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Equipoise the technology and HR - Soumyasanto Sen [Interview]

Equipoise the technology and HR - Soumyasanto Sen [Interview]

January 24, 2024

About Soumyasanto Sen

Soumya is a digital HR and People Analytics Leader who is also a Future Of Work Evangelist. His current interests includeAI driven analytics, Cultural Analytics, GIG economy, and the Future of Work. He is the founder of People Conscience, an organization that helps organizations transform for the Future of Work. A well-known keynote speaker and blogger in matters of Human Resources, he was also voted one of the most influential HR executives by a multitude of world-renowned organizations.

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Soumya Santo Sen today to our interview series.  I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro 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.

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


Welcome Soumya, we are thrilled to have you. 


It’s a pleasure to join this conversation. 


Thank you for your time, Soumya. And if we could begin and a little bit, you know, talk about People Conscience, what was your vision when he came up with this organization.


Yeah, sure. So actually, I've been in the HR tech space for more than 17 years. So starting with implementing the HR solutions, on-premise solution, on cloud solutions, in most of the organizations mid-size or big organizations.

So for the last 5 years, also part of Digitization of HR, which is also at the big impact of the whole, all organizations around the world. Right? So they are always, most of the organizations going to their transformation phases and on the other hand, We also see as they struggle also because this is a very uncertain thing. And this is not a known thing for most of the organization's leaders.

The challenge, there are a lot of things are changing very fast so this is a huge thing which is also not easy for leaders and that’s how the People Conscience, comes to the fact that People Conscience all about impact, influence and inspire leaders with all different learnings. Where can they help the leaders on their transmission journey? But that's the purpose, actually, to start People Conscience.

It's more like involvement in the community, right? So the community where we can build a community, we can learn, we can share, we can help and we can work together and engage as a team and all over in the community to drive this transformation journey in most of these organizations, So people share each other’s thoughts, and yeah, they are learning together.

So that's the purpose behind this. That’s how we engage with most of the leaders of the community, do mentorship to others, so involved in startups, HR tech startups. So and all this conference, conference part of another, that’s how I started with People Conscience and trying to drive this whole digital HR field. 


That’s great, I am sure a lot of people are really being helped by this because, when there's a community, everybody understands each other's issues and they can come up with mutual solutions because of each other's expertise. I think that’s a very helpful purpose that you have.

So you know you've been into human resources for a long time now, And do you believe that in your experience in the past Human Resources was not given a lot of attention as such in an organization? Right? And now it is gaining some impetus and is gaining some spotlight but it still needs to reinvent itself?


So I believe HR is already in the process of reinventing. So maybe some organizations are a little faster. Some are on the way. Some are still catching behind. But it still is under the way of reinventing because this is very much needed.

Today's world, as I mentioned like the changes are huge. Uncertainty is very awful today. See about this situation now with the COVID-19, a lot of things are changing in terms of what used to work yesterday and today.

So all these uncertain things, all these changes, the technology-driven things, so they're all changes and related to the technology, what is happening? So that's definitely also pushing Human Resource to also change from what they used to work.

And yes, if you see from the other business functions. So human resources little, maybe one of the black goats compared to other business functions but it's for the last few years have seen huge progress made, like many of the organizations are doing the HR team and that's a very good involvement, I would say.

And the most important thing here is to start with a new mindset because the old way of working of the HR team on the process and the compliance and involvement with transaction-level things is not much like today we need it because many other things can be done by technology itself less reinventing part.

But they are a lot of other things for the HR team that can involve it like top leadership with the business leaders. So as a partner for business leaders, the involvement of the business decision because a lot of decisions today on the business are really impacting the workforce leadership.

So all those things can be driven by human resources so they can really drive all the strings, many other things, and we are doing it, a lot of HR teams. That's a positive thing, and these changes are also happening a little bit slowly, but this is part of the change and it can take some time.

So here it’s significantly going very well, I would say, but yes, raise a lot of opportunities now where we have to think in a mind and that's why I said, like Mindset is very important, we have to think from a different perspective for human resources.

"Mindset is very important, we have to think from a different perspective for human resources."

So I would say the human resource is no more just a cost center, It can be also given into a profit center if you can think in a way also like it drives business to help add value by impacting the workforce under the leadership and other areas. So that's the main point.


