31 August, 2017

The Future Of AI And Automation In The Workforce

The rapidly changing technology landscape has necessitated the use for faster and more reliable forms of machines that support the human workforce. There is possibly a very rare population that has not heard or is not aware of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact in the near future. For a large part there is a lot of misconception, misunderstanding and skepticism around AI and its implications on the human race.

For skeptics, the mention of AI invokes images of gun totting, trigger happy robots or monstrous machines with the power to cause grave injury. This is based on their overarching reliance on sci-fi movies as well as their own limited understanding of AI.

 For the longest time AI has shaped our financial markets across the world. From calculating, the spot prices of crude, to game changing financial market predictions, to calculating the ticket or hotel prices for our next vacation, AI has been part and parcel of our lives since the beginning of this century.
 
The rapid advances in technology have brought AI into our palms literally. Imagine a life without your smartphone. ‘Avatar’, an AI technology that enables SIRI, is no monster. Can you imagine an iPhone without SIRI in it? Imagine the relief of the army families, when an AI drone flies into enemy territory under heavy fire instead of live men.

 Yes, an AI based defence system that is devoid of emotional and value based judgement, a moral compass and compassion, has all the trappings of the ultimate fascist force in history. A single rogue AI machine can perhaps create millions of others like it and simulate human bombing squads which operate on the same paradigm.

 Like any other technology, AI has had its fair share of successes, failures, judgements and controversies. For all of its success however, AI still remains a largely under represented technology due to lack of human understanding.

 AI is not here to take away our jobs but to make us faster and more capable than we already are. The immensely capable human mind can learn and adapt to emerging AI systems as long as we are willing. Automation only means that we drop redundancies and monotony to focus on more challenging assignments. AI is here to stay. Our options therefore, are clear and binary. You can love or hate AI but you can no longer ignore AI.

12 May, 2016

Why HR needs to market itself?

HR is an art and not a science. Pure science is based on the principles of hypothesis and predictability. Art on the other hand is based on the principles of probability and creativity.

While science can prove its hypothesis, art needs marketing to sell a thought. While every subject and process needs to go through a process of change and recycle continuously, HR as a profession is on a severe back foot in today's day and age due to its dated process designs. From learning and development theories and practices, to performance, succession and motivation processes, HR has repeatedly failed to show business value. Engagement as a function is yet to find its bearing. The only functions that have constantly bailed HR so far are employee relations, statutory compliance and communications. Drawing largely from the theories of psychology (which change quite frequently these days), HR has mostly been relegated to repeated transactional jobs.

Unfortunately HR has been reduced to the level of just hiring or payroll processing in most businesses since, business leaders fail to see the value of investing in other aspects of HR due to our repeated failure in justifying ROI. On LinkedIn for example, nobody even bothers to read through your entire profile before sending across their CVs or manpower solution capabilities. The two letters ''H'' & "R" in your job title is sufficient for almost everybody to assume that you are into recruitment. As if that is all that HR does.

The number of HR persons involved in transactional roles such as Recruitment and payroll in most organizations today is atleast five times that of those in transformational roles. These repetitive transactional jobs unless they are value based, are not just seasonal and but also simply supportive in nature. This leaves a mere one-fifth of the HR members to partner with businesses in upping their people readiness meters.

Despite this, HR leaders will go ahead and shoot themselves in their foot by stating ''HR to Employee'' ratios, without first explaining to business leaders the difference between transactional and transformational HR. The other worrying feature in HR of late is the over dependence on analytics. HR analytics to me seems like the most illogical investment of time and resource. HRM is all about managing behaviours, expressions, expectations and emotions. If an HR team is not qualitatively clued in to what employees are feeling and thinking about your organization and you need quantitative data to tell you so, then, such HR needs to be scraped from the organization. Numbers can at best give some clues to guide HR. But if numbers drive the HR function, a business should kiss goodbye to stability, culture and sustainability.

I once heard a funny anecdote about an analytics expert telling an HR manager why they needed a new hire. Because an existing employee did not come to work on a Monday (peak work day) and had been taking a few extra sick leaves over the past couple of months, it essentially translated to the existing employee looking to leave the organization. Interesting, I thought, given the fact that an ideal HR manager should have already known the reason why  the employee was looking to leave and where he/she had interviewed and much more than this if they knew their job.

