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HR in INDIA: A Year that will shape a Bold New HR

2017 has already seen umpteen articles written, which have predicted many trends for the year ahead.  All predictions are based on emerging patterns at various leading organisations, generally large and most progressive. In this article, I shall attempt to provide a view, from the telescopic to the microscopic, from around the world to closer back home, from best practice to the next practice, from the generic to the specific.
Most of all, I will arrive at which will make waves in the Indian workplaces, so that you can evaluate whether you are moving with the tide or can even make a strong case for the Business you partner. First let’s understand which key drivers have caused a tremendous shift over the last 18 – 24 months and will continue to do so:

  • Technology & Digitization
  • Culture & Productivity
  • Employee Centricity

The primary workplace trends which will continue strongly in 2017 are:

Employee experience: While large global organisations such as GE have roles as specific as “Head of Employee Experience, this is clearly a trend that will matter even for the mid-sized organisations. This mainly refers to being able to view things from an employee lens and customising everything to that view, right from physical environments to learning to careers and even to benefits.

Performance management system improvements: Over the last few years there have been a surfeit of shifts from the traditional rating and bell curve based performance management.  This will evolve further in 2017 as organisations are discovering more and more what models strike the right balance between culture and higher performance. This is a fallout of years of standardising PMS without much creative effort.

Network of Teams: Interestingly, even as many practices revolve around the individual, this is one for the better functioning of teams. After all, organisations, like organisms, are living dynamic creatures and have to adapt to the myriad shifts that are rocking the world today – both the social and the business. Structures of organisations will tend to become more and more networked and (relatively) flexible.

Human-machine collaboration: So much has been said about how machines will displace jobs in just about every domain, from high-end engineering to even the healthcare and nursing arenas. However, in 2017, we shall begin to visualise and move towards how this human – machine collaboration will add greater value to the customer. Artificial intelligence will empower employees and cause them to move up the value chain.
HR Operations growth: There is considerable evidence that as more and more technology slips into every space of HR, HR will become a significant service organisation by itself and will need more scale and sophistication in HR operations.

Personalised workspaces: This will be an interesting one to watch out for. While we did speak about customised employee experiences earlier, personalised and unique workspaces have hitherto been the practice of only the highly innovative organisations such as Google, IDEO and the like. This may undergo a sea of change as many organisations will strive to optimise employee productivity, and especially of their best talent.

To focus on the single unit of organisation, the individual organism that makes them successful, the employee and what trends are emerging that will touch the lives of employees:

Benefits for parents: This single aspect made news several times during the last year and this is just the beginning. Organisations appear to have become sensitive to the needs of new parents and are working in every way to provide leave and benefits that will make parenting a lesser challenge.

Ways of Learning: MOOCs, gamification, tech tools will continue to become more commonplace this year as employers seek to make learning less dependent upon the standard classroom training. Arguably, organisations have known for a long time that learning can only be driven by the learner, however, the positive change has started only recently.

Mental Health focus: This is a trend that will become ever so important for performance conscious organisations. There is a paradigm shift from recruiting “medically fit” employees to ensuring the ‘holistic wellness’ of every employee. The emphasis within this is tilting towards the mental health of employees and proactively addressing mental health has become important to several organisations.

The trends covered so far, compel us to envisage how this will change the mindspace and life of the HR professionals, let’s touch some of these effects:

Creating Employee Experience: HR will now be under tremendous pressure to be more reflective, introspective and creative to add this to their repertoire of skills. By implementing the SABPP HR System Standards Model, organisations can achieve good practice in employee experience.
Agile HR: This is an exciting and valuable trend. An agile approach is typically used in software development, both to operate with speed as also to manage unpredictability. This agile approach is finding great application in talent acquisition and learning & development areas.

Use of Chatbots: We may see HR at many workplaces beginning to employ “Virtual Assistants” to work alongside them for some daily operations such as suggesting interview questions and helping finding candidates, to even answering routine employee queries.

Workforce Mix: HR will work harder and more intelligently to determine a good mix of full-time employees, contract workforce, consultants and “outsourced” work to manage costs and enhance productivity.

