In November this year, we at ChapmanCG returned to India for our second round of meetings conducted across 3 cities: Bangalore, Mumbai and Gurgaon. We had the privilege of co-hosting these meetings with a number of our long time key contacts in the country: Flipkart, JLL, General Motors, GroupM, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Asian Paints and FireEye Inc.

While the meetings were around a few different topics, the common theme running through all of them was technology and its increasing impact on talent management practices.

As the world moves towards an increasingly digital and automatized environment, there was a lot of debate on the extent technology is changing the face of HR and even whether the HR function will exist in its current form in the future. Bleak extreme outlooks aside, the general agreement was that while a lot of activities of the HR teams would be taken over by increasingly sophisticated and comprehensive ERP systems, it would only enhance the value that HR brings to the table.

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Mergers & Acquisitions

Shared Concerns

Concern: HRBPs find their time consumed with integrating one system after another. Then there’s the question of whether to make smaller changes in process as and when needed or to choose a new comprehensive system, which then leads to notoriously long planning, transition and implementation time.

Solution: A large technology company headquartered in Bangalore spoke about moving away from a previously high touch model of HR to a low touch one. HRBPs now support only the management at a certain level rather than everyone. It depends significantly on the maturity of the organisation.

Another idea was to shift the responsibility of managing the performance management process to the line managers and equip them with adequate training to leverage the software and tools provided, thus decreasing their reliance on HR. Move away from an “every employee” focus to a “management” focus, where it’s not about an “annual all employee review cycle”, but the focus is on empowering management to lead the way in managing their teams.

Effective Analytics & The Role of Legacy

Concern: A lot of the companies are grappling with tools and software that was previously implemented to solve different problems, but don’t talk to one another. Some gave the example of using Taleo for application tracking, another tool for onboarding and something else for performance management—and none of these systems “share” information, which means redundancy of work and data, low accuracy of information and a lack of robust analytics.

There’s no denying that technology does produce a lot of data and analytics that we can now use, but if teams aren’t equipped with the skill sets to really analyse and then utilise this information to make accurate, business relevant predictions, it’s of no use. Thus, the challenge of upskilling/training.

Solution: A consumer company spoke about “early warning signals” or a People Risks Profiling. The company could see which employees had a high probability of leaving by analysing the average length of service for employees in a certain business unit, tracking stock vesting periods, the types of questions employees were asking to the company helpdesk, number of times an employee had a management change or has been passed over for a promotion. It was successful to some extent, but they admitted that human behaviour is unpredictable. So, you need to marry the data aspect with the qualitative aspect and use “human” judgment.

Getting the balance right between consistency and user/employee experience with quick acclimation to the tools, fast solutions and results is critical.

Upskilling/Training & Adaptability

Concern: For companies with a significant blue collar workforce, it remains a challenge to bring everyone on the same digital platform. Face-to face and direct communication with the managers are still the more effective form. But how do you balance the desires and needs of some versus the entire organisation?

An interesting example of people adapting to change and a more digital world, especially when not given a choice, was the recent demonetization that took place in India. Overnight large bills of 500 and 1000 INR were rendered obsolete. A large group of the mobile-wielding population had access to the digital platform, but had never used it because either they were reluctant to change, unfamiliar with it, didn’t want to try it or they were just plain comfortable with the cash model, were forced in the hundreds to adapt to the new digital system, or be left behind.

Solution: One of the companies talked about an end-to-end skill management programme. Every year they create a 5-year roadmap that includes what products and technologies are coming, and what skills are needed to meet the needs of the business. How do they do this? They look at and utilise things like e-Learning and boot-camps; on things like sentience, cloud computing; 2-3-4-month-long programmes where they reskill their employees based on their company’s future needs so that employees come out the other end qualified to do a different role.

It’s a mandate from the top, so that helps tremendously with getting buy-in. Managers don’t complain about the costs of retraining, but more importantly, they understand that they have future-ready employees.

What made this case so interesting, was that the company could have laid off people and then hired new staff with the right skills. But they didn’t want to build an employer brand as a company that lays off people. Employees realise that they are gaining a newly relevant skillset for free, and that becomes a retention programme. Interestingly, so far the company has decided to run these programmes and make the investments in their employees with no caveat or lock in period.

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The Bottom Line

Ultimately technology is here to stay, the question is how do you keep your skills updated and ensure your HR team is getting leaner (in the right way) as the function of HR evolves? How do you stay ahead of the curve? Some say it’s about diversifying the hiring of HR professionals: they need to not only be functionally competent, but also technologically relevant.

