• Dr. Vishalli Dongrie, Partner |
4 min read

Amidst a volatile global environment, CEOs in India are largely optimistic or confident about their organisation’s growth prospects over the next three years. However, the existing socioeconomic challenges and the rapidly unfolding technology advancements require CEOs across industries to take decisions regarding their strategies for attracting and retaining talent in the coming years. There are three aspects, among many, that require particularly close attention: Flexible working; Inclusion, diversity and equity (or IDE); and Preparedness for digital transformation and ESG compliance.

Flexible Working

CEOs are divided in their opinion of going back to pre-COVID in-office working models. While some believe that hybrid working enhances productivity and transparency, some feel that it leads to communication breakdown and loss of context. Nearly 54 percent of CEOs in India, compared to 64 percent globally, envision that the working environment will revert to pre-COVID models within the next three years.This is according to KPMG’s 2023 India CEO Outlook. The findings of the same report also indicate that as many as 89 percent CEOs in India, compared to 87 percent CEOs globally, are considering incentivising office attendance by linking it to rewards, raises, or promotions. This is despite the fact that millennials, by and large, seem inclined towards hybrid working. A one-size-fits-all approach could therefore prove to be counter-productive. It is important that business leaders engage with their employees and show genuine empathy and consideration for their preferences with regard to hybrid/remote working. This is a crucial part of strengthening employee relationships and retaining talent. Employers should adopt a model that gives equal importance to the business and the human aspects and therefore works well for both the organisation and its people.

Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE)

Fostering IDE in workplaces starts with implementing a change across leadership at the senior level. Many CEOs in India (and an even higher number of CEOs abroad) feel that progress on IDE has moved slowly, and that the diversity performance of organisations will come under increasing scrutiny in the coming years. Most CEOs also agree that achieving gender equity will help them meet their business growth ambitions. To this end, business leaders should focus on leading and driving a solid, well-rounded IDE agenda in the years ahead. They should prioritise IDE initiatives, define tangible goals, allocate adequate resources, and designate managers to lead IDE programmes with transparency and accountability.

Preparedness for Digital Transformation and ESG Compliance

CEOs around the world are sharpening their focus on digital transformation. Nearly 21 percent of CEOs in India and 22 percent globally agree that advancing digitisation and connectivity across the business will continue to be their top operational priority over the next three years. Organizations should look at ways to use technology to reinforce ethical standards and uphold IDE principles in all strategic, operational, and HR processes. It is also time to reimagine, reorient and redeploy AI strategies to help the workforce become more productive and innovative. AI can potentially augment the capabilities and improve the outcomes of a wide range of business processes and functions. That said, AI could deliver a range of benefits, with many also believing that they did not trust AI at work. But, building employee trust in AI and guiding them in how to use it responsibly, should therefore be one of the key elements of employee training and skilling programmes going forward.

Moreover, senior executives today in India and abroad are realizing that committing and actively working towards ESG goals is a great way of attracting next-gen talent, strengthening the employee value proposition, enhancing customer loyalty, and raising capital. Although climate change is one of the gravest global issues today, there is a huge talent gap in sustainability-focused roles. Moreover, the three-pronged nature of ESG (environmental, social, and governance-related) makes hiring for it a rather complex challenge for organisations. To address the talent and awareness gaps on this front, companies should not only train employees themselves, but also hire the services of domain experts and consultancies to provide training. New and existing talent should be already adept, or be trained on the job, in both AI and ESG.

Today, more than ever before, it is necessary to remember that business is ultimately all about people – it is built by people, and it exists for people. As organisations look to hire and attract talent, it is important that they do so with genuine empathy for the needs of their people and with an eye on the future.

(Numbers and data mentioned in this report are courtesy KPMG’s 2023 India CEO Outlook)

A version of this article was published on Nov 29, 2023  by Times of India Online.