Archive for February, 2014

A vision of the future workplace

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Here’s a transliteration of my keynote address at Dun and Bradstreet’s Future Workplace Summit, held recently in Chennai –

Good evening  to all the eminent panelist on the dais; Mr. Pyare, Mr. Narendra, Mr. Vikram, Mr. Pawan and all the people in this hall.

So the future of workplace I think, is the ‘workplace next’. Being a technology  company, it comes closer to our heart because workplace changes happening  in our place are far more significant  than any other industry, because ours is a moving industry. Our expense lines are 90 per cent salary cost; the rest of it is only a miniscule travel cost and other kinds of expenses. So it’s all about knowledge and people. Hence  workplace is an intensified  agenda on  any CEO or HR manger of IT companies.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about what a workplace should deliver? I think it should deliver high performance and  high productivity. But what is the kind of emotional content at the workplace, for that high productivity and high performance? We always observe  that  young companies with 20 people entrepreneurship deliver two times higher productivity than an organized corporate structure with 5,000 people or 10,000 people. What happens in the 20 people company, 50 people company, 100  people company? Where  does the productivity get lost when the organization scales up?

I think there are two Es which are interesting. As soon as a ‘talent’ becomes employee…the word employee itself is a derogatory form of talent. Employee workplace, ’employee  should do this’. Who is employee? Am I not an employee? As a CEO, am I different from an employee? If I am a contributing member of a team which is delivering high performance, then I am an employee too. I think the mindset, the employee-employer relationship, must change. We all are equal. But the fundamental thing is that whenever you have conversation like this, or when any survey is done, it is an employer-employee survey. So that’s the first objection, using the word ’employee’ in the workplace.

Second thing is, I was reading  some  questions that what HR should do for  engaging the employees. It’s a further Harakiri. Is it the job of HR to engage employees? What do you mean by that? As if employees come to office for engagement. He comes to do his job for certain functions for which he is responsible. There is no question of engaging him by artificial means . My work should be engaging enough to keep me fulfilled. And that’s what the book written by Mihaal on flow, says. Whether I am driving myself in flow. Whether my challenge and my competency  are in alignment. Till the time the challenge  given to me is higher than my competency up to 10 per cent or 20 per cent level, I will always be in flow. But if my challenge is lower  than the competency  which I have , I will disengage  because  I  am  not enjoying  the  job. If my challenge is 200 per cent higher than my competency, then I will be a non- performer. So how do you adjust the flow forms the basics of natural engagement.

But yes, I am using the word employee again because this forum is still using the word employee. A talent, when he is starting the journey, brings  a content  into the system.  He comes with knowledge.  He brings the content. We as an organization have the responsibility of helping in contextualizing his content to solve the business problem. So the second area is contextualizing. So when a programmer joins in or any teller joins a bank they are contextualizing themselves to the workplace. Then when he grows, he has to connect with the customers, the third C comes into the picture. So from content to context,  he should have ability to connect to the  customer. Then  fourth C is to communicate to influence. Today, when a  developer comes into a company, he comes with content, he becomes a  good programmer, he is able to contextualize, then he is able to become a manager, he starts connecting with his associates, his teams, then he is connecting to his customers, then he moves to a manager when he is able to influence the communication. So these 4Cs are fundamentally important.

But these four Cs, to act on them, the environment has changed. It’s a 24×7 kind of engagement. When you walk out of your office, it’s not that you are closing it. It means that we are moving from transaction culture to conversation culture. When I talk to my son and ask him, ‘did you received my e-mail?’ He says ‘I don’t see e-mail, I see whatsapp’. So that culture is also moving forward, e-mail system is also becoming a transactional system. Facebook is becoming my conversational system. I need to bring a transaction to conversation and manager to coach for getting the best change in the human thinking process. So  as a manger I am more a coach than only a manager.

So what is my role as a manager? My role as a manager is to identify the blind spot a person may have or to spot a potential which he cannot see inside himself. Most of the time, as an individual, I don’t know what I don’t know. To discover what I don’t know that I don’t know about myself, is the role of my supervisor and that’s where the role of coaching comes in.