Absolutely, I think people are actually giving a lot of attention to HR and they are reinventing themselves and organizations asking themselves questions, whether the HR is really adding value to it or not, and I think technology, also to an extent is helping. And that's where my next question comes to you Soumya.

Do you think that technology holds a really important role in the workplace of the future and you know, when you need to craft, employ experiences, Do you think HR tech will really really help in such cases?


Absolutely. So if you see from the technology and talking about HR technology because we are talking about the HR workforce, it’s that technology. It is no longer just a way to support a business function like also, so far we have seen if you see past.

So I also realized, like my role used to be to work 10-15 years back is more like a supporting part of the team to a business function like HR, this is no more that case. So it has to be changed and that changes are needed like it has to be integrated together, the business function and IT together.

That’s why you call it HR IT or HR Tech or Workforce Tech services together so we cannot do it separately as we can think like a support function rather than do it together, we drive It together. That's how digital things came into places So we say Digital is not like IT supporting digital stuff. Rather, HR is a part and driving the digital initiative.

We have to think about these changes. So when we see our technology, yes, technology is not in front. Technology is in back and technology enablers and tried to leverage all this opportunity which is coming but is not driving.

Driving is the work of people, like the leaders of the HR workforce. So those are the key elements, which we have to think about when we think about technology in front. So when we see the advantage in terms of employees, experience, and others, we have to think about what is Employee Experience in behind, It's not just giving benefits to the employees, It's also in a bigger perspective, is very wider. like how the employee is going to impact having positive or negative comments.

So you see from the Employee Experience perspective. It can be bigger, like, if you see, like it started with the candidate when the employees, before joining that company, joining as a candidate and after leaving the company as an alumnus.

So all these experiences matter. If I am an employee and I am joining, So all these phases of their employee's life cycle matters, and that’s why like every and single aspect. We can help this building, this experience with, whether it is candidate experience, whether it’s alumni experience, whether it is employee life cycle experience that includes hiring till termination.

And also you can have to think like the experience like with the job, experience with the culture of the company, experience with technology. So, like if you see, like the current situation, so a lot of the people are working now virtual meetings.

But we have really challenged a lot of companies, is challenging to arrange this virtual meeting because we don't have an IT infrastructure. And we have challenges with the Internet, network and all those things. So soon as the struggle is there. So this experience matters, all these experience matters.

When we see and to build. And that's why I like it is a huge opportunity now to build up. Let's see, like how we can emphasize on building those experiences to the workforce and sure like the digital initiative can be a great way moving forward. I can see that and it’s a huge opportunity now


Absolutely and it's true, you know, it starts with the mindset change, and I think when we talk about employee experience, It starts from right when the candidate joins the organization and how the culture comes into the picture and how leaders and managers themselves, How are they portray employee experience and how supportive they are actually using technology as an enabler.

Soon there will be a lot of HR technologies out there in the market, right, and I'm sure you're aware we have the legacy systems and we have some newer ones that are coming out.

So how are organizations supposed to decide on these HR Tech, What are some criteria that they should probably look at in terms of analytics or in terms of each set of features?


So one thing is when we define HR Tech and find out what is beneficial for the organization, it is also deepened on what organizations are looking forward, so it’s very important, like just investing on technology randomly is not going to work because it will cost and then I mean even you don't get any return in oneself and we're investing those cost as definitely a question raised by business, right, So is very important. Like you set up this, This answer can be set up only when you start from the top.

So you have to really understand where your business needs? What is value it’s going to create with investing in those types of technologies on the HR front like, for example, like you have to understand what is the challenge currently?

If you have a challenge with mostly the top priority is with your hiring, your recruitment, then you can definitely think on the investing on like it's the best solution to invest on their equipment or, if you're thinking, don't have any, cannot drive anything decision point that the difference it could be a right option for you? So there are different ways you have to understand.

Like how this technology can help. I've also seen that AI is very hyped up. Currently, at this moment, Artificial Intelligence in organizations, let’s see, how we can use AI-driven solutions. Frankly speaking, If you don't need this, there is no need for this, it can only add value if you really make sense, it can impact your business in any positive way.

This is very important. That's why, like many of the organization's thinking, like investing in technology is a way to move digital, which I think it's totally wrong because you can only drive digital in the right way if you start with your business needs.

