Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Future is Here: HR Perspective

The future has always been there. Today shall be past tomorrow and history shall determine the future. So the future can never be isolated with the past or present. Future is here and we are deliberating on the nature of the future and the expectations of today's generation for staying alive, relevant and sustain in changing and challenging times. Yes the future is going to be different than the present as it has always been. The only thing which is important in this context is - whether we are prepared to face the future or are we putting efforts to develop systems, structures and styles that would successfully deal with future. Do we need to be effective or efficient in order to perform at the front to face the challenge or we can afford to allow the mighty to fall.

The trend shows that the future is going to be more technology driven and the speed shall decide the future of an organisation. Economies of speed shall spearhead organizational performance. Artificial Intelligence shall form the base and Robotics shall be the order of the day in future.  Robots would replace humans at very many places but the challenge to see would be whether that would stay for all kinds of jobs and all kinds of decisions.  I believe that humans can never be replaced where decisions are based on subjectivity and as visible intangibles are making and going to make a headway much ahead of the tangibles which could be measured and monitored by machine intervention.

Information Technology plus Intelligent Technology shall lead India Tomorrow. This is well taken as reflected in the policies of the government of India whether it is Digital India, Skill India, Make in India, Startup India, or Standup India. Technology shall facilitate decision making. It shall surely make our lives easier and comfortable and for all kinds of business organisations it would be a great opportunity but we need to first erect an effective infrastructural framework on which this could be allowed to settle. We still have many more challenges on social infrastructure and I believe this kind of big push might miss out on some of the more important priorities that lay ahead of us as a developing nation, be it improving educational standards or strengthening health facilities or to provide basic amenities to the people living below the poverty line. And size of people live below the poverty line is not avoidable at all, it is huge.

Driverless cars is an excellent innovation and might boost industry and facilitate much of the operations. We need to believe that we can not afford to leave our younger generation or Gen Z or millennials driverless. We have much greater challenge to create better leaders and develop in them the sense of authenticity so that they are able to genuinely see the future and take the lead in their best way. We need affectionate hand-holding, driven mentors, authentic role models, excellent social engineers, creative thinkers, visionary leaders, risk-taking entrepreneurs and above all responsible citizens to play role of a change agent.

When we were kids, parents used to say, children of this age are much smarter than before. Our grandparents and their parents and grandparents have all felt and communicated that 'children of today are much smarter than before'. This is a phenomenon staying ever since human evolution took place. The millennials are much smarter and full of energy, enthusiasm and inquisitiveness. Nation has to provide them pollution free air, teachers have to provide them strong wings, and organizations have to provide them space and opportunity to fly. Their impatience is viewed as a characteristic learnt through their upbringing in nuclear family setup. We need to accept it and see the way forward to tackle it with care and caution.

The future of work is to change from physical to virtual world, from structured schedule to flexible work systems, from stability to agility, from knowledge base to skill base (it is disheartening), from annual appraisals to frequent feedbacks, from humans to technology, from periodicity to real-time, from hierarchy to flatter structure, from bell curves to traditional reward systems, and so on.

Accounting technicians shall more be in demand than accountants and organizations shall have highly customized environment for both internal and external customers and clients.  The ability to learn towards the cause of upskilling shall help the Gen Z to acquire better competency. Multitasking shall be possible through multiskilling. The challenge shall be to further inculcate the value systems that connects the millennials with the community and society.

The youth shall be same as they were before, it is the organisations that have to change accordingly and design things, processes, systems and structures to respond to their expectations. The pressures of work and stress would have to be addressed through better work-life integration rather than work-life balance. We grew with the message of 'work being worship' and 'customer being God'. The challenge shall be to integrate work with life and customer with employee. Employee Value Proposition might provide better insights into his/her role but shall take away the value of an intangible force.

Follow your passion, achievement shall follow you. The millennials have to have strong belief in this which should determine their efforts for the call they are taking to decide on their future actions to meet their aspirations. Being mindful to the purpose and meaningful to the life shall pave their path of success and shall help them achieve greater results to satisfy their heart and to boost a sense of accomplishment.

Life is interesting because we are all different.  We need to learn the art of dealing with this difference. Talent pool of employees is much diverse, hence it requires diverse approaches.  This is much similar to the approach that is being followed to address the need of diverse types of customers through customization. So as employees have diverse motivations driven by their diverse intrinsic values, they would be dealt with diverse HR policies. Generalizations might reside in their graves in the times to follow.

