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BENGALURU : India is a global innovation hub for Accenture, employing a critical talent pool of more than 250,000 professionals, and is at the forefront of building a talent ecosystem for the digital economy and a hybrid work model. In an interview with Mint, Rekha M. Menon, chairperson and senior managing director, Accenture in India, shares her views about the future of work, the skills needed and the importance of building a sustainable organization. Edited excerpts:

Accenture has talked about shifts in the way businesses and societies will operate in the future. What should be the top priorities for organizations?

Leading an organization has never been more challenging than it is today, and all organizations need to execute three fundamental priorities—delivering organizational performance during unpredictable market conditions, embracing continuous innovation to unlock new long-term value, and earning and building stakeholder trust through sustainable and responsible approaches to run their businesses. Doing this requires businesses to simultaneously transform multiple parts of their enterprise—undertake what we call compressed transformation. Technology is the most significant enabler of this change and, to remain competitive, lead or leapfrog their competitors, organizations need to invest in building a digital core, re-platform their businesses in the cloud and embrace new ways of working.

What are the implications for the skills needed, and how do we build these skills?

Today, technology is the lifeblood of businesses and everyone in the organization needs a new appreciation of technology, starting with leaders who need to improve their technology quotient. Being tech-literate isn’t enough, they need to become tech-fluent. With hybrid work models becoming a reality, how people are engaged, motivated and their performance measured will require new leadership skills. More broadly, in the digital economy where advanced technologies work side by side with humans and undertake repetitive tasks, inherently human skills like critical thinking, reasoning and judgement gain greater relevance. To prepare our workforce for this future, emphasis on arts education, for example, is as important as building tech expertise. We need to change how we impart learning and skill people. Ecosystem collaboration to develop new models and structures to democratize education and skill development is crucial.

What challenges are we likely to face as the future of work changes to a hybrid model?

We are already seeing two big shifts that will redefine the future. First, increased collaboration between humans and machines. Second, the emergence of hybrid work models. Both have accelerated during the pandemic. While greater human-plus-machine collaboration can unlock trillions of dollars of growth for the economy, this can only be achieved by large-scale upskilling efforts. In fact, the lack of skills could cost us nearly $2 trillion of GDP growth, and potentially increase societal gaps and conflicts. Hybrid work models present an opportunity to drive inclusive growth by creating new work opportunities for our country’s large and dispersed workforce. Yet, for this to happen, we need broader investments in infrastructure and conducive policy frameworks. At an organization level, a comprehensive review of talent models, including sourcing, organizing, engaging and skilling the workforce, and measuring success is required.

Sustainability has taken centre stage. Do you think an organization’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies can be balanced against the need to drive profit?

We believe that every business must be a sustainable business, and there’s growing evidence that organizations can achieve this balance. In fact, those who do so in a systematic manner can increase shareholder value. For example, a recent Accenture research with the World Economic Forum shows that enterprises that exhibit a stronger sustainability DNA achieve on average a 21% increase in both Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) margin and environmental and societal impact. It’s early days, but at a high level, organizations see the value—94% of Indian CEOs who participated in a UN Global Compact and Accenture CEO study recognized the criticality of sustainability to business. Another Accenture research revealed that for 36% of Indian firms, becoming more sustainable will be the most important focus area for the next five years, and firms across the board are trying to figure out how to make the shift and strike a balance.

What are some of the emerging technology trends?

Driven by the need to innovate at speed and scale, transform at multiple levels, build resilience and security, deliver improved customer experiences and find new sources of growth, every business has become a digital business. Organizations are accelerating their digital initiatives, re-platforming in the cloud and implementing security services to address the expanding threat landscape. Artificial intelligence and digital twin technologies are giving rise to a ‘mirrored world’, which is helping enterprises reimagine how they operate, collaborate and innovate. The pandemic has also accelerated the rate of adoption of emerging technologies such as blockchain, extended and virtual reality, open source, 3D printing and robotics.

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