Career Mobility platforms: There is distinct spurt in the growth of HR Technology start-ups of all kinds. While we may see the emergence of a variety of tech tools, one that is likely to establish itself is Career Mobility Platform, with the help of which employees can “test-drive” career options and also broaden skills leading to more engagement and retention.

Inclusive Work Environments: In addition to optimising the workforce mix as described earlier, HR will become the specialist in also creating a more diverse workforce – tapping new pools of talent, People with Disabilities, women returning from breaks and so on – while also providing an environment that makes them feel wanted.

New HR Roles: Needless to say, then, HR roles such as “employee experience officer”, “agile recruitment specialist”, “diversity champion” and many more titles will be seen in 2017, to closely mirror what their roles entail. HR Business Partner will probably break up into multiple roles as the specialisations begin to contribute to business much more.

Almost all that has been described so far can already be seen emerging in Indian organisations, and will continue to develop in the years ahead. However, my continuing professional work with organisations has led me to experience these additional trends.

Greater focus on Leadership Development: While one may say that this is certainly not new to Indian firms, what is interesting is that not only is this becoming mainstream, but the promoters, owners and boards of many companies are putting this on their mandates, alongside financial measures. It is heartening to see that leadership is no longer being restricted to top echelons of organisations, even the next few levels are now on the radar.

Women Employee Attraction, Development, Retention incl. POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) implementation: One may say that company law has made this statutory but there are encouraging signs that companies are not seeing this in a myopic way. Laudable efforts are underway in many forms – programs, mentorship, friendly policies, flexible arrangements will become the norm in 2017. Almost every organisation will sensitize and train employees on POSH.

Measures to handle widening gap between Classes & Masses: A recent Conference on Talent Management highlighted the fact that organisations are waking up to the fact that the “Blue Collared” class have now transformed into the “light blue or gray collared” employees who are as aspiring as the executives (and why not?) Hence companies are slowly shifting their focus from “Long Term Settlement” to “Ongoing Workforce participation”. The era of Industrial Relations has passed and ER (Employee Relations) is a full-time challenging role.

Managing Newer and varied employee cohorts: Millennials are already the most dominant generation in nearly every organisation, yet Generation Z has slowly started entering the workforce and will demand new attention. Talent will now come in many new forms and managing them is an art. This will help HR professionals make themselves valued further.

Adapting and leveraging Labour Legislation: There seem to be a slew of reforms taking place in Indian Labour Laws, in large parts, for the better. These are in areas of Maternity benefits, benefits such as Provident Fund and medical benefits. The HR professional needs to keep themselves abreast of these changing laws and take advantage of them to build a more potent workforce.

Preparing, coping and aftermath of disruption: Perhaps the trend, which holds the greatest challenge for Indian HR professionals, also offers the greatest opportunity for them to be noticed, to be a valued. Hundreds of start-ups are being created in India every year and changing business models and in some cases, even business paradigms. Largely driven by the on-line revolution, many old businesses are being pushed to reinvent or become obsolete. That said, many start-ups are also pushing other start-ups out of business. This means that stable employment and monthly salaries, annual performance appraisals and assured increments, are all becoming relics of the past. Leaders of these businesses are looking up to HR to make them employers of choice but perhaps preparing workforces to anticipate and tide over disruptions and even meltdowns will become HR’s most cherished capability in 2017 and beyond.

What promise the rest of the year holds for the Indian HR professional to lead the way in shaping a Bold New HR! Did someone ever say, HR will disappear?

This article was written by Rajesh Kamath, HR Practitioner and correspondent for the SABPP from India, with editing by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation, of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information, you can follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 and Instagram @sabpp_1 or visit their website on
Rajesh Kamath a Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Facilitator, and Coach, and his main objective is to apply principles from ancient global wisdom to modern organisations. He is known for combining the best of western and Indian management sciences to provide Leadership consulting, coaching and learning solutions to the industry. He is the Founder of Chanakya Consulting Insights & Co – founder/ Co – Facilitator – MTHR Global & MTHR Global CxO Forum.

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One Comment

  1. kezia joseph kezia joseph

    This is an insightful article. From chatbots to holistic wellness and even to career mobility platforms, it lends diversity to the bouquet of traditional HR offerings. Must read!!!

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