In conversation with Shivakumar on technology innovations and reimagining the future of HR


In an exclusive conversation we are privileged to have Shivakumar or Shiv as he is popularly known, is currently Group Executive President at Aditya Birla Group for Strategy and Business Development. He joined the ABG in January 2018.

Prior to this, Shiv was Chairman and CEO for PepsiCo for four years and before that with Nokia as CEO for India and later emerging markets for nearly a decade. Shiv has been a CEO for half his career and was one of the youngest CEOs in India in 2003. Shiv worked in HUL for a number of years, mostly in marketing. Shiv has worked with over 50 brands in his career and seen many business transformations.

Shiv is a believer in giving back to society. Shiv has been on the Board of Governors of IIM Ahmedabad between 2012 and 2017; he was on the Godrej Consumer Products Board between 2009 and 2017. He was the President of the All India management association in 2012-2013. He is currently the Chairman of the mobile marketing association, Chairman of the Advertising standards council of India and on the board of XLRI.

Shiv has been awarded many times in his career – Best CEO, Best Brand builder, for Leadership, for Turnaround etc… The awards most dear to him are the two distinguished Alumnus awards he got from IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta. He is one of twenty people in India to have distinguished alumnus awards from both IIT and IIM.

Q- How do you see the role of HR in current scenario and how has HR evolved in the non IT industries?

HR is struggling to get respect in most companies. The reason is that most HR leaders and the HR departments have become transactional in nature and are not deeply engaging. Most people policies are on the net now and hence HR seems to think that since everything is automated and on the portal, they do not really need to engage with the larger organization. I would actually do the reverse.

HR must be a business partner and uphold the values of the company. I see the modern day company as an old aircraft where you had the pilot, co -pilot and the navigator in the cockpit. The pilot is the CEO, the co- pilot is the CFO and the navigator is the CHRO, and his/her job is to ensure that the flight is headed in the true north direction. I am not sure how many CHROs see their job like that.

The CHRO must be a strong business partner especially in the capability area. What capabilities are needed for the future should be mapped out ahead of time. The other thing HR should push for is more celebration, more rewards and recognition. Today’s workforce wants more rewards and more recognition, more frequently. This is important to keep the energy levels up.

Q- Are HR and IT now strategic partners? How HR and IT can help in finding and retaining talent?

The early partnership between IT and HR went back to payroll and automation of all HR related records.

We now have excellent algorithms to identify people who could leave a company. This kind of analysis should help the HR manager to fine tune plans for the individual. Hiring is done so much digitally today. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are possible better than combinations of head hunters. That is so because the whole data base is voluntary and people have more information, helping them to make better decisions.

Thanks to the social network, it is easier to pin point talent for rare capabilities and specific roles.

Q- What is your take on the HR Technology trends ahead?

I would pick a few:

  1. The advent of a freelance work force. India will have close to 20 million people and 22 % of the world’s freelance workforce. This will be possible because of technology.
  2. Distinctly superior analytics to link rewards, compensation to performance.
  3. The arrival of robots on factory shop floors and a new set of policies for interaction between human beings and robots.
  4. More digital training and digital learning courses mid-way in a career to equip people to better navigate the transformation ahead.

Q- Are Millennials ready to be leaders? How do you see the future of leadership in India?

 Millennials are a gifted and talented generation. They are digital natives and understand and use technology better than any generation before them. They are a very articulate generation. They do not like hierarchy and are driven by the purpose of an organization and the quality of talent in a company.

Indian leaders in general are very high on IQ and are relationship led in many ways. Indian leaders thirst for more quantitative proof in everything. In that sense their quantitative bias is higher than leaders elsewhere. Indian leaders tend to be hierarchical and tend to keep distance with the rank and file in an organization. In a fast changing world, that will be a challenge as leaders need to feel the pulse of the organization and the market much faster than before. Indian leaders do not see time as a competitive advantage and hence they invariably are running late or have delayed decision making styles. Indian leaders are by and large good at managing upwards but don’t display the same dexterity when they manage downwards.

Future leaders in India have to be far more open, transparent and willing to be challenged. A digital world will push us to being uncomfortable and being on the edge of transformation all the time. Indian leaders are adaptable and as long as they make positive changes to be adaptable, then they will shine.

Q-What is your advice to HR people for reimagining Human Resources for the future?

Employees want a High Touch – High Tech culture. There is no running away from deep face to face engagement. Most HR people are tending to treat employees as a badge number or a pin code. This must stop. As the world becomes more technology enabled, winners will depend on execution which is fully people led. Understanding your people as assets that can be shaped into diamonds is the role of HR as opposed to treating them like carbon which can be mined anywhere.

HR must stay clear of favoritism and must play the role of the champion for talent and the underrepresented in the organization. HR must drive the agenda of recruiting differently abled people. HR must be a role model for the values of what they want employees to imbibe values.

Current day HR managers must move away from power and politics if they want to earn a good reputation.

Thank you Shiv!


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