By: Aarif Aziz
The day that stands out in my memory would be May 3, 2021. This was around the peak of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The day started at 4:00 am with a call for help from an employee, which in turn led to a flurry of calls, texts, and emails to garner support. Soon after, I was faced with another situation concerning yet another employee’s immediate family member which occupied my morning; and then yet another as the day progressed. By the end of the day, I had faced nine different employee or employees’ family situations. Everybody, right from those involved in benefits, health & safety, local sales, manufacturing, our partners, insurance companies etc, were trying to help to navigate, but I felt responsible. I felt that it was expected of my role, and not just an effort to help.
Emerging and enabling technologies and systems (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Virtual/Augmented Reality, and Cybersecurity) are bringing drastic changes to our lives and experiences. Enabled by technology and easy access to capital, new business models are disrupting large corporations like never before. We are also facing large scale political and social changes. Political tidal waves have surfaced in several parts of the world. Socially, we are questioning some of the values that have been the norm for many decades.
The unfolding Covid crisis in 2020 and 2021 turned into a big leveller on the one hand, but also brought to the fore disparities. It also significantly changed ways of working, brought back focus on fundamentals, and introduced newer challenges in managing our work and life. This has thus become an era where major changes seem to be occurring on a regular basis. Hence, both organizations as well as employees are navigating these changes every day.
In light of such changes, expectations from employees have also changed significantly and “Getting the job done” is passe. Meeting expectations is no more acceptable. Job descriptions are fluid. We expect employees to move:
From “delivery of commitments” to “innovate to disrupt”
From “functional experts” to “systems thinker”
From “focusing on next promotion” to “being a continuous learner”
From “being aligned to company values” to “being culture builders”
As an employee’s role reshapes and expectations change significantly, the role of Human Resources is getting completely redefined. An HR professional is expected to be a business strategist, culture shaper and change evangelist. Therefore, skills for future HR leaders continue to evolve:
Life and work are not separate, they converge, and life takes precedence – We need to care for our people and support them holistically. That’s the only way to drive engagement. HR needs to facilitate the transformation of the organization and employee relationship. It needs to change from just being a contract to personal, meaningful, and fulfilling connections. In fact, employee wellbeing is the foremost priority for the HR function at Diageo.
Systems thinking: Integrated HR delivery – An employee experience is created around moments that matter- Recruiting, performance discussion, benefits, learning, career opportunities and so on. A great recruiting experience will not be able to fill the gap around lack of learning opportunities or benefits. One must look at end to end HR delivery. We are creating a connected network of HR processes, tools, and people analytics to enable a fulfilling employee experience.
Take bets on capabilities vs experience – Many 30-year-old CEOs are more effective than people with decades of experience. If one can identify potential, one can unlock outcomes for people and the business.
Reinvent HR solutions and delivery, no more reaching for best practices – Benchmarking was the buzz word. We would make statements like: “Why create something new if one can benchmark and learn from others?” “Let’s position ourselves in the upper quartile of …” Guess what? The problems are more and more unknown. Being one amongst many does not create a differentiated value proposition for employees. Speed of change does not allow time to wait for others to try and for us to then learn and embrace once the model is proven.
Design and embed technology solutions – HR as a function has been a laggard while the world around us changed completely. People are increasingly making purchases online, chatting with bots to navigate bank transactions and making use of analytics to understand customers. How can people be different as customers and as employees? We need to embrace technology. And use it as a differentiator to drive speed, simplicity, and experience—not to replace human connections.
Crumble traditional HR models – How relevant are organograms? Our customers always see outcomes and the value we deliver, not the lines and boxes in organograms. Problem solving requires cross functional teams, dynamic resourcing, opportunity to work on problems which excite people instead of boxing them in job descriptions. We have cross functional “Sprint” teams focused on dealing with the most challenging and complex business problems. Sixty percent of the job is defined, the rest is defined by people with impact and passion.
Will there be a normal again? I believe this is the new normal. If we overcome one challenge, another one will be ready to throw us off-guard. As we push the boundaries on talent, technology, and innovation, we should not lose sight of what we are here for – Our people. They will create winning products; they will win in the market and they will create joy for our customers!
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