Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Ravi Kumar on Talent Resilience in Uncertain Times
Infosys President, Ravi Kumar, explains how the future of our workplace will be tested under reliance, adaptability, virtualization and productivity. He discusses how the evolving concepts of the gig economy, embracing machines, outcome-centric approaches, workforce empathy, networked organizations, conscious capitalism and public private partnerships will redefine the world of work following the COVID-19 crisis.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“Human capital, in my view, is probably the single biggest reason why organizations transform well or not.”
- Ravi Kumar
You lead the global workforce for a major tech services firm, and your offerings serve over a thousand of the world's leading companies. Can you share an example of how talent is becoming a new arena for competition?
Jeff introduces Ravi and share his background.
You talk a lot about talent and of course you write a lot, and looking at that and having worked with you, how did you get started? And what's the role of talent and the people side of things early in your career?
What is it about talent itself and the future of work that excites you?
You sound optimistic and it reminds me of something you wrote recently on “productivity optimism.” So you want to go into that in a little bit of detail?
Ravi discusses the shift toward gratitude and empathy in the work force and the impact on productivity.
Ravi, it's interesting you mention stakeholder and conscious capitalism. Can you talk about what Infosys is doing, especially in light of their response to the pandemic as well as the approach, this broader ESG approach, that's embedded in the business.
And if you could comment on maybe how… informal networks actually help decisions, and culture, and people to connect and be effective.
Ravi explains his vision for the future of the workplace.
You've made comments before about “atoms going local and bits going global,” I'm just curious, did your start as a nuclear scientist at the Atomic Research Center have anything to do with your thoughts on bits and atoms?
Can you share your thoughts on the role of public entities and academia as well as private partnerships?
Who or what has been a major influence on you?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Ravi Kumar, you lead the global workforce for a major tech services firm, and your offerings serve over a thousand of the world's leading companies. Can you share an example of how talent is becoming a new arena for competition?
Ravi Kumar: Absolutely, Jeff. Thank you so much for that question. The more I think about it, and it's counter intuitive, that when there are so many losses of jobs all over the world, you think there is a lot of talent available. The reality is there was always a shortage of talent irrespective of the times we've lived in. And that is because we're looking for talent which is actually ready for the future. So I would still believe in the times we live in where there is a huge demand supply gap, you're still going to find gaps in talent pools. And that is because the talent for the future is never going to match to the talent we have today.
Ravi Kumar: So re-skilling, re-purposing talent, not just for Infosys, but also for our clients, large enterprises, is equally important. We're just about to kick off this very interesting initiative to do matching of talent available in the market for companies which want to hire. Interestingly, in times of this kind, industries actually let go talent because structurally those industries are in trouble, and industries hire talent, and a good example is the hospitality industry is losing talent, the telecom and nuclear industry is hiring talent. How do you create the matching engine in between by re-skilling, re-purposing? So one of the things I personally am very excited about is to build a platform, a consortium of players who can rescale, and do this pro bono in the times we live in, where talent on one side is needed acutely shortage and talent on the other side is plentily available.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And talent leadership is what we're going to explore 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 Ravi Kumar. Ravi is the president of Infosys, where he leads the Infosys global delivery organization across industry segments. He also leads client service offerings for Infosys, and he's the chairman of Infosys Foundation USA. Ravi serves on the boards of large transformational initiatives for the global clients. He actively writes blogs on technology led transformation, big data, next generation supply chain and disruptive business models. He also serves on several external boards. Ravi has a master's degree in business administration from the Xavier Institute of Management. Ravi, thanks for joining us.
Ravi Kumar: Thank you Jeff for this opportunity. Look forward to talking to you.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You talk a lot about talent and of course you write a lot, and looking at that and having worked with you, how did you get started? And what's the role of talent and the people side of things early in your career?
Ravi Kumar: As I speak to large enterprise CxO's which are hungry for change, hungry for disruption, I do realize the only constraint which stops them to scale that transformation is human capital. So human capital, in my view, is probably the single biggest reason why organizations transform well or not. Very early on in my professional career, I realized that grooming talent, building talent pools for the future, hiring people who are better than you, hiring people who actually can run faster than you and therefore change the trajectory of every initiative you run, building leaders for the future has always been my own strength. And that's the reason why over a period of time, I have progressively taken large portfolios of work and have continued to remain stretched, but not stressed to drive change.