And you will also find your strategy going forward like why do you need it? What does your business need? Where is the challenge? and usually ask questions on different aspects. Starting with your business, to your HR, to your workforce.

We have to identify the right option. Analytics, today, is one of the second most popular friends if you see from technology point, semantics or genetics is also in the HR world. I think most of the organizations are using some sort of analytics like analytics.

It's very basic. Even people use some reports and dashboards. They think like they're using analytics which is not very much, which is very, very fundamental. Things to start with are good. That is not bad. But analytics can be like a huge opportunity also for HR and the business because actual analytics start when you really know the business problem and when you know the business problem and then you know analytics change that or your data can help you to solve that to make a better decision.

But analytics can be like a huge opportunity also for HR and the business because actual analytics start when you really know the business problem and when you know the business problem and then you know analytics change that or your data can help you to solve that to make a better decision.

And then you have to find out how it can also help your workforce in terms of like analytics drive. Also, good employees, experience, employee engagement so the sake of things is needed for analytics building analytics. You also need good data right and that's also challenged, to have a higher data quality. You have to build up a team that can also work on this data.

So there are several aspects. You need governance. You need a better aspiration of how the analytics were. A roadmap for analytics. So today, a lot of things are yet to plan, it’s not just buying a solution, buying a solution will only give you some aspects. Good visualization. Good picture. Good dashboard. some good alignment to start with but actually will not add value.

If you really don't think from your background, you need and then you really build a strategy, unless you build the right strategy, I think just buying a solution will not do anything. 


Really. I agree with you. So you know, just giving a dashboard and software will not help the organization and what you are saying is that it has to be customized. It has to be on a case by case basis and really depends on what the company is looking for, what their primary driver analytics and according to that, they need to strategize and develop data. Is that correct? 


Absolutely. So it's a step by step process. It is a process of liking stuff from the top, you have to start from your business strategy, you build up your own digital strategy. So those are very important parts. And most of the things like some of the analysts is done by Gartner this yearly.

This year, most of the digital transformation today faded, if not enough, for almost not only for HR but also for other business functions, and one of the top reasons for 43% of the respondents say, is because of the missing strategy because they don't have.

We don't have a strategy as a way to go forward, so just a buying solution will not reserve anything. Unless you build a strategy, with a roadmap for your short term and your long term. Where do you want to go? It should also be agile like it should be changed.

As it's not like you fix something, you stick to it. You should also review it to enter time and see like here according to their environment, according to the situation, you also changing that's also very important.

So what you need is strategies to start with.


Right. It has to be dynamic before you know it cannot ever be static. There are so many parameters that change over time, and I think especially after the pandemic, Lot of organizations will have to revisit the strategies a lot I think.


Absolutely, so I think in the pandemic and a positive way if you can see it's a good opportunity now. To many, it is a time to rethink this thing like how we can really help our workforce and organization to build in digital enablement for the whole organization.

So that’s a good opportunity cause I'm sure like based on the current situation we're in struggle and challenges with all this current technology, digital and workforce enablement, the culture, mindset, and everything. I think there's a lot of challenges organizations are facing due to these all the situation of COVID-19 so I am sure this is an opportunity to rethink the next time. That’s a positive sign.


Absolutely and Soumya.

You also engage in Culture Analytics. Can you give us or shed some light on it? What do you mean by culture analytics and culture hacking?


Yes, so that's a very interesting topic and as I mentioned to you, culture means a lot for organizations and what they have found. Like most of the cases transformation, whether new transformation and seem like a lot of organizations are doing innovation projects like they're trying to be innovative, more innovative, less drive in the business today and all of this, these things matters relating, which matters today is the culture, right?

So you need the right culture for being innovative, the right culture for mindset, this culture behavior to change.

So all these things matter and changing culture is one tough thing, but one of the most promising things to start with, and thus when the analysis is done, Why the transformation? Why the projects are failing and one of the reasons should be like they're not ready with your culture. So how we can make the culture ready.

That's the question and that's how I like it started. Like a lot of organizations started. I get involved in some of the start-ups and organizations to start how we can help these organizations to find out how we can impact culture. And then there's a possibility to use data also to understand the behavior and culture.

So there are a lot of organizations and companies involved using data to analyze the behavior of the people, employees, leaders, and the managers in different ways like there are like tools into analytics like organization's network analysis. ONA can really really find out the inner behavior science of the organization.