HR unfortunately today does not have its ear to the ground. Mimicking the so called "Best Practices" of other organizations in your business is possibly the "Worst Practice" possible. "Best Practice" was surely a term coined by some HR team with great marketing skills. But even those organizations that are pioneers of "best practices" or have them all, continue to have employee attrition. Doesn't that ring a bell?
      
As the quantum of knowledge workers increase in an organization, HR has to enable self managed benefit structures instead of obsessing over confidentiality and secrecy. And let's face it, from appointment letters to compensation structures to L&OD modules you can Google them all. HR needs to be quick and agile today. HR needs to understand what the business needs and design practices suited for the organization. If your policies need to change, they must. If your old legacy systems needs to be trashed, they must. If pushing paper is taking too much time, HR must go digital. Stop bringing in consultants to tell you what others are doing better and hence, you should do it too!

Getting the business to agree to your point of view, is where your marketing and influencing skills come in handy. So here are some sure shot ways of influencing and championing for your team and your ideas. I always tell my team, that you can never expect to please or satisfy 100% of your audience. Target the majority and the rest will sort themselves out. Naysayers cannot stop your success. Be proud and confident of your work and ideas so that external ridicule does not demotivate you. Don't try to be a people-pleaser all the time. Time yourself right. Talk logic. Talk sense. State verifiable facts. Do your homework. Do not push your idea too hard. Give your audience time to absorb your new idea. They will surely come around when the time is right.

Hope these help.

07 September, 2015

Why ''Make in India'' is still a far fetched dream?

In December 2010, a group of 19 Indian students landed in Beijing after an exhilarating voyage across the islands of Indonesia and Malaysia. None of us expected any surprises. A temperature controlled bus would ferry us to our cozy hotel rooms and we would prepare ourselves for the gruelling study trip the next day – that was the standard plan.

But fate had different plans. The luggage conveyor belt stopped turning and I realized that my luggage was missing. Lost in transit at Malaysia – we were told by the airport staff at Beijing airport.

The temperature outside was -4 degrees Celsius and all I had with me was a hand luggage with just a night's change and a fleece jacket. While it might sound like a lot to most men, it is definitely not enough for a woman. Trust me about that. The lady at the airport understood that too. With 400 Yuan as compensation for the hardship and a promise of luggage recovery the next day, we had no other choice but to leave for the hotel as scheduled. On the way though, I made it a mandate to stop and shop for some essentials to tide me over for the next couple of days atleast.

It was midnight by the time we booked into our rooms and we had an early start scheduled for the next day. The only thing I was capable of thinking about was sleep and that’s what I did.

On waking up the next day, I realized how cold it was in the room despite the heater. So I made myself a cup of coffee. The standard red Nescafe sachet beckoned and the coffee was made. With my very first whiff and sip, I realized that this coffee smelled and tasted better than the one at home. Perhaps, the Chinese grew better coffee than Indians hence, Nestle created better products here I thought.

But I didn’t have much time to ponder, so I rushed to get ready. Now, I truly believe that if you want baby soft skin, use only baby products. So a Johnson’s baby oil is a standard feature of my toiletry kit. Since, my luggage had gone missing, I had to purchase one last night. Again a known and much loved product but this too felt different. It felt creamy and smoother in comparison to its Indian counterpart. I will be fair - The smell was the same though. Never mind I said to myself, they make it better because Chinese babies are more important perhaps for Johnson & Johnson.

My luggage was delivered to my hotel my noon that day and the hotel called me to confirm the same. I was elated. What service!

After a long day of study visits across Beijing, we were all tired and hungry. The hotel plan did not cover dinner. But more than the prices, we shuddered at the menu that was on offer. So we decided to take a walk and catch some grub at the nearest KFC or Mc D. The Mac came first and we ordered a Mc Chicken with fries on the side. As students, we opted for the cheapest combo. At 50 Yuan (~ 300 rupees) we were thrilled and shocked to see the portion size of the meal. So why were Indian Mcs so tiny? They looked like a joke in comparison. Believe me, Indians can eat just as much as any Chinese if not more. Our hunger is no less inferior to our Chinese friends.

This was just a one day account of my experiences with different brands in a NON-INDIAN environment. There are more.