Our growing up time was much different. Most of the business organizations enjoyed a kind of monopoly be it Bata, HMT, Surf, Philips, Colgate, Only Vimal, Dabur, etc etc. We lived in the times of sellers' market, where there was no choice or it was very limited. What was being sold was being bought. Times have changed and so is the market. Now we are in buyers' market where choices are many and hardly there is a company or product or brand which enjoys monopoly. It is highly competitive market which is fast changing and redefining the future of market. Market space has changed much beyond expectations. Economies of scale and speed are in full swing. So the story belongs to the listener and not the teller. Organizations are learning to adapt to the times, many of them have burnt their fingers in the process, many of them have survived the hot weather, many of them have transformed in the wake of competition. So the story belongs to the market whether it is virtual space or physical space. The job market has changed accordingly and significantly.

Employers need not get into branding themselves for the want of responding to competitive job market and attract talent.  Rather they need to develop a strong culture which attracts prospective job seeker and makes them tick beyond monetary consideration and space ambiance. They need to evoke a sense of pride in the employees (or prospective employees) in order to retain talent. Work spaces and work systems have to be designed in such a way that work as such becomes play and their sense of winning drives organizational performance. Employer Branding does not need to be pursued as a mission rather it should be reflected in the processes that are in operation at work. Strong organizational citizenship has to be built through effective policies and practices that takes care of employee attrition. Work places have to be converted into Happy Work Places through visioning and charting out implementable strategies.

It was in June 2016 that one of the great futurologist Alvin Toffler left for heavenly abode after spending 87 years on this earth.  Author of many best selling titles like Future Shock, The Third Wave, Power Shift etc which were focused on how the world is going to change and how organizations shall have to respond in order to meet the challenge of change.  He said -  
The illiterates of the twenty first century would not be those who have never been to schools, they are going to be those who have stopped learning, re-learning and un-learning.  
So apt were his words. We can not live with the skill/knowledge base of yester times in order to stay alive and relevant in the future. We need to develop an attitude of learning and keep ungrading ourselves as we keep growing. Toffler voiced the end of permanence and existence of temporariness, emergence of technology, dominating role of internet etc.  We are witnessing the future as seen by Toffler some forty years back. 

Organizational gearing up has to be reflected through their game-plan called strategy towards dealing with the future of change, uncertainty, and complexity by developing agile systems. C-suite discussions have to dominate on dealing with the employees more than addressing customers through innovative products. The key performance indicators have to be redesigned as per organizational needs and individual's aspirations. Employees would have to put forth efforts and excel in their endeavors so that they deserve a seat at the table.

We can not use an old map to find a new place as argued by Gary Hamel. Fayol's management principles need relooking in the 21st century, Weber's bureaucracy needs white wash, tall structures have to get flattened, and work schedules have to be made more flexible.  Elton Mayo would keep haunting us to believe that 'work is a group activity'. Statistics or data analytics shall keep lying to us as ever before. Thomas Watson, revered chairman of IBM in 1943 said 'I think there is a world market for may be five computers'. We need not deliberate much on this past, for much to the surprise of the future. The future in a way belong to Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, LinkeIn, Microsoft, Amazon, Flipkart, and their alike. Interesting would be to see for how long.    

Only time shall be able to tell, who would be David and who would be Goliath. Yes future is present, present here.

[This write up is inspired by the discussion taken place during the first day of 21st Annual Business Convention (23-24 Sept 2016) organized by the department of commerce, delhi school of economics, university of delhi organized around the theme - Transcend: The Future is Here. I acknowledge each one who contributed to this piece through their participation]  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Government and industry face a dire challenge of responding to the expectations of the citizens. Government responds through public policy and industry through products and services. In independent India our economic policies were driven with a unique model of mixed economy whereby addressing industry and society. Welfare of the people was the primary concern and an intention of following Gandhi’s principles was initially visible. Gandhi who believed in small scale industries and village oriented economic policies had strong view on self-sufficiency concept which questioned western model of economic development. Nehru was all for socialistic pattern of society hiding away his thinking on capitalism. Nehru’s contribution is acknowledged in creating the temples of modern India. Or to say it laid the foundation of India’s economic development.

Our grandparents always emphasized on the moral learnt through the story of Rabbit and the Tortoise – slow and steady, wins the race. It became part of our growing and our faith got built in such a way that until something was not sustainable, we avoid pursuing that. Starting small and slowly becoming big was the order for the industries to follow and the role of the state was to regulate, control and facilitate such entrepreneurs. 

Producing what is required by the people in the vicinity devoid of the concern of exclusive production for export guided the industry in India for more than four decades of development that we witnessed till before signing WTO and becoming a key player in the wake of globalization. The era of protectionism and license raj slowly started losing its hold. Slowly we initiated a movement from welfare thinking to materialism and capitalism which drove the values of Gandhian economics to fade off. Western models of economic development became our role models and willingly or unwillingly we got arrested in a phenomena leading towards consumerism. 

