Disruption Drives Reinvention Leena Sahijwani & Nishchae Suri

The notion of work is veering from task completion to problem solving and managing human relationships. The successful execution of this is only possible by altering the very conception of work, workforce and workplace and at a pace where organizations are able to upskill and reskill their workforce at the speed at which businesses are changing.

The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson

The Future of Work is an outcome of the severe and unprecedented changes that are impacting ‘Work’, ‘Workforce’ and ‘Workplace’. The evolution of work over the last few decades has been fascinating. Stepping into the cognitive revolution or what some may call the brink of the knowledge economy, it is not the first time that we witness a complete change in the cultural idea of work. According to the World Economic Forum, while the foreseeable loss of jobs may amount to 75 million in the next 5 years owing to technological disruption, another 133 million jobs will be gained. In lieu of most repetitive and routine tasks likely to be automated, work is being redefined to create valuable human-machine collaborations.

The notion of work is veering from task completion to problem solving and managing human relationships. The successful execution of this is only possible by altering the very conception of work, workforce and workplace and at a pace where organizations are able to upskill and reskill their workforce at the speed at which businesses are changing.

Engagement harbours talent

While work has evolved, several of the processes in Human Resources continue to be embedded in a mechanistic view of the workforce. Although, there have been attempts to improve processes incrementally over the years, now is the time to catapult to an approach that leverages uniqueness of our employees and maximizes their contribution and impact to the organization. In the human-machine conflict, the pandemic has brought humans back in the forefront. As we tread an unknown path, the HR teams have a unique opportunity to shape the future of an organization and support its success in disruptive times through use of new-age technology and concepts. This new approach is embedded in the belief that an individual’s potential is unlimited – we can expand and shape it through carefully curated experiences, knowledge sharing and learning platforms that focus on creating greater value to the individual and the organisation.

With the change in workforce demographics and types of employability, organizations have begun rethinking their talent development strategies. In addition to devising learning models that make a diverse workforce adept to tackle the evolving nature of work, organizations need to change the fundamental view of an employee’s life cycle from “attract, develop, and retain” to “access, curate, and engage” for all workforces of all types:

  • Access talent with the right set of capabilities and skills across your organization along with consistently scanning the talent universe
  • Curate and design meaningful development journeys for employees by enabling learning in the flow of work and providing well-defined career development frameworks optimized through robust technology platforms which enable targeted upskilling.
  • Engage your workforce, business teams and partners effectively by building compelling relationships strengthened by a common goal of self-directed learning to enhance productivity and impact by taking advantage of new ways of teaming and working.

Necessity breeds innovation

Flexibility of work and workplace has been on the rise. While some may say that workplace transformation was yet to be a reality, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, it is fair to say that organizations are beyond its cusp. However, one major concern that has historically cast a shadow on remote working is how productive and efficient can an employee be when they are not under supervision by co-workers and managers? As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 94% percent of the world’s workforce are impacted by workplace closure/ stay-at-home measures. This recent experience has challenged the mindsets and historic assumptions around workplace definition, with a number of companies seriously considering distributed workforce as a permanent feature. They are actively embracing the ‘New Normal’ by reimagining where work gets done from traditional co-located spaces to those that are completely distributed via virtual media. However, as the workforce gets more distributed, organizations need to devise ways of fostering a culture of collaboration and building a community.

All HR processes must be re-designed to enhance the potential of individuals bound by a common “purpose”. The TATA group has always believed in a “social enterprise” framework with a focus on improving the quality of life of communities and creating long term value. Purpose is a strong foundation on which an enterprise is built. The organisation must enable employees to find fulfilment through meaning and purpose of their work and work experiences while delivering impact. Embedding meaning into every aspect of work and removing drudgery through digitalization is a great opportunity ahead of us. This can be achieved through mindful performance enablement processes.

