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The Virtual AMEA CXO Round Table May 2020: Re-imagining Business with Digital, People & Mindset Change

May 27, 2020
Chandrasekhar Pingali

An exclusive group of 13 CXOs from across 10 countries and 5 industries met at a virtual round table over two sessions to discuss better practices during COVID and a re-imagined future.

The scope of the discussion

In the current state we are preparing to enter into the unknown so preparing for the unthinkable becomes critical. Research based on previous crisis shows that organizations that were prepared to deal with many different types of scenarios were the ones that survived. So being prepared and not assuming that things will somehow work out is key.

The top of the mind issues identified were broadly categorized into two topics :
  • Re-imagining business with digital
  • People and mindset change

A McKinsey report on change in customer behavior and needs over the month of April shows
  • Digital engagement levels have climbed 20%
  • Use of cash has halved
  • 30-40% of customers have expressed greater need for advice
  • 20-30% want products to help them through the crisis

Clearly indicating that things have changed rapidly since this crisis started.

On re-imagining what, and how digital technologies will be used in the future.

The discussion in the group on reimagining use of digital technology can be broadly categorized in relation to:

  1. The magnitude of benefit or advantage.
  2. Experience wherein the customer is an empowered participant.

Large case studies mentioned were the use of a Digital Demand Generation approach in the US to craft new customer journeys enabled with AI and robotic process automation and a Bank project in Asia that would completely eliminate all local correspondents and merchant points and move the entire experience to a contact free, friction free environment.

While the current pandemic may have accelerated the process of digital adoption it has also made enterprises push the boundaries of their imagination, think very hard, design very heavily, choose very deliberately to find things that will truly stand out and make a massive impact, before embarking on a digitally transformative journey. Organizations are getting deeper into methodologies like Design Thinking to go beyond the unthinkable to create experiences that are participative and customer empowering in industries ranging from entertainment, gaming, and even in those as standard as digital payments. There is also a great deal of serious deliberation across user levels on what constitutes that individualized personal experience; what issues can emerge from the use of technologies like the industrial internet of things, predictive and prescriptive analysis, augmented technologies, and how to mitigate it.

Full advantage of digital can be captured when technologies re-engineer business processes, culture, skills and stakeholder journeys. Design thinking emerged as a “must do” for all participants to enable this reengineering.

At a lower level of magnitude of benefit or advantage is the digital automation and robotizing in conventional industrial/service entertainment sectors like:

  • Using virtual to attend to day to day activities to produce a near life like situations
  • Digital twinning for sports and entertainment
  • More of knitting together available digital technologies to accomplish conventional manufacturing and engineering tasks though remote supervision and expert intervention Conventional manufacturing supervision tasks accomplished remotely
  • Application of ML and AI to robotize tasks on the shop floor of heavy manufacturing industry
  • Increased use of digital tech to integrate ML, AI and robot tech integrated into service sector. This is driven by customer needs but enterprises taking it to a higher level for create greater customer satisfaction.

Some digital adoption has risen out of necessity in response to the current crisis but is now being converted into an opportunity to institutionalize and profit from the efficiencies that can be obtained and therefore will stay.

Digital technology can and should be used to create immersive, individually personalized experiences.

People are also beginning to realize that the way to gain real competitive advantage is to truly master digital; to go beyond classic dashboards into the realm of technologies like the industrial internet of things, predictive and prescriptive analysis, and augmented technologies. Companies with the resilience, muscle and visionary leadership will be able to see this process through, but those with more pressing day to day management and cash flow concerns will have a hard time staying the course. Eventually, the winners in every industry would have embraced digital reengineering and there is no time like a crisis to start on the journey.

On the trend in Vietnam

Considering the size of the market Vietnam has always had good technology access so, COVID has not really affected or changed digital usage drastically. 
The trend in the financial services sector appears to take a more collaborative approach to business – eg. Covering both credit sales origination, transaction, and collections on the same platform, or the ability to complete a transaction at the point of consumption using simple apps or chat applications.
As a result of the move towards greater digitalization the two emerging trends appear to be a need for a universal platform that provides the ability to collaborate and aggregate as a means of growth and the ability to be present at the points of consumption to make it simple to complete the transaction and effect a sale.
The push to adopt digital technologies to create seamless and integrated experiences for customers comes from a need for the company to gain competitive advantage, keep up with trends in the world; and some from the innovative ideas thrown up by partners whose services help power the business- ideas that came up from the market itself.

