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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]  
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