Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Dr. Niharika Garud on the Future of Work
Dr. Niharika Garud, Assistant Professor in Management at the University of Melbourne explains how technology is reshaping work practices across various industries and discusses ways employers and employees can prepare for the future.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“Look forward to future in terms of technology being a tool, but not necessarily being the key solution to everything.”
- Dr. Niharika Garud
Dr. Niharika Garud shares an example of how the future of work will transform our lives
Dr. Garud shares her story of how she got where she is. How she got involved with the University of Melbourne.
How does that art inclusive factor play into Niharika’s work for organizational behavior?
How will technology impact the future of work, especially the tech industry?
Does Dr. Garud see any emerging technologies or software that will be significant in the next three or four years?
Moving from tech to the people, what are the most important leadership and soft skills required for professionals going forward?
What should organizations and leaders do to support their employees?
How can employees motivate and prepare themselves to adopt this lifelong learning?
So what does Dr.Garud’s research tell about retention and trust and that social contract between employers and employees?
What KPIs are needed to measure the quality of work at an organizational individual level in the future?
What will be the role of frontline managers when all this automation hits in the workplace in the future?
What's one thing that most companies get wrong when they think about the future of work?
Dr. Garud’s message to technology professionals or any professional out there that's listening to help them prepare for the future.
What's been a major influence on Niharika and her career?
How can people find Niharika online?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Future of work is a key topic in the world today. Dr. Niharika Garud, from your work in organizational behavior, can you share a particularly striking example of how the future of work will transform our lives?
Dr. Niharika Garud: Yeah, I can share to example Jeff. So imagine how the technologies are playing a bigger and bigger role at the kind of work that we do and in our organizations ranging from the monitoring systems to employee evaluation systems to also how we collaborate between our teams and between our external partners. So technology is going to play a very important role in reshaping our work over and over again in the next few years and it's going to be an exciting play field.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And future of work is what we'll be exploring in today's conversation. Welcome to the Knowledge Institute Podcast where we talk with thought leaders on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute and today we're here with Professor Niharika Garud. Niharika is a faculty member in the department of management and marketing at the Faculty of Business and Economics, at the University of Melbourne. Niharika's formal training includes a PhD in management, master's and bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, along with doctoral research fellowship at Harvard University and Business School. Niharika is probably best known for her extensive experience in research and consulting and tech innovation, operations management and organizational behavior. More recently Niharika has advised a number of Fortune 500 firms to improve their innovation processes and increase management productivity. One of her current research projects is the future of work across industries in collaboration with the Infosys Knowledge Institute. Niharika, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Niharika Garud: Thanks Jeff for having me. It's a pleasure to talk to you today regarding this topic.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, let's explore for a moment how you got to be where you are. You're here in Melbourne. How did you get to this beautiful university?
Dr. Niharika Garud: It's a long journey that I can summarize in two lines perhaps. I used to work as an electrical engineer in a Fortune 500 company called Micron Technology in the U.S. in Northern Virginia, where I used to work in R&D teams. I used to also work on the front line semiconductor manufacturing. From there my interest developed in understanding management science more closely, which is where I decided to do my PhD. So I completed my PhD from the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, which was at the heart of the IT industry in India. Once I graduated from there, I worked in a couple of business schools before moving to the University of Minnesota at the Carlson School of Management, and finally to Melbourne about two years ago. What attracted me to Melbourne was how diverse and arty the city is. It's pretty much like an art gallery if you go to different parts of the city where everything is colorful and painted tastefully by experienced artists and the city is so diverse and incredibly inclusive.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How does that art inclusive factor play into your work for organizational behavior?
Dr. Niharika Garud: It basically keeps the perspective in place, that different kinds of people give different kinds of outcomes at workplaces and that's why the management of these inclusive groups needs to be much more complicated than a simple policy that you can dictate on everybody. Diversity and inclusion is becoming a very important issue, especially when we are looking at technology adoption and reshaping work itself in the organizations. So I think it's important to understand that people are fundamentally very different from each other, although there are bigger groups of behaviors that we can understand and apply to our managerial decisions.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How will technology impact the future of work, especially the tech industry?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think technology will play an even bigger role in reshaping the fundamental nature of work that we conduct on a daily basis. The technologies including the cloud computing and the big data which is already into place is going to play a larger role in everyday work. So it's going to change the way we collaborate with people. It's going to change the way people are evaluated at work. It's going to also change the way managers are making decisions, especially executive decisions around work itself, time management, people management and so forth. So it's going to fundamentally reshape the nature of the work itself for both the frontline employees as well as for managers and leaders.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Do you see any emerging technologies or software that will be significant in the next three or four years?
