An HR Perspective on Leveraging PSUs to Seize the 5-Trillion-Dollar Opportunity

This article is based on inputs from the Keynote Address delivered by Anand Shankar - Partner, Human Capital at Deloitte India and the Panel Discussion moderated by him with Indi Seehra - Director of HR at London School Of Economics & Political Science, D V Shastry - Executive Director of Training, R&D and Startup at GAIL and Amar Nath Verma - Executive Director at NTPC as panelists held on Day 2 - SHRMIAC’19


The rapid pace of technological advancements is changing the work and workplace and revolutionizing life as we know it. The digital culture and digital transformation are paving the way for developing economies like India to fast-track economic development and aspire to become a 5-trillion-dollar economy in the next 5-10 years.

PSU Role in Seizing the 5-Trillion-Dollar Opportunity

According to Anand Shankar,

“India is currently a 1.9-trillion-dollar economy where the GDP contribution of PSUs (Public Sector Undertakings) is 15.9%. India cannot seize the 5-trillion-dollar opportunity by continuing to do what it is doing now, despite the results. We need to move from high-growth to hyper-growth and that can be made possible only if the contribution of PSUs triple. PSUs must drive growth and development.”

The Fortune 500 Companies 2019 has seen a record-low of US companies in 2019 while the number of Chinese companies has seen a sharp rise. This year, 109 Chinese Corporations featured on the Fortune 500 List, out of which only 15% are privately owned – 85% are state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Even among the top 10 Chinese companies on the list, 8 are state-owned enterprises. Another interesting fact is that 113 of the Fortune 500 companies are Government-owned. Out of the 4 Indian Corporations on the list, 2 are PSUs - ONGC and Indian Oil.

China, which has been an investment-driven export-oriented economy till now, is now looking at transitioning into an innovation-oriented economy that is led by strengthened domestic demand in the light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. China is looking towards its state-owned enterprises to aid with the changing focus on domestic demand. Even though these SOEs are bulky which causes a general lack of flexibility to respond to market demand, the country instead of privatizing them (which seems risky rather than rewarding to China) is working towards improving their efficiency and quality. This is because SOEs have traditionally played a significant role in China’s nation-building efforts and infrastructural development.

Secondly, as Anand Shankar points out,

“We tend to get carried away sometimes with the western way of thinking about business models and organizational development and as a result, HR development. It is not always the case. Every country must have a culture-driven model for their own development.”

Like China, PSUs have played a major role in India’s economy since independence and it would be imprudent to ignore such a valuable sector. There is a need to bring about efficiency and innovation in the way PSUs operate, which is being done successfully by many of them already.

The people and the people function - HR, is at the core of any business and needs to undergo a paradigm shift to keep up with the pace of changes in the VUCA world. 

How must HR in PSUs transform?           

Leverage the unique employee value proposition to attract the best talent: The people in the organization ultimately make or break it. The best business models, the best technology, the best systems and the best strategies will fail if the right people are not employed. It is vital that PSUs hire the best talent to promote innovation, agile cultures and efficiency. For this, they must leverage their unique employee value proposition – they not only offer salary packages and lavish perks that are much higher than the market benchmark but are essentially enabling people to contribute to nation building. There is immense scope for innovation, invention and growth in PSUs. PSUs have diversity so HR in PSUs need to work towards building an employer brand that reflects this.

Furthermore, it is key to build a brand that is reflective of the unique cultural values and capabilities of the organization. We cannot simply borrow western thoughts and values in creating such a brand.

Indi Seehra asserts,

"As organizations change and progress, it is important they do not change the brand. For instance, Cambridge University continues to maintain its old school charm and traditions while progressing to become the biggest bio-tech hub and R&D center in Europe. If you have a unique brand, use it to your advantage. It is probably the reason people are attracted to you, even if they are coming for different reasons. PSUs and their recognition have to be global even if their brand and primary focus is in India."

Employee retention through superior employee experiences: Attracting the right talent is only one part of the problem. The bigger issue, especially with the younger generations, is to retain them within the organization for longer as millennials do not mind moving jobs until they find the job that best engages them. So HR in PSUs must focus on crafting superior employee experiences through the creation of an inclusive workplace culture, providing scope for and rewarding ideation, innovation and invention, and leveraging technology to eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies while improving transparency in HR practices and policies. Similarly, younger generations of employees seek continuous learning opportunities and scope for career development and providing such opportunities engages them better.

DV Shastry shares,

“Our digitalization efforts need to help transform them. Learning opportunities are central, without which no development is possible. The best thing about the younger generation is that they are agile and adaptive learners and learn much better than the previous generations. Work must be learningful and meaningful for our employees, especially the younger generations.”

Work towards digital transformation: Digitization does not suffice for the VUCA world; PSUs need to move towards digitalization and digital transformation. Digitalization enables organizations to transform their business operations and social interactions by leveraging digital technologies and information. Digital transformation enables organizations to move beyond digitalization to create agile cultures where the employees are able to adapt to technological shifts and thereby, provide improved customer experiences. Amar Nath Verma shares,

“Adaptability to the use of technology and change of culture are key to bring about maximum innovation in the organizations, create better results and thrive. At NTPC, we are not just leveraging technology but aligning the workforce to make them work in a seamless manner and have greater experiences. Apart from infusing technology in basic HR operations, we are experimenting on several HR fronts to infuse transparency and it is greatly affecting our culture.”

In conclusion, it is vital to create an agile workplace with a deep-rooted learning culture in PSUs that leverages technologies and the cultural values of the organization to push India to a 5-trillion-dollar economy.


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