Today, talent needs of an organization are fluid mirroring the times we live in. Agility, adaptiveness and resilience are key attributes to win in a dynamic environment. Organizations today are a web of networks; this is a big departure from the hierarchical structures of yesterday. Our processes however have been built to serve a hierarchical organisation and must be re-visited. Insights from the pandemic have propelled us to work on concepts such as distributed workforce, flexible and alternate workforce arrangements. These approaches will enable us to help serve our organisations in future by fulfilling diverse talent demands and enabling greater talent experience. With the frequent shifts in the market conditions and uncertain futures, continuous learning is integral to the ‘Future of Work’. In unprecedented and challenging times like these, learning professionals must rise to the occasion to facilitate a shift in mindset at both, the organizational and individual level. Learning Agility will be the key to building smart, healthy and future ready organizations’ which keep adept with the ephemeral as well as enduring changes in the industry.

Immersing Ourselves in the Future of Work

The first step towards the ‘New’ is by stopping to resist what lies ahead and scrutinizing existing systems, processes and practices. It requires you to move away from your fascination with ‘what’s worked in the past’ to forge a new relationship with ‘what’s needed in the future.’

In 2019, the TATA group began its journey to upgrade HR technology in some of the companies that desired this change as part of a larger one Tata approach. A key principle used to finalise a technology platform was its ability to lead digital transformation of processes keeping in mind the future needs. “Niche solutions” termed a bolt-on technologies that leveraged AI were used as enablers on top of world-class core HR platform to achieve this objective.

However, deploying powerful digital tools is not enough to drive meaningful change in the processes, one must constantly ask how can we see the processes through the lens of our people? Is it enabling our people to do the best or holding them back? Our job in HR is to build, use, and implement technologies that are centred on people, we need to shed our traditional hat in order to do so. Any digital transformation will fail if we continue to replicate our current experiences and processes in the new age technology world. We need to constantly question if our processes are designed to help our teams to perform better, enhance productivity and employee experience? Over the last few months, the TATA group has revisited its processes with a critical lens focusing on enabling and supporting employees better, offering a seamless experience through intuitive technology and taking these new learnings forward to do better every time faced with a new implementation challenge.

In the space of learning and knowledge management, the advent of cognitive technologies is substantially transforming the way organizations aggregate, create, curate, collect, interpret, disseminate and apply knowledge. Employers can no longer rest on their laurels; they need to be experimental and take calculated bets on technologies like AI that are more likely to be boosters rather than impeders in work life. Only 1 out of 5 organizations always encourage application of learning and knowledge through active experimentation according to the EdCast Learning Health Index Study 2020. Immersing in the Future of Work entails analysing your assets and gauging who can be retrained, what can be redeployed and how to develop and acquire what you need for the future.

Designing for the Future of Work

Organizations need to design for agility and focus on impact. Agile is definitely based on ‘Just in time’ (JIT), a concept we are all familiar with as applied in Manufacturing. Agile organizations learn at the speed of business by compressing the distance and time between learning and working. However, what is of equal importance is what is delivered and is it enough? L&D needs to constantly scan the horizon of learning to meet the growing demands being placed on organizations to bridge the skill gap by enriching current job roles with the evolving skill and competency requirements. Providing ‘Just enough’ learning personalized to the needs and preferences of the learner – ‘Just for me’ and ‘Just in time’ is what creates the desired impact.

Creating & Curating Future Worthy Content

Content strategy & architecture is the backbone of any organization’s learning ecosystem. The content portfolio should include ‘Future Skills’ spanning across emerging technologies, professional skills and human – machine collaboration skills, that enables learners to become future ready. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace learning Report, CLOs spend most of their time sourcing & building ‘Just the right’ learning content ensuring an optimal balance of variety, volume and velocity.

Optimizing Learning for the Future of Work

Renewing skills of the workforce is no longer a choice, it is a necessity! With technology advancements eroding the boundaries of the traditional work and workplace, learning must be made a seamless experience which is accessible ‘anytime – anywhere’ by an increasingly mobile workforce. We need to redesign learning to be social, flexible, self-directed yet collaborative to enable peer to peer learning in an increasingly remote environment. Organizations should adopt cost-effective, learner centric solutions like a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) that lead, enable, manage and support the learning agenda catering to the preferences and needs of employees. Given that only 28% of employees are highly satisfied with the learning solutions offered by their company, Gartner’s recent study reports that improving the user experience of technology is the foremost strategic priority of L&D professionals today.

