The Cyborg HR manager

Hasta la vista

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation

Very recently, Virgin Airways, successfully completed a two-week on-field trial of Google Glass. If you are a first class passenger in Virgin, you’d be warmly received by a “glass-ed” hostess who’d literally know all about you, even pre-empt and address those considerations that could make your travel experience truly memorable. Business analysts tout this as the next big thing in customer relationship management. Futuristic technologies are rapidly making inroads into the way business processes are managed and executed, promising to improve them over time. These promises are grounded on validations which unmistakably and unequivocally serve as proofs-of-concept that data and efficiency are the only true measures of business success in the coming times.

The Google Glass example seeds the thought that there is no end in sight on the overlay of analytic strata that one can introduce to improve transactions. At present, an HR manager already has several tools at her/his disposal to make deep analytic conclusions about individuals and the workforce. Data on an employee’s web behavior can provide invaluable insights about several talent metrics, such as engagement, productivity, and integrity. Imagine pivoting this information with organisational events or stages of employment to arrive at conclusions about the employee’s time of quitting. Adding another layer, if this information could be mapped to the internal and external talent database of the organisation to find the best replacement. An HR manager of the future could be talking about metrics on the lines of “potential replacements for probable departures.”

One cannot help but draw parallels of the future talent manager with the “T 800” cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies. At several points, the movies provide glimpses of the cyborg’s view of ambient human presence— a piercing peek into a cold alternate reality. The image of a “glass-ed” HR manager looking at an employee as a set of data points suddenly appears like a distinct possibility. Many skeptics predict that the disciple of HR management will face an imminent but slow death in the future. The foundations of HR are not rooted as much in the execution of processes as they are in the fundamentals of good relationships. For good or for the worse, HR technologies are looking to shake this very foundation of HR. While this may mean efficient administration, robust business preparedness, and precision execution, it does raise questions on what it means for the deeper and often unpredictable fundamentals of human behavior— a layer that any analytic model cannot possibly hope to penetrate— of unpredictability, intuition, and impulse— of emotion. Until human emotion continues to hold the embargo rights in business decisions, organisations and employees can take comfort in the fact that HR and talent management systems will continue to have the enviable capability to self-correct. Until the time man and machine cohabit, the possibilities of the future not only sound aspirational— they sound exciting. It is important to know and prepare for these exciting opportunities that the future of HR technology presents.


No more long work hours

The German labour ministry’s ban on outside of work hours sends a strong signal to the global business community about making managers responsible for team inefficiencies

A news report on The Telegraph earlier this morning caught my attention, and indeed the attention of everyone I forwarded the link to. It says that the labour ministry of Germany has implemented a ban to out of hours working within German soil. The ban prevents managers to e-mail or call team members for any reason outside of working hours unless the manager can justify that there was a business-disruptive necessity. Viewed through any lens, the move can at the least be called “bold,” with many terming it with emphatic adjectives, such as “idiotic,” “stupendous,” and “audacious.” While the pro employee lobby globally has welcomed the news with loud cheers and excited hoots, many sceptics would term this move as “out-of-age” and “economically regressive.” Which lobby do I belong to? It doesn’t matter, does it?

A time to reflect

Last week’s human capital headlines were rife with the news about the death of Moritz Erhardt, an intern with the investment banking division of Bank of America. He was a 21 year old whose epileptic condition was amplified to fatal levels owing eight “all-nighters” in office. Post Erhardt’s tragic death, many news reports started emerging from several quarters and from all corners of the globe about how such “all-nighters” are a part and parcel of an investment banker’s professional existence. Many work secrets of the investment banking world have since emerged, including the most famous “magic roundabout.” The magic roundabout is a practice of sending an employee home in a taxi which waits until the person showers and gets fresh to be taken back to office immediately. Talent management experts and behavioural psychologists term these practices as “inhuman” and “counter-productive” both for an individual and for an organisation. While it is for time to tell how the legislation in Germany pans out on the ground for business corporations, it does provide a basis for employers to step back and evaluate if burning employees out is really the right way to go.

