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Workforce Shaping Amid Foggy Uncertainty

Author: Dasari Sreenivasa Rao/Wednesday, December 2, 2020/Categories: Exclusive

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Workforce Shaping Amid Foggy Uncertainty

Time to Step Out of Margins

New HR strategies hog limelight as Covid-19 disrupted entire existing chain of practices in human resource management; Ongoing Unlock phases witnessing altogether a new tone setting in for hiring strategies

What a year it’s been. For the first time, human resource management (HRM) aspect assumed a significant priority at corporate board level discussions across the globe thanks to the devastating disruption caused by Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2015, digital transformation including the applications of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), started to reinvent the world of work. However, with the arrival of Covid-19, all the strategized practices need to be reworked now or perhaps it’s the time to innovate the new work culture to keep up the growth levels in post-Covid phase, opine industry experts. Two latest surveys carried out independently by global hiring platform Indeed and KPMG highlighted several issues pertaining to changing dynamics in work culture, HR strategies and hiring trends. Migration of talent is considered an important aspect in a country’s development. We saw its debilitating impact on economies and industries, when the world came to a grinding halt this year disrupting the seamless movement of workers and their services, observes Indeed, while KPMG says that majority of respondents to its survey revealed that their horizon of concern was about five to eight years out and it was the ‘zone of foggy uncertainty.’

As economic activity resumes across the globe, Indeed reviewed cross-border search data on Indeed to understand where India attracts global talent from and the most sought-after international destinations for talent in India, with special focus on the India-US migration corridor. 

US Remains as Favourite Destination for Job Seekers

About 43 per cent job seekers in India searched for opportunities in the United States, making it the most sought-after destination. With its immigration friendly policies, Canada appears to be the next choice for job seekers in India, although search interest was less than half at 18 per cent. Great Britain (17%), UAE (10%) and Australia (3%) complete the top-5 list of global destinations. Singapore was a close sixth with two per cent searches, according to Indeed.

In return, the United States (17%) along with UAE (17%) emerged as the top destinations from where India attracts talent, followed by Great Britain (5%), Canada (5%) and Singapore (4%). At 16%, India also leads amongst these countries searching for jobs in the US, followed by Canada (8%), Puerto Rico (7%), Great Britain (6%) and Mexico (5%). How talent in India searched for jobs in the United States (January 2018 – October 2020), as per the survey by Indeed.

Search activity from India for jobs in the US was highest in 2018, peaking at 72 per cent in December 2018. 2019 saw a steady decline in searches. Comparisons show a 63 per cent decline in searches in December 2019 over the same month in the previous year. While overall search momentum was lowest in 2020, behaviour shows a 44 per cent increase in search activity in October 2020 over the same month in the previous year.

India is known to be a leading exporter of tech skills in IT and software sectors. Needless to say, technical roles dominated the most searched for jobs from India in the US.

Decisive action, albeit with incomplete information, is called for, but where to start? A significantly altered new reality has been demanding the changes that require HR to rethink its role, according to a latest report on ‘2020 HR Pulse Survey,’ carried out by KPMG.

The immediate impacts of Covid-19 and the staging for massive remote work raised the HR function’s visibility and contribution to the business. In fact, more than 80 percent of CEOs say HR has played a leading role in responding to Covid-19. While the C-suite depended on HR to rally the workforce through the urgent pandemic disruption, true long-term value lies in the ability to drive performance across the enterprise, getting the most from people, data, and technology.

Robert Bolton, global head (people & change center of excellence) and KPMG International Partner, KPMG in the UK, said: “As always, insight is the foundation for action. The findings in this report reveal the way HR leaders have shifted priorities, investments, and mindsets, along with areas that have remained firmly consistent with past findings. Discouragingly, HR being seen as an administrator function is among those persistent findings. This year, nearly 60 percent of the CEOs and EVPs viewed their HR organizations as such. It’s time for HR to step out of the margins and build on this unique moment. By reading this report and sharing the findings with your team, you’ve already started the building process. You’re on your way toward pushing forward better practices to accelerate into a more promising future.”

The survey has captured the perspectives of almost 1,300 HR executives amid managing the continued uncertainties of a global pandemic.

“We’ve never surveyed in a time quite like this, and HR leaders have never attempted to lead in a time quite like this. The changes demanded by a significantly altered new reality requires HR to rethink its role,” added Bolton.

Focus on Upskilling

Miriam Hernandez-Kakol, global head (management consulting), KPMG International, “The future is uncertain, but the need to move toward it is greater than ever. This is the paradox that only the most capable HR leaders are likely to overcome. This report can help steer you and your organization capably into the future. The future of HR report emphasizes the need for HR functions to bring lasting business value by building the workforce needed to compete in a digital future. One of our key findings emphasizes the need to retrain workers in essential new skills. Seventy-seven percent of respondents plan to upskill up to 30 percent of their workforce in digital capabilities over the next two to three years.”

