In an exclusive interaction earlier this year, People Matters met up with Aadesh Goyal, Chief Human Resources Officer for Tata Communications Limited, to ask for his insights on how the company's people management approach is evolving and what the next steps may be in today's uncertain environment.
Aadesh has been with Tata Communications for over a decade, having joined in 2010 from PeopleStrong HR Services, where he was Chairman and CEO. He has over 35 years of experience in multiple aspects of business leadership including not just HR but also P&L management, operations, ICT, corporate communications and more, and has held global leadership roles in these functions across multiple geographies.
Here's an abridged version of what he told us. For the full conversation, check out our digital magazine.
How to return to on-site work is a huge question today. Tell us how you're managing it at Tata Communications.
Two years has been a long time, and people have got used to working in a particular way. So even though fears of infection have subsided, and people are more willing to go back to normal activities outside the home, I don't necessarily see them being ready to start work the way they would if they were going to office. In a way, working from home has become a comfort zone.
We have taken a clear position on this. We believe that we're not going back to the pre-pandemic paradigm where everybody is going to work from office all the time. Certain roles need to be done from the office, but the vast majority of roles can be done in a hybrid model. At the same time, we are not going to support remote-only work for anybody.
I am optimistic about the return to workplace because we have learned from the pandemic that we as human beings have much more capacity and capability to deal with change and adapt and innovate than we think. For example, we switched from the working from office model to the working from home model in a matter of three weeks, even though we were not equipped to do it. Now, if we had approached it like a project to be executed in normal times, I'm sure most of us would have drawn up a three year plan. But without that luxury of time, we were able to leapfrog three years into three weeks. We can do it. That's the big inspiration that we must take away as individuals, as teams, and as organisations.
In early 2021, we had a conversation with you that touched on how to support employee wellness, productivity, and engagement during the lockdowns and pandemic response. How have these initiatives evolved in the intervening year and a half?
We did a lot of work related to wellness during the pandemic, and we invested a good amount of resources, money and time and what wellness means and how it will develop over time.
But we have found that very, very few employees are willing to spend their time to engage and do something with these programmes that we offer to the whole company globally. We found that only about 10% of employees are actually engaging. My sense is that employees are interested but they are not necessarily willing to invest their time to do something about it.
I'm not discouraged – I think ultimately, we have to do things that add value for people, and we have to continuously work towards identifying areas where that value needs to be added. And once you've done that, you have to keep improving it over time. It's really a long haul, there is nothing short term here.
Given the uncertain global economic environment and today's concerns about inflation, do you think that people's views of monetary versus non-monetary benefits has changed?
In the last 12 to 18 months, macroeconomic forces have certainly created challenges for citizens in all countries around the world. Our memory is short, but if you look back two or three decades, this type of situation has happened more than once. 20 years ago, the dot.com meltdown created one such situation. Then in 2008 the collapse of the banking system created a similar situation. Right now, we face inflationary trends, and war related issues are creating challenging situations on top of that. Energy costs are going up, for example, in several countries. It does impact the lives of people, especially those who have lower discretionary income because most of their salaries go to basic needs.
Obviously in a situation like this, people tend to shift towards a more economical perspective, and often there's not much scope left to make that shift. Non-financial benefits like healthcare and pension are essential; you can't take away money from there. Salary is also difficult to shift, because of the broader economic situation.
But I think this is a passing phase. I'm not an economist, but I do think the current inflationary pressure that we're seeing in almost all countries, to varying degrees, is temporary.
Like the pandemic, it won't last forever. And so my message is that we must stay strong, and we must stay hopeful, because this is going to pass.
Tell us a bit about your talent priorities for the coming year(s).
Over the next five to 10 years, we are going to require different thinking and different talent to sustain this transformation. We will need people who are good in digital, people who are good at customer experience, people who are good at data science, AI machine learning software, and other important technologies. We are continuously developing people in that direction, and we are also hiring when we're not able to meet the demand from within. It is a continuous process.
What investments are you planning to meet these talent needs?
In the last 18 months, we now have developed about 12 academies on our learning platform, with courses ranging from AI, to improved account management, solutions engineering, service assurance, customer success, management, and many more. That is one way in which we are building new skills for a very large number of people for roles that we predict are going to be of somewhat different nature in the future: we are enabling that transition through building new capabilities for a large number of employees.
Then we have a targeted learning programme for identifying new skills that need to be embedded into different job families and different roles. We create certifications so that people in these teams can go on those journeys and build those skills. And the third is on-demand learning.
We have been successful in driving a cultural and a mindset change, so that rather than employees depending on a manager to tell them what their next career move could be, or what they should be learning, employees now have the power to do this on their own. We've created channels and an entire ecosystem through which they can steer their life in the manner that they want. Managers and leaders are still there to provide guidance, coaching, and inputs, and facilitate wherever they can, but employees don't need to necessarily just depend on that.
In short, we are investing not just in the employees alone, but also investing in empowering them so that they can grow by themselves.