In conversation with Mr Yogi Sriram, one of India's prominent HR leaders, who talks about the future of Indian workforce

With over 38 years of experience in Human Resources Development, Mr Sriram has served as SVP HR with Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces, led the HR function in Asea Brown Boveri Ltd and also been HR Director with British Petroleum

Among his many credentials, after his entire schooling with DPS Mathura Road, he holds a Bachelor’s with Honours degree from SRCC, Master’s in Personnel Management & IR from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, MBA from FMS, LLB University of Delhi and has also been one of the earliest to be conferred with Fellow of the All India Management Association. Talent and Change management are his interest areas, to which he has successfully contributed in leadership roles

What is your perspective of the impact on the Indian workforce, as India gears up for an economic revamp?

The economic revamp will have a positive impact. We will see a significant migration from rural to urban areas, with an increase in the urban Indian workforce, which will benefit the quality of life of many. 70% of India’s population will be in Cities by 2050.

By building smart cities, the Indian workforce will have the opportunity to participate and get exposed to the latest and advanced technologies including the extensive us of sensors. This will ensure some amount of inclusive growth. Although they will require reskilling or upgrading themselves in certain areas, sociologically it will create a cascade of desirable aspirations that will fuel growth in the economy and unless these are met we will see the unintended consequences of youth power going astray.

Seeing there is a potential through these changes, how difficult will it be to attract talent from these sectors and how to do it?

It is a challenge to attract talent especially to the construction sector. To fuel the passion in young minds and offer the opportunity to learn more about the technological aspects of Projects and Construction Management. We have in L&T signed MOUs with leading engineering or technology based institutes, promoting a deep domain based learning experience for them.

We have to be imaginative while designing jobs. Even in the brick and mortar sites, we will have to tailor the jobs and make it as interesting as possible, so that people can be completely engaged with their projects and experience a sense of pride. Also we must encourage innovation and deemphasize hierarchy do get the best of youthful and creative minds.

Considering the diversity of employable workforce, how do you see organizations building on employee value propositions?

HR should desist from the standard conversation in many a seminar about lamenting about how difficult and different it is to manage millennials.  Instead the conversation should be on how to develop an attractive employee value proposition. Design thinking involving multiple stake holders is important for sculpting good roles. HR should have intense knowledge about what, why and how people learn.David Kolb, an American educational theorist, describes four learning styles; about how an adult learns. This depends on the different learning styles. If HR is able to identify cohorts based on learning styles, they can then create a culture of learning to suit adult learning needs.

With the recent surge in foreign investment opportunities, how do you see the existing workforce in India getting positively affected and also how would one look at talent from outside India?

India is going to be less inward looking and will be have to look at international manpower and more diversity in the spread of work force as businesses get more digitised. With most businesses moving into the next phase (Horizon 2), the workplace will need diversity of talent from different talent catchments. Businesses will be using more of SMAC, Cloud, internet of things and many other new technologies. Finding skills will be even more difficult.

However, absorption and assimilation of expats into the Indian culture in most Indian Companies especially at Leadership levels has not been easy given the differences in culture which is a challenge.

Borrowing from your rich experience of almost four decades in the industry, what changes do you foresee in the workforce dynamics in the next decade?

We cannot have a cookie cutter approach to talent management. Due to the volatility in the economic environment of business with shorter business cycles, the Indian professional will need to look at job security differently. Most Indians define their own identity through their job. Losing a job is a disaster. This paradigm will have to change just as Corporates have to get more used to unplanned attrition and talent flying out.

Also, the urban setting is going to give rise to the proverbial new age worker. The smart citizen will be tech savvy, digital, demanding and live with a self-directed set of rules. They will be living in a new age which is going to be very different. More smart cities means more smart citizens and this will have several sociological implications
While this is a great opportunity for India but the transition has to be managed.

In line with the buzz of India rising and being recognized as a prominent player by establishing itself on the global map, in your opinion, how equipped is our workforce to meet these challenges ranging from new investments to workplace diversity?

 In terms of skills and aspirations, our workforce is ahead of the curve in terms of conceptual and intellectual abilities. India has brain power which is unparalleled. There are segments of society who are less fortunate than the rest and are not only aspirational but talented, tech savvy, aware of their abilities, having a sense of pride and are quick learners. India needs to be quick in creating opportunities for them, especially in areas of technology, so that the new knowledge worker can flourish and thrive.

Howard Gardner of Harvard writes about multiple types of intelligence. When you study his theory where he talks about individuals differing in the type of their intelligence, you will find that the diversity of intelligence residing within the Indian society is amazing, and is perhaps more than any other society. Today, our concept of a knowledge worker is writing software programs with coding in T&M contracts, but the person is actually capable of doing greater things and is perhaps underemployed. Also there is this misplaced concern about not conversing in the desired language according to global standards, but if the person can be taught the right skills and given a push in the right direction, they will create wonders, in a global environment.