A digitally transformed enterprise requires a new kind of HR function, one that is more connected, that drives a culture of innovation, and enables new ways of collaboration. A small group of HR leaders, we call them Pathfinders, has found how to make that connection and become true value drivers. Their actions and higher levels of performance are spotlighted in this report, Kakol stated. Clients would say their horizon of concern was about five to eight years out. This was the “zone of foggy uncertainty.” In response, KPMG introduced a new discipline: workforce shaping. This provided a way to build a future workforce based on horizon scanning, business scenarios, and evidence-based dialogue with business unit leaders.

The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly made people the number one priority in nearly every organization around the world. As a result, HR leaders are now at the forefront of reshaping the way work gets done. This has created a new opportunity for the HR function to switch from firefighting immediate pressures to strategically engineering a successful future. HR was already facing a dilemma before the pandemic. More than half of all leaders surveyed in summer 2019 for the KPMG Future of HR 2020 report said that the HR function would rapidly become irrelevant unless it modernized its approach to planning for the future needs of the workforce. Those results were published in November 2019. Within a few months, the demands on HR had been transformed.

As offices across the globe shut their doors and millions of employees were forced to work from home, executives looked to HR to provide the guidance and training they would need to operate remotely. This was an opportunity for HR leaders to show they could be strategic leaders in a crisis.

Yet, when KPMG conducted its HR pulse survey in July and August 2020 to understand how Covid-19 was affecting HR, it found that most executives continue to question HR’s strategic value to the organization. HR leaders know that the work they do adds strategic value, but it often occurs in the organizational shadows and is difficult to tie directly to business results. The survey results suggest that HR leaders must do more to prove the value they bring to the organization. Covid-19 is giving them an opportunity to do this. More than 80 percent of CEOs say HR has played a leading role in responding to the impact of Covid-19, proving the C-suite depends on HR to rally the workforce through disruptive times.

However, the data also suggests HR has some fundamental gaps to close to be considered a true strategic partner. About four in five CEOs and EVPs say the HR function needs to completely reinvent itself to respond more effectively to future disruptions. This transformation includes modernizing HR processes, governance, information management, technology, and its own delivery model.

Pathfinders are already well on their way to achieving this transformation and can offer a roadmap for other HR leaders to follow.

“In our crisis management drills, we had focused on big geopolitical crises, terrorist attacks, and great business disruptions. But we had never really considered a crisis, in which the main asset affected by the crisis is employees themselves. Covid-19 has put HR at the heart of how we understand crisis management and the kind of disruptions we have to be ready for,” says Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, executive MD of People and Organization, Repsol (Spain).

What Needs To Be Done?

The KPMG report suggests that to rise in the strategic ranks, HR needs to move on from just firefighting to planning for the new reality. Rather than focusing exclusively on the short-term issues, it should look to the more strategic challenge of shaping the workforce to drive competitive advantage over the medium and long term.

The Pathfinders in our research are already on their way. Their long-term focus and purpose-driven priorities made them strategic leaders before Covid-19; now, it is helping them to get through the pandemic with greater agility than their peers. HR functions in Pathfinder organizations do not wait for problems to arise before they step in; they look for opportunities to strengthen the organization and its workforce.

They understand that their success depends on their ability to shape the workforce of the future, nurture a purpose- driven culture, and design a ‘consumer grade’ employee experience, and they are embracing analytics and evidence-based insights to achieve these goals. These focal points provide a framework for excellence in HR leadership and enable the Pathfinders to navigate crises more effectively.

From process-led to purpose-led

How automation can liberate the HR function? The HR function that automates administrative and highly repetitive tasks can free resources to focus on long-term macro activities such as shaping organizational culture, building the workforce of the future, and addressing the needs of its people particularly in critical areas such as diversity and inclusion.

That shift to a more purpose-led approach is a key finding in the KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook. More than three-quarters of CEOs surveyed (77 percent) saw the primary objective of their organization in purpose or societal terms, with only 23 percent subscribing to a narrow ‘managing for shareholder value’ view of the world. And 79 percent of CEOs said they have had to reevaluate their purpose as a result of Covid-19, while the same number reported that they feel a stronger emotional connection to their organizational purpose since the crisis began.


The KPMG report further added that this year’s survey results show most HR functions are contending with uncertainty and complexity, as they address fundamental dilemmas that will shape the future of their companies. To successfully navigate this crisis, HR leaders must: Create a cohesive employee experience. Secondly, encourage productivity and engagement among employees facing unprecedented personal and professional disruption. Thirdly, rebuild and reskill the workforce for a changing and uncertain future.

The writer is a business journalist with 27 years of experience


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