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Innovation: The key to unlocking the world of HR - Jasdeep Singh [Interview]

Innovation: The key to unlocking the world of HR - Jasdeep Singh [Interview]

HR blogs
Sneha Moorthy
March 11, 2022
Human Resource Management Platform
Innovation: The key to unlocking the world of HR- Jasdeep Singh [Interview]

About Jasdeep Singh

Jasdeep Singh is the Chief Strategy Officer at Cipla. He has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, from the University of Cambridge, and is an expert in the pharmaceuticals and private equities domain. He has also co-founded a consulting firm, during his doctorate studies, and is someone who is keen to keep learning and update his knowledge. With a great academic background, Jasdeep has proven himself as an amazing professional who can handle any crisis with ease.  We are happy to have someone of his expertise in our interview series. 

Aishwarya Jain

Innovation: The key to unlocking the world of HR- Jasdeep Singh [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Jasdeep Singh 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, Jasdeep, We’re thrilled to have you. 


Thankyou Aishwarya. Very pleased to be here 


Our Pleasure! So, Jasdeep, I want to begin by asking you a very, very straightforward question. 

You know, as someone who is responsible for strategy, what is it that keeps you awake at night?


Very powerful question! You know I must tell you that the answer is very simple. What keeps me awake is actually how to make problems simple, in today's world is what we are calling as a book of the world where the volatility and uncertainties are unparalleled.

The role of a strategy officer is to still keep the strategy, as simple as possible. And strategies often construed as something very complex, and usually, it comes with a very heavy representation and layers of information. But I think if the organization and the strategy officer can articulate the strategy in a simple manner then that's the best win! And I think that the one thing that I continue to think is how to make some of our strategic thinking simple and reachable to most of our employees.

And you could imagine that in every organization, there is a straddle of employees with different skill sets. And therefore, how do you make sure that within the force line, a person in your organization is able to understand your strategy. Because he is the one who's interacting with the customer and who's your inner foundation. So that's the biggest challenge I would say, and that keeps me awake

The second I would say is how do you pick some of the trends which are just emerging and they have not fully blown out yet. And that's the success. I mean, for a strategy officer to know in the pharmaceutical industry that a similar wave is becoming is very obvious.

Who picked this up 10 years ago and was able to take action. That's the success of a strategy officer. So It's not about finding trends that have played out or are playing out. It's the genesis and those seeds of trends that will play out.  

And I think, one continues to be on the ground for that to see that these are some of the trends that may shape the industry. And there are these movements like what we have, what's happening right now, which is completely unpredictable. But these are some of the things. This is probably the third element that will keep me awake.

But I think the first two, of course, the third one is highly unpredictable, The first two you can tackle, if you put your mind behind it, you are grounded to your industry and understanding your customer, I think you will be able to answer and you will be able to sleep more peacefully. 


Absolutely! And that is just so interesting right, the way to understand so many perspectives and bring together something that's robust and solid and to also anticipate what might be the next trend ways. There could be something related to buying technology with genetic engineering that might be very useful. 

So that entire set of even trying to understand different kinds of insides and then making sense of it, processing it and then, you know, keeping yourself very very tied as to what is it that could be the next thing. So you're constantly on the run and you're keeping awake because of that. It's outstanding I'm sure.

And you know what you think is the Crystal Ball that you use while setting the strategy and how do you balance the risk and innovation in the mix.


I think innovation is often again misconstrued in my industry, for example, an innovator is often thought of as a person who is bringing a new chemical entity into the market or his adversely new receipts. To me, innovation is equally bringing the same drug, which is probably in the injectable format to lets a rural format, this enables a better adherence, a less psychological burden on the patient. This is an innovation of what we call a drug for.

And there are innovations in how you deliver a truck or how you're servicing a patient. So to me Innovation has to be in the DNA of a company to survive in today's world, right? So I don't balance innovation and risk. Innovation has to be ingrained in an organization to grow. I parallel innovation in growth. So then the question really becomes, how do I manage risks. And to me, the answer to that as well is two-fold. 

"Innovation has to be in the DNA of a company to survive in today's world."

I think one is a lot of work around data. I think they are very fortunate in today's time we do get lots of data streams. But we are also just being very rudimentary in the way we are analyzing it and the way we are finding implications of how we use that data. That's where the experience comes in. 

Some of the people who have been in the industry for a bit are able to co-relate to the general trends, and some of the youth are bringing this amazing data analytics. And I think it's the synergy of these two, that to me will solve the risk problem in the best possible manner. So I think it's not about innovation or what degree of innovation I'd like to build. In the organization, that's all we do because we are a growth-driven industry. 