Dr. Niharika Garud: So there are a group of multiple technologies that are going to lead the way. Cloud computing being one, data interpretation analysis and analytics is going to be the other one, and automation is also going to play a bigger role in the next few years. At least that's what I see in terms of the trends.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Moving from tech to the people, what are the most important leadership and soft skills required for professionals going forward?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think the next few years it would be increasingly important for leaders, managers, as well as employees at all levels to understand data and interpret the data to apply to their decision making. That's going to be the key in terms of how they use technology and how they use the new systems and improve their own decision making processes. Now that can range from the every day daily short term decisions that they are making about work itself or the project itself, as well as the longterm organizational decisions that they're going to make. So data interpretation analysis is going to be a key skill that they need to work on, which also leads to the second skill which is required, which is the complex problem solving and looking at complicated sets of data and making sense of what's the logic behind these data sets in terms of how do we bring them together and effectively understand them?
Jeff Kavanaugh: It seems a lot to take on if you're an employee, especially with your day jobs. What should organizations and leaders do to support these employees?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think it is essential for organizations to focus on the longterm perspective, which is to understand that the market changes pretty frequently and if the technologies and the automation systems are going to increasingly change the way the market operates, we have to look at managers and leaders and we have to encourage them to encourage their employees to continuously learn at job, and not just continuously learn in terms of traditional settings, in project learning or on job learning, but also encourage them to look at a diversity of different skills that they can explore. So even if the employees and the leaders in an organization are emphasizing on learning and on topics that are of interest to employees, that would be good in the long run because the employees become interested in the kind of work that they are doing currently, but also they start to learn skills which might be helpful after a few years. So it's not just about currently right now, this quarter, this fiscal year, it's about the next 10 years, next 15 years. If you are to survive this digitization era.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How can employees motivate and prepare themselves to adopt this lifelong learning?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think employees and especially the people on the ground are increasingly aware of the fact that the nature of the jobs are changing. The work is not the same traditional work that they imagined 10 years ago and when the nature of the job changes, what it requires you to do is to be able to embrace the changes and to be able to quickly learn and move on to the next phase with the era. I can give you a very crude example from the banking systems around the world. When the computers came in, and when these banks have to fundamentally change the way they do their business on a daily basis, the officials in the banks as well as the people, the tellers and the frontline people who were embracing these systems, they need to be prepared for the new sets of things that they're supposed to do in order to complete their job on a daily basis.
Dr. Niharika Garud: So imagine a teller who has, who has no experience in computers, who has no inclination to learn new systems, but is told to do so in the next few months and to embrace the new system. So I would argue that it's always better to be prepared rather than to be told to do something quickly. And to be prepared is to keep an open mind that I'm open to learn new kinds of skills that will make me more effective at my current job. So nobody's going to take away your job if you are not just good at it, but also embracing any kind of change or any kind of uncertainty that's going to come your way. So that's the idea that you have to be good at your job in terms of your current performance, but also embrace the chaos that's going to come your way in the next five years.
Jeff Kavanaugh: It reminds me, my wife was doing some work in a boutique retailer and they put a new point of sale system in and no training was given, and the revolt that happened. It's amazing the lack of productivity that happens and things just slip in the cracks. That's how employees can motivate themselves. What about this idea of retention though and trust because employees want all of this? Of course employers thinking are these people are going to stick around? So what does your research tell you about retention and trust and that social contract between employers and employees?
Dr. Niharika Garud: Well as we figure things out on our own in terms of what's happening in our industry, remember the leaders and the managers are also individuals who might know the industry more closely, but they're also trying to figure things out on their own. They're trying to make sense of what's going to happen with their organizations over the next few years, and how do they restructure the entire organization and divisions with hundreds and thousands of people? So they are also thinking as we go. Now, we might be thinking about them as the ultimate problem solver, but they might need ideas and assistance from the ground, from the people who actually work with the clients to be able to better understand what changes they can anticipate. So if I'm to say that the leaders and managers already know it all, they don't. So it would be good for leaders and managers to focus on balancing the role of automation and digitalization with the current structures of their organizations. Because any kind of rapidly made half baked ideas can result in massive chaos in their organizations, especially when the employ hundreds and thousands of people.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Once again, you're listening to The Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. We are here with Professor Garud, University of Melbourne expert in the future of work. Niharika, if we can talk now about maybe the rows and columns of this, what KPIs are needed to measure the quality of work at an organizational individual level in the future?
