Ravin Jesuthasan on the future of work in India

Mercer Appoints Ravin Jesuthasan as Global Leader for Transformation Services
In his new role, Ravin is responsible for leading Mercer’s Transformation Center of Excellence. He will report to Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career business and Head of Mercer Strategy.

An exclusive conversation with Ravin Jesuthasan, Author and Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson. Ravin is a recognized global thought leader, futurist, and author on the future of work and human capital. He has led multiple research efforts on the global workforce, the emerging digital economy, the rise of artificial intelligence and the transformation of work.

Ravin has lead numerous research projects for the World Economic Forum including its ground-breaking studies; Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society, Creating a Shared Vision for Talent in the 4th Industrial Revolution and HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

He is a regular participant and presenter at the World Economic Forum’s annual meetings in Davos and Dalian/Tianjin and is a member of the forum’s Steering Committee on Work and Employment. He is the author of the books Transformative HR, Lead The Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment and Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach to Applying Automation to Work.

Ravin holds B.B.A. (Finance) and M.B.A. (Finance) degrees and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Q- As digital transformation of the workplace, rise of the gig economy, growth of the millennial workforce and other innovations continue at an accelerated pace, how do you see the future of work in India?

The future of work in India will be one that is characterized by a growing plurality of means for getting work done. From a largely binary choice of using employees versus third parties (in the form of alliances or vendors) to one where companies will have at least 8 different means for getting work done. These options include employees, independent contractors, alliances, outsourcers, gig talent, volunteers, artificial intelligence and robotics (both physical and virtual). The challenge for leaders will be in orchestrating these various means and having the decision making frameworks to guide their choices while the challenge for regulators will be in ensuring an equitable regulatory framework that appropriately balances the needs of various stakeholders while not compromising the agility and competitiveness of Indian enterprises

Q- What are the key challenges associated with digitalization and how do you develop a  successful mitigation strategy?

The greatest challenge with digitalization is overcoming legacy. Across industries, the primary obstacle to the future of work and digitalization is legacy. We are seeing multiple industries get disrupted by new entrants who can harness the power of digitalization without the impediments of legacy. Legacy includes mindset, toolset, culture, operating practices, etc. Digitalization enables organizations to challenge every aspect of legacy, turning what is often the primary source of competitive advantage for established companies into a liability. The key to overcoming the challenges posed by legacy is to instill a culture of experimentation and learning. I believe Satya Nadella said it best when he talks about changing the culture at Microsoft from one of “know it alls” to one of “learn it alls”. Digital transformation is less about technology and almost entirely about people and culture.

Q- How can organizations benefit from digitalization, especially when it comes to motivating employees, evolving the work, encouraging continuous learning, etc.?

Digitalization creates a massive impetus for change in the workforce. Whether it is how they work, the skills required, the need to remain relevant through continuous upskilling, etc. It also creates opportunities to address these issues in a fundamentally different way relative to legacy approaches. Companies are increasingly using chatbots and smart assistants to transform the entire employee experience from recruitment to onboarding to learning to building employee networks.

Q- What is your idea of reinventing jobs linked with the future of work and how does it impact organizations as they seek growth and success in an era of change and digital transformation?

To my earlier point about overcoming legacy, the biggest legacy that companies need to overcome is the legacy of jobs. This is because you can’t achieve the optimal combinations of humans and automation unless you get beyond jobs to the elemental tasks. It is only when you get to tasks that you see how automation will either substitute, augment or create human work. Our book; Reinventing Jobs (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018) gives business leaders a framework and over 100 examples for deconstructing jobs, analyzing the component tasks, distributing the tasks to the most optimal means and reconstructing new, and arguably, more impactful jobs.

Q- As work is changing, the workforce must constantly upgrade its skills to stay relevant. In your opinion what are the future skills that will be demanded and how do we ensure organizations are future-ready?

Keeping the workforce relevant will probably be one of the most significant challenges facing society in this 4th Industrial Revolution. As automation accelerates, the half-life of many skills is shrinking. The framework in Reinventing Jobs helps you identify the tasks most likely to be substituted by automation and robotics. Unsurprisingly, it is the tasks that are repetitive, rules-based, often analytical in nature that are most susceptible to substitution through automation. While tasks requiring creativity, empathy, emotional intelligence are least susceptible to substitution and will likely grow in demand as automation becomes more common. To ensure they themselves remain relevant, organizations need to make continuous learning and key part of their business plans and the heart of the new employee experience. The promise of continued relevance needs to be central to the “new deal”

Q- In recent years, HR has undergone dynamic shifts in its roles, in your opinion, what will “the new normal” look like for HR leaders in 2020?

I recently co-authored a report with the *World Economic Forum that details 6 key imperatives for organizations to transform their management of human capital. The six imperatives are:

  • Developing New Leadership Capabilities for the 4IR: As organizations operate more distributed business models, leaders will need to lead from the edge, adopt the right technologies, drive a new vision of organizational culture and shape innovative people strategies for the future of work.
  • Managing the Integration of Technology in the Workplace: The way work gets done is changing. A growing area of responsibility for HR is to partner with CEOs and C-suite leaders to achieve the optimal combination of human workforce and automation to ensure a positive impact on the future of work.
  • Enhancing the Employee Experience: The increasing complexity of the workforce and the use of technology is calling for a change in the way work is experienced. HR plays a vital role in defining, measuring and enabling the meaningful employee experience in the 4IR.
  • Building an Agile and Personalized Learning Culture: HR plays a leading role in fostering a culture of lifelong learning in the context of declining demand for certain skills, the emergence of new ones and the requirement for talent to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn.
  • Establishing Metrics for Valuing Human Capital: The mutually beneficial relationship between the workforce, organizations and society make it essential for HR to create a compelling case for establishing viable and scalable measures of human capital as a key performance driver and continuously demonstrate the impact of its work on business performance.
  • Embedding Diversity and Inclusion: Changing social, economic and political forces bring an opportunity for organizations to profoundly advance inclusion and diversity. HR plays a pivotal role in promoting a sense of purpose and belonging in the workforce, and equality and prosperity for the communities and regions in which they operate.

Q- Any advice for HR professionals to stay relevant within their organizations and bring strategic value?

HR as a function needs to shift from being a steward of employment to being a steward of work. For the HR professional, this means developing digital skills (understanding emerging technologies and their applications to work and human capital, developing enhanced analytical capabilities, etc.) and embracing a mindset of continuous learning.


Thank you, Ravin!


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