Ravi Kumar: One of the early learnings for me when I started in the professional career is to drive comfort in uncomfortable zones. So if you look at my professional career, you would have noticed that I've done a variety of roles in a variety of organizations. And by design I try to work in uncomfortable zones so that when you actually get there, you find yourself in a comfort spot. That's been my strength, you put me on an initiative, I will try to do it outside in. I'll bring in an outside in perspective. I will connect the dots and because of the diversity of experience I will try bringing in a set of disruptive ideas which can be game changing. So that's basically been my strength because that's how I've been groomed for.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is it about talent itself and the future of work that excites you?
Ravi Kumar: We've been talking about future of work even before this shock or disruption which has happened to us. And I would call this a known unknown, which has happened to us. I think this shock is going to accelerate everything we spoke about. And let me highlight a few things. First and foremost, work is going to move from people to people plus machines. Because of the flexibility of working on a virtual and a physical setup, and for the next one year or so till the vaccine is out, we will swing from full virtualization, to full physical, to partial, to... We'll go back and forth. We have now got to a point where we are much more productive if we work in spurts of work over the week. So I would think humans plus machines plus gig will accelerate much faster to the workplace.
Ravi Kumar: Enterprises across the world do not use the gig economy for enterprise workforce. A majority of the gig economy today is used in the peripheral work, I would say, I call it the shared economy, but they're not used in the enterprise way. Enterprise workforce will actually have a predominant embrace of the gig economy. Today, around 10 to 12% of the total workforce in the United States is actually the gig economy. And my sense is in the next five years that's going to be 25 to 30%. Machines will play a big role, there is the saying which I don't know whether you've heard about this, work and jobs will get disconnected. What I mean by work and jobs is, jobs actually form work. Before the industrial revolution, a job was equal to what you work. If you go to a cobbler, the cobbler would make a shoe for you. Then came the specializations where parts of shoemaking, as an example, was split into different tasks. And each of those tasks were jobs, and that specialization led to an acceleration of productivity.
Ravi Kumar: Subsequently, the industrial revolution displaced humans with machines, but machines got specialized in specific tasks. Now we are going to get to a world, a cognitive world where machines and humans are going to work together, instead of machines and humans getting displaced by each other. Machines and humans are going to work together, and the gig economy is going to be above it. So that's the big shift in work, work is going to go from physical to virtual in a very seamless way. And productivity, I call it the productivity paradox, for the last two decades in spite of the embrace of technology in the workplace, productivity didn't go up. But productivity now will go through an exponential curve because of the hybrid model we will adapt to as we get past this crisis in the next 12 months or so and we get to a new equilibrium. And in that new equilibrium, we will get used to a new normal. And that new normal will be a hybrid work model of virtual plus physical.
Ravi Kumar: So humans plus gig and gig plus machines is real, and it's going to come faster than what we thought. Machines will automate work to an extent that the dependency of human will go down, and that is needed in the time we want to live in. Enterprises will plan themselves for the unknown unknown because of the disruption they've gone through with the known unknown, the virus was a known unknown. But as they get to the equilibrium, they would start preparing themselves for an unknown unknown. So work will then be physical plus virtual and work would move to machines plus gig paradigm.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You sound optimistic and it reminds me of something you wrote recently on productivity optimism. So you want to go into that in a little bit of detail?
Ravi Kumar: Sure. If you've heard about the productivity paradox, you would have noticed that in spite of the embrace of technology, productivity has really not gone up. For the last few decades, human productivity has been very constant. And the reason is the embrace of automation onto the workplace was very low. So there are a confluence of forces which are going to drive a productivity increase or the productivity exponential curve, and that's why I call it the productivity optimism. And then a bunch of forces which are going to come together. First and foremost, we spoke about the embrace of machines, that's going to increase productivity. And machines are going to amplify human potential, that's the first force. The second force, most enterprise workplaces have been in urban settings where you work for hours together. But you get to the workplace, it takes your time and you get back home, it takes your time. So you'll shrink those connectors because you're working in a virtual way, that gives you more time.
Ravi Kumar: Third, because you're going to work in spurts. Most people I've met now in our teams today tell me that they work longer but they work in shorter spurts. There is scientific study which actually says that humans are not productive for more than four, five hours in a workplace. So if you break your work into a longer span in the day and the a longer span during the week, and you mix it up with your personal life, productivity actually shoots up because you just work in spurts of energy. So that's another force. The fourth force, and this is a fascinating one I heard from many, they have much more gratitude, and much more empathy in the workplace, and the heart is in the right place when they're actually delivering work in the times we live in. Gratitude has never been more important than today for what we have. So humans are giving more to their work because they feel much more empathetic to the teams and the work they do because they have something which they feel proud about.
