that was once available only through a professor is now available for free online. The role of the professor should reflect this reality. In the absence of that fresh entrants into the workplace will find it harder with each year to be relevant.

Education has worked on the principle of fixed tenure and variable quality. Every student spends the same three or four years to get a degree but there is a wide variation in the level of proficiency between students. The employer on the other hand cares about proficiency and not the time that a person has taken to acquire the skill. Academics argue that employability is not the end goal of education. It is all about opening the mind and making the person a global citizen. That is a luxury only the rich can afford. Ask a fresh MBA who is unable to find a job, what he or she believes to be the purpose of education. We acquire skills so that we can use it.

The world today needs people who can learn to constantly reskill themselves without waiting for their college or employer to nudge them. That is a big mind shift needed.

The workforce for the future will come from Africa and Asia and from countries which have a crumbling education system. It then is no longer a problem that we can leave to the respective countries to deal with. The countries which have the wealthy but ageing populations must invest heavily in boosting up the infrastructure, teacher training and the resources needed to prepare the next generation workforce. The next set of entrepreneurs and innovators are in all these countries which are youth-rich and proficiency-poor. Time for a rethink on how we view the world. 

Abhijit’s article also appeared in The Economic Times –

Pink Floyd sang “We don’t need no education…”, I’m doubtful about that! But they went on to say “We don’t need no, thought control..” and that I agree with! What we need is an education system that enables us to be open-minded, humble, self-aware, receptive, responsive, agile, adaptable and experiential and proactive learners. At the very least, it will help us survive!


How the mighty (Jet Airways) have fallen

July 1, 2014

Jet Airways Boeing 737-800

I’ve been delaying this post for the last 2 years. Hoping that I won’t need to. However, time after time, Jet Airways demonstrates how far they have slipped from the industry defining standard  of customer service  that they had introduced to the Indian flier.

It was some time in 1995, I had to fly from Bombay to Delhi. Upon checking with my agent for flight options, I found that Jet airways was the costliest ticket. On a whim, I called them up and asked the lady why this was so. With a great deal of confidence and pride she told me “Sir, we are the best. And once you fly with us you won’t think of this question.”

She was right. And for the next decade and more I flew only Jet Airways. I was a platinum member for the longest time. And their best ambassador. It wasn’t in the big things that Jet Airways impressed a customer but in the small details – the airhostess who’d switch on the light if she saw me reading – the cleanliness of the seats and aircraft – the willingness with which you received 4 packets of mouth freshener when you asked for one.

Today, I consciously avoid taking a Jet Airways flight and only opt for the airline if there is no other option. Why?

They are never on time anymore. They lack the simple courtesy of informing passengers about a delay, why there is one or how long they think it will take. And I am talking 20+ minutes.

The food quality is terrible. I am scared to eat the food because I worry how old it is and how bad the quality of the chicken and noodles are.

The aircraft is dirty, the seats are worse. Once I made the mistake of flying business class to Colombo from Mumbai and the seat was broken.

The pride, the confidence that one saw on the faces of the crew is missing. They look tired and defeated.

The last time I was checking in on a Mumbai-Singapore-Sydney flight, I was issued only the Mumbai-Singapore pass and asked to pick up the Sydney boarding pass in Singapore. Because there was an error on the system. When I argued it took less than 3 minutes to generate the boarding pass from another system. It’s a breakdown in customer orientation.

Naresh Goyal‘s dream is tarnished. Maybe he himself isn’t as involved anymore. His legacy and gleaming dream has no shine left.

I know the airline industry is in trouble. I know everyone is struggling. But what I cannot understand is how Low-cost Carriers like Indigo and SpiceJet can offer better service, on-time flights, better food quality at lower cost and Jet Airways, with a wider span and greater economies of scale, cannot.

I believe it has to do with focus, mindset, rigour and an uncompromising commitment to customer service. It has to do with the fundamental purpose of an organization, and the purpose cannot be financial survival (which is an outcome), organizations which have a purpose woven around the customer always come through good times and bad, in good shape. Which is something Jet Airways seems to have lost. Which is sad. I miss the service. I miss the energy. I miss the experience.

How the mighty have fallen.