In Conversation with Abhijit Bhaduri on Performance Management

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Abhijit Bhaduri is an Author, Columnist, Digital Transformation Coach and a talent management expert. He works with organization on leadership development strategies and coaches high potential leaders and CXOs. He is the Founder of Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates, a boutique firm that specializes in the area of Leadership and Culture.

Forbes describes him as “One of the Most Interesting Globalists”. LinkedIn voted him as “A Must Know Writer”. More than 8,50,000 followers on LinkedIn and Twitter follow his short form articles and sketches. SHRM describes him as the “No 1 Influencer” on social media in 2018. And SAP describes him as a “Digitalist” thought leader.

He is the former Chief Learning Officer of Wipro, with more than 175,000 employees of more than 90 nationalities across 54 countries. He has led HR teams at Microsoft, PepsiCo, Colgate and TATA Steel. Awarded the Distinguished Alumnus award from XLRI, he also holds a degree in law.

His writings and columns have appeared in several publications including Harvard Business Review, The Economic Times,People Matters, Times of India and the Hindu Business Line. Abhijit has also authored four bestselling books – two works of fiction and two non-fiction books. The hiring guide for leaders called Don’t Hire The Best has been used by several organizations to improve their hiring approach. His latest book “The Digital Tsunami” is widely acknowledged as an authoritative book in the space of the digital shifts that are changing every industry.

Q- Forbes has described you as “one of India’s most interesting Globalists’.  You have had 3 decades of rich experience in Human Resources and have previously worked with industry giants like Microsoft, Wipro, PepsiCo, Colgate and Tata Steel. How would you describe your career journey?

I think I have just been very lucky that lot of people have taken chance on me. I got good opportunities and career breaks to work with talented colleagues and managers. I had a chance to learn from the best in the field. They gave me the canvas to experiment and make mistakes. I have been the beneficiary of people’s faith in me. I attribute much of my career milestones to the wisdom of my managers.

I stated my own advisory firm Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates in 2016 to help funded startups; medium sized organizations and Fortune 500 companies.I work as a strategic advisor in the area of talent management. That means building leadership skills and helping organizations lead successful digital transformations.

Q- Your popular books like The Digital Tsunami, Don’t Hire the Best,and your works of fiction – the “MBA series” inspire the HR fraternity. What has been the motivating factor for you to be a writer? And which is your upcoming book?

I have been writing for many years, I wrote for my school and college magazines. Later I used to contribute my drawings to newspapers like Hindustan Times and magazines like Target. I started blogging after my first book was published. I started blogging initially to promote the book and then expanded the blog to write on more areas like music, films, books and some HR and leadership related themes.  The read­ers encouraged me and that kept me going. I enjoy writing and drawing and I think this has been my driving factor.

I am completing my next book that is tentatively called Dreamer, Unicorn, Incumbent or Market Shaper. The post digital tsunami world will see all organizations divided into these four archetypes. Knowing how to operate these in the digital world is the focus of the book. 

Q- The Role of HR has evolved a lot over the last few years. How do you see the role of HR today?

There are three significant changes to keep in mind. First,HR has to use technology as base for innovation. But before that put the employee at the center and then design the experience. This is irrespective of the function in HR that you pick e.g. hiring talent or engaging people or compensating etc. Each one of these areas has an opportunity to work with technology to innovate. And being Tech savvy enables you to make the right choices.

Besides being comfortable with technology, HR professionals must learn to use social media to engage the talent pool (whether inside the organization or outside). HR leaders have to work with influencers to build the talent brand of the employer.

Third element is working on Talent model to understand that talent is not necessarily just what is inside the organization. Bigger part of talent is also outside the Organization. That means gig workers and talent pools where the next people come to show their work. Working with these people is a big opportunity to rethink HR.

Q- HR plays key role in driving performance management systems.In your opinion what are the biggest challenges in measuring employees’ performance?

In analog world measuring performance was always easy. All you had to do was to “Count and Compare”. You count what one person produces and compare with what others have. The model of performance management has historically been to Count and Compare.

