UNLEASH America podcast: The key is spending time with others
Boston Consulting group’s Nikhil Gupta talks to editor Jon Kennard at this year’s Las Vegas show.
Why You Should Care
A culture of belonging is so important. What's the right hybrid work split for your business?
Vendor summit speaker Nikhil Gupta takes to the UNLEASH America podcast booth to share his thoughts.
This year at UNLEASH America you got more bang for your buck, with a whole program of ‘Day Zero’ summits and sessions on Tuesday 25 April, one day before the show opened to everyone. We were lucky enough to have the involvement of Boston Consulting Group’s Nikhil Gupta at our Vendor Summit, and even more so when he sat down with UNLEASH later in the festival of HR to share his thoughts on BCG’s challenges and insights.
We join the conversation as he tells editor Jon Kennard HR’s pain points and opportunities.
Nikhil Gupta: If the focus is on HR right now, I would say it’s been an interesting couple of months, maybe a couple of years. And I would say that some of the challenges that my HR staff are facing, and we’re a people business,
I think the areas where we really had to focus this year, and I think it’s broader than just within BCG, is employee wellbeing.
I think mental health and wellbeing is one area, and how HR plays a part in supporting that. I would say, diversity and inclusion. HR plays a part in terms of that progress; we ask them to put together programs around unconscious bias training, it could be working with the recruiting function, to ensure a diverse slate of policies around that.
I think the other piece is a lot of companies have invested in some of the newer technologies. We invested in Workday some time back, we’re investing in a new recruiting platform. And how does HR stay on top of that, right? Because the stakeholders are many within any of these.
So the HR platform impacts every employee across the across the company. It impacts all the hiring managers, it has an impact on senior leaders who require reports, and how does HR be agile enough to keep on top of it?
Jon Kennard: To pick up on the first thing you said about the mental health of employees, what do you think HR is doing, and what else could they be doing?
NG: So I think HR is trying to do as best a job as they can. But I think for us, we definitely see significantly more employees who are impacted, whether it’s employee burnout, whether it’s mental wellness, a family member who’s sick, because of COVID-19, or something else, I think we definitely see a lot more of that now. And I think we do a good job. I think we put a lot of processes and programs in place.
We have in-house counselors, we have telemedicine for mental wellness. So we’ve done a lot of stuff within the company. I don’t know if it’s ever going to be enough, I think there’s always going to be a need, especially over the past couple of years. And I think with a new generation of employees, they’re much more open about talking about this.
I think of my kids; mental wellness is just something they talk about, which for me when I was growing up is not something I even touched. So I think we’ll see more of that. And I think because of that we have to as employers of choice, work with them, to allow them to get the support they need to navigate working.
What drives employee belonging?
JK: The other thing you said was about diversity, equity and inclusion. One change that we’ve made at UNLEASH in terms of how we categorize these things is to add in ‘belonging’, because what we’ve been seeing in the conversation around these topics is that it now becomes DEIB and my theory – which I haven’t proven, but what I think – is that belonging has become more of an issue because [with] remote work, for all its positives and I am a big believer in it and I work in a distributed company, there needs to be a lot more done around cultural cohesion in business. Would you agree with that?
NG: I do. I think that remote work has frayed some of the the bonds that we had pre COVID-19. With my company we believe in affiliation, spending time together, building those bonds. Our culture, our business model is based on apprenticeships and ensuring that you spend time with others. And I think COVID-19 broke that to some degree. So I think right now we’re trying to get back to something which makes sense.
I don’t think it’s, for BCG at least, I don’t think it’s 100% remote. Nor do I think it’s 100% in the office. And where we’ve settled that is, we expect all our employees to spend at least 50% of their time with other employees from BCG. So that can take different shapes and forms, it could be one day on one week on one week off, it could be three days in the office one week, two days, the next, it could be at a different office, it could be at a client site. The key is spending time with others.
So I think that’s how we’re trying to recreate that belonging, because I definitely think we struggled on that front. And I think as a people company, for us that’s very important.
JK: I don’t think you’re the only one. So the next thing I’d like to talk about, obviously we need to stay on top of trends, and there are different communities that you can engage with to do this. Is there a trend from the last, say, six to 12 months that surprised you? Some of these things we could see coming down the pipeline, but is there anything you thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect the issues of people strategy and culture to take this turn’.
NG: I think we saw this coming. I’m not surprised. From a culture standpoint, from the belonging standpoint, I think every company is probably dealing with it. I think it also depends where you came from pre COVID-19. I was at a roundtable earlier today, where one of the women was from a company that was primarily remote. So therefore, the culture was such that as they moved post COVID-19, there was no significant change.
That’s a very different journey in that company compared to someone like BCG, where we went from pretty much 80 to 100% of your time together, down to zero, and then now trying to get to 50%. So it’s a different journey for us.
JK: Definitely. Let’s finish off by talking about the future. What excites you? What are you seeing that will really drive positive change within the people function in the next 12 months?
NG: So I think, from a technology standpoint, you see it in this room, you see it in all the conversations we’re having. I think AI is going to be a big part of it. You said what’s going to drive good change? I’m not too sure yet that AI will drive good change, always. I think we have to be responsible of how we implement it. But I think it has a lot of potential.
So I think it’s changing very fast. It’s rapidly evolving. I think it’s going to change recruiting, it’s going to change the types of skills we learn from an HR perspective, the technology around supporting our staff through chatbots, or around benefits. I think that’s the space which I think will definitely drive innovation over the next six to 12 months at least…
You can listen to the whole interview with Nikhil Gupta here or check out the preview beneath.
A massive thank you to SAP SuccessFactors for powering the podcast booth at UNLEASH America 2023. Visit the SAP SuccessFactors hub to listen to more audio content from the show and find out more about their HR solutions too.
Editorial content manager
Jon has 20 years' experience in digital journalism and more than a decade in L&D and HR publishing.