So how your employees engage, how year leaders behave in terms of managing, employees managing decisions or all those things which are not visible promptly in your normal cases can be really found out with your different base.

For example, I can give you of ONA, can be used, and analyze how you communicate via email, how you communicate. so they use the data of your email. They use data on your different communication and collaboration platforms and see how the collaboration is done. example in different ways, always different ways to find out and those behavioral aspects.

And we put this aspect together, put it into your data and it forms and tries to analyze all culture analytics and then by the same like it is nothing. But you have your data right, on the right source to analyze. You work on your data. You form a story out of it like what is coming from that insight, like yeah this is the current situation.

So, for example, I can say as we worked in one organization to build a culture of genetics for the leaders, how their leaders are ready with the right behavior.

So we have some metrics based on some scientific reason and we try to capture data for almost metrics and the put this on data and data points under that metrics and based on that we try to and when the leaders have those surveys and different things done, so we can see like that, like which leaders have of which type of metrics and how much they are ready for the different leadership skill.

So that's how you can understand this, this 1 aspect. We can do it for different skills, it’s not only for leaders or different workforce employees or HR anyone. So this is one example, You can also use data to analyze or culture as when you seem like this is your current culture and maybe you need to change in this way. Then you can make a better decision.

That's how he can drive to help change the culture because changing culture is very difficult, so data can definitely help in one aspect and that's how the culture and it's come into place.


That's really interesting Soumya, I mean you know, analytics with culture. I don't think there is a lot of awareness with that and probably, Definitely, a lot of people are skeptical of how data can really change the culture. But I think ONA is now coming up and people are realizing the importance of all of this, and it makes a lot of sense.

If we can drive culture change when you have solid data to support it, I think we can really thrive and make organizations successful. 


To add on this point, people analytics is used in many aspects, like as I say, mostly in recruitment and then your organization, your different processes in HR and workforce, employee experience engagement.

So culture is one of the areas which are the least visited with analytics, as I mentioned, it is not very known and aware to most of the organizations of they're also not thinking is not in their top priority as many of the organizations, but they are also thinking because they are not thinking in that aspect. Cultural change is very important today because to manage all those changes you really have to change.  

Cultural change is very important today because to manage all those changes you really have to change.

Start with your, how your organization is changing. Are your organizations fitting to the cultural not or right culture or not and this is something yes, it's not aware and they're not realizing and this is what's very new and new aspect of analytics part of culture analytics.

So I published a blog two years back on this culture analytics, a very new area. This area and very few organizations started. But I have seen progress also, like many organizations already start doing it.

That’s a good sign and it will always take some time but that’s a very interesting aspect. I really enjoy, when I work in this culture analytics part for a few organizations two years back and am still engaged with some of them.

So I really like it because it gives a really good insight into your culture. And that's been interesting too, because normally if you see what's your culture, you cannot really say I don't know what's our organization's culture is and where we're going to go.

But there are several aspects you can really build up. Yes, this is how your culture works: The data. But this is an interesting process. This ongoing learning process also is not something you have a fixed solution to. You really have to work very closely with your leaders, your team, the organizations to understand this.


Definitely it sounds really, really interesting and something that you know I haven't heard before And I think it has gain impetus now because also, you know, when your joint remote was of the culture is changing and our people when they will come back to workplaces, I think they will come back with a different mindset. So the data you might get would be quite different from what's there previously and leaders might think differently. It's gonna be quite interesting. 




And also, talking about the future of work, right?

What is your opinion on the gig economy? Do you think It's here to stay? Or will we see a shift in the way workplaces look at gig economies?


Many say the gig economy is also related to new generations, right? So if you see, the gig workers who really like to work in their own way with more flexibility, with work from anywhere, work with your own device, have the payment done internationally.

So all these things are getting it very well, especially with dreams, by startups like Uber and Lyft and all the other like Airbnb.

All these things started with the gig economy part in the picture for the last few years, and it's still progress is not only huge progress but still progress in demand and see the news generations, which are also little different in terms of their working style, their aspirations so they like more flexibility, in terms of that.

They have their own way of thinking and working and more the new generation coming into picture that they are also little bit changed, different from the older one. So all this aspect had a positive sign to move forward, I see in the gig economy, but given our mean, if you see the whole picture to working as a gigs today, we have lot of market place.

