Skill, Reskill & Learn Continuously – The Imperative of Agile Learning 0

Dr. Chandrasekhar Sripada, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Strategic Human Capital at Indian School of Business, in conversation with All Things Talent, shares his insight on the importance of re-skilling, the role of the higher education system in closing the country’s growing industry skill gap and the importance of innovation leadership.

Dr Chandrasekhar Sripada is a ‘pracademic’ with a unique blend of extensive executive & leadership experience in Strategic Human Capital Management, Leadership Development, Executive Coaching and Board level governance with Teaching, Research and Thought leadership. He is currently serving as the Professor of Organizational Behaviour & Strategic Human Capital at Indian School of Business. He has had an illustrious corporate career in Human Resource. Prior to joining ISB, he was working with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories as the President and Global Head of HR and before that, he worked with IBM as the Vice President and the Head of HR for India and South Asia. He is a graduate of the University of Hyderabad where he pursued English Literature, and also holds a Business Management degree (MBA) from the University of Leeds, UK He pursued his PhD in OB from Andhra University.

Q. You’ve worked as an HR leader across large public, private, and multinational corporations. In your experience how has HR evolved as a function in these 20-30 years? How did your career transition with the changing paradigms of HR?

A. Yes, my career grew along with the evolution of the HR profession in India. Initially, I performed the duties of a “Labour Welfare” Officer. Then I took to managing industrial relations and contract labour. Later, I took on the role of a Personnel Manager. After some time (in the late 80s and early 90s), we saw the rise of the HRD and OD movements and I took on the roles of an HRD Manager. Then the “D” dropped and we all moved to take a stronger economic/resource view of people and called ourselves HR Managers. That trend still continues, largely. But increasingly, now HR is taking a ‘talent’ view of people and in many places, the function is morphing into a talent management function. Given that I spent forty years in HR, my career transitions always reflected the changes that the profession saw at different times. However, dealing with people as the most strategic lever of business continues to be the common thread.

Q. As the technology landscape keeps evolving over time, the demand for specialised skills also increases. How important is it for the Indian professionals to keep re-skilling multiple times to stay relevant and grow in their career?

A.This is a rhetorical question, as you see. It is obvious that we all have to keep learning new skills to stay fit and relevant. In fact with lifespans increasing, we will have to seek not only new jobs but new careers. The concept of “re-skilling” has become more important and relevant with recent technological advancements which have resulted in the redesign of almost every job. Today, businesses face multiple challenges on all fronts as far as dealing with a dynamic environment is concerned and hence, new technologies and platforms will require niche skills.

Increasingly, now HR is taking a ‘talent’ view of people and in many places, the function is morphing into a talent management function.

Companies can no longer consider their regular employees as their workforce, but must also include freelancers and “gig” workers. Employees must continually add to their skills and certifications in a bid to gel with evolving realities in the workplace. This will enable organisations to fill in talent gaps and meet client and work requirements. Re-skilling is also important because it helps the existing employees of an organisation to remain relevant. Also, with the advent and adoption of new technology, there can be an erosion of legacy work skills. Hence, organisations and employees must invest significant time and effort to re-skill and retrain workers.

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Q. Also, in order to build India’s talent base to compete in the global economy how can India’s higher education system play an important role in helping to close the country’s growing industry skill gap?

A. Higher education should be enhancing critical and original thinking among our youth. Firstly, we must understand the difference between education and training. Training imparts skills. But education enhances the ability to learn more systemically by deepening the foundation of one or several domain areas. We not only have a massive challenge around skills training but lack serious quality in our higher educational institutions. They have become degree-granting machines. Our higher education system should seriously up its game in research and experimentation -especially by encouraging more interdisciplinary studies.

All learning gets dated fast and has an expiry date. But “learning to learn” is an insurance for the future. This is the skill we all need to have to survive and succeed into the future.

Higher education can contribute to skill development by fostering an environment of applied research and frequently updating its curriculum through greater industry/practice orientation and collaboration.

Q. How do you think can “innovation leadership” revolutionise the modern workplaces in order to lead a successful digital transformation?

A. Leading innovation is a business imperative in any business. This is required even if you are not digitally transforming. Digitalisation is a recent phenomenon. There was innovation before that. Digitalization and innovation reinforce each other. Digital capabilities accelerate business model innovation and bring about never-before customer interfaces. At the same time, an innovative climate in companies will encourage the employee to adopt and use digital technologies.

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Q. In 2018, Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce and GenZ will soon outnumber Millennials. According to you, how can organisations successfully manage this generational shift?

A. The challenges of finding enough talent to meet the growing needs of industry will continue irrespective of transitions in ‘generational cohorts’. The transition from Millennials to Gen Z is at best another description of a new generational shift. By itself, this shift does not cause or aggravate the war for talent. I guess like Millennials, Gen Z will need jobs, earnings, careers and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. There may be some shifts in “how they seek these goals”. However, the goals remain the same across generations. We must improve our ability to manage inter-generational issues in the workplace. We must build sensitive and inclusive cultures that respect all generations and help them use their talents better.

Q. Disengaged employees add to significant overheads. In order to prevent such losses, how can businesses move away from traditional employee engagement techniques and adopt a more holistic, integrated, and real-time approach?

A. What engages employees is not a matter of easy formulae or over the counter prescription. This needs deep context and life-stage specific understanding at a minimum. Organisations will do well to run experiments and gain a more evidence-based understanding of what engages their different employee groups at different times. However, if you are looking for some universal quick tips, you must know that employees will seek more autonomy, mastery and purpose, as writer Daniel H. Pink proposes. Managers and leaders have a greater chance to engage if they drop their ‘command -control’ approaches and invest in employees more genuinely.

Q. Hiring the best talent is critical for business growth but talent acquisition is fraught with issues like unconscious bias. How can we leverage AI to overcome unconscious bias and make recruiting smart?

A. I am familiar with the recent trend of discussing ‘unconscious biases’. What surprises me is that we have so many ‘conscious biases’ and we don’t talk about them. Men discriminating women, whites discriminating against blacks, elite school alumni snubbing rural folks are not ‘unconscious biases’. They are very much consciously practised. And that is the problem. We must first eliminate these known and sometimes ‘proudly’ practised biases. Of course AI tools can reduce ‘unconscious’ biases. But we know that AI is only as unbiased as its creators are. At the end of it all, human judgement has to learn to fight biases consciously. Only then it can create somewhat reliable AI.

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