A New Lens Of Seeing Human Capital Management Platform- Gautam Ghosh [Interview]

About Gautam Gosh

Gautham Ghosh is a well-known HR influencer, ranked among the topmost in the world. He is a writer and a speaker, one of his fields of expertise is business blogging and is known as ‘The Authority for Business Blogging’ by the press. Bringing with him a lot of corporate and consulting experience, he is the right person to talk to us about all things HR. His blogs were listed among the top 25 by the HR world, and has many more recognitions under his name.

A New Lens Of Seeing Human Capital Management Platform- Gautam Ghosh [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Gautam Ghosh to our interview series, I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum, peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated Human Capital Management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

Aishwarya

Welcome Gautam, we are thrilled to have you. 

Gautam

It’s my pleasure.

Aishwarya

So Gautam

The first question I had for you was if you could tell us a little bit about your experience so far in the HR world, there has been a lot of transitions in strategies, technologies, so how has your experience been so far?

Gautam

Technologies keep evolving, I think from the early ERP days to now cloud-based applications, from best-of-breed solutions to now point solutions a lot of evolution in technologies have taken place both at the business process level and at the consumer side level. So I think a big change that I have noticed is the expectation of employees’ have changed. 

There has been a lot of talk about the consumerization of the enterprise and I think about 6-7 years ago people started talking about it but now I think people expect the same seamless intuitive use of technology that they expect from their workplace is the same ease and intuitiveness that they get from consumer applications, so essentially people don’t want to see user manuals or go through a large training session on how to use HCM products. I think that has been the biggest transition, vendors now understand that the user has to be at the core and not the buyer.

“User has to be at the core and not the buyer.”

Earlier, the finance department or to a lesser extent, the HR department, were the buyer and they would dictate customization or ease of technology for their needs, now it is the employees that are users in the centre of all the focus and that’s the big change between last decade and this decade that I have noticed.

And if you see the legacy products, you have to kind of go through a lot of training to understand them, to understand a very basic aspect. So I do think that it is a very big issue, you know, like even though it might be a whole package, however, it might have 100 different functions that will face difficulty as an end-user to actually go ahead and use it, so we have seen a usability factor that is really coming into the picture. 

Aishwarya

Yes, I think most of the legacy systems themselves are trying to make user experience and user interfaces simpler.

Gautam

Yes, I think they know what is going on for them, they have a lot of data as they have been deployed in so many organizations for many years, in fact, they should actually know which parts are used more, which parts are used less and I think the other big thing is the way of work itself has changed from earlier say performance management system would be very individualistic, but now, with the rise of continuous performance management coaching, counseling by the managers, continuous monitoring the legacy systems don’t really have a way to pivot their products very easily to these new realities.

So it’s like steering a big battleship because suddenly the iceberg has emerged, new changes have come in.

“It’s like steering a big battleship because suddenly the iceberg has emerged, new changes have come in”

So I think that’s why nimble and smaller startups, which factor in the teamwork, the cross-functional teams and the project mode in which most organizations and people work, their performance management is also evolving, the modules and the apps are also evolving so yes it’s like comparing a big battleship with a small sharp nimble boat.

Aishwarya

Yeah, I think the smaller organizations have that advantage and they can steer the battleship better during these times and, you know,

Talking about these times the current scenario of Coronavirus and the whole fact that the future of workers is suddenly the now of work, how do you think Corona virus has changed the now of work?

Gautam

I think there was a joke that was going around and I posted it on Facebook and LinkedIn yesterday and today saying, ‘Who’s leading the digital transformation of the organization? The CEO, the CTO, and the third option were – Covid-19?

So yes for innovative and leading organizations that were already looking at the digital transformation to drive growth it wasn’t such a shock, but yes what coronavirus or covid19 has done is it has dragged the laggards and the people who were vacillating about a digital transformation or were thinking about it, or we’re not really putting in a plan in place or were putting plans in place but not really implementing it have now been dragged from the past into the future, and that is, I think, the biggest impact suddenly organizations which were traditionally hesitant to do work out of home now have to do that. It’s also impacting how HR itself needs to reorient itself in this new world of work.