The TATA group has always believed in creating leadership capability that serves future needs of the company through mindfully curated programs at the Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC) in Pune. Technology-driven learning tools have opened huge possibilities to make learning be available anytime, anywhere. This has expanded the reach and influence of the flagship institution to help shape a Future Ready and Future Engaged workforce. Tata recently launched the Tata Tomorrow University (TTU) powered by TMTC – a digital platform that will help drive employees engagement and be involved in changes that are desired in future. The platform will enable people to come together and learn with each other at an enhanced scale than what has been historically achieved through physical class-room immersive experiences.

The group’s learning approach is evolving from setting aside one or two weeks a year to a continuous learning approach to keep pace with the demands of shifting job priorities. Due to the fluidity and dynamism in the environment, jobs today need to cater to changing expectations. As the priorities shift so do the learning needs of individuals. This new approach therefore keeps the learner at the heart and center of the process through personalization enabled by technology. Embarking on this journey, Tata is mindful of preserving cohorts of different companies and disciplines which, in the past have helped break down barriers and enabled social learning. It strives to bring the best of both worlds by putting this blended approach in play enabled by powerful technology solutions such as TCS iON and EdCast.

Upskilling to Build a Future Ready Workforce

A 2019 Survey by Global Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace reports that 64% of HR leaders responded that organizations acknowledge the presence of skills gap within their firm due to fast paced digital transformation, dearth of skilled talent within the organizations to fill up the required positions and lack of qualified candidates. With technological disruption on the rise, Digital Upskilling is a critical success factor for the future workforce. As job roles are being deconstructed, redesigned, and retooled, organizations need to help their human talent to leverage machine capabilities. While most employees are excited rather than fearful of technology, Forbes states that 81% of them yearn for assurance from their organizations through opportunities of continuous learning so that they can adapt to new roles.

Learning in the Flow of Work = Working in the Flow of Life

The way we work and where we work will continue to transform in the times to come, accelerated by the recent events. While technological advancements are set to progress, human relationships will be at the centre of this transition. HR is in a unique position to advise leaders on the probable impact of a dynamically shifting workforce and workplace. As we bring together a physical and virtual world, processes need to adapt to be able to deliver better outcomes- sharper performance enablement through clearly defined objectives and outcomes with frequent check-ins, learning meeting the employee at their space and non-linear career approaches are a few such processes. The way we engage with employees is bound to change. A more inclusive approach that addresses all work-arrangements will be key to our success. We have seen a surge of virtual engagement efforts in recent times with innovative approaches adopted by our companies, some of these knowledge nuggets should not be lost as we start resuming operations.

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace learning Report 94% of learners say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development but 49% report that they do not have the time to learn at work. Employees crave inspiring and challenging experiences throughout their career. To keep them engaged organizations must make available self-directed opportunities for growth in the flow of work that not only directly contribute to them succeeding in their current job but also create growth opportunities for them in the future. In order to harness the potential that the future of work and talent holds for us, the HR function should adopt a new digital mindset and craft nimble processes that help talent succeed. The more we design our processes “in the flow of work”, higher will be our success through these processes. After all, process is an enabler and not an event.

As work and workplace complexities increase, it has implications on organisation structure. With the practice of WFM, the traditional lines around work – life segmentation are likely to become more blurred. It is anticipated that our workforce, having demonstrated success while working from home, will prefer it more than ever. In addition, companies are also evaluating this option vis-à-vis reduced real estate cost while enhancing work-life integration. For those learners who are ‘integrators’ – blending work and life, the idea of work bleeding into home life, in the words of Nancy Rothbard could be, “as natural as breathing” while for ‘segmenters’ it might be a struggle. As the organisation structure evolves to be a strong web of networks, how we redesign the HR function to service this need is yet to materialize! HR must play a pivotal role in times to come and can do so by walking the talk – an agile, adaptive and resilient HR function will pave the path for a future where learning will be the new working.For more details on EdCast or to register for an account at EdCast’s Spark, click here and here.

Authored by Leena Sahijwani, Vice President (Group Human Resources, Tata Sons) and Nishchae Suri (President – Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, EdCast and Spark by EdCast).

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