Mr C K Ranganathan, President, AIMA and CMD, CavinKare, spoke on the occasion of the MMA 66th Annual General Meeting. His talk covered the changing landscape in business and workplace, and what corporates should do to adapt to the situation.
We have had a series of challenges and disruptions. First, it came in the form of Covid. It is still there but is no more threatening the way it used to be. Next, the war situation was threatening us and it seems to be somewhat settling down. The latest one is inflation around the world and I think we are in a situation of stagflation. India, as of now, is looking well but the very high inflation rate is a cause of worry. We had unprecedented oil price rise, including that of vegetable oil, but it has started coming down. This should make the economy to come back fast. I am quite optimistic about the future but our western world is catching up with inflation. We can’t say that India is not going to be affected by this as we are an import-dependent economy.
Change in Consumer Behaviour
Though there are a lot of positives within India, the global environment is not rosy at all and we need to factor in this. The consumer behaviour has changed significantly. Who would have thought that a 55-year-old woman who studied up to 6th or 7th standard, having a mobile just to speak to her friends and relatives, would now be shopping online? Because of Corona and the way she has been educated by her grandchildren, she is making better use of online and social media. The FMCG companies are all dancing to the customer’s tunes. For so many years, it was difficult to create a paperless office. But Corona suddenly made life simpler and easier with a lot of automation. But automation brings in a lot of issues as we go forward and which we need to be prepared for. The consumer behavioural change is the prime thing that dictates a series of behavioural changes to the industry and which needs to be critically and closely looked at.
Will Robots Take My Job?
Automation is very good and interesting but it poses a big risk and a challenge particularly in the white collar segment. What was good in the past does not work well now. Suddenly you are required to learn a new skillset because machines are eating into the jobs that people were doing. There is a website called ‘willrobotstakemyjob.com.’ I constantly see that and check at least once in 45 days or two months to see which jobs are eaten away by machines. You type in a job on that website, say accountant, and it will say you are doomed and that 97% automation has been achieved. We need to know the levels of automation being done in each job. What is being done elsewhere is going to catch up with us very fast. We need to be aware and take cognizance of that. So that is a worry for us.
Skilling Your Team
I am sure that a lot of leaders will definitely look at how to ensure that our team members are continuously educated to manage the automation processes. We need to handle the employment destruction happening because of digitization. The other thing is that automation calls for upskilling of our own people. For some of the requirements, people are not even ready and they are not able to upskill, however much efforts they put. That is going to be more and more pronounced as we go forward. Mark my words. Over the next four to five years’ time, you will be compelled by competition and if you don’t change, you will be outsmarted by competition. We have to be competitive to stay alive in business. We need to change along with others.
Selecting the Right People
There are two important requirements for organizations to survive in the future. One, they must develop their people substantially and put in the right efforts. Two, the ability of the employees who join an organisation is also important. Our interviewing techniques and selection of people have substantially changed in the last two years and it is definitely yielding results. We are able to see the change that we have brought in. We have always been hiring for attitudes and I’m sure it’s the case with everybody. We are now looking at their ability and agility to learn, unlearn and relearn, as the world is changing very fast and change in behaviour is a crucial aspect. The future is going to demand a far higher amount of changes. We have to adapt to the new environment and new technologies. And the skillset we need to validate is if adaptability quotient is high or low.
Invest in Yourself
Fundamentally, we learn by reading, seeing, listening and by all such combinations. The level of comprehension by individuals varies. Today, we need fast learners who can comprehend and apply it back. We are asking consciously our own colleagues, ‘Now that you have learnt something, tell us, how you are going to apply that learning.’ We have a program called IIY—Invest in Yourself. Already, 40% of our functions have embraced it. Our endeavour is to make it to near 100% in the next two years’ time. We have been telling people to upgrade but it was not happening. Now we have given a dedicated one hour slot during office hours and the subject is clearly predefined. We say that you have to read or see YouTube channels or whatever. We specify the subjects and ask the employees to familiarise, come back and make a presentation to their own colleagues. Every Friday is dedicated for that. It is not only about the learning but also about how am I going to apply the learning. What’s the selection process for the subject? We choose the topics based on their utility to the company. We must be able to apply the concepts learnt immediately and that must be beneficial to the company. That’s our crux of selecting the topics. ‘Learn, absorb and apply’ is our message. There was a lot of resistance initially but now the employees have taken a liking to it, as their knowledge and along with it, their market value is also going up. The results are very good and it has led to a phenomenal change.
While we develop people, we will be also losing some. But what if you don’t develop people and they stay on? That’s a worse thing for the company. It is important that we look at that. Therefore, there is a responsibility for the company to develop its own people, to be ready for facing the onslaught of the digitization that’s happening and the change in technologies. The professionals and employees are also equally responsible to learn fast and let go of the obsolete technologies. There will be a new turbulence because of this.
Companies who learn fast and who are able to make their people learn fast will go a long way. My belief is that the value of an enterprise grows disproportionality to the value it adds to its own stakeholders and more so, to its own employees. The vice versa is also true. The value of an individual grows disproportionately to that of the value that he or she adds to the organization. This value will redefine the changing and turbulent environment.
The pandemic may go off; the Ukraine war will go off and the inflation will settle down but the digitization which was started some time ago will go on and will give us lot of pains if we don’t change.