24 January, 2023
Author: Mr. Sitaram Kandi, Vice President - HR, Tata Motors
Amidst constant evolution in the needs and modes of functioning of leading organizations and their workforce, conceptualizing a model that nurtures talent and fosters productivity has been a pertinent area of focus for human resource departments across the world. The Indian manufacturing and automotive sector are no different and are constantly endeavouring to build workspaces that encourage skill development, employee growth, and a healthy and efficient ecosystem in the company. Yet, there remains a gap in fulfilling these goals. A recent report on skills in India highlights that 75% of all companies surveyed point to a skill gap in the industry1.
As digital transformation and the emergence of Industry 4.0 takes hold in earnest, it is time for organizations to envisage a new mode of working that prioritizes the development of a variety of skills to meet the fast-changing needs of the auto sector. This can be immensely valuable to employees and companies alike, allowing them to expand their skillsets and strengthen self-reliance and productivity respectively. Given these contexts, what might be an effective model for building progressive, optimally functioning, and skill-rich organizations?
Workplace dynamics: A survey of governing forces
Broadly speaking, the career movement of any individual is determined by three factors- How well they are they doing in their current role, how well they are prepared for their future role, and finally, how well they are connected to their stakeholders. These aspects are crystallized primarily through experience, and secondarily through exposure and education. The key to enriching one’s experience and exposure lies in trying out a diverse set of skills and functional areas.
Within an organization, we can view the perspective of three primary groups-employees, managers, and the company itself. For employees, doing the same job for a long time, whether it is because they are hesitant to move to other functions even when the opportunity exists, or because they have no visibility beyond their own areas, can cause stagnation. This limits exposure to knowledge, diminishing skill-acquiring opportunities. Accordingly, for a manager who is comfortable working only in the line-of-command, and does not interact beyond their own department, the possibility of spotting great talent across segments reduces drastically.
For the company, many projects must be undertaken in various departments, but there is often a resource constraint to execute them. Engaging external agencies is not possible for all projects because it requires time and investment. Given these perspectives of all the major stakeholders in an organization, a cross-functional approach, which features internal resources coming together without departmental limitations can be particularly transformative.
Altered work rhythms: The cross-functional paradigm
New-age talent is eager to work in multiple areas and contribute to the company in different ways, gaining exposure, facing challenging opportunities, and strengthening career growth. A cross-functional model, where employees can exercise a wide variety of skill sets without strict limitations to specific departments would be immensely desirable from this perspective. For the manager to make the best of talent, inflecting is key, because the very nature of our industrial organizations is changing. The future involves adopting the “gig” way for collaboration, which allows flexibility for both employees and organizations to function in interest areas. Indeed, the company at large can benefit greatly because it would encourage talent across verticals to contribute to projects, enabling their execution swiftly, efficiently, and economically.
Tata Motors’ Going Extra Miles (GEMs) initiative is a good instance of a developmental program founded on the principles of cross-functionality. It allows managers to publish their proposed project on a shared platform, irrespective of which area they belong to, whether it be product development, cost reduction, marketing, sales, customer experience, innovation, productivity improvement, or business development. Once this is published, any employee in the company can apply, once again without any departmental barriers. The manager can pick and choose a good fit from the applications, and once an employee is selected, they can either work on stretch (while fulfilling their current role) or deputation (while taking a short break from their current role).
Such a model has important advantages. The employee gets an invaluable opportunity of getting exposure to other functional areas, strengthening their skillset with diverse specializations, and determining whether their newer functions suit them. The manager meanwhile can witness and get an overview of varied talents across areas in the company. The company, finally, can ensure a productive holistic functioning of its ecosystem, with encouraging possibilities of job rotation and cost reduction.
Against a rapidly transforming competitive market, the necessity of making the best of our resources is more important than ever. A flexible model of working that allows for collaboration through differing focus areas can be the key towards building a creative and productive work environment, boosting company growth and employee relevance in the industry.