So the focus is on how do we mitigate this. And to me, it's data plus experience and its people and in the data feeds that have to solve for this


Absolutely that makes a lot of sense because I think innovation is something that that's already there on the table by default. What is it that being apart from that which is going to add value? Innovation is just given and then you really kind of have to balance the risk around it, for sure. But it will really be the differentiators that you think about and strategize about, right! 

And that really depends on the kind of people you have in the organization, how you motivate them to do better. So there is a lot of alignment that we talk about here right!

So how important of a role people's alignment and engagement play. And how do you look at execution and results while implementing strategies? 


Let me take a leaf from my past role, where I used to lead the consulting practice at the IQVIA in South Asia. And one of the things we are often told by our clients is you guys aren't executing this right, coming to us with no odorous thought paper or approach that solves the problem. But at the end of the day, we have to solve the problem. I must tell you, even the consulting industry is very understanding of this and now most of our engagements in my past, life had the execution element as well. 

What I'm trying to say is the execution is the demo, right? I mean, as they say, if you are not able to execute what you've put out in the paper, everything is just nothing, right. It's a conceptual exercise. It's an intellectual exercise that doesn't lead to any revenue generation and no strategy office or anybody can sustain an intellectual office. If I may say. So execution has to be embedded. So consultants have started doing it, organisations always were there a little bit. But now two strategies office roles don't stop at creating those theoretical or conceptual papers. We're also embedding themselves in the execution process. 

They often take the role of being the project managers or bringing or facilitating cross-functional capabilities. So what I'm trying to say is that without execution, strategy is very vague, very fleeting, if I may say.

"Without execution, strategy is very vague, very fleeting."

Now how much of a role people take in terms of alignment. Most organizations are run by people and the larger the organization, the more complex it is. And one of the roles that a strategy function has to do is to facilitate that cross-functional conversation bringing alignment, different functions have different skill sets, and therefore Appreciation of another skill set is something that takes time, and you have to invest in it.

So the office has to ensure that each of the important stakeholders is given enough time to provide the other's perspective. Because it is very well understood what they are bringing to the table. So while 60% to 70% of the time will go into creating the strategy, about 20 to 30% of the time can go in facilitating and even cascading the strategy down to some of the employees on the front line side. And it's very important

It has to start from the top and percolate from the top. But if it's not reaching the bottom, the proof of it won't be delivered.


Absolutely! It's like a trickle-down effect, you know, you know, it starts from the top-level, it definitely has to trickle down and seep into the lower levels too. And yes, of course, there are so many dynamics involved here and really you need like a go-getter. It's not just about talk talk talk! But show Results, and have the strategy in place to execute it well, because it will ultimately be the results that will speak for you. 




So Absolutely, we need to understand that. 

So what's happening right now is that there are a lot of organizations that are going through so much pain and a lot of segments do get affected, and people are just trying to balance everything out, looking for ways out, just trying to be really prudent about their expenses and how will they manage the people on the other hand.
And so do you believe that we're looking for mayhem in some segments and organizations to change their strategy significantly for others or will this like define a new normal now?


So Aishwarya, to me this is a very loaded question and a question at the time when the event is playing out. And there is absolute certainty in the fact that some of the industries are going through enormous amounts of pain. And the way lockdowns have happened across geographies, the way supply chains have caught impacted, the way labor forces have migrated. I think they're all clear indicators and the numbers on growth and GDPs results on the cooperates are gonna be out. So I think we will see that there is a fair bit of impact. 

Some industries, of course, mostly the essential industries, have been protected to some extent Now saying that, I think while we are protected, it is not that that has made us complacent. As an industry farmer and I just don't speak up when I speak as an industry person, I think each of us is seeing whether this is a point of inflection for new trends to play and therefore for us strategically to prepare ourselves to the new normal, and I think there will be a new normal and their new normal is a function of how long does this event play.

Now there are a couple of psychological biases we are all cognitively tuned to. One is called primacy bias. The other is called the recency bias, and the other is called the peak engine. So how the event starts has a large impact on us, how the event ends has a large impact on us, and how intense the day has a large impact. So these are the three things

I think the recency, which is how it ends, is very much in our hands. How coordinated are the governments in solving COVID-19, how is the political capital going to manage the economic capital, because political has the mandate to both take care of people as well as the economy, So they are in a very, very delicate situation to manage both. And they have to do a pretty good job for the recency buyers to be as good as possible, right! 

