Secrets of a Smart Workforce

Harnessing similarities without delving too much into diversities, understanding employee preferences, and more.
Shelly Singh   Delhi     Print Edition: March 12, 2017
Secrets of a Smart Workforce
Pic by Shekhar Ghosh

The human mind is wired to notice 'differences'. Be it the kind of food we eat, clothes we wear or services or products we use - the PoDs (points of differences) play a major role in shaping these preferences. Our workplaces are not exceptions to this rule. The companies which are able to align the value proposition succinctly in the mind of the consumer are the shining stars, and bringing them to the forefront is what the Business Today-PeopleStrong Best Companies Study aspires to do. The entire ethos of the study is to bring out those unique differences as an 'Employer Brand' that the actual consumer perceives in her mind, as this is how companies have been able to create an edge as employers and make the proposition compelling.

In the past six years, this study of the perceptions and aspirations of India's workforce has brought out some interesting themes. The 2010 study suggested that differentiated HR strategy for employees of different genres and geographies helped in creating best places to work, while the 2011 study focused on the importance of Brand, and how a consumer brand impacts the perception as an employer brand. Since then the story has shown multiple facets of workplace trends - at times declaring casualty of the bosses, and showing a shift towards meaningful aspirations, or other times bringing the demand of digital channels for ensuring last-mile connect with employees.

This year's study brings its own set of discoveries confirming some of our existing beliefs, while others bring to light the new premises which the workforce resonates with. As part of this study we also reached out to CHROs of leading organisations to hear their side of the story. And to give a new twist, we tried to check if the hypothesis of CHROs' views on workforce trends aligns with what employees have to say. Or are the views divergent enough?

Pic by Vivan Mehra

Here are a few handpicked findings from the study-

Perceptions, aspirations weigh more than reality: This year's survey confirmed an important premise - that the 'reality' of a company contributes just a fraction in defining the employer brand. It surely impacts employee engagement and loyalty, but when it comes to the overall employer brand, it doesn't have high aspirational value; to put it bluntly, it doesn't get you top two boxes. The staggering fact was that only 40 per cent companies stayed in the top 10 list once the dimensions of perception and aspiration were removed from the ranking. Storytelling - whether it's your business results, war stories about innovation, or those about leadership - and consumer referencing are powerful tools in the employer market. Difficult to believe? We have several examples of both vintage and new-age technology companies who - with their stories about jobs they provide, flexibility and 'choices' they offer to their employees - have created aspirational value for themselves. That is the reason why despite not having the first-hand experience of working with these companies, employees often end up ranking them as best places to work for.

Dilemma of diversity in a kind of 'similar' workforce: This was an interesting thread picked up as part of the CHRO round table. In today's times, 'diversity and inclusion' is much talked about. While in terms of implementation, we might have a lot of ground to cover, a pertinent point raised by CHROs was: Do we really need to give a lot of focus on managing the differences? Are we really so different from each other, or is it that in our quest for managing diversity, we are ignoring the similarities which need to be addressed?

Lo and behold, the data throws an interesting perspective. When it comes to the best place to work, the top five parameters that make a job attractive and those that lead to dissatisfaction are essentially the same across genders and vintage. There are finer nuances though - the patience and calmness of a vintage employee is coupled with a need for compensation and career growth, whereas the millennials' eager energy is bundled with an urge to learn more. The way men and women behave in situations might be very different at an emotional level, but the key dimensions of choice for an employer is growth-oriented culture and ethical orientation. For women, a growth-oriented culture means role with diversity, for men it means a role with learning opportunities. On the periphery, they sound very similar, but aren't. We need simplification but in a context.

Diversity initiative alone doesn't mean anything; it has to ultimately tie-in with the overall growth and career of an employee, and, above all, integrate gender in the overall growth of the company. Ultimately, the means can't become the end in itself.

Smart levers for a 'smarter' workforce: We are managing a smart workforce. And I am not referring to their digital savviness, but talking about how they know what they want from their job or the company. The preferences are pretty well spelt out. What they ask is recognition, freedom to work without functional boundaries, what helps to perform better in networks and communities. It is interesting to see that the workforce, often blamed for a casual attitude, is super clear about what's required to give the best for the job. It is not ready to limit its capabilities in functional silos, all the while demanding credit for the work being done.

The workplace today is young, smart, mobile, and has constant access to a zillion information bytes every passing second. As networks and communities are becoming a reality in our social fabric, does HR need to start thinking of cohorts while designing the organisation? The need to belong dates back to when humans came into existence! Does your design address, articulate and communicate what and who belongs here for the uniqueness your organisation stands for, and is it inclusive enough, or is it too ambitiously focused on best practices - I'll leave you with these questions.

The writer is Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer at PeopleStrong

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