Everyone agreed it’s an amalgamation of everything. Technology must be an integral part of the organisation’s culture by inculcating ‘tech savviness’ as part of the assessment process in hiring, either through gamification modules, competencies of adaptability (openness to change), hackathons or even code jamming sessions. And this includes the hiring of HR employees.

When you solve a business problem, that’s where you can really experiment. If the business sees impact in terms of productivity and behaviour, then it’s more willing to invest in scalability. The key is incremental progress, about trying small things, analysing the results, and then expanding.

Here’s what participants had to say

It was a great session with interesting discussions around how and why businesses should focus on transformation, fundamentally changing the DNA of the organisation and how HR can drive this key business agenda of transformation in an era of disruption. There were some good ideas discussed on creating a culture of innovation.

Rohit Suri, Chief HR & Talent Officer, South Asia at GroupM

It was a privilege for us to co-host the HR Leadership session with ChapmanCG. The discussions were insightful and the dialogue led to a valuable exchange of ideas, knowledge and best practices sharing about how technology is affecting HR and talent management and staffing in India.

Raamann Ahuja, Senior Director HR at Thermo Fisher Scientific

ChapmanCG once again pulled off a super engaging and informative session. As always, interactions were spontaneous, discussions were lively and Hosts (JLL) were generous (and Oscar and Lavanya were perfect anchors). Eagerly looking forward to the next roundtable in Gurgaon.

Nishant Gaharwar, Country HR Director at Uber

It was an enthralling experience to host and participate in the meeting. The discussions were interesting and insightful. The group shared their perspectives and experiences on how technology affects HR, Talent Management and Staffing in India. It was fascinating to hear seasoned HR professionals narrate their tryst with technological evolution in HR. The similarity and disparity of experiences was enlightening.

Pritpal Kular, Vice President – Human Resources at General Motors India

The session was quite enriching and was a great opportunity to learn from the participants’ experiences and best practices. Look forward to being part of similar sessions in the future!

Aarti Mansukhani Head, HR, South Asia at Marks & Spencer

Thanks to ChapmanCG for facilitating the HR roundtable. Haven’t been through such insightful, professional HR discussions; appreciate the effort.

Maheswari Jagan, Director, HR, India at Schneider Electric

The meeting opened my eyes to those frontiers of business which HR is yet to explore and brought the reckoning that HR can contribute in business transformation only by venturing into these new frontiers.

Avijit Shastria, Lead - Channel HR (Commercial Vehicles) at Tata Motors

This is a topic that has been generating quite a bit of interest lately and the implications are manifold. The discussion was interactive and it was good to see different perspectives across different organisations. The existence of the function is being questioned and it is imperative that we adapt ourselves to the newly unfolding world.

Rajat Mathur, Managing Director, HR, India at Morgan Stanley

It was a good meeting and chance to exchange valuable ideas and perspectives with industry peers. It’s always interesting to hear other practitioners experience of how HR can support business transformation. Kudos to ChapmanCG for organising this.

Nimisha Das, Director, HR, India at Red Bull

A truly engaging session that helped us discuss, debate, share knowledge but above all make us introspective as we go along this new journey of defining or reimagining the construct of performance management as relevant to our individual industry/enterprise. Thank you ChapmanCG for being the flag bearers of collective and inclusive knowledge sharing.

Ritesh Mathur, Head, HR - Global Delivery Network, India at Quintiles IMS

It was great to learn from organisations that have undertaken a similar journey as well as brainstorm with industry colleagues to help develop superior perspective. Thanks, ChapmanCG for setting these up.

Ateet Jayaswal – HR Head – GE Healthcare & GE Digital, India.

I was very pleased with the HR meeting organised by ChapmanCG. We had some good discussions with fellow HR professionals on some of the latest Talent Management trends and how we could make them more relevant for the business . The meeting format allowed for a more in-depth and critical discussion around topics and was quite insightful.

Amit Badkas, Director, HR, India at FireEye

It was surely an interesting set of discussions with some new thoughts , views and opinions being shared by some, as well as some common and aligned perspectives that were voiced by others; the topic Technology Affecting HR, Talent Management and Staffing in India is so very relevant to the times we live in! Appreciate your efforts, and the hosts, GM HR team, for bringing this to fruition. I am sure all in the room were benefitting from shared learnings and experiences!

Mona Puri, Senior Director , Asia Pacific at inVentiv Health

The meeting had HR leaders from diverse backgrounds that made the discussion even more enriching.

Nimisha Pathak, HR Business Lead at BCG