Ravi Kumar: So the gratitude and empathy to work has changed significantly in the last few weeks. And that's going to be a permanent shift when you actually go to the other side of the crisis. I think purposeful employers, conscious capitalism will play a much bigger role for enterprises and people. Now what should we be careful about? We should be careful about the fact that when you go to a physical plus virtual world, do you have the mechanism to measure productivity? Do you have the workflows of an office? Do you have the rhythms of an office? Can you learn just in time, on the fly to change to the rapid dynamic needs of the order of organizations and the order of the society.
Ravi Kumar: Organizations are now moving at clock speed of hours versus organizations which were moving at a clock speed of days and months and years. You need to dynamically change. So can you change your skills? Can you change your capabilities to scope up with the clock speed which organizations have, which is today in hours literally because the world around you is going to change. So that's the reason why I actually felt this word, productivity optimism, is apt and it's an inflection point. If done well, you could boost productivity, if done badly, you could breed inefficiency in the system.
Jeff Kavanaugh: It's interesting I think being a services firm, it also lends itself to possibility of empathy and gratitude because you are serving, literally built with the name. And hopefully industries that may not have been quite as connected to clients and customers can see that now in that purposeful aspect. Also, could you maybe connect this-
Ravi Kumar: [crosstalk] if I may. It's also one other switch amongst those forces. One other switch which I'm sure you've heard of, digital technology dollars which are spent on consumer value chains and supplier value chains in the past, have actually been shifted to workplaces and human value chains. And to harness the power of technology in the workplace, that is going to boost productivity as well. Never before employee and workplace were right up the order, they were at the bottom of the stack in terms of priority for digitization and adoption of technology, and that has changed significantly. And now I would think that's a permanent shift as well. So that's going to boost productivity as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: A reminder everyone that you're listening to the Knowledge Institute, where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. We're here with Ravi Kumar, Infosys President and expert in digital talent leadership. Ravi, it's interesting you mention stakeholder and conscious capitalism. Can you talk about what Infosys is doing, especially in light of their response to the pandemic as well as the approach, this broader ESG approach, that's embedded in the business.
Ravi Kumar: If somebody asks me, "What are your top 10 priorities these days?" I would say, all 10 of them are about safety and health of our employees, and then comes mission critical work for our clients, and then being purposeful to the societies we serve in. We've done a bunch of things, back in India the foundation works for a variety of things related to healthcare and supporting the COVID response in many states where we are present. In the United States, we're doing a bunch of things, and I'm actually the chair of the foundation, Infosys Foundation. This is also one of those times when parents find their gratitude to teachers much more than ever before because children are at home and they realize how valuable jobs teachers are doing. I've actually had many parents come and tell me, "Why are teachers getting paid so less?" They've realized suddenly how important these jobs are, how difficult these jobs are.
Ravi Kumar: So one of the things the Infosys Foundation in the US is doing, which is actually focused on K-12 schools, K-12 school children, and K-12 school teachers, we felt it's a great time to repurpose our platform. We have a digital platform to teach teachers, we think that's the shortest way to get to students. We thought it's a great way to extend this platform to teaching students as they are at home, and doing this in a very experiential, immersive way. So we call this the home edition where parents, teachers, and students or children of children can come together and participate in computer science education virtually. Just to give you an example, last week we ran a family code night, where teachers and parents can work along with the children to have a fun code night. And there are a whole bunch of immersive sessions which we have actually created.
Ravi Kumar: For two specific States, the state of Connecticut and the state of Rhode Island, We're playing a very active role. In the state of Connecticut, we're working on the workforce committee of the governor. And we are trying to build re-skilling capabilities so that we could do matching of jobs which are available to people who have lost jobs. In the state of Rhode Island, which is a small state so we thought it would very impactful if we can help the governor there, I'm a part of the business advisory there. There are three things we're doing. One, we are helping small businesses in that state to build digital platforms, remember we have a design hub there, so we have a lot of design talent. So these young designers from Infosys are building digital platforms so that small businesses can access their consumers on a digital platform because they can't physically be there.