On whether the current rate of digital adoption will change behavior

On the question of whether digital adoption as a result of current circumstances will actually change behavior, opinion seems to indicate behavior change as a result of digital adoption that deliver a competitive advantage or those that bring about exciting experiences will definitely happen however, whether behavior will change when it concerns aspects of human needs like pleasure/business travel, eating out, or whether or not people will refuse a great offer on physical office space only time will tell.
A case in point being Vietnam which is back to near pre-lockdown state of normal people movement, but is seeing little behavioral change in the way people congregate to satisfy their social needs or their needs for entertainment and pleasure.

Added to the thinking pot is the belief that technology itself will not change anything unless there is a change in people’s mindsets and way of working. Hence working on building a culture needs to be a simultaneous process – if not one that precedes- in the digital transformation activity. Due consideration needs to be given to social listening as a way to not just to understand what is being said, but also to understand the sentiments behind it, both for people management and customer management if digital transformation is to be successful.

On the question of what will change on the people management, workforce and ways of working front, and, what a reimagined workforce structure will look like

The current crisis is not the outcome of an economic shock but the result of virus that is virulent and contagious. The fact that there isn’t a fix for it now, nor does there appear to be one in the near future, and, that the only way to stay safe is through the measures currently in place has resulted in a reset button on how people interact and will impact how people engage and work in the future. Generally, in large corporates the leadership team are an age that makes them more vulnerable to the virus. However, workforce cuts across generations and ages and hence it is imperative to ask and answer questions, on:

  • Circumstances under which one will opt to either go to work or work from home;
  • Adjustments that one will make both to the workplace and the way one works
  • Circumstances under which one will opt to undertake work related air travel
  • How well is the workforce reconciled to a non-physical digital way of work
  • Dealing with the spouse’s concerns about the risk one puts oneself through

These questions were challenged as considering only the near term perspective. Using the example of Sweden’s handling of the pandemic it was suggested that the long term view should consider mindset change, human resilience, flexibility and adaptability in societal constructs rather than take a binary near term view to address the challenge thrown up by the pandemic.

On what it takes to adopt a changed way of working

The key to adopting a new way of working is an executive decision and a clearly articulated direction on when physical or digital interaction will be adopted. In the example here business activity was divided into 4 parts Coverage, Communication, Execution and Evaluation. The decision was to limit physical business interaction with the world on a need to basis. Digitalization adequately covered the aspects of Coverage and Communication but Execution and Evaluation has external dependencies which they have no control over hence only time will tell how those two parts of the business activity pans out. This pandemic has stopped people in their tracks and while they have found ways to move forward the unpredictability of the future means that ability to retrieve and recover ground becomes a part of the new normal.

Acknowledging that age is a factor due to which in most large corporates the senior most leaders are more vulnerable to the virus, safety and responsibility to self and organization will drive business leaders to adopt efficient and effective ways of engaging with work.
The role that a spouse’s concern will play in the decision to put oneself at risk – and consequently the family at risk – cannot be responded to in a simple way.

The response to the dangers of COVID needs to be put into context and managed realistically. Countries like India have gone into a shell when they can least afford to. A mindset change is required to emerge from the shadow of the virus and look at ways to continue working and doing business, because until a definite cure is discovered the virus is here to stay.

On a re-imagined workforce strategy and structure

Recent events have deepened comfort with tele commuting and reduced physical contact but it has also demonstrated that the need for social interactions in business can’t be ignored.
The current crisis has forced businesses take the virtual route, made them more comfortable crossing physical boundaries virtually, work around time zone differences and most importantly brought about appreciation for the flexibility to interact, learn, ideate, and problem solve, that digital offers. This will most likely pressure on businesses to reconsider budgets for physical travel and therefore impact the events and events related logistics sector necessitating the sector to reimagine its business model.

Keeping the new ways of working in view, organizations are beginning to re-imagine their workforce strategy and structures in ways that increase the possibilities of working with a lean core, sharing experts, using collaborative workforce structures that cut across adjacent business sectors – though not competitive businesses as yet. In this context mindset change therefore, is not simply about individuals challenging their mindset for reasons of survival but developing a mindset change that addresses the need for success, and, the need to achieve goals collectively.
Re-imagining workforce strategy and structure has a long way to go. The real re-imagined workforce structure will need a hardnosed view on workforce costs. Since the heaviest costs are loaded at the middle and senior management going forward workforce structures will need to be:

  • Re-evaluated at the level of regional structures and roles defined by output – essentially rationalizing costs by taking away those roles that are aggregators.
  • Driven by an assessment of the absolute number of people needed to deliver the core business blended with a contingent workforce at the managerial level

A harder output and results focused workforce restructuring will need to take place especially in the middle and small sector if they are to remain in business even in the short run.