“HR itself needs to reorient itself in this new world of work.”

Today I saw the news that a BPO organization has suddenly found out that 70,000 of its employees can’t work from home because they don’t have the infrastructure and suddenly the IT and the HR departments together have to start thinking about how do you make these people productive because the lower levels which typically consists the most of these organizations are still in very steep pyramids.

How do we get the people who don’t have laptops or who have personal laptops, but you need to give them security purposes, for access purposes also for client confidentiality. Clients wouldn’t want employees to access their work using their personal laptops.

All these organizations, IT, HR, Cybersecurity and the finance departments together to figure solutions fast because their clients are also cutting back, I think it’s a three-pronged challenge for most organizations, but those that can think outside the box and find out solutions and put their people and their customers at the center and think about what can be done rather than focusing on what they can’t do.

I think at some level, Coronavirus will not let the business go back to usual, it will change a lot of assumptions about work, about how we get work done? Whether business travel is needed? Whether all these meetings are needed or not?

At another level, it’s also focusing on- How do we focus more on the emotional wellness of our people when they work alone, how to rebuild the camaraderie and teamwork that we would normally build in organizations. Suddenly you have conversations with your people on video conferences and you get to know their personal space because the line between work and home earlier was blurry at the edge of 6 PM or before 8.30 PM. Now work and life has merged.

“The line between work and home earlier was blurry at the edge of 6PM or before 8.30PM. Now work and life have merged.”

There was a lovely HBR article I read about How do you keep working alone? Because everybody is working alone there will be a lot of unforeseen impacts, you’ll become snappy at your colleagues if you don’t understand where somebody’s coming from but now because you suddenly see that person’s home, his pets, his children.

And I think at some level it is going to impact our relatedness with other people. Our engagement with our co-workers, our subordinates, our managers, and our leaders. It is also going to change how leadership is done and how leaders themselves engage in these days when nobody seems to know or have answers to all the questions and everybody’s asking especially.

Aishwarya

Absolutely, I think a lot of corporations are grappling with, you know, not having the answers to so many questions because it’s just so unpredictable, right? There are all kinds of professionals that are coming up with new issues and new problems, and we suddenly see ourselves in a place where, actually, we will have no idea how to really go about this, and especially when

We have so many gig workers now and contract workers and they used to be on the field, and suddenly now they are at home, so kind of, you know, how to stay connected which is also the big question?

Gautam

I think gig workers themselves can be broken up into quite different sections. There are delivery boys, drivers, etc, it has impacted different sectors differently, Also, for example, today or tomorrow in the US, gig workers of the delivery company InstaCart and Amazon are going on strike because they want protective equipment and hand sanitizers before they handle cash or make deliveries to people and they want sick days when they can’t work if they fall sick, we have to remember, these daily wage workers are not employees in the traditional sense.

They are independent contractors, the day they don’t work, they don’t earn. At some level, they’re like daily wage workers, even though they have smartphones and have bikes or cars, and then there are gig workers who are more expertise-driven, which are, say, are freelance consultants, trainers, people who are more at the higher-level skills, who come in when an organization needs them to deliver a program, deliver a project and then leave. Everybody is going to get impacted differently in this whole big Venn diagram of gig workers.

“Everybody is going to get impacted differently in this whole big Venn diagram of gig workers.”

Aishwarya

Absolutely

Gautam

Over the last three-four years, in all the conferences, there has been a lot of talk about VUCA- Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is the actual VUCA. What we had been talking about all these years were not VUCA, it was a more incremental change but Covid19 or the Coronavirus crisis has actually made VUCA come home, making people realize what VUCA actually is, as everyday realities are changing, everyday information is getting outdated or coming in and nobody really seems to know. It’s like taking a boat down the rapids. You can’t really row a boat without teamwork and precision, every new rapid has to be negotiated.

“It’s like taking a boat down the rapids. You can’t really row a boat without teamwork and precision, every new rapid has to be negotiated.”