Because if we close this in a good manner I think the new normal,  would be different from today, but it wouldn't be dramatically different. 

"I think the new normal,  would be different from today, but it wouldn't be dramatically different."

It will leave this impact in an uncoordinated manner, and be seen prolonging over a period of time because of the uncoordinated responses, because at the end of the day if one economy opens and people keep traveling and you know this vicious cycle won't end and then the stain is going to psychologically bring a very big new normal. 

But what I see in the world right now, at least some of the political capital has taken some strong decisions with limited data. I mean, I see the US which has very robust data and is making decisions based on that particular data. But Some of the other economies where data isn't as robust, I think the political engine has been able to take some good decisions. And to that extent, I'm an optimist and that this coordinated response is able to find a good closure in this problem. 

And I'm not saying that the new normal isn't going to be better normal, but the shift is not gonna be dramatic, is how I see it. But again, it's a function of how long this goes on for. 


Absolutely! I think you are very correct! You know the recency is what must be looked at. And we can definitely come out of this in a better in a more positive manner if we really are collaborators among different countries and within communities as well. And we can really kind of twist the entire situation, we just have to be more collaborative. And that will make a very big difference, maybe in the short term and then be back to routine. 

It could be that this will just be a very short spurt, in a change of mindset. But quickly you know as humans tend to forget, we might just go back to our own ways.


So Aishwarya, I don't think we will be able to forget this event. I think this event clearly hasn't been localized. I mean the last outbreak of SAARS had still a higher localization. This has become a global problem and the economic impact that this will have had would be unprecedented. 

But I still think that if we are able to close this, in a coordinated manner and there is dynamic around and if this is not closed properly, the world may start, each geography, each country may start looking at protective sort of regime or in a way, that globalization of trade might start getting hampered. Because if all of us start feeling un-secured about how we have been able to manage it. We'd like to build capacity as a nation to address future outbreaks by ourselves. 

And therefore we will start building capabilities that are extended by that design, we will be less collaborative, and that's the one, I would be most worried where each of these nations starts looking inwards, versus ordinary, and had started seeing some of these even before COVID started, it can precipitate even more, but I am hopeful that leaders are more thoughtful about global relations and are able to do this lockdown.


Right! Do you think the lockdown got the solution to this or is there something that we are missing?


I think lockdown is one of the critical elements of the solution. I think what one needs to do is also ensure that a lockdown is in the pockets where there is a lot of trade happening where there are lots of hands getting exchanged literally and metaphorically as well. I think one of the things I feel and there is no specific data point I have.

But our agricultural economy, we could open that significantly. Because to me, by design it's socially distancing on the number of people that are required to operate are fewer. It is also a significant part of our GDP, unlike many other economies. So I think you have to find a balance solution from a complete lockdown as one possible solution. And we have adhered to management in the workforce, the labor force much more effectively. 

But other than that, unfortunately, by the design of how the virus spreads, this becomes one of the most important elements in restricting this. 


Right! So you do work with different kinds of people, let's say like the Gig economy, right? 

So do you think that after the crisis is over, or due to the crisis, gig economy will still prevail or the business model of change for remote due to this crisis.? 


So again, Aishwarya there will be certainly a new norm, right? So to say that there will be more tech intervention for sure, there will be more digital-based interactions for sure, there will be a workforce that will be variable for sure. The question is the degree of it, right? And I think the gig economy isn’t going anywhere and I think people are getting appreciation because there has been a large migration of people to the towns. I think this event may bring a certain receding to that and an appreciation for you know what they have been doing in their local towns, in the village, etc? 

But I think technology will be a great enabler. I don't see that taking away jobs. I don't see that increase productivity by great measures. I think it will increase productivity. It will bring growth but will it bring paradigm shifts. Probably not. Certainly, there will be a larger appreciation of digital, and technology is the way we think. 


I believe in that too. You know, technology can be a great enabler, if you just use it in the right way and you are open to automation. Just have your systems and processes aligned with technology. Then then I am sure that people can be successful and organizations can, therefore, be successful. 

And as a Chief Strategic Officer, what do you think of the three most significant people KPIs that you track to define success? 


See in a function like a strategy and some of the other support functions. I think while we are all an enabler, the revenue, support, revenue, and profitability support to the front line and to the business units. I think that clearly is a shared KPI with businesses and you cannot be in a departure from that. 

So strategy functions have to ensure that their neck is on the line as much as their business units are on the line. We have to feel hands and gloves with them when they are executing on the front line. So, to that extent, there should be a fair bit of KPIs of some of the new initiatives that the business takes. That should be part of the strategy. 

