Tuesday, 10 February 2015 00:36
By Senuri De Silva
The Association of Human Resource Professionals held the HR Learning Conference last week bringing together proponents of the industry to promote a thought-provoking exchange of ideas and experiences.
National and international icons in the field of Human Resources presented groundbreaking new ideas and shared their stores and the secrets of their success with a captivated audience of high-ranking HR individuals from some of the most prestigious organisations in Sri Lanka. The Daily FT was present as Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd., Corporate Services and After Market, President Group HR, Rajeev Dubey, CEO of NadastraInc and Co-founder of Virtusa, Tushara Canekeratne, Centre for Creative Leadership Asia, Asia Pacific Vice President and Managing Director Dr. Roland B. Smith and Wealth Trust Securities Ltd. Chairman Dr. Anura Ekanayake shared their thoughts on a number of topical issues and gathered the gist of what was discussed on that day.
Surviving in a ‘VUCA’ world
Dubey shared his thoughts on ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Companies’ based on personal experiences in carrying out the functions of the Mahendra Group which is comprised of over 100 companies operating in more than 100 countries.
He set the stage for his presentation by introducing VUCA, an acronym which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous which he identified as the ‘new normal’ companies will have to face. VUCA is also accompanied by many push-backs by all kinds of stakeholders, from customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers to communities and nations in which the organisations operate.
In order to adapt to this new Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous environment, leaders will have to create a culture which focuses on three things simultaneously: sustaining business outperformance, showing care for all stakeholders and nurturing and nourishing the core values of the organisation. “All three need to be done. It’s not good enough to do one or two very well and neglect the other,” Dubey said.
People need to be identified as the most important part of the organisation and this is a vital point in creating tomorrow’s companies. Dubey pointed out that even highly intelligent people use only about 15% of the brain, saying: “The good news is that there is this vast sea of potential waiting to be unleashed both at an individual level and at a team level.”
Motivation is an important part of unleashing the potential in people. Therefore companies should identify the dreams of their workforce and combine it with their own vision for the future or as Dubey said: “It’s important for tomorrow’s companies and tomorrow’s leaders to articulate that dream and to communicate it in such a way that the dream becomes the dream of everyone in the organisation and that dream is what drives ordinary people to reach for the stars. How we articulate that dream is truly the job of the leader. “
The Mahendra Group has found success in this aspect by taking a stance to challenge conventional thinking and using innovation to drivepositive change in the lives of their stakeholders.
“We said we are going to do business transformation based on cultural transformation, based on three views of the world, three attitudes towards everything that we hold regardless of position in the hierarchy, business or function,” Dubey said listing these out as accepting no limits, engaging in alternative thinking for innovation and doing what they were sure would drive positive change within the organisation and outside.
He also spoke of the different functions of the left and right brain. The left brain handles functions such as logic, intellect, reason and programming while the right brain enables creativity. According to Dubey, “The key to tomorrow’s world lies with those who can effortlessly combine left and right brains and use the whole ‘new mind’ in any situation.”
He added that it was important for organisations to promote innovation by removing the fear of failure as no one can be successful 100% of the time. “You can’t have success without risk and innovation and you can’t have innovation if you have a culture of fear,” he said, advising the gathering not to come down “ruthlessly” on failure so that no one will want to take a step out of the ordinary.
“We don’t want them to fail but we know in the nature of risk-taking there will be success and there will be failure. The important thing is to learn from failure; can we leverage every failure quickly to success? Managing fear and leveraging failure is very important.”
Dubey used the words of J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, to drive this point home. “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all in which case you fail by default. The knowledge that you will emerge wiser and stronger from setbacks, that you cannot truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships unless both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift and even though painfully acquired it is worth more to me than any qualification I ever earn,” he quoted her as saying.
He also spoke of the importance of being mindful of what we do, especially in today’s world of overstimulation and its many distractions such as the internet, which results in us being superficial and keeps us from becoming masters of anything as he said, “If you are not mindful you cannot create anything great.”
He further focused on the importance of maintaining simplicity in our communication stating, “We are so caught up in our own brilliance and our own knowledge that we make our communication so complex that people don’t understand what we’re trying to say so it’s really important for tomorrow’s companies and tomorrow’s leaders to keep it simple and stupid.”
Millennials taking over the workforce
CEO of NadastraInc, Co-founder of Virtusa, Tushara Canekeratne discussed how companies should prepare for “Millennial talent” entering the workforce and the increasing influence of technology that needs to be accommodated by all organisations.
Millennials, identified as those born between 1977 and 1997, have been increasing in the workforce but 2015 is significant because statistics show that this year Millennials will become the largest group in the workforce and as the next few years progress this percentage will only increase.
Millenials and the 2020 generation (those born after 1997) have grown up with technology and the workplace needs to accommodate their different approaches and attitudes towards work and their expectations of their employees.
Connectivity, transparency and fun are a major part of these two groups of people. In terms of delivery they are constantly searching and finding things. In terms of problem-solving they are collaborative and rarely work by themselves as opposed to traditionalists who are hierarchical. Most importantly when it comes to feedback, while traditionalist were used to annual and formal feedback, Millenials want immediate feedback.
Millenials will also expect mentorship from their employers, want to navigate their own career path and value flexibility in terms of schedules. Canekeratne also sees a future where benefits and reward packages are personalised to fit every candidate and this will create an interesting situation for HR personnel especially in the recruitment process.
“We are moving into an era where every offer letter will be personalised. Think about what that shift in work for HR is going to be. Think about how exciting that’s going to be and think about how much you’re going to personalise,” she said.