Everybody has to do their own part without really a plan. I think that’s the reality for maybe almost a year. We really don’t know the time frame of this change. That’s the other big thing.

Aishwarya

Yeah, Exactly, because we do not know what is the time frame it becomes difficult to even take the next steps whether you think short term or you think long term how you strategize and get to a level where you’re not only surviving, but you’re also thriving, and there is productivity in the mix so that becomes a very big question and especially, you know, for HR professionals.

How do you think their approach has to change over these times? What is it that they should now focus on? 

Gautam

I think if 2008 and 2009 was the critical year for CFOs, 2020 will be a critical year for CHRO. Suddenly, how do you treat people during this crisis, whether you go in for a layoff? how do you do that layoff? How do you communicate? How do you take care of your remaining workers? How do you motivate them? How do you engage them becomes very critical because, as I said to the first question, everybody’s suddenly distributed.

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Nobody’s at the same place, you are dealing with the virtual organization, and it’s time for the HRs to really show what value it can add in these times. Maybe the CIOs, CTOs have some responsibility, as far as technology is enabling people to work and helping them out. But how do you know what to do with the offers that you make? Do you do a hiring freeze? Do you take pay cuts? How do you take pay cuts? How do you engage the people within the organization? Ask them for ideas about how to change?

If the CEO is not looking at the HR Head to guide him in that scenario, HR is missing the boat but a strong HR leader, along with the CEO working together and other business leaders, is needed. The HR team is a fulcrum around which organizations will either survive or not survive.

“The HR team is a fulcrum around which organizations will either survive or not survive.”

Also how they treat their employees will have an impact in the years to come. People will remember whether they treated employees as resources or employees as people.

I think its unfortunate human resources is called human resource, but I think this is a time for HR to not think of people as resources, but as people who get their whole selves to work – the fears, the anxieties, the unarticulated things like people will articulate things like – is my job secure? Is my salary secure? and what do I need to do?

There was this news item about some organizations bringing in some counselors and therapists to talk to employees on the phone, or call, or virtually to guide through these difficult times, I think yes, in a nutshell, HR is the critical function during this crisis. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely and empathy will be a key factor for HR professionals to practice right? and I think there are going to be a lot of layoffs, a lot of you know heartbreaks in terms of jobs and the whole recruitment scenario is just going to you know change and

I just want to know what is your take, what will happen to recruitment now, and how do we kind of cope with that?

Gautam

I think at some level, the overall HR community needs to come forward and say, Hey it will be inevitable there are some industries that will be affected. How do we help the HR teams of those industries to repurpose their people for other industries? How to help each other out as a larger HR community?’

An example yesterday I came across the list in the U.S. Which was talking about which companies have a hiring freeze, which companies are laying off, and which companies are still hiring, you know, HR people are coming together and sharing that information itself can be a big help to the HR Leader, who is still hiring in a certain industry.

For example, certain industries grow in these times of crisis, like Zoom the other products that enable people to work out of the home like Slack or other messaging tools a lot of these are service providers, and vendors are offering their services and products free for each of our teams to leverage and use resources, information, and product itself.

So I think each community coming together and helping each other out is one big way that can benefit the HR leader who is having to let go of who is not hiring or has the hiring frozen or is revoking offers or recruitment to help them find a role in the organizations that are still hiring. I think, yes recruitment will be impacted in certain industries but if we have a network in place, that will help minimize a lot of heartburn.

“Recruitment will be impacted in certain industries but if we have a network in place, that will help minimize a lot of heartburn.”

Aishwarya

Absolutely. I think that would be critical,  we at peopleHum are trying to do that, offering a platform for free for a period of 3 months so that people can use and stay connected through technology if not through anything else because that’s the most important thing that we can do as an organization.

So when it comes to you know AI and all that automation technology apart from even the current scenario. How does it make a difference? How does it impact employee experience and how can you create a great employee experience?

Gautam

Employee experience, I’ll kind of break it up into the human part and what AI can do to help support it. There has to be trust and belonging between the organisation and an employee. If that is not there, technology or software automation, AI won’t really help, so that is the foundation, the culture of the organization, the way it engages its employees, the way it treats an employee is critical.

