Raj Raghavan, Senior Vice President & Head of Human Resources, IndiGo (InterGlobe Aviation Limited) on future-ready workforce
Raj leads Human Resources function at IndiGo, India’s largest airline by market share. A key member of IndiGo’s Executive Committee, he has responsibility for all aspects of Human Resources including ifly (IndiGo’s Learning Academy), CSR, and Administration functions. Raj also serves as an Independent Non-Executive Director on the Board of HealthCare Global Enterprises Ltd (HCG), India’s largest provider of Oncology care and at the forefront of the battle against cancer.
Prior to joining IndiGo in early 2018, Raj worked at Amazon for over seven years and was lastly their Head of Human Resources (Asia Pacific & Middle East) responsible for International Consumer Business and Global Technology Development Centers in the region. Earlier, Raj was with GE for over ten years across various business and geographies. His last position at GE was Head of HR for GE’s Global Research and India Technology Centers. Starting his HR career in the late 80’s, Raj has held several senior HR leadership positions at Hindustan Unilever, Ford Motor Company, and HSBC.
Raj has a Master’s in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations from Madras School of Social Work and is a Global Fellow of The Wharton School in Talent Management.
Q- In your opinion, what is the future-ready workforce?
It is fascinating to see how organizations are keen to build workforce that is ready to meet future challenges that comes their way, equipped with skills and capabilities to not only meet these challenges but also to help capitalize on opportunities and overcome obstacles they have not even thought of.
However, more importantly, the presence of an inquisitive bunch of people always looking at the ever-changing customer landscape is even more important. I would say that a workforce that is able to foresee the future exactly fits the description of a future-ready workforce.
Q- How to build a future-ready workforce with new skills and capabilities?
As cliched as it may sound, in my mind, this question is the most important one for HR Leaders to solve. I am reminded of something that I had read several years ago relative to Motorola. The article said that their HR function could have saved the company from going belly up! How? Apparently, a certain PC manufacturer had been actively hiring Motorola’s telecom engineering talent consistently. This did not quite concern Motorola as the poaching did not happen from the competition.
It took them several months and quarters to realize that the PC manufacturer was Apple and they were hiring Motorola’s talent in support of hiring their iPhone technology. The very first is to be able to identify what future skills will your industry, and specifically, your company will need.
This will then help identify key skills and capabilities that the workforce will need. Having worked in Amazon for a considerable period, if they had thought of themselves as just another online bookseller that they initially were, they would probably have perished the way several other start-ups did.
My surmise is that in order to build a future-ready workforce, it is not just new skills and capabilities that matter but the understanding of where the organization is evolving is even more important. Thereafter, it is a matter of putting the building blocks together.
Q- How do recruit them, dig deeper and assess future skills and capabilities in the workforce during the hiring process?
As I said earlier, it is very important to be able to firstly identify the skills and capabilities needed to execute the organization’s strategy over the next few years. Then comes the question of how to identify, assess and recruit people with such talent. I would go down the path of firstly identifying specific skills and competencies required.
Every year, Google receives over one million resumes and applications. Only 4,000-6000 applicants will be hired — that’s less than a 1% hiring rate. With over 60,000 employees spread across 70 offices in 40 countries, there must be set measures when it comes to bringing people into the company.
Years of practice and experimentation have allowed Google to narrow its acquisition of the best talent to a near science. Hiring managers at Google used to spend 10 hours a week on recruiting and top executives would dedicate a full day to it. Google wanted to make this process more efficient and through extensive research, experimentation, consultation, note-taking, and note revisiting, they’ve found their winning formula.
With this, they have cut 10 hours into 1.5 hours a week accomplishing the same amount of work for recruiting. It sounds like a dream, but it wasn’t one that came easy. Years of work went into making that time slash and process possible. That said, it’s important to remember that the work Google put into their hiring process may not all directly apply to you and your company either.
The strategies they have uncovered, while all great, are applicable to the needs of Google, the pace at which Google is growing, and the profiles that Google is looking for.
Q- How to develop a potential training program for new employees?
When we started IndiGo almost 16 years ago, we knew one thing for sure. Culture is built by inculcating learning outcomes methodically. ifly, our Learning Center, is where our company’s culture is built. Let me give a quick example. Being on time is one of the cornerstones of our business philosophy.
We realized very early that just professing that language is not good enough, but we needed to build our culture by doing so. All our courses are measured not only by learning outcomes but also by whether it starts on time and ends on time. Our trainers behave as though they are airline commanders who make their own decisions while flying mid-air. So, we made sure that the trainer is responsible for everything that is required to make sure this happens.
Likewise, building a future-ready workforce requires organizations to define their learning strategy so that it focuses on providing what organizations and employees need and want in a way that’s relevant and in a context that makes sense for each person. Learning functions will need to enhance their capabilities and organizational models to support the development of business-led academies like ifly, as well as track similar needs across the business to ensure learning can be delivered at scale consistently and effectively.
After the first few years, we polled our employees to check how they felt their initial training helped in providing on-time performance. The insights gathered from employee research enabled ifly to be redesigned in such a way as to deliver learning in the flow of work and to respond to the workforce’s continuously changing needs for skills and capabilities.
Q- How to respond to the changes by modernizing the learning strategy?
Across my stints at GE, Amazon, and now IndiGo, I have consistently seen there are common traits that define top-notch learning strategies. One common denominator in all these organizations is about serving customer needs in whatever way they labelled them. Amazon called it Customer Obsession whereas IndiGo calls it On-Time Performance, and both are aimed at the customer. Both ensured that there was a two-way alignment with the business and that their learning strategies were closely aligned to their customer needs.
The second one is about providing the learners with a voice. What do I mean by this? They continue to try and understand how their learners learn and what they need. They also continually use technology to encourage user-generated content and actively encourage staff to collaborate in building knowledge resources. Actively encouraging the learner’s voice doesn’t stop there as they also understand that success breeds success with all three organizations encouraging peer-to-peer feedback about the impact of learning interventions.
Q- Any final words?
My summation is that today’s workforce has some distance to go before it is truly future-ready. And, I am not blaming the workforce, not at all. Firstly, work itself must be reimagined, and new skills and capabilities must be developed and nurtured. This can only happen with active collaboration between the business, employees, and HR function.
Learning will be essential to this transformation. And if recent experience has taught us anything, it’s that our businesses and our people are more resilient than we ever thought—and we can embrace transformational change at the rapid speed required. Understanding and innovating for the customer is key!
Thank You, Raj!