In conclusion

Questions remain as to what will be the catalyst that will promote re-imagination in your organization – be it digital transformation or workforce strategy. As to what will take organizations forward to respond to uncertain futures in a resilient and agile way in order to survive the answers seem to lay in an organization’s ability to be:

  • Agile and the willingness to adopt new ways or working that meet the requirements of the situation;
  • Nimble, willing to seize opportunities and take the risk to grow
  • Embrace the present, prepare for different scenarios and adopt different ways of engaging with work and people

[Part 3] A workforce strategy to stay resilient before, during and after a crisis

Deepa Chandrasekhar

Staying Resilient before, during and after a crisis

If one takes a peek into those companies that have been down the path of negative economic shocks, and recessions for a 100 years and thrived, the common thread between them simply put is resilience.

This current pandemic has more than ever opened our eyes to the stark reality of our interconnectedness as people, economies, and nations. if we are to stay strong and emerge thriving, whatever shape and form the “new norm” may take, it will need to have resilience at the core. For this to happen resilience needs to be embedded into the constitution of the way a business is run.

The RICAP Framework for Resilience

The RICAP Framework (©iCube Consortium April 2020) is an approach to embedding resilience into the very core of a company’s way of functioning. Central to the understanding of resilient organizations are 5 principles Relationship, Innovation, Collaboration, Agility, and Prudence, that influence the way an organization functions through the 5 pillars of structure, strategy, process, people management and technology. 

The question therefore is how does this fit into a running enterprise?

The RICAP framework Matrix – which is the application of the RICAP Framework- provides direction to decisions on managing a running business to stay resilient, and thriving. 

Ricap Framework Matrix

Applying the RICAP Framework Matrix to re-imagine workforce strategy

  • Do the workflow processes promote collaborative work between the onsite, offsite and contingent workforce?

  • How do you create and leverage centers of excellence (hubs) & shared business services?
  • How can you include freelance experts as extended capacity for your business?
  • If you have excess capacity, how can you benefit from sharing resources with external partners and alliances?

  • How do you create self-organizing structures, shared resource pools, and a lean expert core?
  • What secure technology is needed to support remote working teams and a collaborative workflow?

  • What activities form the business core that needs stability and continuity and what part of your workforce can be flexed?
  • What roles can be powered by a freelance workforce?
  • What is the percentage of fixed and contingent workforce will support business agility?

  • What people costs can be reduced without affecting morale and productivity?
  • What are the pet projects, structures or products that can be eliminated?
  • What when restructured will help eliminate between 15-20% costs more permanently?

Circumstances have forced increased adoption of digital technology which has helped immensely in continuing business activity remotely. The comfort in addressing the needs of a new norm has got us thinking about the changes we can make to the way we work. While it has forced business leaders to deal with more unsettling thoughts about what is going to change in the workplace and the impact on jobs, it has also built confidence in optimizing digital technology to experiment with new ways of working and creating new workflow processes that are cost effective, agile, and make businesses resilient. The 5 principles of the RICAP Framework is not a one-time-activity, but allow CXOs to continually test for resilience in the way a business is managed. 

Go ahead and Download the RICAP Framework Poster here

About Author

Deepa Chandrasekhar
Deepa Chandrasekhar has been a health care entrepreneur for over 13 years. She is currently a principal consultant at iCube Consortium, working closely with its intelligent Global Marketplace – SolveCubeHR.
Connect with Deepa on LinkedIn

[Part 2] Surviving to thrive: A 6 Part series to emerge stronger after a crisis

May 22, 2020
Chandrasekhar Pingali

A Process to apply The RICAP Framework to build a resilient and thriving organization

In Part One of this series we shared a process to reduce some costs immediately and others permanently (without laying off people). In this blog, we share a framework we created based on our readings and observations about organizations that have lived through several economic downturns and have not just survived, but continue to thrive by simply applying certain principles intuitively. We have now codified these principles and developed The RICAP Framework for organisations to create a blueprint to resilience and execute.

The RICAP Framework and the process to create and implement a blueprint for business resilience

The RICAP Framework (©iCube Consortium April 2020) is an approach to embedding resilience into the very core of a company’s way of thinking and functioning. Central to the understanding of resilient organizations are 5 principles that influence the way an organization functions through the 5 pillars.

So how does this work?

We take a 5 step process approach to apply the 5 principles to the 5 pillars of the framework.