She also described what she anticipates the 2020 workplace will look like, where companies will elect their leaders, lifelong learning will become a business requirement, CEOs will be expected to blog and engage with employees, work life flexibility will replace work-life balance and human resources focus will move out from outsourcing to crowd-sourcing problem solution.
This will all be enabled by the integration of technology into the workplace. In addition there will also be a shift in the skill-set required to get a job as skills which were once considered complementary, such as entrepreneurship, will become basic requirements.
Based on these observations, Canekeratne asked: “Are your workplaces set up to handle all of this? Is your workplace set up to handle frequent feedback? You can imagine the work that is set up for you to keep the Millenials engaged and successful in organisations.”
Spirit of the music - passion of the players
The Centre for Creative Leadership Asia, Asia-Pacific Vice President and Managing Director, Dr. Roland B. Smith spoke on the topic of ‘Business Sustainability - Commit to Talent Acceleration’. He began by showing that the core issues faced by leaders all around the world were more or less the same.
According to a survey conducted among Sri Lankan leaders, the biggest challenge they faced was ‘change’.
In addition to this, managing relationships and having the relevant skills were also pegged as challenges faced by local leaders.
“Relationships are very important because it’s an area in which senior leaders most often derail. It’s not about how smart they are intellectually. It’s about how smart they are emotionally,” Smith said, describing the gaps that existed between the leaders and their subordinates specifically in the area of development, which was revealed in an interesting anomaly of the statistics collected.
According to studies, even though many CEOs and senior leaders believed they knew how to develop others, very few of those who report to them felt the same way.
Smith said: “When you talk to the CEO or a senior leader and you ask them how good they are at developing people they say, ‘I’m pretty good and we’re pretty good’, but when you ask those people who report to them they say, ‘not as good as they think and not as good as I want’.” This shows the disparity between the two groups that could also affect motivation which is an important part of retaining talent.”
Referring to an earlier discussion which touched on the different characteristics of various age groups from Baby Boomers to Millennials and the 2020 Generation, Smith said: “All generations want to be inspired but they want to be inspired in different ways but how does your organisation do that to move from transactional relationships to transformational relationships?”
Smith then went on to consider challenges faced and concerns raised by Sri Lankan leaders in comparison with those from other countries in the region as well as around the world, arriving at the conclusion that while there were a few differences, it was more or less similar with the same five challenges creating a common theme across the board. “They manifest themselves differently. The context and the culture are different but the same issues occur again and again,” he said.
Smith then went on to say that most organisations fail at transformation not because of poor strategy but because of poor talent management.
According to another recent study which Smith cited, most Asian-Pacific countries self-report that while they believed they had good talent management they did not consider themselves to be ‘world-class’. He first established that the standard set by the words ‘world-class’ meant redefining talent management to what he liked to call talent sustainability. “Talent sustainability is the ability to continuously attract, develop and retain people,” he explained.
He also pointed out the difference between talent strategy and talent culture saying: “You can have an excellent talent strategy that you invest many dollars in but unless you have the culture and the mindset you’re not going to realise the return on that investment.”
There are also various roles in the organisation within this environment of talent management, such as talent overseers, most often comprising the Board, Talent Orchestrators such as senior executives, Talent Influencers, or in other words people throughout the organisation who have the ability to influence talent for good or for evil, and Talent Accelerators which is a role generally played by every HR professional.
In creating this talent culture it was also important for these individuals to work with the talent and make sure that they were conscious of the development process.
Smith expressed: “Do your talent orchestrators develop other people? Are your talent influencers good coaches? Does your talent know that they are talent? I know that it sounds funny but it’s a crucial issue in many organisations that people who are identified as high potential, top talent or critical talent often do not feel that way.”
He illustrated its application to the development of the organisation by using a quote by his son who at 14 replied to a question about the role of a conductor in an orchestra saying: “The conductor brings out the spirit of the music and the passion of the players.” He emphasised that the same was true of leaders when managing talent sustainability in their organisations.
Bridging the divide
Wealth Trust Securities Ltd. Chairman Dr. Anura Ekanayake spoke of ‘Talent Economics Bridging the CEO-CHRO Divide’.
Dr. Ekanayake laid out a reoccurring issue raised by directors about their Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) which was that they were not proactive enough. According to him, generally speaking, CHROs can be credited for being reactive and excellent fixers but very rarely did they seem to possess the skills of prediction and the ability to discover problems before they arose and apply solutions to them in advance.
He spoke of the failure of CHROs in identifying talent needs and preparing people in succession planning which in turn was an opportunity cost to the company as the time it takes from the moment the position opens to the moment the candidate is fully integrated into his new role is spent with lower productivity which can be avoided by proper succession planning. This is because of the difference between the formal and informal organisation which he described by saying, “You can get a very experienced fully-trained person to come in and deal with the formal organisation but if he/she doesn’t quickly learn the informal organisation he/she will fail.”
He went on to say, “Both CEOs and CHROs must identify the opportunity cost. That is the opportunity cost of inaction.”
Dr. Ekanayake went on to comment that the gap between CEOs and CHROs was because they existed on two ends of the spectrum.
“A CEO’s thinking is business-centric. They include numbers and the top line and bottom line and most other areas. They have to look after the shareholders’ interest. CHROS are people-centric. They handle a lot of qualitative data. They talk about attracting, retaining, motivation and engagement,” he said.
However, CEOs feel more comfortable investing in materials rather than people, as is shown by the fact that when spending budgets dwindle, training and development are the first things to be compromised in order to cut costs, he asserted.
For these reasons, he concluded: “Both CEOs and CHROs must work together and they must stop the blame game.”
Pix by Lasantha Kumara