Radhika Philip, people and talent expert at PA Consulting, discuss her new role at PA, the changing talent landscape, and how firms are looking at culture with a mobile workforce.
Consulting Magazine: What will be some of your top priorities for your new role? What specifically do you consider your mandate?
Radhika: A priority for 2021 is to expand and augment PA Consulting’s capabilities in organizational, workforce, and workplace transformation, so that we can provide seminal insights and meaningful support to our clients. Technological advances and disruption in business models are constant and unrelenting, and the path forward is not always obvious. Our objective at PA is to be ahead of what we anticipate our clients will need. We are investing heavily in accelerating our cross-disciplinary learning and experimentation, to position us to conceive of multifaceted approaches to solve client problems not just for today, but for tomorrow and further into the future.
Consulting Magazine: What are some of the big COVID-driven people challenges that clients are facing right now?
Radhika: The pandemic has unleashed a gamut of challenges for work: how it is organized and how it is delivered. These impacts vary based on business and geography, but there undoubtedly are shared challenges that many organizations are facing today. Preeminent among them is that COVID-19 has forced the rapid acceleration to a digital customer experience, and organizations are being forced to rethink not only their customer engagement model, but also their talent resource and capability plans to meet their digital needs. Some of the other critical talent-related questions facing organizations today include: What would be a suitable “return to work” plan? How do we adapt HR services for a combination of remote and in-person work? What protections are needed for employees in the workplace? What wellness benefits should we offer to address the physical, emotional, familial, financial, and job stresses that COVID-19 has brought about? Should compensation cover at-home work-related expenses?
Consulting Magazine: How have companies’ mindsets shifted around transformation in-light-of events of the last year? What sort of transformation efforts do you expect to see a lot of clients needing help with?
Radhika: Designing digital solutions and experiences—for customers and employees—will be the primary driver of transformation. Crafting a feasible “return to work” program will also be top of mind for organizations. There is no one-size-fits-all “return to work” solution, and clients, we anticipate, will lean toward flexibility—establishing standards, while allowing for differences (virtual/on site) based on the work at hand and the state of COVID-19 in communities and families. Concurrently, clients will likely rethink square-foot requirements, as well as the workplace layout for “hoteling” talent segments. Beyond “return to work,” COVID has led to a heightened focus on designing for resilience and agility, as organizations pause to rethink their talent supply models and design for core/ecosystem relationships.
Consulting Magazine: What unique challenges are presented from a culture and employee experience standpoint with the move to work from home?
Radika: Studies have shown that remote working has led to a steady or upward trend in engagement and productivity. What can be compromised, however, is creativity, which is stimulated by new, unpredictable questions, experiences, and ideas. When work is remote and structured around online “talking heads” meetings, the possibilities of random interactions and observations may not occur with the frequency that they might when people are physically mobile. Perhaps though, a more fundamental issue with remote work is that it is flattening experiences and interactions to the digital interface. Human beings thrive in multidimensional sensory environments, and one wonders how this flattening of lived experiences will inhibit the human spirit and its creative potential.
Consulting Magazine: What about on the talent side? What are you seeing as trending challenges on the attraction/retention side of talent the way things stand today?
Radhika: The demand for STEAM capabilities and for creative leaders who find ingenious ways to stay in business and grow will continue to be strong. The organization will need to offer a distinctive and holistic employee value proposition to attract such talent, and an empowering and enabling culture to generate value with them. It is also important to recognize that many organizations have let talent go over the last year, and some will continue to do so in 2021. Layoffs—research repeatedly shows—lead to declines in survivor engagement, that is, employee willingness to go the extra mile on behalf of the organization, which paradoxically is more imperative during challenging times. Layoffs are often unavoidable, but organizations can limit their negative impact by how they handle them. Fair practice, generous transition services, and sensitive change management can reduce the disengagement dip and protect, and even strengthen, the organization’s reputation with clients and future talent.