My gut says that any management practice that is detrimental to the well-being and happiness of an employee will come back to bite an employer in the long-term, though it may be profitable in the immediate-term. Detractors of the employee-rights lobby feel that in a hyper-competitive business environment, rigid work hours will take an economy back by several years, by restricting the ability of business entities to produce “more” economic value. But then again, it is a question of how one views “more.” Many believe that “more” in the short-term means “less” in the long-term. I thought about an analogy about the argument while driving to work this morning. When a car zipped past me on a bumpy road and jumped a red light, its driver was able to beat some traffic and gain more ground in less time. At the same time, he was incurring the economic cost of greater risk exposure, car depreciation, and higher fuel expenditure. These economic costs in the long-term will turn out to be much more expensive that his short-term objective of getting to his destination early. His luck with escaping dangerous accidents might run out, his car tyres may need to be replaced sooner, and his monthly fuel bill will be more than what one would usually incur for that distance.

An organisation with the reputation of long working hours is less likely to enjoy a superior employer brand image compared to one that does not. In the last 2 years, research studies from the WHO have emerged, revealing the health effects to the first generation globalised workforce that was exposed to 15-20 years of hyper-competitive business environment. Chronic diseases are now widespread ins this generation and some research studies even suggest that organisations stand to potentially lose up to 20% of their annual revenue through an ailing workforce. Added to that, if other factors such as disengagement and disloyalty are included, is that not too high a price to pay for any short-term gain?  

Empathy is the key

While there are no magic or gold-standard practices on how to improve engagement and the overall health of employees, having the empathy and respect for the time of co-workers can help a great deal to making workplaces more efficient. A manager who values time outside of work should empathize with the assumption that direct reports will not appreciate calls and e-mails during out of work hours. The onus of altering the working culture of an organisation lies greatly on the shoulders of managers and senior leaders. Here are two warning signs that any manager or senior leader should always look for in his/her team.

  1. Acknowledge the problem— Many managers consider after hours working as a sign of engagement and drive among team members, oftentimes ignoring that many employees stay back to “project” that image. There are two risks to an organisation that encourages a manager who compels his team to stay back in office after hours. First of all, team members will become disengaged or burn out in the long run. Second, professionals tend to adopt management styles of erstwhile managers and an organisation runs the risk of making more such monstrous future managers if they allow one to flourish. It is in the best interest of the senior leadership and management of an organisation to acknowledge it as a problem and make earnest efforts to resolve it. Many progressive companies have put together a process where an employee has to get a formal manager’s approval during any time when s/he has to stay back in office. Additionally, such managers are pulled up by the organisation’s HR and senior leadership if there is a rising trend of team members working outside office hours.
  2. Be on the watch for burnout— Oftentimes, in the drive for results, managers tend to turn a deaf ear to employee complaints and resistance about after office work hours or simply tend to ignore them. Subjecting team members to prolonged long hours and erratic status update schedules can burn them out. Before any after work call or e-mail, a manager should step back and ask, “can it not wait until tomorrow morning?”

Long-term business success depends on a number of factors, including the external business environment, the economic market conditions, and the evolution of demand. It is, therefore, important for an organisation to recognise the importance of having an engaged and healthy workforce where most of the outcomes are a result of discretionary effort and solicitous action. Without considerate leadership and management’s commitment to employee well-being, an organisation may soon realise that it’s on a path to a competitive abyss.

EPFO’s Aadhar headache

Unless operational efficiencies in the system are removed, the mandatory EPFO directive to enroll in Aadhar might lead to many headaches

The Government of India announced the Aadhar scheme in 2010 to provide unique identification numbers to ensure that citizens gain efficient access to national schemes. The Aadhar identification can be used for any purpose that seeks to establish the identity of a citizen and covers several government schemes under food and nutrition, employment, education, social security, and healthcare.

Though purposed initially with ensuring that the marginalized and poor of the country gain access to government benefits, the span of the programme gradually evolved to act as a single identification mechanism for individuals who are tied to the fiscal system, including banking, insurance, and government schemes.

Earlier this month, EPFO announced that PF transactions will now come under the ambit of the Aadhar scheme. The EPFO directed all its field staff to mandatorily ask for Aadhar numbers from new members joining the scheme from March 1, 2013 and existing members by June 30. What started out as a voluntary enrolment initiative will now cover a significant majority of the organized workforce of the country that is enrolled under the EPFO scheme.