We have a lot of solutions already available, but still is not very high demand, if you say from the big corporation or the mid-set corporation, it is still more popular within the startup world, and especially the small, small scale organisations who have challenges who have this flexibility. But this is not very much popular in large, so that's why like is in progress but is still not under very much.

But if I see the percentage taken, remember, like is around the US, I think 38% of the workforce are working, work as a non permanent job, work as a contingent worker, or Giggs somehow and overall internationally, I think is also nearby. 35 or less 30 to 35% of the whole work population, and that's also not less.

That's a huge population and the increasing rate is not also high. It's a little bit volatile, but still it has a huge aspect. And if you see the future of work perspective like people really want to work, their own device, they really want work flexibility. They really like the people working from home.

Maybe it is not the same for every single profession or a corporation, but from any occupation. Today, this is very normal. I see, for example, Consulting companies like there is no fixed place for any or consultant today, so either they work on their client-side or the working from home or their work from during travelling. So that's how this works, it's already there in some of the occupations are business but not everywhere.

So it's based on the situation. So based on the demand, it's there and that's changing also driving somehow our future of work, when we say like it's already there today, it’s not the “future” anymore, so work is changing and based on your need. If you can build this flexibility, if you can have this opportunity with digital another, it’s definitely this huge benefit.

So if it adds benefit to your business. If you add benefits to your workforce, I think it makes sense. It's not. Then there is no need.


Yeah, absolutely and you are right, you know, the future is not future anymore, it’s just right here and the gig economy is definitely, you know, we see growing ranks of millennials and workforces, and it's already estimated that around 75% of force is going to be all millennials.

So definitely the gig economy is something that everybody has to be inclusive of now and going forward there will be a lot of consultants already working freelancers and services. And they're all part of the gig economy and they are well respected as much as full-time employees. So there is no running away from the gig economy. 


Yes, right. 



So bowling down to the last question I have to you Soumya is that if you have any other important sound bites that you would probably like to leave for our audience?


So it’s not very new but, I would say an important message based on my learning, what the other leaders have learned that together, we have discussed when we meet during conferences, other engagements, if you're really working on your transformation of the organization or whether it’s the digital transformation, Whether it’s the organization transformation, Whether it’s the HR transformation, so you have to think really from the very top or from the very beginning. You really have to understand your business. You have to understand Business strategy.

We need to understand where you want to go? Yeah, to see where transformation is just not following any others. You really have to work on your own like you don't have one size that fits all. This doesn't work.

And really have to build your competencies. You have to build your mindset. You have to be ready with the technology, you need the budget on all this, but before starting it is very important you also build your strategy.

Maybe not like, perfect strategy all the time. But you start with a strategy that’s very important, work continuously with the strategy because it’s very, very important what to understand. And thus all those leaders say If you have your strategy and it should be a flexible one.

Then you can easily go ahead in your journey. And then you learn from your journey, you may make mistakes. You make a wrong decision, but you can immediately come back with your other Plan B or Plan C.

So this is how you can really work in a better Competent way in this over changing world, which is changing very fast because today what you define may not work tomorrow.

So that's very important. So that's the main thing strategy that can definitely help us. One of my suggestions and then and that's how I started writing a book and was published also in February: “Digital HR strategy”.

So this is also like I want to help all the organization's leaders, the HR world to know about what digital strategy can be.

And it's not only for your digitalization of HR, but it's also the big aspect of you starting pictures and definitely the basics. But I also think about the future of work. Your workforce, your organization's leaders, your culture, use of data, human-centric experience.

So there are a lot of different things you think about when you build up strategies. And that's how if you can connect those points, connect those dots, it can help you to build a better future. That's my point.


Absolutely, that’s a wonderful message. You know, connecting the dots is extremely important now because we're in such an uncertain world and such unprecedented times. And, the future is rapidly changing.

So I think if you're better prepared if we have our strategies in line and we have a sound plan it will really be the right foundation for organizations. Thank you so much for that message Soumya. I had a pleasure talking to you and thank you for your views, Somya.


Same here. Thank you for having this Podcast. I really, really enjoyed that. 


Thank you, Soumya. Have a great day and I will keep in touch with you.


Thank you, Same here.

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