The pandemic has simply added speed to digital tsunami

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We are doing everything from hiring, onboarding, appraisals, employee engagement, and even farewells online. The pandemic has forced every organization to start their digital transformation process or perish.

An exclusive conversation with Abhijit Bhaduri, Founder –Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates, Author, Digital Transformation Coach, and Talent Management Expert.

Abhijit is a Talent Management practitioner with global experience across various sectors. He is the ex-Chief Learning Officer for Wipro, a role he worked for seven years. As an alumnus of Microsoft, PepsiCo, Colgate and Tata Steel he has been exposed to globally acknowledged best practices in leadership and culture building.

Forbes describes him as “one of the most interesting Globalists”. LinkedIn voted him as a must-know writer. More than half a million followers on LinkedIn and Twitter follow his short-form articles and sketches. SHRM describes him as an “influencer”.

Q- Tell us about your new research “Dreamers & Unicorns”?

Four years back I wrote “The Digital Tsunami” that spoke about the fundamental shifts in which businesses would operate. I spoke about the brand being owned by employees, the importance of data in decision making. I saw that competitors would arise outside the peer group from the industry. That “perpetual beta” would become the default state for businesses and individuals alike. We are all going to be continuous works-in-progress. The Digital Tsunami formed the basis of my consulting framework when I started my own advisory firm.

Over the last four years, I have had a chance to work with some of the largest and most admired firms in the world as well as some startups. I got a chance to be a coach and advisor to several CXOs as well as individuals. I began to see patterns that were clearly emerging in the way businesses were addressing how they work, their workers, and the norms that govern the workplaces.

Take the scenario of the workplaces when the lockdown was announced.  Work from home has been a privilege given to a few trusted employees on occasions. The joke was that when employees as the CEO why the firm did not offer the option of “work-from-home” (WFH), the CEO responded, “You are expected to work from home on weekends and holidays.” Yet when the lockdown was announced, every organization had to figure out WFH options for everyone.

We are doing everything from hiring, onboarding, appraisals, employee engagement, and even farewells online. The pandemic has forced every organization to start their digital transformation process or perish. It is also changing how people think about jobs and careers.

We are in a strange scenario when the challenges that impact businesses are the same as the ones that make individuals redundant. The global pandemic is going to change the job market. A CMIE report says India’s urban unemployment rate has soared to 30.9% even as overall rate rises to 23.4%, indicating COVID-19’s impact on the economy. Being a freelancer is going to increasingly become the default option for many more people.

The firms that have done well in the analog world and have even held leadership positions have disappeared because they did not focus on the foundational pieces of becoming digital. When a firm begins its digital journey, I call it a Dreamer. When it hits the rapid growth and expansion with large scale adoption, it becomes a Unicorn. Then when the firm achieves a global customer base by changing the way people live and work, they become Market Shapers. The rest of the firms are The Incumbents. The book is full of Indian examples as well as global benchmarks and has insights from CHROs and CEOs and tonnes of resources that people can use to build their own plan. It will be useful for individuals and organizations alike.

Q- Advances in technology are increasing demand for new kinds of jobs, do you see the skills gap in the workforce? How do you mitigate these challenges?

Businesses will have to be reimagined as digital businesses. Robots, machines, algorithms and other forms of technology are changing how work gets done. What does it mean to work together if we’re no longer in the same physical location? If (almost) every business around the world has been able to let people work from home, then is it not time to ask why not make it the new default option?

That means we need to invest in technology that makes it easy for people to collaborate. Businesses have to figure out how to keep the data of the customers safe when they enter team is not co-located. Technology is an enabler. With that roles will change. Beyond knowing about brands, a Marketing professional has to use numerous digital tactics and channels to connect with customers where they spend much of their time: online. The HR person needs to be able to understand data strategies, digital channels of employee engagement, and analytics. They need to work with the Marketing team to create digital campaigns for employees as well as the talent ecosystem outside the organization.

This is also shown the need to build skills that will allow people to be effective in this new world of work stop the managers need to be able to understand how to allocate work, supervise work for a remote team.

Q- Appraisals throw up the skills gap and the need to upskill or reskill the workforce. In your opinion, what is the best approach to up-skilling and re-skilling?

I have worked with businesses to create a quick and effective approach to reskilling. 

Step 1: Identify automation opportunities for the business and then map the roles that will be needed. Then identify the skills needed for these tasks.

Step 2: Identify the internal experts who are the best at these skills. Ask these experts to take quick courses available online to understand how these skills can be taught. The experts create courses and teach these skills to individuals who will need to use these skills. These managers must attend these skill-building sessions too along with team members.

Step 3: Help the managers understand how the skills will be applied in doing the current projects. That enables the managers to provide the day-to-day context and coaching as people apply their skills. The experts can be drawn in to help the team when they get stuck.

Q- What should organizations do to attract and retain talent with the right skill sets?

When an organisation builds its reputation as a place where people’s technical knowledge, domain knowledge and interpersonal skills are continuously sharpened, the business begins to attract great talent. The average employee’s skill get continuously sharpened. The learning culture becomes part of the organization’s DNA.

If this is not done, when someone with a higher skill base is brought into the organisation, the rest of the team feels threatened. When everybody enjoys learning and upscaling on a continuous basis, the culture celebrates the arrival of an expert as someone who will help others improve. Learning and upscaling has to do with culture and the environment of curiosity that managers can foster. It is much more than taking online classes.

Q- We are going through the adversity, how to ensure learning continuity in uncertain times?

The world will always be in perpetual beta. So those who are expecting the world to go back to looking like the pre-pandemic days will be disappointed.

“The pandemic has simply added speed to the digital tsunami. It has put the world of work on fast forward.”

Those who will go back to working in the pre-pandemic model will become increasingly irrelevant. This is like a second chance to rethink our assumptions about what kind of work really motivates us. Where we are likely to find it. If that opportunity does not come from an organization, find out how you can create the opportunity for yourself. 

Q- Any concluding remarks? 

We live in “interesting times” – that can be an opportunity to create something unique. So seize the moment.

Thank you Abhijit!

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