Step 1: Understand the 5 principles

Relationship: Connectedness built on mutuality, reliability and predictability.
Mutuality is about how two parties stand to gain when they agree to come together. Partnerships become predictable and reliable when they are built on strong foundations of aligning each other’s business purpose. 

Innovation: Creative use of resources to generate new or alternate solutions.
Whether it is people, infrastructure, machinery, real estate or other assets, how can you use these resources to create something new or figure out alternate solutions to solve a problem?

Collaboration: Sharing resources to generate efficiency.
Achieving collective results whether internal or external. The support that you provide other team/enterprise for them to succeed is the true essence of collaboration. 

Agility: Maintaining balance while adapting or responding to change with speed and flexibility.
Being nimble and alert to changing business environment, thinking through quickly to alter course that will continue to build the business is the essence of this principle. What should you do to review or reimagine your business & execute, playing to the core strengths of the enterprise?

Prudence: Relentless balancing between needs and wants.
This is a ruthless evaluation of what you really need for the business and what your wish list of wants could be. It is not just about reducing costs but also in assessing strategy, technology, people or structure. How will you distinguish between the two to eliminate inefficiency?

In general, no single principle is more important than others. However, in a given situation, one or two principles may take prominence over the others.

Step 2: Understand the stated definitions of the 5 pillars of a business

The pillars are Structure, People, Strategy, Process and Technology. Each of these are critical to run the business and are closely interrelated with each other. In other words, a cause and effect relationship exists between each of the pillars. For example if you add or reduce people, it will impact the Structure or the Process pillar.

Step 3: Assemble leadership team to study the 5×5 RICAP matrix and brainstorm

There are two ways of applying the 5×5 matrix. One way is to take one principle and review the matrix across 5 pillars. For example, take Prudence and review what it means across the 5 pillars of your business. The second way is to choose one pillar and review across all 5 principles. For example, choose Strategy and brainstorm how it pans out across the five principles.

Once in a year, at the point of goal setting for the new financial year, a review of all five pillars and five principles helps in sharpening the business goals. On the other hand, the matrix can also be used to review one pillar at a point in time, for the enterprise or its smaller units. The framework acts as a powerful tool with built-in statements that trigger ideation process. Teams will quickly get into the rhythm of brainstorming and it saves time and resources.

A full review takes up to 10-12 hours for quality discussions and outputs. If you don’t have time then prioritize the pillar to focus on, and apply the 5 principles for an action plan. 

Step 4: Create a blue print, build a consensus and finalize next steps

Once the brainstorming is done, create a roadmap for all five pillars. Prioritize and agree a set of actions with the top team. Agree on the resources needed, get a buy-in, finalize the roles and responsibilities and measures of success. The process will include clear plans to engage key influencers in the enterprise, allocate resources, detail the plan, form a program governance team, engage the larger organization, communicate and manage change, amongst other things.

Step 5: Execute the plan, ensure governance and conduct post implementation reviews

Sustained sponsorship of the program and adopting feedback with speed and agility is key to embedding the change. Conducting post implementation reviews on every major initiative will ensure continuous improvement and point out the mindset change needed in people, if required.

As research shows, any change is as good as the commitment of the leaders and the mindset change driven across the enterprise.

A note in conclusion

None of this is rocket science or fundamentally something new to experienced business leaders. However, our reason for creating The RICAP Framework is intended to bring together a structured approach and a process to continuously assess and build resilience in the organisations to thrive, not just survive!

Go ahead and Download the RICAP Framework Poster here

About Author

Chandrasekhar Pingali
Chandru is an entrepreneur and Founder & MD of iCube Consortium Pte. Ltd. He played a lead role in developing The Pentagon Model, Technology enabled HR diagnostics tools and the award winning e-market place SolveCubeHR that enables enterprises to find verified and matched freelance experts. Connect with him on LinkedIn

Company Culture and how we Create it

May 1, 2020
Runa Agarwal

Maybe you’ve never thought about it before. But, how employees “feel” is a reflection on you and the company culture you’ve established.

How do you breathe life into a company’s culture that needs a fresh lease of life? Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do your employees enjoy coming to work? Coming to work should not be a forced act or bring a feeling of dread.
  • Is there a level of accountability and responsibility? Taking ownership makes employees feel connected and at home.
  • Are your employees engaged? When employees believe that what they do is important, it brings in a sense of commitment in them.
  • Is there a sense of camaraderie and respect? Employees like to be involved and know that they are trustworthy.
  • How do you invest in your employees? Recognition and rewards (monetary or otherwise) fora job well done, goes a long way to show that you value their work.