So to your point and earlier question any strategic initiative that the strategy office undertakes and when it gets executed, there will be certain KPIs associated with it. KPIs should always be part of the strategy office and that will create that stickiness for the strategy function to be part of the execution as well. 

But the other ones which slightly are more generic but more relevant for a strategy office. I would say one would be agility and this goes back to my point of one of the earlier things that I talked about which was finding those trends on the ground level that will explode or create a micro-segment for you to be differentiated.I think that agility is difficult to quantify but one has to be able to practise this and see some of these things happening for you to be able to quantify. 

So agility to me as one of the key skills. If I may say that should be part of the strategy office. The second I would say his for perseverance. Again If I really think through, a lot of these ideas will hit you and will get shot down in the larger complex organizations. 

The Strategy office, fundamentally believes, because some of these are just green shoots right there, just emerging, so you won't really have enough of the data point. To say it with a conviction that here's a trend and therefore let’s take action. There is a bit of experience. There is a bit of a gut. And there are, of course, those green shoots that are giving you a signal for you to get into it. 

So, therefore, to persevere with some of these things is another important skill that I would think a strategy official would have and the last which goes without saying is integrity. To me, companies can completely falter if you’re not true to putting out the right strategic intent used on the right data, right insights.

So I think these are some of these three skills again, very difficult to quantify. But the KPIs If those are hard trained should tally to great proportion with how the business looks at their own KPI. Then only they'll appreciate your skill. 


It's kind of like a grey area. There are some set KPIs but then are those generic ones that are more relatable, that make more sense and not necessarily be quantifiable. They definitely tell you the quantity of the objective, and it will bring out all the possible qualities, even in the people of that organization and you rightly said it’s about great perseverance and integrity. 

To really understand, though those green shoots and understand those little small signals because there’s not enough data to back it out, it's just more of intuition. That makes a lot of sense because I think a lot of visionaries or even a lot of companies they somehow, drown into having very set K peas without realizing that this is not black and white. It's more of shades of grey. So it’s really that ability and a strategic officer you have to kind of understand all parameters and bring out the best in people.

So that's a wonderful insight, that you have told us. And finally, wrapping up the interview, I want to ask you if you have any other important soundbites that we would like to leave our viewers with?


I think for the viewers who probably want to learn a bit about the strategy function. Many people, many employees, came to me and expressed their interest in joining an office like this, I think I would urge a lot of people to spend time in functions like this specifically for about 2 to 4 years. I think it's a great way to become creative. It's a great way to understand the organizations cross-functionally.

Otherwise, you can sometimes become expert in one function of the other and It's like an engineering victory, to be very honest. 

You know, that opens avenues for you, to explore multiple other career sites and strategy function exposes you so much that it allows you to then figure out what's the real area of passion for you. You will see a bit of sales, you will see a bit of marketing. you will see a bit of bringing all of this together, thinking through trends, Implications, the certainty of events. 

So I think it's a great place for learning and to me, its the key skills that one needs to have through his or her career and make sure that, as they become leaders, they are able to visualize some of the implications of the trends that will clear out later and there has to be an appreciation for some of these things, and you don't need to be here for, like decades to have an appreciation for strategy. You can spend a short tenure of your time. So I actually urge people to spend some time in strategy functions and learn about the organization in the width it is. 


Absolutely, I think from a conversation, It's been very interesting to understand, how strategy plays out and what are the elements that you need to think about. It's, using your right brain as well as the left brain to understand so many things, so many layers of it, understanding between the sheets. 

So its really been wonderful understanding that and thank you so much Jasdeep for taking out time today for us. I really, really appreciate you sharing your views with us, and it's been a learning experience for all of us. 


Thank you Aishwarya. It's been a pleasure talking to you as well and forwards to peopleHum doing more of this with many other experts. It's always nice to not get to learn on what people are sharing. And today this is another trend, right?

I think a lot of these courses are moving online. A lot of these learnings are moving online, I think mentorship tomorrow, maybe online. Right? And some of the trends one has to capitalize on. And I appreciate the effort that peopleHum is doing to facilitate learning through the digital channels. So congratulations to us as well. 


Thank you so much for those kind words. It's really because people like you and that's food for thought. Really. You know, mentorship moving online. That's quite interesting. So thank you for a wonderful conversation. And let's keep in touch, have a safe and healthy time ahead of you. 


Thank you. You too, take care. Bye.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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