As an antidote to the belief of Bigger is Better, more than forty years back EF Schumacher responded through a book entitled ‘Small is Beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered’. It raised some crucial issues and questioned the premise of producing more and measuring development through Gross National Product. He warned - The substance of man cannot be measured by Gross National Product.­ The very same year when this book got published, then King of Bhutan voiced out in the UN session – Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. These voices were in sheer minority and found deaf ear by the promoters of capitalism and consumers of wealth. 

What have we done and where have we reached? We have moved from sellers’ market to buyers’ market. We have graduated from protectionism to freedom to more choices. Ironically it has also resulted in consolidations rather than distribution. Concentration of wealth devoid of distributive justice has broadened the gap between rich and the poor. 

Mass production as practiced by our neighbor China has redefined the economies of scale which has influenced Make in India movement in India. Around two years of its operation, the government has started reviewing their policy. It is reported that there has been over $1 billion inflow of capital through FDI in food processing sector alone. Yet it is to be seen in the coming year how it affects employment opportunities here. 

Yes Government and Industry have to respond to the call of the customer. Survival of the fittest as propounded by Charles Darwin is rephrased as survival of the fastest and apart from economies of scale, economies of speed is also gaining prominence in state policies and in product and service designing. The question is whether these paradigms shall be able to respond to the needs of the masses. 

Small can still be viewed as beautiful if instead of focusing on big enterprises we start to patronize small and medium enterprises. It is heartening to note that the state has already put in place some policy framework to encourage entrepreneurship through Startup initiative. The results are awaited and in all possibility should be positive. If that be so, we could enjoy the fruits of small enterprises and certainly it shall help us bridge the gap between rich and the poor with more convincing statistics and arguments.

[The author is Professor at Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi. He can be reached at]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leadership and Sports

Organizations have to chart out strategies in order to respond to competitive forces. Strategy is nothing but a game-plan. The intention is to put forth full potential and come out with flying colors and to win the game following the system, rules and procedures of the game. Competition is a prerequisite for strategy and in the VUCA times it has become further challenging to compete. The belief that competition is with the external forces drives the organization to target only external parties or rivals. Surprisingly organizations have to learn to manage the competition from within and with the situation with more rigor and responsibility. And that is where leadership becomes key.

The whole science of game theory provide a guide to a leader to follow the principles of sports in order to make effective decision. The whole premise of team-building is built on the principles of work satisfaction. One enjoys doing what one does. It allows one to put across full strength to achieve greater targets and as one keeps achieving, one keeps putting more difficult targets and more efforts to achieve them. The strategic intent enthuses the sense of achievement to stretch the limits and attain better results. This is competition from within.

It is for around a century that we have learnt that work is a group activity as in sports. Even when one participates in individual event, one has to follow the basic principles of group dynamics.

A successful sport person always compares the present performance with the earlier one and studies the trend as to whether there is improvement or not. And at times to deal with the limiting factors or the situation. As time changes situation changes and one has to learn how to deal with the situation successfully.

The leader has to steer the team and the individual team members to understand their potential and to keep driving them to put efforts to realize that potential in the larger interest of the organization. A leader is a coach and a mentor providing direction and hand-holding to the team members and followers.

There are five important lessons leaders can learn from sports –

1. Trust – one needs to trust the team members and there has to be a mutual respect for each other in the team so that their focus is not diverted.

2. Participation – the sense of initiative and whole-faculty participation has to be encouraged as one does in any sport.

3. Adaptability – the ability to adapt to different circumstances and deal with situation successfully. It also adds to the point that one should not force one’s view and should try to understand other person’s perspective as well.

4. Togetherness – as mentioned earlier, work is believed to be a group activity so is sport. One needs to understand that the feel of interdependence should keep one grounded and one’s achievement should not lead towards creation of any arrogance which leaves one in isolation.

5. Sense of achievement – All the eyes have to focus on the target and the members have to display their valor towards achievement of the target. All the guns have to fire together to kill the enemy.

It is a general belief that if one is successful sports person one would have better leadership skills and would suit organizations aspiring to hire people for leadership positions. Interestingly, seventeen years back Marian Extejt and Jonathan Smith studied the relationship between organized sports team participation and leadership skills and found no relationship. Their work questioned generally accepted and established belief that organizations should hire team players or sports persons as they would command better leadership quality. However one has to look at cognitive and behavioural faculties of sport persons in order to have job-fit, organization-fit or position-fit.

We may need to revalidate their research in the present times and I have reasons to believe that we might get different results. Though leadership might reside in genes, it is the culture of sportsmanship which would unleash their potential and sharpen their talent to deal with the situation successfully and to lead efficiently. They would prove a greater asset for any organization and would certainly draw and implement strategies effectively. Strategy is nothing but a game-plan and a leader has to put forth efforts to ultimately win in the wrestling ring called the market.

[The author is Professor of HR at Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi. He can be reached at]