The importance of a strong foundation:

It starts with finding your mission, vision and values. At the core, of your company culture are the values and what you stand for. The top management needs to devote time and energy to determine these cornerstones. If this is not done, soon things will go beyond your control or competition will take over.

  • Mission statement: This tells the world, why you’re in business.
  • Vision statement: This describes what your company aspires to be down the road. It should have emotion and it should motivate.
  • Values: This is the foundation of your company culture; a blueprint for all, including yourself, of how one must behave at work.

It is these values and principles that will guide your daily actions and decisions. Discuss with top management and zero down on few things that all of you are passionate and emotional about. These are the values and this is where your company culture lives.

The importance of employee engagement:

Without employee engagement you cannot talk of company culture. Disengaged employees create lows – morale, money and productivity. A culture survey could be a good way to start. Employees willl et you know where the company is lagging in the field of culture.

Some key questions could be:

  • Is your (the employee’s) opinion valued?
  • How many times have you been recognized for a job well done?
  • Do you have the resources and tools to do your job?
  • How often do you talk to your superior?
  • Are you satisfied with your rewards?
  • Are you satisfied in your job?

The number of employees participating in the survey can be telling. If they are disenchanted, the participation rate is going to be pretty low. That’s serious. A red flag indeed!

The importance of trust:

Trust is key in creating company culture – if your people don’t trust you, they’re not going to follow you. Take this as an opportunity to build that trust. Use an external survey and make it anonymous.

If a culture survey is conducted, do it with a result. Your employees will be driven by the outcome. It will underscore any reason they may have for being disengaged.

A culture survey will shed light on the total environment of the company, what employees think, and their feedback on workplace, co-workers and managers. Use this information to see how your new found company culture and values align with the current climate.

The importance of getting Employee buy-in:

Before you finalize your company culture and values, be sure to ask for your employees’ input. After all, it’s their workplace that’s going to be directly affected by these decisions day in and day out.

Conduct a focus group study with employees from different departments, experience levels and job titles and no supervisors or management level people. Just the employees. Have them review the mission, vision and values and give their input.

Employee feedback can be a real eye-opener. What you thought as a marginal issue may rank higher for your employees; and what they find compelling may not have registered on your chart at all. In the end, it’s all yours – the vision, mission and the values. But if you’ve hired people you trust, then it’s worth hearing what they have to say.

It’s worthwhile to review the feedback and make tweaks as you see fit. Once the final version is ready,all of you must commit to live these values every day at work – all of you must walk the talk.

Things to consider as you move forward:

  • Do the leadership team model your values?
  • Does your company attract the like minded talented people?
  • Do your values challenge the team to be the best?
  • What opportunities are there to be involved with your employees?

You and your management teams’ actions will be the litmus test for employees. And it starts with their supervisors. If the leadership has done a good job in hiring talent, your company’s culture will be transparent.

The importance of how culture building is rolled out:

It’s more than putting it on a poster that hangs in the corridor walls.

Your company culture is an organic element. All aspects of the company is affected, from the way how you reward and recognize people to the game of nurturing talent. It will reflect on how you hire,onboard and who you fire. Your rewards and compensation practices will be in-line with your values.

If you want a strategic, competitive advantage, this is how you do it!! With the right culture and engaged employees, attrition levels will be minimized. It’s not enough to get them, you have to keep them.
It’s a hell of a lot of work!!!

About Author

Runa Agarwal ,

The author Runa Agarwal is Senior HR Practitioner – Client Practice at iCube Consortium Pte.Ltd., Singapore. She is an experienced HR professional who has worked in India and Singapore.

Disclaimer: The writing, comments and opinions in the article belong solely to the author.

[Part 1] Surviving to thrive: A 6 Part series to emerge stronger after a crisis.

April 9, 2020
Chandrasekhar Pingali

A process to reduce some costs immediately and others permanently (without laying off people).

When you review your cost lines threadbare every month, you can eliminate at least 15% of wastage permanently. Yet, research reveals that only 15% of CEOs do so as a matter of routine!

With the COVID-19 crisis looming large, our company – an SME in Asia- recently reviewed our cost lines threadbare. We managed to temporarily park 22% of costs until normalcy returns; identified 28% that can be further reduced if the situation worsens; and as an added bonus, eliminated 15% of wastage permanently!

In Part 1 of this series, we share with you a step wise process to analyse the major cost lines typical for most enterprises. Viz. people; premises & infrastructure; technology; marketing & sales; travel; entertainment; and telecom.

