2020 ushered us into a new way of working. Organizations are now moving to investing and setting up infrastructures to provide a superior work experience to their people– Hybrid 2.0. SAP organized the SAP HR Connect 2021 to throw some much-needed light on how we can design employee experiences for the hybrid 2.0 world that are holistic, progressive, agile, technology-driven, and most importantly, more human! 

To get a CEO’s perspective on the evolving paradigm of the talent agenda the event held an exclusive CEO Dialogue. Chaired by Ester Martinez, CEO & Editor – in – Chief, People Matters, this esteemed panel included thought leaders from leading organizations – Kulmeet Bawa, President & Managing Director, SAP Indian Subcontinent, Dilip Shanghvi, Managing Director, Sun Pharma, and C. P. Gurnani, CEO, Tech Mahindra.  

While discussing the COVID situation, the power-packed panel revisited the talent transformation agenda and reflected on how it has once again become the center of board room concern. They acknowledged the role of technology in helping businesses reinvent themselves to continuously realize value as they inch from recovery to growth. 

Following are the key highlights of this insightful discussion: 

Revisiting The Talent Agenda Through The Pandemic Lens 

Kicking off the discussion with his thoughts on COVID, C.P. Gurnani termed it the accelerator for one of the greatest workforce transformations of our lifetimes. Emphasizing the lasting impact of recent changes to the ways we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, or where we work, he stated “HR today means how it affects me as an individual and my 13,000 associates. “ 

Reflecting on the initial phase of the lockdown, he mentioned “The first few months were about arranging chairs, tables, renting out hotels near workplaces and creating a secure environment. It was like mechanically responding to an emergency – creating war rooms to provide essentials. But very soon we realized that transformation is essential as much for customers, for managers to manage a remote workforce, and as much for the workforce to balance their personal & business lives. Technology has provided the fabric and the answer, but knowing what the challenges are and being able to address them is the need of the hour.”     

Kulmeet shared, “The world has changed and we are grappling with certain issues. While we miss the coffee corners, office huddles, personal connections, and travel, we have witnessed a prominent silver lining in the form of much higher levels of productivity and a lot more time with our customers and teams, which is phenomenal to me.”  

Kulmeet Bawa SAP HR Connect

Commenting with his perspective of the future of talent agenda, he added “There has been a clear emergence of a brand-new culture, that demands a lot more agility and nimbleness. From a talent perspective, this means employees need to possess a lot more digital dexterity and mental resilience. We as leaders & HR as an organization will need to be a lot more conscious of how we bring in this new talent and hone them to be successful. Secondly, the changes we are seeing today require a whole new paradigm in terms of leadership. We need to break away from the traditional hierarchical chain-of-command model to cater to the huge millennial and Gen Z workforce that we are bringing on board and balance their need for instant gratification.”    

Speaking on the challenges faced by employees, Dilip Sanghvi added, “Another important challenge we faced was – because we have people working across different time zones, the boundaries between personal and professional time were blurry. We had to set clear expectations, otherwise, people are left with no time to work, guide recharge or relax.”  

Creating Positive Employee Experiences That Enable Productivity  

The more employers focus on what’s best for their people, the greater each employee’s experience will be. This means actively catering to your people’s needs and, more importantly, actually caring for them.  

On SAP’s and his personal experience as an “on-screen leader” over the last 13 months, Kulmeet said, “Employees today truly trust organizations that care for them. At SAP our topmost priority has always been the health and safety of our employees and the broader community. I am touched by the spirit today, where I see every SAP India employee is going beyond their charter by miles to deliver on the shared vision that we set up for ourselves as teams. “  

Commenting on the need to create moments of truth that holistically support employees, C.P. Gurnani added, “This war has been imposed on us and has meant that we need to get into a wartime General mode. But you can’t be a General who is not concerned about an employee’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental health. Today more than ever, the future of work is the future of worker well-being.”  

 CP Gurnani HR Connect

In an effort to help employees manage the stresses of work-life integration, Tech Mahindra has appointed “Wellness Officers”. Clearly communicating the company’s intention address its people’s emotional and physical requirements. He added, “COVID has been a method of redefining business. My business is executed by people, they are my flag bearers and if I can help them to redefine themselves, I will automatically be redefining my business and winning the hearts of my customers. “ 

Echoing the sentiment across the panel, Dilip said, “The last few quarters have been some of our best. This is the result of the significant contributions of our employees and helps us to look at business very differently, and learn continuously.”  

The Role of Technology as a Strategic Enabler  

Technology is rewriting the rules. In the hybrid workplace, it is no longer playing a supporting role. Instead, it has proven itself to be the critical driving force enabling employees to achieve overall operational success.  

On technology’s increasingly important role, Dilip Sanghvi said, “The greatest contribution of technology in improving processes has been its ability to remove subjectivity from evaluating performances. Making it a transparent process that rewards people based on their contributions and success in an unbiased manner. The speed with which technology has enabled us to work in this changing environment is only going to accelerate.”  

Reflecting on its critical role in underpinning the talent strategic changes seen in the past year, C.P. Gurnani pointed out, “The shift towards digitalization has been accelerated by a minimum of 5 -7 years. I’m convinced that if employees had not embraced technology the way they did, some of the results we are seeing would never have been possible. It is employees that grew, learned, and used the tools that were made available.”  

“As employers and company leaders we will have to continue to invest in our people and give them a learning environment, where they can create a significant impact not only in the short-term but also in the medium and long-term.”  

Talking about the emergence of a new mindset and its importance in the experience era, Kulmeet added, “While we talk about digital-first, I have witnessed that the digital-only strategy is coming up rather quickly. The questions we get asked today are no longer about the “Why”, but about the “How?” – How do we do this faster? Or holistically? How do we do this cloud-first so that we are more agile?” 

In the “experience era” of ubiquitous, personalized experiences in the online world, technology is facilitating a real-time merger between science and art, between content and data. Commenting on the need for a renewed focus on fostering human connection, he explained, “While most leadership tenets remain the same, some like the need for communication, enhanced need for empathy, and authenticity from leaders has gone up from a technology standpoint. We must humanize ourselves through various technological channels and forge the kind of bonds that help us grow closer as people.” 

Fostering Human Connections in a Changing Workplace 

“We need to nurture a culture of trust within our organizations, by rolling out trust-based models. At SAP, we are in the process of implementing an initiative called “Pledge2Flex”.  We hope it will help us dive deep into a flexible workplace model, agnostic of geographic boundaries and time zones. It is time we ensure that the amount of flexibility should move at the same pace as what the world is demanding.” 

Discussing the needs of a changing workforce, Dilip mentioned, “Managing the new millennials needs a new mindset. A transparent model that gives them freedom, respects their abilities, trusts their judgments while rewarding contributions, and gives honest feedback can be the best way into the future of work.” 

Dilip Sanghavi HR Connect

Concluding the session with some advice on creating a high-performing workplace, C.P. Gurnani suggested, “Managers need to adopt a parental style of leadership, where you understand your employee will need some help to uphold values, his/her contributions and his/her relationship to their own family. I believe it is our job to keep the workplace happy and I can only do this by communicating and listening. All my advice boils down to 3 words – Listen. Understand. Act.  

Also read about the keynote address at HR Connect 2021