Trade unions are vehemently opposing the EPFO’s suo moto decision to make it mandatory. The EPFO currently covers over 50 million subscribers. EPFO is currently working on building a national database for issuing all subscribers with unique account numbers to allow an individual to switch jobs without transferring PF accounts while switching jobs. The primary argument of trade unions is that in the event that the PF account gets centralized, the choice of creating an Aadhar number should continue to remain voluntary.

PFO trustee and All India Trade Union Congress Secretary D L Sachdev says that, “EPFO does not need to use Aadhaar number as unique account number of its members. “ In addition to the operational inconvenience of creating Aadhar numbers, this move will not go down very well with both employees and with employers. Here’s why.

Incomplete reach of the scheme

The Times of India recently carried a report stating that Aadhar scheme has not reached many regions in the country and it is unfair to expect that employees in those areas should get themselves enrolled. If the move comes into effect, employees in those areas will be unable to carry out any transactions in their PF accounts even while moving jobs.

The increasing incidences of Aadhar-related fraud

An article published in the daily, Raising Kashmir, reveals that there has been a rising number of Aadhar-related frauds that are being reported. Amidst all the benefits that Aadhar promises to deliver, these incidents have contributed to the shaky confidence in the minds of citizens in the credibility of the scheme.

Limited number of Aadhar centers

Many believe a flood of applications will likely follow this directive, and the limited number of Aadhar centers will be unable to process so many applications. The number of Aadhar centers in the country is hugely disproportionate to the population. For example, Mumbai with a population of over 1 crore has only one Aadhar center. Many in the organized sector feel that this will mean lengthy queues and a massive waste of productivity.

Operational hassles and additional cost for an employer

The EPFO guideline mandates an employer to submit every employee’s enrolment ID (EID) number to the EPFO. The employer, however, cannot issue an EID. What that means is an additional cost for an employer in promoting and pushing the scheme among its employees in order to meet the mandatory requirements.

The EPFO has directed its field staff to collaborate with local authorities and set up camps in industrial areas and other places they find suitable. Analysts believe that the EPFO directive will help workers in various sectors that witness a lot of movement of skilled workers. The move will also likely help contractors and contract workers who frequently move organizations and locations. The success of the Aadhar scheme in the organized sector, therefore, hinges around steps that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will take to ease enrolment and reduce the likelihood of fraud.

Who will be the biggest recruiters of 2013?

Business expansion will drive large-scale recruitments in several sectors, led by IT and Pharma

The head hunting firm, HeadHonchos came out with a report earlier this month, ‘Management Hiring: Perspective report 2012’ enlisting the hottest industries for hiring in India this year. The findings reveal considerable changes in the hiring landscape this year compared to 2012. Along with some macro-economic drivers, such as FDI in retail and Banking Reforms Bill, skill availability and demographic composition of the talent pool will drive hiring trends in various sectors including retail, banking, telecom and infrastructure. According to Amit Garg, Business Head, HT Digital, “There will be a 15 to 20 percent increase in both fresh and replacement hiring in Indian companies compared to 2012.”  While most sectors will continue to hire skilled professionals in large numbers, IT and Pharma are expected to be the biggest recruiters in 2013.

The  Naukri Job Speak Index, that tracks hiring trends across industry sectors, geographies, and functional areas has shown consistent hiring activity in pharma across several months and experts predict that the trend will continue across 2013. President of pharma company, Lupin says that, “All large pharma companies in India are expanding and will continue to expand across the next few months. Being a research-intensive industry, there is a need for technically skilled and knowledge workers.”

India’s biggest IT company, TCS, announced yesterday that they have plans to close the financial year with 10,000 more recruits over and above their earlier goal of 50,000. Corporate India is also expected to see significant competition in IT hiring from a very unlikely player, the PSU sector. In November 2012, 14 of the largest PSU companies announced plans of hiring via the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) 2013. A look into the career websites of these 14 PSUs (including HPCL, IOCL, BEL, BHEL, NTPC, and NALCO) reveals that IT jobs are aplenty. With nearly 81% of the candidates who appeared in GATE 2012 from IT and IT-related streams, added to the attractive remuneration and perks advertised in PSU jobs, the corporate sector in India will face stiff competition from the PSU sector in IT hiring.