Back in the 90’s when dad came back from London, Singapore, Oman and other foreign visits, we eagerly awaited the perfumes, cosmetics and soaps he brought for us. The sweet scent of the perfumes lingered even after the clothes had been through a wash. The Camay soaps were milky and the scent lingered for hours after a bath. The makeup made us glow and made heads turn not because we wore too much of it but because, the product was doing its job right.

The QUALITY was top notch. There was no compromise on the quality of a product made in a NON-INDIAN country.

If we want to really “MAKE IN INDIA” we INDIANS have to be QUALITY CONSCIOUS. It is not okay for Olay so deteriorate to a runny consistency just ten months after its initial launch. It is not okay for Nestle or Coke or Pepsi to sell us substandard products that will be rejected in the international market. To those in the decision making echelons of this country and corporates, please note – RESPECT INDIA before you MAKE IN INDIA.

“Wanted - SUPERMAN OR SUPERWOMAN with a better dressing sense”!

While I love to write and share my thoughts with others, I rarely get the time to do so these days. So I decided to write a few short articles on some recent observations at work and in the industry as a whole.

Most HR professionals identified in the elite cadre across the industry, agree that it is important to induct non-HR persons into HR roles in order to speed up the function of an HR Business Partner (HRBP). However, over the last year, while more and more roles have opened up for HR Business Partners across all organisations, the job descriptions have sadly remained backward in approach. Most JDs of HRBP outline the role of an HR purist.

An HRBP according to any typical job description (JD) is expected to deliver a role that spans across the entire spectrum of HR operational activities such as recruitment, performance management, exits and statutory compliances as well as analyze the myriad data, capture trends, report the same to the management, train and coach on leadership development and manage the talent pipeline. Oh Wait! That’s not all, the HRBP has to also strategize, manage the external branding as well as internal communication, engage and motivate employees and aid in change management.

Here’s a thought - Why don’t we simplify the JD instead and simply write “Wanted - SUPERMAN OR SUPERWOMAN with a better dressing sense”!

If your organisation is in a bad shape and really needs an HRBP, what you are actually serving the HRBP at the very start is a ‘’big basket of rotten apples’’.

In case you are an HR person who belongs to an organisation that cares for its employees and is really serious about sustaining an HRBP role, here are some helpful tips you can use –
  1. If you add too many areas for any role, then don’t expect the incumbent to succeed.
  2. Don’t expect an HRBP to start performing from day one.
  3. The first job of the HRBP is to listen to the employees and the leaders. Make copius notes and then bring order to the chaos.
  4. An HRBP is not a one man/woman army model. HRBP has to be a team of experts who identify and undertake one project at a time in order to succeed at the same.
  5. Do not expect an HRBP to succeed if he/she has to impose upon the remaining HR team members. He/She will belong to the HR team and in order for them to succeed, they need to be able to make friends in the team. A role that acts as a data collector/fault finder of his own team will seldom be able to make friends internally. Such an HRBP is bound to be de-motivated the fastest and leave your organisation for greener pastures.
  6. None of the HRBP JDs mention anything about knowledge of business or developing leaders from within his/her team or grow more HRBPs internally.
Lastly, an HRBP role is that of a doctor who has to treat an accident victim. No wound can be healed overnight. No one medicine can cure all ailments and no one treatment is a sure shot guarantee of complete recovery. Hope this helps.

Own your Professional Growth

The role and responsibilities of professionals, needs to change and evolve over a period of time. People often ask me how this can be done. So here are six easy steps to do just that.
  1. One of the easy ways to make this change happen is to track the changes happening in the industry vis a vis your role.
  2. Even if you do not have a network of professionals in the same role at other organisations, just look up the job descriptions of a role on multiple job boards. See if you fancy any new addition to your role and list that on your KRA.
  3. Don’t be over ambitious though. Understand what you can do and what you cannot keeping your organisational context in perspective.
  4. Identify low hanging achievables and jot them down.
  5. Make a separate list for training and certifications that you need to achieve a certain competency.
  6. And last but not the least, keep abreast of what is happening in your organisation and the industry in general. An outdated professional with a meritorious past is the worst qualification to have.
Just remember that if you don’t own your own growth, no one else will.