Step 1
  • Engage leadership team to analyse all cost lines and discuss possible solutions  

Step 2 
  • Focus on cost drivers that represent 80-90% of costs to run the business. 
    1. Use company bank statements, credit card statements all accounting systems
    2. Examine auto debits in detail
    3. Look at payroll and benefits
    4. Examine cost patterns for the last 12 months 
  • Understand which costs are disproportionately growing compared to the revenue lines by business or product. 
    1. Analyse costs vs revenue trajectory 
    2. Ask the question “have the costs grown at the same pace as revenue? Are they higher or lower?” 
  • Review the costs of all support functions in greater depth
    1. Identify support cost silos that exist between businesses/products
    2. Ask the question “can they be hubbed?” 

Step 3
  • Identify immediate costs that can be saved from all of the above. Divide into: 
  1. Stop now 
  2. Stop permanently
  • Set cost reduction targets based on Severity of impact on business ratings – high, medium, low

Step 4
  • Sign off and Communicate the decisions across the team

Step 5 
  • Set up / change process of approvals across the company

Why it works…

In a business as usual scenario most CEOs believe some costs do not exist, or more accurately should not exist, because there are processes and people to manage them, but in reality they do. Here’s a list of typical expense cutting hotspots

  • Technology infrastructure:

Cloud storage, unused licences, storage of archived files, auto debits for tech solutions etc. It’s amazing how these costs can creep without us realizing it. Cut them off ruthlessly! If paid in another currency sometimes just the exchange rates are a big saving. 

  • Technology resources

Take a closer look at all outsourced services, resources from vendor partners, internal resources who can be redeployed for product development or improvements.

  • Telecommunication costs:

Hang on! Technology has actually brought a dramatic reduction in our personal telecom bills. So, have the company’s bills reduced too? Now is the time to cast a critical eye on the details in the bills! Watch out for Data plan creep, mobile usage reimbursements, use of direct calls vs internet calls; review the number of people who need to be given company mobiles.

  • Travel, stay and entertainment

This cost line could represent almost 30% of a company’s costs. They should be zero now during COVID. More importantly, rethink and prepare for new ways of working. Take advantage of the paradigm shift in work culture. Do you really have to travel to meet people or clients or events? Which ones are really essential? Do open up this expense tab and look at policy change for the future. There is potential for a more permanent reduction 

  • Premises

Consolidate premises costs

  1. Evaluate seat utilisation rate (normally ~1.3-1.5 per seat);
  2. Hand over premises not required based on potential new ways of working arrangements; 
  3. Explore the possibility of working in shifts permanently

  • Benefits: 

Many employee benefit policies do not get reviewed once activated.  Review the policies and ROI on benefits. By simply changing the nature of benefits, and withdrawing those that don’t provide any real benefit, it is possible to generate real savings without affecting employee morale. 

  • Marketing and sales

Often the least tampered with of all costs because of the fear of impact on revenue. But, a change in tactic may be more relevant for the moment, cost less and prepare you for the upturn. So, take a peep, don’t be shy, the possibilities may surprise you! 

  • People: 

Trust the assumption that in a downturn people would rather have the safety of a job, than be laid off. Besides, when you are back on the upturn you need to be prepared to go full steam ahead. Some best practices that we have observed in Asia are: 

  1. Stop promotions and increments for 6 months
  2. Reduce pay starting at the top with lower reductions at lower levels
  3. Consider paying 50% of salary for next few months and then ramp up after
  4. If you must lay off people, you still have to bear the costs of notice pay and redundancy. Agree to pay in installments every month. It helps in financial planning.

At a point of crisis all enterprises embark on a cost reconciliation exercise to survive.  However, every crisis changes the way work is done, what is relevant and important, and provides opportunity not merely to survive but thrive!

About Author

Chandrasekhar Pingali,
Chandrasekhar Pingali, Founder and MD of iCube Consortium Pte. Ltd, Singapore, is an established and well known HR and business leader.
iCube has a business advisory vertical and is the creator of SolveCubeHR – an award winning e-HR platform for all solutions HR.

The future of business and people strategy includes Freelancers

March 24, 2020
Deepa Chandrasekhar

Technology brought speed and cost efficiency into work life, changing the focus of our attention.

Economic crises drilled into us the importance of agile and prudent management when the going is good.

But, medical emergencies like COVID-19 underscore the plethora of work engagements we have in the market. The highlight of so many conversations has been people costs versus output. For many companies, the COVID-19 crisis has presented an opportunity to change how we work – a way to manage costs without compromising on effectiveness.

