‘External Orientation Is Important To Stay Ahead Of The Curve’

Krishnamurthy Shankar, the group head of Human Resource Development at Infosys, says that HR professionals should remain connected to the outside world and understand the big trends shaping work

Q. Please tell us something about yourself. What have been the key highlights in your career?

I was lucky to be in great companies in my career where you had some fantastic leaders that one can learn from. I started my career with Eicher Tractors- what I loved was the responsibility given to me to try new things, and the access we had to the leaders. But the 20 years in Levers (HUL/Unilever) enabled me to move across many jobs in India, UK and Singapore. In all these early jobs, the best thing was the opportunity to interact with leaders- they shaped your thinking, and helped build your perspective.

After 20 years in Unilever, I moved to Bharti Airtel and this was a different challenge- we had to build the foundation of robust processes as the company was scaling up rapidly, and also be part of the transformation of the company from many circles and businesses, to one integrated organization. After a brief stint in Philips I have been with Infosys since 2015 heading HR for the group. The global scale and challenge of transformation, in a fast changing technology environment, hugely excites me here.

Q. Any awards/achievements that you would want to share with us?

Honestly, I don’t have any awards to speak of! In 2015, I got an award as a Conscious Business Leader, instituted by LinkedIn. 

Q. What different approach did you adopt to lead HR for over 200,000 workforce? How did you prepare yourself to manage scale of this magnitude?

Frankly, one can’t be fully prepared for this kind of scale! It is mind boggling- the spread of businesses and service lines, countries, skills, etc. For me, the industry was also different, and Infosys, given its wonderful legacy, had its own unique way of running things. So one has to first learn in any new role- I think I have been constantly learning, and at the same time seeing how we can make those shifts that help the business strategy. Reskilling was a big drive and we have come up with various new options- alternate career paths through Bridge programs, introducing ‘skill tags’ and outlining learning paths for key digital skills etc. We have also had a focus on building global talent through our localization initiative. On top of all that, we have to ensure that our value proposition as an employer and the employee experience we provide continue to be relevant to the newer employees. So we have to be constantly reinventing some of our processes and routines.

Q. How can HR help create world class organizations in today’s context of evolving world of jobs?

I see the role of HR becoming more prominent and significant in the future. Why? Because of three key trends. First, there will be a lot of change in every organization- in jobs, structure, talent, skills etc- and HR will have to play an integral in shaping those. Second, with more technology permeating our work and in the world, we need to keep human emotions, behaviors and culture in the forefront, and HR has to champion that. Lastly, people’s attitudes to work & career are changing, and we have to sync those with the organisation’s.  So how can HR help create world class organisations? Driving a focus on purposeful work for people. Helping build the right culture – both for people who are looking for openness and fairness, and for the success of the organisation, which is linked to its strategy. And by building the right systems and processes for people at all levels to continuously learn, grow and develop and realize their potential.

Q. In context of the future of work, what new roles do you see emerging in the HR function? How should HR professionals prepare themselves to remain relevant?

I would imagine roles like Analytics specialists will be quite pervasive in HR in the near future. Further, we would see a lot more of AI and algorithms being used to help managers make the right people decisions faster- so that will be another skill as part of the HR portfolio. As technology permeates some aspects of people decision making, many operational roles will give way, and there will be a greater premium on HR specialism in areas of compensation, employee relations, organization design etc. – so HR folks need to build some deep expertise, in addition to their generalist roles. Finally, HR people have to be at the forefront of change – both to help predict the changes that will come in the organisation’s way, and to lead and catalyse internal change. To do this well, HR professionals should be quite connected to the external world and understand the big trends shaping work. This external orientation is important to stay ahead of the curve. In addition, HR people have to be true experts in driving change- creating the mindset, enabling and mobilising people.

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Q. You have closely seen the HR fraternity as President of the award-winning Bangalore chapter of NHRD. How prepared are the members of your professional fraternity to be able to meet the future expectations and rising demands of the business leaders?

Well in my interactions, I find that people are quite motivated to learn and change. The younger people are quite adaptable too- that is the strength of talent in India. One can divide people into 3 broad groups- bold experimenters, quick followers and passive watchers! I would like more of our HR folks to become leaders in trying things, experimenting with new things. They have the talent and I guess the business environment is also open for such things. There are two areas we could work on to be better in this. First, we have to learn to connect the dots across industries, functions, technologies etc- what patterns are we seeing and what can we learn from different fields and build into our innovations. Second, we have to sharpen our understanding of business issues and design the right solutions. I guess we have a tendency to do a lot of activities- but their link to true business outcomes is a bit tenuous. Strengthening the business linkage and being rigorous about what we do, and not do, will help.

Q. What’s your view on the mega global trends in HR?

Technology enables people to do many things on-the-go, feel empowered, and be connected. But to get the most out of people, we need more purposeful human interactions. And hence a balanced approach is imperative. 

Technology, though a social, connected world, is enabling people to express themselves more as individuals, to explore different facets of their personality and share publicly. However, the same technology has a tendency to straight-jacket jobs in organisations. HR professionals must tread that path carefully to help their organizations navigate this transition phase. 

Digital is the future. Every HR leader should have a thought-through digital transformation roadmap, which factors in the digital experience for employees, and which is flexible, and updated based on needs to take on interesting bolt-ons.

HR leaders must look at the talent more holistically, more like a ‘portfolio of talent’ which includes outsourcing, gig working, permanent flexi time, etc. rather than a traditional lens for talent. 

Flexible career development options, including fast track careers based on skills/capabilities and performance, and based on the interests of employees will see huge traction. Similarly, customized and personalised learning options.

Performance management continues to evolve. Forced ranking or bell curves were not seen as fair- so out they go. Each company has a choice- but let’s take it through the twin tests of fairness and transparency. As we move to a greater use of agile development, our performance management will also be more agile. We will see greater use of real-time data, and crowdsourced inputs from the team to make performance management truly agile. 

In compensation, there will be greater focus on driving more retention – hence focus on key skills, key talent will increase and in modes, greater focus on longer term retention levers like benefits, stock plans will see a renewed thrust. I would see a greater focus from organisations on overall well-being and health of employees.

Q. What’s your success mantra?  Frankly, I don’t really have a secret sauce!

But my belief is that we need to start with the right intent. If you have a purity of intent, then things will all work out well. Second, I truly believe in trusting people and empowering them. This helps create an open exchange of ideas, brings speed into what we do and improves everyone’s feeling of satisfaction and pride. I have always enjoyed mentoring and helping people develop, and I am truly passionate about it. One of my bosses always spoke about the concept of ‘say-do’ for leaders- what you talk versus how much you actually do! I always believed in doing more than saying! Finally, I love reading and looking for new ideas and concepts- it helps me stay in touch with what’s happening, and probably helps me do things better.

About Krishnamurthy Shankar
Group Head – Human Resource Development, Infosys

Krishnamurthy Shankar is the group head of Human Resource Development at Infosys. In this role, he is responsible for envisioning employee experience and driving the talent and organization strategy. Shankar has over 30 years of experience and has led HR functions in organizations like Bharti Airtel, Philips, Hindustan Unilever and Unilever.Shankar holds a postgraduate diploma in HR from XLRI, Jamshedpur, India and has received an executive certificate in Strategy and Organization from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a doctorate in Business Administration from Aston University. Shankar is an avid reader, blogs occasionally on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/krish-shankar-36666a12/), takes a deep interest in the technology and societal changes around us and is passionate about exploring new ideas in HR and organizational development.  A football enthusiast, he also likes trekking and running.

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