Then, when it comes to automation, can I anticipate the need of the employee before the employee even knows that it’s his need? So what are the signals that the tool gets from the way an employee uses it to say you might have this need? Why don’t you look at this? That is when technology can be a delight by anticipating an employee’s needs.

“Technology can be a delight by anticipating an employee’s needs.”

Aishwarya

Right, absolutely and…

Do you think in your career lifetime, have you seen people being more open to using such technology, using human capital management or are they still hesitant? and if they are, what is it that they’re hesitant about? 

Gautam

I think people will be hesitant if as I said they don’t trust the organization with their data. I think that’s the critical part. If a tool is seen as monitoring or invasive in an employee’s privacy then and if they don’t trust the organization, if they have a very transactional relationship with the organization, they will hesitate to use that tool.

For example in the last couple of days, I came across some news that said after every five minutes the video conferencing tool takes a screenshot and shares it with the management to see if the employee is at his/her desk or not while working from home.

And I think it conveys a huge lack of trust and any organization that tries to do that or, you know, do a geo-targeting that’s seen as invasive micromanagement, which is seen as the management or the leadership of the organization not trusting the employee, the employee will be hesitant or will find workarounds and hacks.

But if the organization is trusting their employees and saying, okay, we don’t care if 1% of the employees misuse the tool, but we won’t penalize or monitor the remaining 99% assuming they are also misusing the tool then I think the organization is in better shape to build trust with employees.

Aishwarya

Right, the trust bridge has to be very important otherwise, it will act as a demotivation factor even for employees even if they don’t feel trusted by their peers.

Gautam

Right, once this crisis is over, they will be looking out for opportunities when the market booms, saying, ”Hey, this organization does not, trust me, I would rather work in a place that does’. And I think organizations that try to micromanage and to do surveillance on employees assuming that they are not working, will stand to lose out, however easy that tool will be. Maybe it’s not the tool it’s the intent of the organization that matters.

“It’s the intent of the organization that matters.

..the culture and basically the intent if employees don’t trust them they won’t use it. A lot of these decisions are not even taken by the HR professionals especially, we will have to take that step, to proactively at least ask them how they’re doing instead of questioning them more, putting them under scrutiny.

Aishwarya

Perfect.

Gautam

A lot of these decisions might not even be taken by the HR department it might be taken by say, IT or IT security. HR has got to intervene when the tools are being deployed and proactively tell the rest of the organization saying if we deploy a tool, like this, this is how it will be construed by employees.

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I think even if HR is not privy to the procurement ability, but when it comes to deployment, the HR has to have a say, because if HR is being bypassed and the tool is being just rolled out by IT, there are some functions like finance and IT that assume that everybody, which are in a policing kind of roll there HR has to work with them to say on how do we trust, how do we build trust and therefore we have to work with the top leadership until and unless we trust our employees these things will backfire in the long run.

Aishwarya

Right absolutely. I just want to ask one last question. If there are any important sound bites that you would like to leave for our viewers?

Gautam

I think the big thing that has been on my mind over the last couple of weeks is what we have been talking about, for HR to step up to be innovative, think about putting their employees first, looking at building trust because the core of HR hasn’t changed, but the context and the external reality has changed.

“The core of HR hasn’t changed, but the context and the external reality has changed.”

How do you build a strong organizational culture focusing on employee experience, focusing on employees’ growth, focusing on building teams at work together? I think those were always big focus areas. But now, because the context has changed, HRs themselves started thinking about these things in a different context.

And typically a lot of what I say quote-unquote ‘Gyan’ that we give to each other in conferences, we have to take that Gyan and reflect on it for ourselves and say what am I doing? How do I add value to both the organization as well as all my employees in this new reality?

Aishwarya

Absolutely, I think it’s time for introspection, retrospection, just to gain a perspective of everything that we’ve done and how do we go ahead and be more productive? Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time, Gautam. I think I had a phenomenal journey with you. just understanding your thoughts.

Gautam

My pleasure. Thank you for giving me the opportunity