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Sunday, 25 October 2015





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34th NIPM conference in Tamil Nadu:

'Tech-tradi tribe' worth exploring further

The theme for the 34th National Institute of Personnel Management (NIPM) in Tamil Nadu, India, was 'Winnovate HR for Business and People'. It was meant to brainstorm industry best practices and benchmark recent ROI-driven approaches and applications to people management that have produced stunning results for businesses, across the globe.

My first visit to Tamil Nadu was memorable as I was one of the speakers at the Annual Conference.

Representing the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) Sri Lanka, the pioneering opportunity of being a Sri Lankan speaker at an NIPM event was indeed significant, keeping Sri Lanka's flag high. Today's column is all about the essence of what I experienced. The signature annual conclave of the National Institute of Personnel Management (NIPM), NATCON 2015 was a memorable event for HR executives to expand their knowledge and share their experiences.

The coining of the term 'winnovation' was quite interesting. In the technology-led, competition-intensified, global business economy, CEOs and the HR fraternity know that to survive, their businesses must change, but aren't quite sure what people-centric practices still apply and which must be retooled to serve new business challenges.

The need for long-term focus was pronounced louder in the years following the financial crisis. Yet in the midst of so much change and complexity, even the most progressive companies can struggle to fully engage their employees, customers and business allies in ways that create mutual benefit.

They know that in the dynamic business environment, the symbiotic relationship between organizations and people must also shift in profound ways. Economic volatility, the erosion of trust, the desire for sustainable lifestyles and the ability to instantly communicate across social networks have converged to create a new and exciting business environment that must be embraced to remain in business.

It is widely accepted among business leaders that innovation is vital to competitive advantage and long term success and innovation is one of the three top challenges CEOs face today. The ability to innovate and sustain it for business growth and stability is the predictor of the future.

Top challenges

Winnovation is every stakeholder's responsibility because, more than technology, its human capital that's driving change all around us. The most successful corporate innovation strategies are those that predominantly focus on people and human capital rather than technology playing an important role. Among the sub-themes were, evolving next generational leaders, reverse mentoring and unlearning. I was invited to focus on this broad sub-theme.

Upon contemplating, I realized the need to emphasize the similarities and differences of millennials of South Asia and the West. Much has been discussed about millennials in multiple media. Since William Strauss and Neil Howe came up with the Generations Theory in the early 1990s with their seminal book, people all over the world started paying attention to the existence of multiple generations in workplaces.

Millennials or Generation Y employees who were popularly known as to have been born between 1980-1999 have differences in their perceptions, preferences and performance. They are much more tech-savvy compared to their generation X predecessors, having been exposed to rapid advancement in information and communication technology during past decades.

They are also for more flexible work arrangements. Millennials have a 'can-do' attitude about tasks at work and look for feedback about how they are doing frequently. Millennials want a variety of tasks and expect to accomplish all of them. Positive and confident, they are ready to take on the world.

Interesting phenomenon

While the classification of generations shed much light on how people of different ages behave differently, it highlighted its own limitations as well.

One obvious factor among all these generations is that the very same names are associated with events that took place in the West, and to a very high extent in the USA. The degree of relevance and applicability to South Asia is questionable.

One-fifth of the world's population is housed in South Asia. Obviously, it is a humanly rich (HR) region. Yet, it is only second to Sub-Saharan Africa with regard to poverty. I see a paradox here. On one hand we have brilliant brains. More than 70 percent of NASA scientists are from South Asia. On the other hand, we have the worst forms of poverty.

The co-existence of the best brains and worst poverty is an interesting phenomenon.

In extending the South Asian specialty to millennials, we see some clear differences. While the tech-savvy nature is universally consistent, the key difference emerges in the spheres of religion and culture. Recent research on millennials across the globe has highlighted such differences promptly. Attitude towards marriage, approach towards family and respect towards religions are some key differentiating factors among South Asian millennials. On one side they are ardent fans of technology. On the other side, they are active upholders of tradition. I would coin the term 'tech-tradi tribe' to describe such distinct millennials in South Asia.

It reminds me of what the late Prof. Uditha Liyanage said of the mode-tradi consumer in Sri Lanka. We see many young Sri Lankans tying a pirith noola and a Levis jean, in showcasing their association with modernity and tradition.

In a globalized world, we are influenced, or even dominated by a western thought process, overshadowing indigenous realities. Multi-generational classification is one such example. The emerging leaders in South Asia representing the tech-tradi tribe will show the world their distinct difference.

The treasures and travails of the 'tech-tradi' tribe have stressed the need to be further explored. They are already in our workplaces. They want to be lean, seen and green, in going, growing and glowing. The enthusiastic response I received in Coimbatore is ample proof that the 'tech-tradi tribe' is worth exploring further. As the IPM and the NIPM deal with emerging leaders, collaborative research in South Asia is a possibility.

The writer, a Professor in Management, is the director and the chairman of the board of management of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an adjunct professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He can be reached through [email protected]


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