It was the Great Recession of 2007. The very survival of Ford Motor Company's legacy was at stake. Bill Ford Jr., the Executive Chairman, approached family members (who held close to 40 per cent shares) to allow him to pledge their blue Ford oval as collateral for a revival package. The 'do-or-die' crisis caused the family to put aside their in-fighting and focus on making bold changes with willingness to take risks that changed their fortunes.
In the histories of businesses and nations, crises have led to quite a few path-breaking changes. This was possible only because leaders dared to look beyond the extreme challenge to envision opportunities and execute them to fruition. I believe that we stand at a momentous inflection point of transforming the Covid-19 crisis into a game-changing opportunity to author a new and holistic chapter in business.
When I think about how my organisation is reinventing itself (and can further do so) in a new world of possibilities, I see three major areas of reach - our clients, our employees and the community in which we live.
Focus on Client's Future
Client-centricity is embedded in our DNA. The pandemic has presented us with unprecedented opportunities to go beyond known paradigms to:
- Create a delivery model that can provide certainty in outcomes despite business variability. New commercial constructs are being created to ensure greater skin-in-the-game, a move away from minimum volume or FTE (full time equivalent) commitments (FTE allows part-time workers' working hours to be standardised against those working full-time).
- Rapidly evolve business continuity planning to pandemic continuity planning for a world where anything can happen. In short, a fully compliant model with defined real-time operation systems even in force majeure events.
- Ensure impregnable cyber-security standards that will allow businesses to dare to dream big. This will re-define industry standards on InfoSec that will be operating model- and location-agnostic
We have focused on enabling our clients to build new and disruptive digital business models with speed and scale. Our offerings span omni-channel customer service, multi-tenancy platform services, edge analytics and robotic process automation. One of the most exciting creations is a "co-creation lab" where clients can co-create leading-edge digital solutions, transition models, processes and even define leadership and project teams they will be working with.
Human-centered People Management
Work from home was an unprecedented experiment that shifted mindsets forever. For us, it has been a launchpad for re-imagined work models and people management strategies. Our organisational culture has always been people-centered, and yet, we realised that these extraordinary times called for even more extraordinary measures.
From a location perspective, our future state envisages a hybrid work model that we have called the 'Hub, Spoke and Edge'. This is a blend of work that can and must be done in the office (Hub), in home (Edge) and satellite offices where employees can meet to discuss key agenda/bond with colleagues and keep the organisational fabric alive (Spoke).
We have also set our sights on, and introduced, a hybrid people model with full time, temporary contract and gig workers. From work allocation to productivity management, quality management, learning and development, and employee empowerment, our engagement models have been transformed to align with the new digital imperatives and be future-proofed for evolving trends. We have leveraged technology to great effect with our in-house systems and offerings to engage and motivate our employees. To this end, we will continue to look at intelligent and technology-driven tools, including an AI-based HR chatbot, an automated and end-to-end recruitment platform, a digital learning platform, virtual recognition campaigns and virtual health consultations. These have the power to create an immense sense of belonging and pride.
A different approach and mindset to workforce operations will be called for in the unfolding future - a flatter and more empowered hierarchy. We are pushing decision-making down and creating synergy for increased collaboration across functions.
Performance indicators are being recalibrated to create greater transparency and trust for success of remote working. Success factors have been reset for traits such as agility, ownership, learnability and taking initiative to challenge the status quo. Continuous coaching and feedback, leveraging data and analytics, have been introduced to fuel people's motivation.
'Business for Good'
As an industry, we have been talking about transformation for years. But what we have experienced in the last nine months is a 'humanitarian' transformation at unprecedented speed and scale. One profound lesson Covid-19 has taught us is the critical importance of purpose. Performing well is important. However, doing good is even more so. It has reinforced our interconnectedness and responsibilities to the larger community. We take this responsibility and ownership very seriously. We will scale up this commitment even more into the future.
We will be adding more dimensions to champion education as the foundation for shared development of people and industry. Our corporate social responsibility arm will accelerate and expand its mission to educate, empower and enrich the lives of lesser-privileged children and youth across the globe. Computer-aided literacy, digital learning centres, community knowledge hubs, youth exchange programmes, self-defence and physical literacy programmes will be our key initiatives. We will make it more relevant to the future by keeping cybersecurity as a pivotal element of our digital literacy programme and ecosystem.
We will also bring environmental, social, and governance issues to the fore in a stronger manner and increase our accountability to society and community. I am optimistic that the world will jointly emerge from this crisis, and we want to raise our commitment to have a stronger and more meaningful handshake with all our stakeholders in the society.
A Chinese proverb aptly sums up our attitude to what we can do differently in the future. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." This was prophetic then, and is equally relevant now. There is really no time like the present to win the future. So here are a few things we will be doing differently.
The first is that we are making virtual teamwork and collaboration a reality. We will continue to forge partnerships and co-create solutions for the future. The new remote work arrangements are here to stay. We are going all out to making the hybrid arrangement of remote and in-office work a success - and we are convinced that it will lead to significant gains in terms of cost benefits that can be passed on to clients.
The second is that we have committed ourselves to developing the distributed delivery model. We believe that this will be a great factor for national development and employment creation, especially through smaller centres in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, even as we will create nearshore delivery centres.
The third thing we will do is to accelerate our pace towards outcome-driven goals, underpinned by intelligent automation, human augmentation and advanced analytics.
And finally, we will strengthen government-industry partnership that we believe is critical. This will make us better equipped to manage disruptions (however gigantic they may be), and seize emerging opportunities.
Individually, as a leader, I take ownership for nurturing a digital culture and aligning digital goals and strategy to business and client needs. In doing so, inclusive thinking and holistic digitisation will be the goal. Business value will always trump mere technology implementation, as will skilling, reskilling and upskilling of talent as a continuous practice.
A unique window of opportunity has opened for a momentous reset. It will shape the future of global relations, national economies, needs and priorities of communities and the nature of business models. The time is now to build a new social contract that envelops the lives and livelihoods of all concerned.
(The author is Group CEO, WNS Global Services & Past Chairman - NASSCOM)