In this exclusive interview with Avadhesh Dixit, CHRO Acuity Knowledge Partner, we discuss the crucial topic of corporate agility. He gives a low-down on why Agility is no longer a choice but a must-have trait for companies to survive in this crisis. He also talks about how the COVID-19 crisis will transform HR’s role and how the current crisis will become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations.
“There are only two critical things that can almost guarantee success in any part of personal or professional life. It’s hard work combined with the right values. Even people with moderate intelligence can be successful if they work hard and stay grounded in the right values.”
Q. With your rich experience of over two decades across multiple industries and countries and having worked for globally dynamic organisations, how has been this journey so far? What has been your one key to success?
A. The last 20 years of my career have been really exciting. I have fully enjoyed and learnt a lot from my HR career so far. I have been fortunate to work in India as well as outside India. It is interesting to look at various aspects of Local HR and International HR as part of global organizations. Apart from multiple geographies, even cross-industry HR challenges are quite different and it has been a great learning experience managing HR teams from across the world representing different kinds of organizations.
To my mind, there are only two critical things that can almost guarantee success in any part of personal or professional life. It’s hard work combined with right kind values. Even people with moderate intelligence can be super successful if they work hard and stay grounded in the right values. Some values to chase and practice relentlessly include ethical conduct, discipline and being transparent and fair to all.“This redefinition of the workplace has implications for all parts of the organization including renting of commercial real estate, IT and Information security, HR, compliance and almost all other functions. The offline and online… Click To Tweet
FUTURE OF WORK
Q. The idea of working remotely is nothing new, but after COVID-19 it’s likely to become more mainstream than ever. With COVID-19 becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations, how will this massive transformation impact the workplace?
A. Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis in many ways. The world is not expected to be the same and many aspects of our lives are going to see structural and permanent changes. The world of work and jobs too is going to be affected and is expected to see permanent shifts. Many of these changes may be structural while some may accelerate the changes that were already initiated by the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
With millions of people working from home for months, the classical definition of a workplace which included physical boundaries is bound to be under severe threat. Not that this definition was not under attack, but this time the impact is deeper and more permanent. Obviously, not all jobs can be done from home (example: farming/manufacturing), and thus, the workplace mentioned here is largely restricted to workplaces where work can potentially be done out of home or any other remote location. Manufacturing too is going to be impacted through accelerated automation driven by further need and desire to reduce dependence on physical labour.
Even in manufacturing, a large component of work (IT-enabled functions) can be moved out of the physical premises. This redefinition of the workplace has implications for all parts of the organization including renting of commercial real estate, IT and Information security, HR, compliance and almost all other functions.
The offline and online world will blend, co-exist, and thrive together in times to come. The workplace is not going to be the same.
Every structural shift in the economy and market place is accompanied by shifts in the nature of jobs. All such similar events and crises tell us that some types of jobs are lost while new ones are created. There is no doubt that this crisis will also accelerate certain types of jobs as we go forward. It is an easy guess that all jobs related to online, remote enablement will boom post-crisis, and these include (not limited to) – digital, IT enablement, online gaming, online entertainment, virtual well-being programs, online education, online counsellors, e-commerce, etc. All jobs related to Industry 4.0 are also going to get in the fast lane. However, there is enough research to suggest that jobs involving the application of multi-disciplinary skills or skills that require complex human interactions are tough to automate.
One would wonder if jobs that involve complex counselling, behavioural therapy, inspiring people, setting direction, etc. could ever be automated fully. Some of these jobs require the application of skills like emotional intelligence, relationship building, listening, language, communication, etc. One needs to evaluate if one’s current and future job would involve some combination of these skills. Remaining relevant will require that one is learning and re-skilling all the time.
“The crisis has tested some strong assumptions around compliance, information security, privacy and confidentiality. There is no suggestion that some of these critical requirements will go away but it is surely not going to be a ‘no-discussion’ territory. During the crisis, many processes within these functions have been re-invented and they may remain in practice forever.”
Q. Human Resources is at the front lines of employers’ response to the COVID-19 crisis. How can agility empower HR to become an important cog in the business operations and lead people through this crisis?
A. Agility is no longer a choice if companies need to adapt to such sudden events that threaten the sheer survival of the company. HR will continue to lead the way for its people who drive the culture of the company that includes being agile as one of the components. Most enablement roles (also referred to as support roles) are also going to see a significant shift. The operational side of HR, Payroll, Finance, IT, compliance, etc. has already been tested to run a virtual organization. There is no reason to believe that what worked in the times of crisis (modified processes) will not work in normal times.
Further, there is also no reason to believe that some of the roles and related work in enablement functions will not go remote. The crisis has tested some strong assumptions around compliance, information security, privacy and confidentiality. There is no suggestion that some of these critical requirements will go away but it is surely not going to be ‘no-discussion’ territory. During the crisis, many processes within these functions have been re-invented and they may remain in practice forever. These are interesting times for most of the HR professionals and their ability to navigate the crisis will be key to thriving in the post-COVID-19 world.“HR will have to lead from the front when it comes to building common values that all employees will commit to. I think remote operational excellence and culture are two themes that will drive the world of HR in the near future.” Click To Tweet
Q. Furthermore, how can an agile HR help your company navigate through the changing workplace as well as business expectations? In your opinion, how will the COVID-19 crisis transform HR’s role?
A. As I mentioned earlier, HR’s operational role will be to seamlessly run a virtual HR organization. This will mean that almost 10-50 percent of the workforce may have to be managed remotely. Successfully managing remote organizations is a new dimension that will get added to HR’s role in the post COVID world.
Another change that will happen is the focus on building an organizational culture that focuses on agility and resilience especially in times of crisis. HR will have to lead from the front when it comes to building common values that all employees will commit to. I think remote operational excellence and culture are two themes that will drive the world of HR in the near future.“HR will have to clearly define what kind of culture will support adaptability and agility. This exercise has to be undertaken by the leaders under the guidance of HR leaders.” Click To Tweet
Q. Last, but not least, a word on disruptive innovation. Can you give our readers a few hints on how HR can manage volatility and enhance adaptability, and enable a company to stay agile in markets that change faster and faster?
A. HR will have to clearly define what kind of culture will support adaptability and agility. This exercise has to be undertaken by the leaders under the guidance of HR leaders. Once the common values and elements of culture have been defined then the entire organization has to be prepared to rally behind the same. This will involve the re-skilling of the workforce in certain cases and creating mass awareness on issues that matter for an agile and innovative company. The whole process of defining values, creating common goals, re-skilling the workforce, communication, etc has to be led by the HR organization. Some of the core HR abilities to build talent that is crisis ready is going to be on the prime table again.
Q. Lastly, how can this crisis represent an opportunity for leaders to create more team collaboration and innovation and rethink a leader’s role in the face of adversity?
A. Any crisis is a great opportunity for leaders to lead from the front and through personal examples and commitment. This one is no different. I would concede that a post-COVID-19 world is going to lead to a more distributed workplace that would require greater collaboration across the hybrid (online/physical) organizations. Managing teams online and offline will be a greater challenge. Leaders would have to find innovative ways to communicate across the organization and build trust and transparency across teams.
“As the post-COVID-19 workplace evolves, I am sure that leaders will find ways to do some of this successfully. There is no doubt that adversity brings out the best in people, including great leaders. It will be crucial that leaders have a high degree of self-awareness to manage themselves and others in times of crisis.”