A January 7 report by the Times of India reveals that there is a dearth of skilled entry-level talent in the pharma and IT sectors. Tier 1 institutes, such as IITs and NITs are the first preference for hiring in IT companies. The growing scale of IT businesses will however compel these companies to dig deeper into the talent pool in Tier 2 and Tier 3 colleges. Some IT companies, such as Hexaware Technologies, are spending up to Rs. 30,000 per employee on training.  Pharma companies are also staring at the face of a huge demand-supply gap and companies are end up investing large sums of money in training. Companies, such as Lupin spend an average of Rs. 25,000 per employee on skilling and training.

As the hiring space in India will likely see a mad scamper for talent acquisition in 2013, social media hiring, access to larger talent pools, and employer branding will likely be the focus areas for companies in the coming months. Hiring organizations will also likely create region-specific strategies to maximize their investment in hiring. Tulika Tripathi, Managing Director of the Consulting firm Michael Page, says that “Companies this year should focus on designing internship programs that are more aligned with industry requirements and can potentially lead to conversions into final offers.”

The Multi-Player Enterprise

The introduction of game dynamics enhances a critical dimension of enterprise talent management― the aspect of ownership. Needless to say, talent management of the future will be played out in the “multi-player enterprise mode.”

There is an intrinsic association between humans and gaming. Through war for territorial domination, intellectual establishments, or competitive sport, man’s quest for progress and excellence has continually been driven by the urge to compete. From medieval times, mankind has been in an incessant hunt to bring inventive mechanisms to satiate the urge to game.  To game refers to the intrinsic desire of employing one’s mental, emotional, physical, and predatory faculties to achieve an objective or move ahead of competition.

Market estimates peg the size of the global digital video gaming industry alone at a massive $78 billion dollars in size. This excludes all other forms of gaming, such as competitive sport, physical board gaming, and gambling. Added to the fact that is satiates man’s intrinsic competitive desire, gaming transcends into a space where nothing is irrevocable and one has the opportunity for course correction.

It is under this premise that gaming has made an entry into a very unlikely world― the world of HR.I recently spoke to a number of global HR experts on the trends shaping the future of the HR industry. Almost unanimously, all experts agreed that the next wave of transformation and evolution of the HR industry will be driven singularly by technology. While technology is trickling into all aspects of the employee lifecycle, the terrain of “HR gamification” is expected to bring forth the most exciting evolutionary leaps.

While gaming is still in its primitive stages of evolution in the HR world, most believe that there are huge untapped opportunities for enterprises in this space. Owing the nascent state of this segment, very few companies have yet explored the segment of talent management through gaming. Presently, gaming in HR is predominantly employed in three terrains of talent management― employee referrals, collaboration, and health and fitness.

While an element of gaming already exists in an enterprise through employee referrals, there are significant opportunities for improving the effectiveness of an employee referral program through simulation and leaderboard gaming. Exemplar companies have noticed significant ROI from their employee referral programs where an employee takes ownership of the hiring process and is driven by the urge to see a personal initiative through its completion. This is accomplished through gaming platforms where an employee has complete visibility of the stages starting from candidate review to job offer. Leaderboard gaming is a way by which employees compete with one another to emerge as the most effective referrer.

Social collaboration through gaming provides incentives for employees to share knowledge and continually strive for excellence. Very recently Capgemini gamified their entire 120,000 global workforce by creating an “online leaderboard” by employing the UK based technology service company, Leaderboarded. The platform allows the company’s employees to share knowledge, create motivation among colleagues, and also enables managers to guide behaviors.

The third element where gaming has shown demonstrable ROI is in the terrain of employee health and fitness. Global research indicates that the present Indian workforce is expected to face several health and wellness related issues in the coming years. These translate into significant implications for the enterprise’s topline and bottomline. Conversations with various organizations reveal that organizations have witnessed noticeable ROI by employing gaming initiatives for health and wellness. Stepathlon, for example, is one of the most popular gaming platforms that enterprises use to drive the sense of ownership for health and wellness among employees.