Dr. Niharika Garud: So beyond the obvious matrix which is currently the go to standard in the industry, which is the task performance, how effective and how good you are in your task, there's always a possibility to look at the same task performance beyond just the objective daily performance or animal performance and look at it in terms of more open ended and learning orientation and say that we are also measuring you on a bunch of other metrics which are important to our organization in the longterm perspective, like what I mentioned earlier. So being able to perform collaborative work with different kinds of teams is important and it's increasingly going to be important to work with different skill sets as well. So are you able to effectively work and collaborate and actually conduct your tests with different kinds of people, is becoming important. So any kinds of matrix which we are focusing on that would be important to measure.
Dr. Niharika Garud: The second thing that we need to also measure is, are you being innovative at work, in terms of doing the same task on a daily basis, in the long run is important, but it's the process. It's the refinement of your expertise over a period of time. Are you becoming better? Are you reinventing different processes for your own work in order to be a very prolific performer in that particular category? So it's important to tell employees through key matrix that they are also being monitored, or they're also being evaluated and they are also encouraged to work on innovation in their own work. To be able to think more critically and improve themselves. To be able to give feedback to themselves and to evaluate their own work and see what are the rooms for improvement.
Dr. Niharika Garud: Now, those are the kinds of things that earlier you would imagine only managers have to conduct. But I would argue that it's actually the employees who need to be on the learning side of things and who need to be able to say if they are able to critically look at their work and see where are the rooms for improvement and accordingly tailor their work around it. So it's almost like the argument about job crafting. It works really good if individuals are allowed to craft their own path in the organizations and see what works best for them. So just to give you a crude example, working from home does not work well for many people. While a bigger group would say working from home gives you flexibility and other kinds of outcomes. Now again, I won't say working from home is best for everybody as you can see from the data and multiple studies that have been conducted on this area.
Dr. Niharika Garud: So you should be able to say to the employees that we want you to craft your own path and we want you to evaluate yourself and see what works best for you, because the idea is that when you succeed in the long run, then you become better in the long run, it helps everybody including your team, including the organization. So again, the learning perspective comes to the case that we need to learn and continuously change and evolve in order to be successful. And that would be the key to adoption of this new era of transition, and basically looking at how technology might fundamentally change the way I'm conducting my job.
Jeff Kavanaugh: In an earlier discussion, you had mentioned that these things depend upon the task type as well as the personality type.
Dr. Niharika Garud: Right. So it depends on the kind of work that you are doing as well as the kind of people you're dealing with here. So I gave you an earlier example in one of our conversations where interruptions and switching costs between different kinds of tasks at job, might be different for different kinds of people. So imagine a scientist who is conducting scientific research in their laboratory where they're isolated and often working on materials on their own. When those kinds of people get social interaction or interruptions from their colleagues, a lot of times they embrace those interruptions as a welcome change or a welcome break from their monotonous experiments. A lot of times when we encourage those employees to look at these opportunities as creative idea generation movements, then you might see a different kind of work pattern evolving where people actually look forward to these interruptions and they take a creative break from their work, the in depth research work, and they come back to the work with new energy and new ideas. So it really depends on the kind of people and the kind of jobs that they're working on.
Dr. Niharika Garud: By the job I mean the different kinds of multiple tasks that you're supposed to perform. So even as an engineer, you're supposed to perform different kinds of roles in your organization, including the paperwork, the admin work, the service, the management of your team, the client management, the project management itself, and so emails is a part of the job. So I would argue that it's essential to look at the kind of task that you are trying to level and the switching between them.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, speaking of managers, what will be the role of frontline managers when all this automation hits in the workplace in the future?
Dr. Niharika Garud: So the managers and the leaders, like I earlier said, they not only need to be very aware that there's plenty of data now in the organizations which can help them in their decision making, which can help them in their problem solving processes. So the managers and the leaders need to be of course very quick in terms of embracing those data sets analysis and to be able to interpret on their own. Because it's one thing that somebody else connects the data for you and presents the analysis for you, while it's another thing where you understand the fundamentals behind that model, the assumptions that go behind a particular piece of analysis. So it's very important for leaders and managers to understand the fundamentals and the foundations of that analysis and to be able to question those assumptions, because the managers and the leaders know that some of those assumptions do not apply to their particular decision context.
