Tech for people - new engagement models

A panel discussion held in New York, where more than a hundred Indian and American entrepreneurs participated, sought to address the issue of declining jobs in the information technology, manufacturing and services sectors, caused by artificial intelligence and automation. As panellists, we were given two tough questions to answer: Will we be able to create enough new and high-quality jobs to fill the yawning gaps that are going to be created in traditional employment sectors and meet the aspirations of the millions of young people who are joining the workforce worldwide and, specifically, in India? And if this question were not tough enough, the second question is: How to keep a restive millennial community engaged and motivated in an environment of constant change within societies and organisations?

While we as a nation are still struggling to find answers to the challenges of creating sustainable livelihoods and skilling our youth for new job opportunities in the formal and non-formal sectors, some companies are finding innovative solutions to the second problem of talent management and engagement. With millennials becoming the dominant percentage of the workforce in most services and even some manufacturing organisations, research is being carried out on what makes millennials really feel engaged. Most pointers are towards a need for inclusion and their voices being heard even if their position in the traditional hierarchy is fairly low. One of the successful experiments we had done and perfected over a decade and more at Zensar Technologies was the formation of vision communities, which became the subject of an often-taught case study at the Harvard Business School. These vision communities enabled the democratisation of strategy formation, with young millennials working in teams with the top leadership of the organisation to identify opportunity areas for growth, solving complex problems that were coming in the way of organisational effectiveness and seeking opportunities to be recognised for the fresh thinking they brought to the table. Working with a young tech start-up called Aikon Labs, the vision community in later years evolved into a full-fledged idea management platform that celebrated participation at all levels in a multitude of areas and employee retention too in a mobile industry-to-industry best levels.

The evolution of digital platforms today has made it possible for organisations to extend the concept of collaborative idea management to learning and career management, which have traditionally been seen as “must-do” formalities in large corporations rather than a source of self-expression, enlightenment and joyful participation. New Digital HR start-ups such as Skills Alpha and Fuel 50 enable all employees, millennials and senior managers alike to plot their own likely career paths, understand skill gaps that can inhibit career advancement, initiate skills acquisition through customised learning processes and adaptive tools and participate in peer mentoring and coaching activity that build a sense of camaraderie and community throughout the organisation. The common factor again is the role of technology as an enabler in the process, which takes away the supervisory and prescriptive role of learning and development leaders and makes them facilitators to a self-paced career management process. Organisations in manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, technology and business process management services are all transforming their human resource management models through this approach.

IN SYNC While technology will continue to transform the way things are done, human capital and the way an organisation deals with human beings are the biggest differentiators for its success.
Market leading organisations like Mahindra & Mahindra have taken a “tomorrow’s company” approach and used a “3 PLUS 5 principles” approach to human resource motivation and retention. The three core purposes of accepting no limits, alternative thinking and driving positive change are achieved by five pillars on which rest all programmes. The premise here is that while technology is transforming and will continue to transform the way things are done, human capital and the way the organisation deals with humans are the biggest differentiators for the organisation’s success. Organisation leaders Rajeev Dubey and Prince Augustin have appreciated the fact that technology is shortening attention spans and embraced micro-learning, instantaneous feedback, integration of engagement with experience and ensured that technology is used to improve the employee experience at all times rather than becoming an end in itself. Chief People Officer Rajeshwar Tripathi has been quoted as extolling the virtues of non-invasive analytics and workplace-generated data, which has enabled the group to hire with a better fit, manage people better and engage them in more relevant ways leading to better attrition management. 

If large corporations as well as newer entrants are able to integrate a digital ecosystem to the core processes of human resource management, there is adequate reason to believe that societal problems can also be addressed by this interplay of human agency and motivation with enabling technologies. Speaking at the New York forum and earlier in Washington DC to a Indian diaspora group that consisted of many high achiever Indian Americans, what struck the best chord was the experiments  of Social Venture Partners and Pune City Connect in bringing technology platforms and enabling technologies like video walls, artificial intelligence and mixed reality solutions to make the skills process more engaging and connect mobilisation, counselling, skilling and employment and for entrepreneurship enablers to build better livelihoods in communities. We are a technology nation and have solved complex problems for the world. The time has come to solve problems in our own country and put India to work, productively and happily.
The author is founder and chairman of 5F World. He can be reached on

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