While more and more technology service companies are looking to enter this space, a performance management gaming platform called eMee by Persistent Systems provides a pioneering peek into the possibilities of gaming for talent management. eMee is a platform by which an employee can own his entire annual performance management, including productivity and personal development. While leaderboard-type platforms will drive the penetration of gaming into the enterprise HR agenda, it will be holistic systems such as eMee that will pioneer the next generation of performance management practices in enterprises. Needless to say, the coming months will see a number of new-age gaming platforms catering to different aspects of the employment lifecycle. I reckon the enterprise of 2015 to be in multi-player mode!!!

Social hiring outlook for 2013

Six key trends will shape the hiring strategy for organizations in the coming months.

The strong focus on social hiring seen across 2012 is likely to continue in 2013, compelling organizations to factor in some key trends in the recruiting space to stay competitive. In a joint roundtable by People Matters and LinkedIn, Irfan Abdulla, Director of LinkedIn Hiring Solutions reveals that in the face of an acute demand-supply mismatch, some key trends will drive the hiring outlook for organizations in the coming months. LinkedIn recently conducted a survey among 250 senior business executives in India to understand the recruiting outlook for 2013. The survey revealed the following key hiring trends that will drive the focus for recruiting organizations.

  1. Organizations will continue to see a strong social hiring outlook―The last few months saw organizations opening up more positions to fill through social channels. These positions across roles and levels have seen, and will continue to see, an increase in volume. The poll revealed that over 50% of hiring organizations will continue to see an increase in social hiring budget and volume.
  2. The competition for talent will increase― Competition and compensation came across as the biggest hindrances for organizations in attracting talent. This reflects a highly competitive landscape led by social media as one of the most important channels for hiring in the coming times. In order to remain competitive, organizations are investing in employer branding, improving their employer referral program, and investing in new recruiting technology and tools.
  3. Recruiting organizations will focus on passive talent and pipelining― 65% of the surveyed organizations are focusing their recruiting efforts toward passive talent and over 87% are actively engaged in pipelining talent. Organizations realize that opening up the passive talent pool allows targeted access to more aligned candidates for positions. While training schedules and onboarding time continue to shrink, there is a greater need for organizations to target talent with the right set of skills and experiences to take on the more complex jobs that modern day organizations require. Another key development that is fuelling the focus on passive candidates and talent pipelining is the transition from an industrialized ecosystem to a knowledge ecosystem. As the skills required in knowledge economy are difficult to build and take more time, more and more organizations are looking for more targeted candidate sourcing and talent pipelining.
  4. Quality of hire will be the name of the game― As Irfan mentions, “the focus on passive talent is because hiring for quality has become very critical.” Organizations across all industries witness that there are various aspects of quality that act as constraints and make hiring more challenging. One of the most common challenges is ‘time to hire.’ Most organizations grapple with the dilemma of hiring the best talent within a limited span of time. Another key challenge that organizations face is the “quality of hire” with over 45% of organizations mentioning this as their most critical challenge. Some of the key complicating factors of the “quality of hire” challenge involve how to provide competitive compensation where industry boundaries have ceased to exist, when and how to assess quality, and what metrics to measure.
  5. There will be heightened focus on employer branding― Employer branding will constitute one of the core priorities for organizations in the coming months. Organizations, however, face a number of key challenges in employer branding. Many are confused whether employer branding is an HR responsibility or a marketing responsibility. There is a lack of standard mechanisms to track and monitor an employer brand, thereby making it difficult to demonstrate ROI to senior management. In addition, many organizations struggle to formulate the right employer branding metric. Social media has become an important channel for organizations to promote the employer brand. Organizations, however, are unsure about how to measure the reach and engagement with an employer brand through social media. LinkedIn has an interesting metric to track the effectiveness of the employer brand― “the number of follows on the company’s page.” In social media, the common denominator of engagement with an employer brand will comprise people who either aware of the company or are connected directly or indirectly with the company.
  6. Hiring is mostly a data-driven decision― Confirming that employers in India are serious about their employer branding, the survey reveals that Indian corporations are ahead of the curve when it comes to regularly measuring the employer brand. Against a global average of 33%, 50% of Indian organizations regularly measure the health of the employer brand in a quantifiable way. Again, 45% of Indian organizations regularly survey candidates to understand employer brand position against a global average of 32%. Organizations that are poor at leveraging data for making hiring decisions will fall behind in the race for acquiring the best talent.