It’s natural that those functions that obviously fall on the side of cost rather than revenue are the first to be targeted for cost management considerations. Minimum Full Time Employee (FTE) headcount has always been the easiest way to control cost. But the question is, is that the most efficient way of doing business. A lower headcount doesn’t mean that key business functions or services won’t suffer for it.

In my experience of running primary and secondary healthcare business, the solution is obvious – a combination of FTE, outsourcing and freelancing. They were the norm. In a business as socially integral as healthcare, FTEs provide necessary continuity, consistency, culture and brand building; but freelancers and outsourcing provided continuity, cost efficiency and convenience. Together they form the people strategy for business efficiency.

So having understood the value of FTEs, the real debate for me has been between outsourcing and engaging freelancers. From a cost perspective, outsourcing is often a matter of convenience rather than real savings. Legal compliance, cost of management time and effort, and convenience considerations generally tipped the balance towards outsourcing for me. Outsourcing offers continuity without the cost and hassle of attrition and re-hiring. On the other hand, it entails employing the outsource provider’s ‘person’ so it doesn’t necessarily provide the same flexibility as a freelancer.

Then, at some point, it becomes a challenge to distinguish between an outsourced contractor and an FTE. Simply because of daily proximity in the workplace, and the sense of belonging achieved, managing human expectations of reward and inclusion becomes difficult. It’s one thing to invite the contractor to a team dinner, it’s quite another to deal with the disappointment of not receiving a special holiday or gift granted to an FTE but not a contractor just by virtue of the ‘company’ being on the payroll not the person. And terminating the services of an outsourced consultant group or technical services company can have an impact similar to the retrenchment of your FTE!

Instead, freelancers are independent contractors – entrepreneurs, beholden only to themselves. Though not without its concerns, freelancing permits flexibility and the freedom to choose what you need done, when, and by whom, without commitments or remunerations outside of that job. The advantage of hiring freelancers for those functions where investment can in fact be scaled down is obvious – domain specialists, accountants, legal, finance and HR specialists are not always roles that require permanent resources.

Larger organizations and the healthcare industry have practiced this for so long that there are now systems in place, and processes to contract, manage, govern, and measure effective freelance performance and delivery.

With more and more members of the workforce, from Boomers to Gen Z, opting to contribute to the economy through freelance consulting and flexi-work, either out of choice or necessity, even small enterprises are able to utilize the available skills and talent freely. To harness this, the employment eco-system has intelligent deep technology platforms whose matchmaking abilities go beyond simply listing, allowing even SMEs to access valuable talent in a structured and trusting way.

COVID-19 has shown that working from home no longer needs to be an afterthought option for employees – in fact it has the potential to be of strategic advantage to business. So much so that with a combination of offsite-onsite working, it’s clear that freelance hiring is here to stay.

And let’s face it, the enterprises that have stood the test of time are those who have demonstrated prudence and adaptability in their business strategy. It’s time for Start Ups and SMEs to emulate them, build new ways of working into their business and people strategy, and benefit from the changing employment landscape.

About Author

Deepa Chandrasekhar

Deepa Chandrasekhar has been a health care entrepreneur for over 13 years. She is currently a principle consultant at iCube Consortium, working closely with its e-marketplace platform SolveCubeHR.
Connect with Deepa on LinkedIn

From 20% to 35% : Why this is important for HR professionals

March 11, 2020
Deepa Chandrasekhar

Statistics show that 30% of all HR experts operate in the freelance economy. And, this percentage will grow to 35% in 5 years. This statistic is important to HR professionals because one of the outcomes of digitalization is a stronger freelance economy.

By reducing cost, effort, and increasing speed, digitalization delivers higher efficiency for routine, repetitive, administrative and even some complex time consuming jobs.Also, technology has a way of taking over to strip tasks down to the core, where then, for an expert to make an impact means having specialized skills. It is fair to say therefore, that digitalization has changed not just how we work, but also what we work on, and, consequently what constitutes desirable skills. The focus of expertise, specialized skills and experience, is on tasks related to core strategy and problem solving at the very human relationship level.

All of HCM may be logically divided into 20 components, many of which require specialized knowledge to be impactful. The fallout of increased digitalization in HR is,that while some expertise and certain skills are necessary to partner a business effectively, specialized knowledge is required in spurts. This challenges not just the need for full time employees (FTE), but also poses the question of whether it is in fact possible to run the HR function with professional HR managers who are jack and master of all trades rolled into one.
Without the justification of enough work for a FTE, it will rest on Freelance Experts (FLE) to fill in the gaps cost effectively. This is then the logical outcome especially fora function like HR given that HR is a direct cost whose perceptible contribution to revenue is not as obvious as may be desired.