Ravi Kumar: Last week we launched arts platform, Rhode Island is very popular for innovative art, so we launched a virtual arts platform which helps artists, musicians, singers, poets to come onto a virtual platform and create an immersive experience with a virtual audience, so we created the platform. And finally we are building a contacts tracing application for the citizens of the state of Rhode Island. As they go back to business on the 8th of May, we are hopeful that the contact facing application and help them reduce the infection rate in the state. So we're using a geo-fencing location based system which can trace your contacts if any one of them has been in six feet distance from you, provided you opt in for the feature as a responsible citizen. So that is an app we are very excited about, in case it is successful in the state of Rhode Island, we would like to take it to other States in the US as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah, it's fantastic, obviously been following these closely. And I think the speed at which some of these things have happened also indicates what you have to have in place to make it happen. One thing I want to talk about is culture and understanding the Infosys culture when you comment on something. There's a lot of formal organizational structure, but often times decisions are made, in fact I remember, I think it's called the Bodhi tree in Hyderabad near your office there, we used to go. And I think some of the most important decisions were made there and people came together. And if you could comment on maybe how some of these informal networks actually help decisions, and culture, and people to connect and be effective.
Ravi Kumar: Thank you so much. And thanks for the question. I think you may be nostalgic about my days in India as I recollect the close knitted communities we all operate in our development centers in India. So this shock, the crisis which we are all in will certainly be worst of the times around or the best of the times. And humans have the ability to convert the worst times to the best times. I hope this shock can reinforce some of the things which Infosys is good at, and some of the aspects in our jobs which positively change. First and foremost, I think because we're moving to a virtual plus physical word, I think we are going to become very outcome centric in our approach to measure performance. I think it's super critical. Second, we have started to over communicate to our employees and our stakeholders, over communicate to a point where we feel like we’re giving away too much. But the fact that we want to communicate more, I think it's very important.
Ravi Kumar: Third, we are much more empathetic to our teams than ever before. In the last few months or maybe the last few weeks, every time we start a conversation with our teams, we start with whether they're safe and healthy, how is the family doing? All of that is actually becoming an integral part of who we are, the sense of gratitude we spoke about, the sense of gratitude and empathy in the workplace, never before have we felt so much of gratitude for what we have. You spoke about organized structures, most traditional organizations are hierarchical. I think this shock would shift them to be very network, organizations are going to shift from hierarchical to networked organizations because decision making was very networked, decision making was very empowered. Remember we have moved 95% of our productive work into homes of people today. 95% of our workforce in India is enabled from homes to work for our clients, so we have entrusted on them responsibilities like never before. So that empowerment is going to make them much more responsible in their jobs.
Ravi Kumar: I would say the future of our workplace, is going to be tested on resilience, adaptability, virtualization and productivity. These are the four attributes on which we would test ourselves. And our engagement with employees has become much more intimate and expansive, as I call it. Much more intimate and expansive than ever before. Our clients and Infosys are all getting tested on agility and resilience. We were always tested on agility before, now we are going to be tested on agility and resilience. Agility and resilience are two opposites of the same thing, but how do you test on two opposites which have counter forces? Agility and resilience will be the future for enterprises as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I'd like to switch gears a little bit. You've made comments before about atoms going local and bits going global, I'm just curious, did your start as a nuclear scientist at the Atomic Research Center have anything to do with your thoughts on bits and atoms?
Ravi Kumar: Yeah. So, Jeff, I actually wrote a post a couple of weeks ago and I'm actually preparing for one this weekend, and I'm going to speak about the changing role of the CIO. Atoms and bits is a fascinating concept from Nicholas Negroponte who wrote about how atoms are going to be consumed by bits in a way, and bits are going to accelerate in adoption. This shock, this crisis will localize atoms and globalize bits much more than before. What I mean by that is manufacturing will become much more regional. Atoms, I relate to manufacturing, the physical objects around us. Manufacturing will become much more regional than ever before. But how do you make manufacturing regional? The very reason why manufacturing went global is because manufacturing was not competitive to being regional. So you will apply more technology, you would forcefully apply more autonomous technologies on manufacturing because as they become regional to stay competitive, to stay economically viable, you apply more technology.