It is easy to measure outcomes when they are concrete. The number of widgets produced by one worker can be compared against norms to determine how much they need to be paid. It is easy to compare one sales person’s outcomes to another. In many functions like Marketing, HR etc, the output and impact are qualitative, intangible and long term. We have yet to figure out how to evaluate many functions of the organization.

We still use Performance Management systems that do not address the intangible elements like trust, teamwork and collaboration. Performance management systems have not evolved beyond count and compare.Thus you have to find different measures for each of these functions. And a manager has to play the role of a coach and a skill-builder rather than be just a weighing scale or measuring tape. 

Q- How might we develop a performance review system which could also address intangible elements like trust, teamwork and creativity?

Intangible elements by definition cannot be counted but can be measured through the value they create or erode. You have to look the impact on others who are recipients of these outputs. You have to see the impact on the talent pool of the organization. Creative people are great talent magnets.

Benchmark how ad agencies really view top talent.So when you run a great campaign and people sitting up and talking about it generates an impact on the brand. The clients evaluate them on the impact they had on the additional sales and trust in the brand. Of course, it is first about impact on the client, the growth in sales or the category. But there are other measures. Agencies evaluate if people are talking about their work. Are the best people lining up to work in that agency? 

I think it’s an opportunity to invite those kinds of ideas into performance management system and enrich current measures with many other variables.

Q- Technology helps to measure and manage the employee performance. How do you see the role of technology in improving performance management system?

Technology helps in multiple ways and offers opportunity to gather data, to discover many new methods, many new variables that seem to be quantifying the high performs of the organization. When you look at analytics and track data in real-time, it tells you what is common in all the top performers. Technology can be a great tool to understand the factors that make someone a high achiever. Then it is upto the managers to use those insights to make their own team members succeed.

When you wear a health tracker, it allows the user to follow many variables that impact health. The number of times you move, the numbers of steps you are climbing, sleep pattern, the amount of water you drink, the calories you burn etc. When you put this all together it generates an interesting view of your health that might shift how many hours you sleep. You are now conscious that when you don’t sleep enough, you are groggier and less productive. You can track when you are not adequately hydrated and gaining or losing weight etc. It gives you real great way to measure your health.So performance management system must be like the health tracker. It must track enough data points seamlessly and help shift behaviors. Creating insights using technology would be a good place to start.

Q- However corporates now favour continuous feedback system over annual appraisals but surveys reveal that more than 65% of companies are yet not using continuous feedback systems due to fear of change and lack of ade­quate tech­nol­o­gy. What are your tips to implement continuous feedback system?

A continuous feedback system has two elements to look at; one is “Technology” which enables you to capture many more data points in real-time. It is two way process. Employee and employer both have the opportunity to rate. When you choose a ride-sharing app, at the end of journey, you can rate the experience and driver too has also chance to rate the customer.

The second element is “feedback”. Organizations have to build the capabilities of the managers to be able to give the feedback in a manner that improves performance. Everybody is comfortable in telling their team member when they have done a great job. But it matters if the manager can also say when the work is not up to the mark. But shows the person how to do it better. Focus should be on putting managers’training to teach them how to give feedback effectively. Then measure how it impacts attrition and performance.

Q- How to choose the right performance management tools and techniques for growing organization?

If you look at HR Tech, it gives you hundreds of choices you can think and choose for improving in HR for Hiring, Technology which helps you to assess the people and engaging them. To all aspects of HR technology solutions are available today but important piece is to start with, don’t start with Technology, and start by saying what your vision to reimagine the employee experience is.

Always start first with employee experience whatever you are trying to improve else technology will fetch only marginal changes.

Q-Tell us few ways how performance management can inspire and engage employees?

I think people are inspired and engaged when they learn new skills and they can do something better than what they could. One of under leveraged opportunity for employee engagement is to build the skills very sharply. How do you build those skills, how do we get people to learn more and expand their capabilities and opportunities.The organization, the manager and the employee must partner to help the employee stay employable every day.

Q- What would be your advice for HR professionals who wish to start their second innings as an Entrepreneur, Coach or HR Consultants?

Each transition is an opportunity to reinvent oneself. Becoming a coach or consultant outside an organization needs a separate set of skills. Being able to identify the skills that can still be leveraged when combined with the skills that need to be learned can make people successful in their new career choices.

Thank you Abhijit!

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