More importantly, this statistic is important because the best skills are out there in the open market, available to hire as and when required for only as long as is needed without the obligations that follow full time employment. The freedom of cost agility, with the ability to safely balance the need and want conundrum, is probably the best reason to pay attention to the growing freelance economy.

About Author

Deepa Chandrasekhar

Deepa Chandrasekhar is an entrepreneur and a Principal Consultant with iCube
Consortium Pte. Ltd.
Connect with Deepa on LinkedIn

Can HR tech disintermediate the expert?

January 1, 2020
Runa Agarwal

Human capital management (HCM) is an investment approach to an organization’s talent acquisition strategy that perceives people as assets (human capital) whose current value can be measured and whose future value can be enhanced through investment. 

The prime question here is the translation of human resources into human capital through a sharp investment strategy. In other words, Human Capital is a well-employed human resource that is actively engaged in a meaningful, worthwhile job or role and delivering a desired level of productivity. Many like to talk about these two terms within the purview of a cost center (HR) and profit center (HRM). To me, being in the profession for nearly two decades, the two complement each other, it is the transition process that is the key factor.

Years of research and expertise realized that humans cannot forever be treated as assets but are in actual terms “value adders” or “capital”. Analytics drew show HRM is based on the cost incurred or the “input” and for HCM searches for the value-added or “output”.

Enterprises, in its catch for the BHAG, are always looking to optimize costs and timelines and in the process of this business growth, HR is often sidelined or does not receive the attention it deserves. But recent trends show that enterprises, as they have evolved, started recognizing human resources like capital, and are keen towards its development. It’s at this point technology plays a big role. The Human Resource Capital technology, unlike other HR software’s no more plays the role of a directory, but the real enabler in improving workforce management, acquisition, development and optimization.

About Author

Runa Agarwal

Runa Agarwal, a Senior Practitioner, HR in ICube Consortium Pte. Ltd., has led and executed various HR Digital Transformation Programs with over 20+ years of experience across various industries .

Getting to be Strategic in HR

Sridhar Ganesh

Human Capital Management ( HCM)  has been gaining usage and momentum in recent times – particularly in the Digital HR space. HCM is indeed HR as we know and practice. As we know, HR has traditionally evolved from the role of  Administration in an enterprise to managing various people functions such as recruitment, performance management, career planning ( rather rare in Organisations), compensation administration and training. However, over the last two decades or so the profession has indeed made many big strides and there is a growing sense of specialism in these areas, which is commanding good value for HR professionals. HR professionals are no longer just generalist HR practitioners but are gaining considerable stature and value in becoming “specialists” in these areas. Today an Employee Engagement specialist or an L&D professional is generally hard to find and if you do, they command a considerable premium and often difficult to afford! This development is good news for business as it now has talented professionals to lead and manage these functions well and thus deliver good value to both the employee and the business.

The not so good news though is the reality that often times HR is not seen as strategic and contributing to the strategic goals of the business. They seem to have remained operational in content and delivery. And that is the usual lament amongst business leaders. The big question, therefore,  for HR,  is how to play a strategic role?

In offering a response, let us first understand, the specific connotations of the word “strategy” as is being referred here. To me, strategic would mean making choices that lead to a distinct competitive advantage for the business. In this sense, HR of every business needs to know (and identify), what areas and actions if focused upon on the people side, could take the business to a position of advantage with its competitors. While this exercise needs to be undertaken specific to each business, we can offer or make suggestions of some areas that are generic to all businesses and will add to their competitive advantage. For example, Talent, the quality of people across the business and or specific to levels will be one. In an ever-increasing technology-centered world, skills of AI & ML are commanding a great premium for the reason that they add to a business’s competitive advantage. Another area would be the depth of Leadership pipeline as this would offer business, an ever available set of talent!  Another area that is gaining considerable attention is this whole area of “Culture” – shared behaviors based on shared beliefs! New-age companies such as Netflix or  Google are leveraging this dimension to stay ahead of the competition! As we started with strategy and its meaning to our context, these are the conscious choices that HR  can and must make.

Thus moving the focus from the transaction and the routine to areas or activities that will truly bring competitive advantage to a business will make HR and its leadership more strategic! It is about a mindset more than competence and skill!

About Author

Sridhar Ganesh
MD & CEO, Adrenalin eSystems Limited

Sridhar Ganesh is a seasoned HR professional and a thought leader with vast experience in various facets of HR management, at both operational and strategic levels. His interests are in the areas of Business Strategy, Leadership, and Coaching for Performance.