Ravi Kumar: So technology will catapult, leapfrog manufacturing to a highly automated, lower labor intensity kind of an industry. And it will become very regional because your supply chains have got so disrupted in the times we lived in that resilience will play a much bigger role, and as manufacturing will become more local. The reason why I call bits will become more global is because customers have suddenly got used to the virtual world. And if customers have got used to the virtual world, they will potentially offshore more. They would say, "Well, I got this done virtually, so how does it matter if it's done here or it's done in other parts of the world?" And they would make it more virtual. And why would they make it more virtual? They would make it more virtual because they have applied to atoms because atoms have to be economically viable. So it's a vicious positive cycle. So I would therefore say atoms will be more local and bits will be more global. And this crisis will accelerate the process.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, since you mentioned global, and you mentioned this word network a lot, can you share your thoughts on the role of public entities and academia as well as private partnerships?
Ravi Kumar: Absolutely, Jeff. I have this fascinating concept about governments and when I speak to a public policy maker, I always ask this question. Governments across the world, are wired for the first 20 years of citizens lives, and the last 20 years of citizens lives. All across the world governments are built for that purpose. First 20 years of citizens life for primary healthcare, primary education, until all of us become adults. And then they again come back for the last 20 years of human lives for old care, medical support, pension funds and everything else at the end, your old age benefits.
Ravi Kumar: But change is happening in the middle, and governments are now being tested on how well they do in the middle. And this crisis will accentuate the process of governments to be much more enabled in the middle rather than on the ends of the cycle. Public private partnership will be super critical for governments to be efficient in the future. Most governments today which are efficient in handling the crisis are the ones who are having a private public partnership. And the academia will play a very important role in that consortium, in that ecosystem because countries like the United States did scientific research out of the academic ecosystems. And the ability to bring private, public, and the academia together, will determine how well we deal with known unknowns in the future, and be resilient for the future. So these partnerships, these ecosystems will drive how well governments and societies function.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Respecting your time Ravi, is there anything else you'd like to add before we bring this to a close?
Ravi Kumar: So I would say, these are unprecedented times. There's always a silver lining in this times. I would say what we learn out of this will get us to be much better as we get past this crisis. And hopefully we learn about dealing with future crisis in a much superior way.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Who or what has been a major influence on you? Like a person, a book, and why?
Ravi Kumar: In recent times I would say I like the writings of Yuval Harari, Yuval is a fascinating writer. He's a historian but he uses history to predict the future. And his ability to connect the dots across various facets of the world to make a point, I think it's very fascinating. He's one writer I'm always excited about. I like Simon Sinek who wrote about the infinite mindset. Actually he's talking alongside me on a webcast we are doing on the 8th of May. It's no better time than now to talk about the infinite mindset. He spoke about this very interesting thing that fascinates me, enterprises across the world today are possibly the best platforms for change, possibly the best platforms for societal change.
Ravi Kumar: A couple of decades ago economists kind of defined the existence of enterprises for maximizing shareholder value, I think that was a very myopic view of enterprises. Enterprises have to exist for a much purposeful journey, for societal impact. The platform of business is probably the best platform for societal change. And that I would believe it will get reinforced as we get past this crisis to the other side. That purposeful enterprises will be the ones which will differentiate and stay ahead of the others. There will be distinctively two sets. One which are purposeful, one which have been built for societal change, societal impact, and those are the ones which will be valuable most.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What's the best way for people to do find you online?
Ravi Kumar: I'm very active on the social media, but I mix it up with fun, I mix it up with things I normally like. I live through the week spending time on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and everything else. And in the world we're living in which is isolated, that seems to be the only way you can get connected to the word.
Jeff Kavanaugh: I think LinkedIn and Twitter are certainly handles that we'll make sure that we put in the show notes and the transcripts. People can find them there at infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Ravi thank you for your time and a very interesting discussion. 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, Dode Bigley and the entire Knowledge Institute team.
And until next time, keep learning and keep sharing and stay safe.
About Ravi Kumar
Ravi Kumar is the president of Infosys, where he leads the Infosys global delivery organization across industry segments. He leads client service offerings for Infosys, is the chairman of Infosys Foundation USA and serves on the boards of large transformational initiatives for the global clients.
He actively writes blogs on technology led transformation, big data, next generation supply chain and disruptive business models and serves on several external boards.
Ravi has a master's degree in business administration from the Xavier Institute of Management.
- Connect with Ravi Kumar on : LinkedIn
- Follow on Twitter
- Learn about the work of the Infosys Foundation USA
- Thinking out Loud
- Atoms will become local and bits more global in times after COVID-19
- Preparing for an era of virtualization on demand
- Preparing to regain equilibrium
- Productivity optimism
- New world of work, new high for the CIO
Selected links from the episode