Expect (and welcome) the unexpected

Mr Ashank Desai, the Chairman of Mastek and also the Chairperson for this session, introduced Lynda Gratton, the professor of Organisational Behaviour from London Business School. We are indeed lucky to have her address at the NILF, Mr Desai said. According to a recent survey conducted by FT, London Business School was ranked as the No 1 B School in the world and Prof Gratton was amongst the leading management thinkers of the world today. With an overall 18th rank and the highest in women, she certainly had all the right credentials. Prof Gratton has also authored several books, such as, Integrating the enterprise and Living Strategy. On a lighter vein, Ashank Desai shared a joke. A man had once gone to purchase a parrot and in one particular cage,  there were a dozen of them chirping away, but he caught one of them taking a nap. “Why is that’? enquired the man. “Oh, he is the Chairman”, shot back the seller. This had the crowd in splits. In this environment, no matter which strategy you adopt, ultimately it will be your employees who will drive business and deliver value, Mr Desai said. In a globalised and highly competitive environment, how much attention should you give to your employees? Their need is different from those of your customers , he said. With rising customer pressures, striking that vital balance becomes an imperative. Mr Desai spoke of some of the pressing challenges that employees face today: Commuting long distances and maintaining a work life balance is only a few of them.

The graceful professor, thanked Mr Ashank Desai for such a wonderful introduction and took the dais. What is different today at the workplace? The work environment is undergoing a profound change. It is about you and some of the crucial trends that we are witnessing, she said. Forces, that are fundamentally changing the way we work towards crafting the future, are so far positive. Her son wants to be a journalist, but the environment as we are accustomed to, will cease to exist, 20 years from now. Let us see some of the forces that will bring about the change:

  1. Globalisation. The world has “joined up” like we could never have imagined, she said. Future trend indicates that wealth will now be generated from the BRIC countries, more than western traditional markets. 15 years back, there was a program in BBC, highlighting the growth potential of India and China in the years to come by. There was a huge uproar as many had refused to accept such a theory. Nearly two decades on, this was now a stark reality, Prof Gratton said. The founding professor of ISB was indeed sad to relent, that England had lost its predominance in the manufacturing industry. The ‘made in England’ tag accounted for very little in the global manufacturing sector. In any of the global cities of the world today – be it Mumbai, Sao Palo, London, Chicago – the trend is similar. More and more people want to live in these large cities, creating a huge urban rural divide, Prof Gratton said. MNCs are central to global trade and it is these companies which will play an important role in the way we work. What is going to be their changing role? The other important aspect to be looked into is connectivity. How will we live and work in global cities and yet stay connected with rest of the world.
  2. Positional advantage no more exists today. My son Chris, born and brought up in London, could be competing with a clever and wealthy Chinese from another part of the world. More likely to be an Indian, Prof Gratton remarked. In Uzbekistan, there were talented Maths graduates who were willing to work on high end projects at 8 $ an hour. The talent was as good and a lot cheaper than what was available in UK. This is a real danger, as emerging economies make their mark in the global arena. She talked about portals where hundreds of executives from world over would connect and get their work done. In America, work-from-home was fast gaining acceptibility. Going to work in Mumbai, in the mornings, is just as cumbersome, as it is in the US. Technologies like video-conferencing was now making travel redundant. Though, it did not have as much fan-following in the non-tech sector, still it had a huge impact on the number of times executives now travel, she said.
  3. Growth of mobile telephony and the rise of new technological advancement like Cloud Computing. Some estimates claim that within the next 5 years, 5 Bn people will be connected with each other. How will these people choose to communicate and what will they choose to do? As Cloud Computing becomes widespread, far flung places like Africa will have more access to technology. Prof Gratton visited the Masai tribe in Africa recently, and was overwhelmed to see the warriors having access to mobile phones. So much for market penetration.
  4. Demographic dividend. Countries like India, which houses more than a billion people and blessed with an increasing working age population today, stand at an advantageous position. Prof Gratton had once asked her good friend the late Professor Sumantra Ghosal, as to why there are so many professors on strategy from India, on which, Prof Ghoshal  was known to have remarked “ there are a billion of us Lynda”. She talked about social security in the West and how the younger generation would have to bear the financial burden to support the aged. This would put an additional strain on society and its tolerance of the aged and the infirm. People are choosing to stay single and even in India, the family unit as we have known in the past, is breaking down. She cited the Denmark example where even a single person was considered to be a family unit.
  5. Carbon footprint. As carbon emission norms become stringent, countries which have a positive footprint will be in an advantageous position. This will be a major game-changer.
  6. Communication. As technology invades our lives, addiction to Blackberry and other such devices will have a major impact on the way we communicate adding to the growing need to stay connected at all times. Individuals may get more isolated from their families and societies would undergo a paradigm shift in human relations. The future divide will be based on those who have access to IT and those who don’t. Technology will also create greater transparency and information sharing will cease to be a challenge. Technology is a badly behaved two-year old and unless managed effectively, it has all the potential to wreak havoc in our lives, Prof Gratton said.
  7. Generalists to specialists. Mastery over a certain domain / knowledge / skill will become an imperative. Crafting a reputation, built on specific skill set will drive individual reputation. The shift will be from competitive but isolated individuals, to connected members of the crowd. Job titles and retirement age will become irrelevant as people will choose to work as long as they are healthy and are able to contribute. To sustain a work life of 50 years or more, it is important to find one’s own place and also explore the spiritual journey, she said.
  8. Workplace diversity. Both UK and India were quite low in this particular index and need to evolve. Child rearing is a “human” activity, as opposed to the common belief of a “woman’s” activity, the professor stressed. Companies which have embraced diversity have been known to do much better than those who haven’t.

Finally, Mr Ashank Desai did a brilliant summary of all the insights covered and thanked the London Business School professor for her time.

One Response
  1. Biola Adeniyi

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