If India can speed up their policy decisions and make the infrastructure growth policies in line with the expectations of the fast paced Indian millennial we will go miles. And this will be the solution to meet the aspirations of the young and ambitious Indian.

As an underlying responsibility of organizational leaders playing leadership roles, how do you see our leaders playing a role in bringing forth nuances within the Indian workforce?

Indian organisations have a command and control culture. We can see the huge aspiration among the new Indian worker to contribute in all decisions. What we need to do in organisations is to fuel innovation and blur the visible artificial boundaries that exist between various levels, by working on flatter organisation designs. Flatter organisations are important for the customer, for team work, for innovation and these are very important for the digital transition.

The most important point for digital transition is going to be the HR aspects particularly the work culture. And you can never have a work culture which encourages innovative if you have a command and control approach. You will probably have a culture which is good at adapting what others are doing, but not being original in a command and control regime.

There is a workforce that represents a decade or more of heritage and history in the organization vis-a-vis continuous requirement for fresh talent. How important would be management of diversity in the workforce and how do you see HR trying to optimize that?

My advice to young HR professionals will be to move with the times. Firstly, one has to maintain a fine balance between loyalty to profession, making comparisons with other in the profession and loyalty towards organisation.

Secondly, there are several dimensions to the challenge of keeping contemporary. There are some organisations that have a legacy, may seem old fashioned and have practiced certain value systems over years. Don’t abandon the values for new-fangled ways of doing things for the sake of change as practiced in the newer companies. Instead preserve the founder’s mentality, legacy and the value systems, but also emphasise the responsibility of being abreast with new trends that include digital advancements. What will not work is the reluctance to learn and improve competencies in a world of complacency or intellectual lethargy.

HR should tap into the hunger of individuals, to want to learn, irrespective of age or gender, and the responsibility of the organisation should be to encourage the individuals learning drive.

When you look at the stages of human development, people keep changing over their lifetime and many stop learning after college. Donald Super, vocational theorist, talks about various stages of going through a career and the ways in which a person’s career changes over time, which he called the Career Rainbow. The important point to notice is that you learn in all the stages though the learning need and style may change.

In India, most often, the examination form of assessment drives people to learn with the fear of not clearing the assessment. This is rote short-lived and non-application oriented learning. Sociologically, the dignity of work is absent in the country and most often educated people shy from hands on work. So what needs to change is the attitude towards dignity of work, irrespective of positions or roles that people play. A hands on approach will make us all more productive.

You play an influential role in one of the largest Indian conglomerates and hence influence other leaders in the organization as well. How would you describe your own personal leadership?

For me clarity is very important. To elaborate, one of my passions these days, apart from my passion for photography, is retrofitting scale model trains and converting them from analogue to digital. The whole process of assembling the detail helps me to filter the noise that in day to day corporate life one is drawn into. It helps me to develop focus in whatever I am doing at that moment. I ensure that even the minutest of details fits in accurately in the best possible way and is able to look like the original. When you learn a new technique, it is quite similar to adapting new leadership styles. I guess in many ways, all of this percolates into my style of leading at the workplace. I also truly believe that no work is small and as a leader should attend to even the smallest of detail. The devil is in the detail.

One other important aspect is, when you are in the habit of reading good books, you tend to widen your perspective and gather knowledge, which manifests in a person’s leadership style as well.

According to you, is there a success formula to happiness?

Anything that engages the mind, the eye and the hands in synchrony to achieve a sense of being in the here and now, creating something new while enjoying the moment, is true happiness. 
When singers sing with their hands to their ears, eyes closed, they are in complete harmony and are in a deep intense state of bliss. Even during an orchestra performance, everybody including the conductor of the orchestra plays with their eyes closed, in a state of flow and complete involvement.

When a team of people work in tandem towards a common objective and are intensely engrossed in that activity, they are most certainly experiencing intense happiness in the work being performed and building relationships.

When everybody and everything is synchronised, where the muscles of the mind are being nurtured, massaged and developed, and you are in a state of coordinated flow, that to me is happiness.

What is your de-stress mantra?

To see my scale model locomotives run at their best, with their LED lights, hoots and horns. I am able to transport myself to a place where I picture becoming a part of the crew. When I am in that make-believe world, in a lot of ways it helps me de-stress. I also unwind by reading what I like mostly in Economics and Applied Behavioural Science.

What would you recommend young leaders to read?

My recommendations

  1. ‘The Spirit Level’, based on several years of research done on various nations, where the findings were, that in nations where wealth was distributed more evenly, there was less crime and other ills. There is generally more happiness
  2. The concept of “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian professor who has done research to prove that people are happiest when they are in a state of intense concentration and engagement in an activity that fascinates them.

 

Yogi Sriram

Mr Yogi Sriram is Senior Vice President Corporate Human Resources, Larsen and Toubro Limited.

 










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