But now enough technologies have  come in  which enables  that to happen, because there are total enterprise level social networking technologies. Whether LinkedIn, Facebook or any other new technologies, those are external to the work environment. But the challenge is to bring them into an organization. In Polaris, we have created an enterprise social network platform which has got social circles, knowledge circles and a project rooms, all the three in the same place. So we can keep the conversations going there, but you are not obstructing his social circle, where he talks about what movies are coming, who the actor is  or what  is  the comment on the cricket score. It’s running in the same place where he is working. So designing that kind of environment is important.

There is one around the technology side, bring your own devices, flexibility timings and so on. So those are fundamentally lots of people are trying. Besides that what is happening is the workplace, the work environment; it’s  a cubicle environment. In Harvard, a study showed that a team has to have face to face conversation. With cubicle environment, I am blocking people into small holes and I am working from some desktop. So even if I  get some doubts, I am sending an email to a colleague two cubicles away and waiting for a response, from two cubicles away. But if we give an environment where six people sit across the table, we observe there is 40 per cent improvement  in productivity. This arrangement is designed in a manner that gives sufficient freedom and sufficient privacy, and they can realign the work spaces very differently. So the work space itself is the physical space and has to be designed very differently. Putting a glass board around themselves and a whiteboard to write, giving  enough for problem solving  rather than keeping in workstation, because still tactile tolls are required.

Howsoever we work behind computers, my thinking process works when I mix tactile thinking with work thinking. So creating a space with a lot of white board space and a lot of glass, that’s a future workplace which is emerging. We  have millions of square feet of workspace for 12000 people, which we  are creating into a new kind of workplace.

We have started moving towards designing a gymnasium within the workplace. Even a normal professional, if he runs 2 kms a day, that is more than sufficient. But even that does not happen. If I have to go to the gym for that and take a bath there, I think that is the biggest barrier for me. How do you bring all the things by keeping the associate, a talent, in the centre and designing a work space around it? Keeping an associate in the centre, designing all his workplace needs, is important. So the whole perspective of design forms the core in the future of workplace. Designing around talent and designing around customer, because  whatever he (employee/talent) is doing, he is doing for the customer. So these two things have to come together and two designs has  to come together so that’s where  the critical roles comes in.

Workspace is one element of workplace but workspace is equally important because physically you are articulating that. When Agnihotri  was speaking about Google and Microsoft, he said they understood this requirement much earlier. I think we may have to pick up similar sets from there, but apply in our context. We cannot have a similar kind of environment to what Google does; we  may not be doing the same thing. So designing is very local, very personal, very organization specific, very industry specific. But we need to have design which is around talent, spaces, technology platforms and work culture and on other hand work culture has to have family as a integral part of the design. That’s how we are engaging a family within a purpose, whether it’s festival celebration together or giving time off for anything the family is involved in, because the biggest support system for any talent is the family.

With the nuclear family going, I think the communities are within the organization, so we need to built up organizational communities where they can get support of each other, because due to mobility, I don’t have the support of my uncles and aunts in a new city. I know more people in my company than I know anybody else in the systems. So it’s not a community of Jains versus Srinivasans versus Mehtas in any location. Now it’s becoming a corporate community. Corporate has taken a role of a religion or social network system. So organization has to create those platforms where communities become important and communities start sharing the evenings together at the workplace. So I think it’s a big multidimensional challenge – one is to bring performance management system on a Facebook kind of system where all the conversations can be recorded, with active performance management systems in place. I call it active because I can set up a goal in facebook style and any conversation below that can be recorded by managers in facebook style. Can we built up those kind of systems rather than a conventional transaction-based systems?

So there are many opportunities which are there and I think I am sharing a just small view; the things we are looking at in Polaris. Instead of saying performance management system, we are saying performance develop and dialogue. It’s a dialogue. Within your organization, you’re fighting and negotiating. Why are you fighting? You fight outside , in the market place.

These are the few thoughts I wanted to leave with you. There’s a very big opportunity, to get an improvement between 10% to 40% in productivity. This can be achieved by re-organizing, re-designing the workplaces, with new tools available to us, which were not available to our seniors or elders. Today we are fortunate that so many technologies, so many workplaces have come in, so many innovations are happening and let’s leverage it.