With the talent landscape becoming increasingly competitive, the need for HR organizations is to understand the best mechanisms by which they can reach a larger talent pool more effectively. Data analytics and employer branding will be the primary avenues where organizations are likely to invest their social hiring time and efforts in the coming months.

The ever increasing skilling demand

To bridge the future skilling gap, the gap between market reality and perceptions about employable skills needs to be reduced.

The atypical development of the Indian economy in the past few years has resulted in the job market getting biased toward “high-skilled” jobs. In a span of 10 years the economy witnessed agriculture’s contribution to GDP fall sharply, giving way to an unusual rise to the industry and service sectors. While the economy has progressed exponentially, giving way to new employment opportunities, the potential workforce has unfortunately not kept pace with the evolving skill requirements. The past decade witnessed a mad scamper for skilling in the IT/ITES sector, as demonstrated by the innumerable number of professionals entering the workforce with technology certifications. Market experts, however, believe that the employment landscape in the coming years will change remarkably and the market will see a more balanced distribution of opportunities across all sectors and skill-levels. While the requirement for skills will continue to grow across all segments, the demand for some specialized skills will come to the fore.

In a recent skilling seminar conducted by People Matters, NSDC revealed that their skilling target stands at 150 million professionals by 2022. While enrolment into professional and vocational courses continues to demonstrate an upward trend, a large gap exists when it comes to skills that they develop and the ones that the industry actually requires. While India has taken some strides in skilling, especially in the erstwhile booming IT/ITES sector, most of corporate India finds itself staring at the face of a large demand gap in other greenfield sectors.

Mr. Santosh Mehrotra, Director General of the Planning Commission says, “The economy needs all kinds of work, people with technical diploma and above, people with vocational training in the age group 15-18; it also needs people with general academic education. On the basis of these three categories we have estimated for agriculture, manufacturing, non-manufacturing, services and the global number which we have arrived at is 265 million till 2022 end of the 13th plan. (Over the next 10 years).”

There are two macro-economic developments that will demand attention to the industry of skilling across the coming years― the transition to a knowledge-based economy and the large demand for professionals with vocational skills. The knowledge based sectors witnessing maximum growth across the coming few years include IT/ITES, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, requiring aptitude in business communication, technology, and collaboration. Along with that, the demand for managerial and financial skills will continue to rise. The largest demand for specialized skills will come from four industries― infrastructure, BFSI, organized retail, and tourism/hospitality.

Is the workforce equipped to meet the demand?

There will be 200 million people in the employable age bracket of 18-60 years by 2030. Presently, there is a large mismatch between demand and supply of skilled talent in India. More than 50% of the employable workforce in India is employed in agriculture, a sector that contributes less than 30% to the overall GDP of the country. Large differentials exist in the skills that the future workforce is acquiring and specialized skills that the industry requires. The difference is most pronounced in four sectors, construction and real estate, transportation and logistics, tourism and hospitality, and textiles.

A 2012 industry analysis by KPMG and NSDC reveals that the existing system of skilling in India is hugely inadequate to build an employable workforce, as the largest segment of the supply comes from courses with limited industry linkage. In addition, the Indian academic system arguably lacks the outlook to prepare industry-ready skilled professionals.

Building skills of the future

There is an unusually high premium placed on pursuing higher education in India. In the same light, the perception toward vocational skills is low. The industry is not willing to pay for unskilled candidates, and from the supply side candidates do not want to pay to get skilled. The ministry of labor and employment and NSDC recognize that to tackle the broad issue of skilling, there are some conscious efforts required through planned interventions both from the government as well as from the industry.

The government needs to make conscious efforts toward making vocational education a part of the academic curriculum. The role of public private partnership will come become eminent as these partnerships will facilitate the plugging of the skill gap that exists between need and supply. Owing the limited market-readiness that the education system provides, there is a great need for the prospective and existing workforce in India to be trained both on hard skills and soft skills. The need for skilling is pronounced at all levels― entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level― and ranges from hard technical skill development to soft management and communication skill development. There is a significant need for development of business acumen, as we integrate more and more with other global economies and adopt progressive operational practices from large global conglomerates. In addition, there is a pressing need for market-linked vocational skill development amongst the Indian workforce that will allow professionals to decrease the traditional reliance on educational degrees and shift focus toward employment.

Read the published story on People Matters.