Dr. Niharika Garud: Now so, that's one part of how they can prepare themselves. The other part is they need to be also aware whether these kinds of data driven decision making or automation driven decision making would work on their teams or not. Because it's one thing that you make the most rational decision ever possible depending on the evidence you were given and you applying that decision on your division. So it's very important to understand whether this kind of automation or evaluation of employees using automation systems is going to work well with your employees. There's interesting work happening in this particular area in terms of research studies, but not enough has been done. So this is a big gap. We don't know how people respond when they are monitored by robots, for example, or when they get feedback from an automated system. We don't understand how they react and process that feedback. So that's an area of research that I'm very interested in as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What's one thing that most companies get wrong when they think about the future of work?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think the future work itself is an idea that scares people, because people think about thousands of robots coming for them, and the idea that automation is going to replace us and it's going to take over the world. It's so sad in a lot of people's minds that people look at that as the overall future of work. But the picture of future work is very complicated. It's about automation, but it's also about the rule of people engaging those technologies. It's also about our organizations being able to work with technology, with markets and with external partners to be able to balance everything out. So the future of work is a very complex issue. When we talk about from a scientific perspective, there are multiple questions that we don't know answers to and which would be good to work on.
Dr. Niharika Garud: But on the other side, the industry has already seen some of that automation and digitization era taking over parts of their businesses. So for example, the mining industry is looking at a vague different kinds of systems coming in, because now the mining industry is also facing different kinds of lash back from the community, from the local community, from the environment perspective. So how can digitization and technologies help us in becoming more sustainable? That's a key question for mining and that could be something which could shape their future. So the future of work, it's a very complex picture depending on who do you talk to in the industry, it would look very different to different people.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is your message to technology professionals or any professional out there that's listening to help them prepare for the future?
Dr. Niharika Garud: I think the key message would be to keep an open mind as they have so far and to continue to focus on technology as a tool which can help us in doing better at work, doing better personally, doing better in terms of our learning and look at it just as a tool, not necessarily as your own replacement in terms of the human element and the critical thinking aspect that you bring to work, because that's something that which is not going to be replaceable. So I would say that for the technology professionals and tech experts out there, it would be essential to look forward to future in terms of technology being a tool, but not necessarily being the key solution to everything.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What's been a major influence on you, your career?
Dr. Niharika Garud: Well, I've been listening to Daniel Kahneman again, his ebook on Thinking Fast and Slow. I've read that book multiple times and I read it again and again whenever I get a chance to get more inspired about the kind of interesting research that happens across the world be it medicine, be it military or in business domain. He's just one of the people who has inspired me and there are so many others who have inspired me to conduct the kind of work that I do today. But yeah, he's right now in my head because I've been listening to him.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How can people find you?
Dr. Niharika Garud: The best way to reach out would be just drop me an email. It's on the University of Melbourne website. You can type in my name and it pops up. You can drop me an email and I am always on my email and that's something that is a strength, not a weakness. I respond fairly quickly and if you need a quick piece of conversation on something related to the topic or on something else that you think might be relevant to us, then that's something that I always like to get into. And any kind of friendly conversations about what you see or if you disagree on some of the things that I've said, I would be very interested to hear that, because that might help me in changing my opinion.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And your research.
Dr. Niharika Garud: And my research as well. Yes, it's my change my research as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You can find details on our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/iki. That's I-N-F-O-S-Y-S dot com forward slash I-K-I in our podcast section. Niharika, thank you so much for your time and a highly interesting discussion. And everyone you've been listening to, The Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. Thanks to our producer, Catherine Burdette and the entire Knowledge Institute team, and until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Dr. Niharika Garud
Niharika is a faculty member in the department of management and marketing at the Faculty of Business and Economics, at the University of Melbourne. Niharika's formal training includes a PhD in management, master's and bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, along with doctoral research fellowship at Harvard University and Business School. Niharika is probably best known for her extensive experience in research and consulting and tech innovation, operations management and organizational behavior. More recently Niharika has advised a number of Fortune 500 firms to improve their innovation processes and increase management productivity. One of her current research projects is the future of work across industries in collaboration with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.