Has crisis given rise to the need for cross-functional learning?

The need was realised even before the pandemic feel our HR experts.

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When the lockdown was announced, people and organisations had no clue as to what hit them. The sudden crisis changed everything overnight. All signs of normalcy at the workplace had vanished without warning. Certain functions had to be moved to the AI platform for the remote workforce to perform their duties without a hassle. This was definitely a very new experience both for organisations and their people. The crisis gave rise to the need to learn new things, especially in terms of technology. To meet the urgent needs, people of every level across all the industries had to undergo cross-functional training.

The benefits of cross-functional activities are beyond doubt, but, it is important for us to use our understanding of people’s psychology to drive certain business agenda.

Satyajit Mohanty, CHRO, Crompton Greaves

“Has the pandemic pushed the need for cross-functional learning, or was this need always there?” asked Mahipal Nair, CHRO, NIELSEN (IQ), while addressing a session at the recent Great HR Debate sponsored by Harappa Education and organised by HRKatha. The speakers at the session were Nihar Ghosh, Rajorshi Ganguly, Kamalesh Dangi and Satyajit Mohanty.

According to Nihar Ghosh, president – HR, Emami Group, “Cross-functional learning needs have always been there. For people to move from specialist roles to generalist roles, cross-functional training has to be there. The need may, however, have been highlighted during the pandemic because people were concerned about several things at the same time. Organisations had to mobilise every function, leaders were not ready with the technologies required for remote work and such other things.”

The desired outcome of  cross-functional training comes with a lot of effort because one has to enter an area other than one’s own. It also depends on how one perceives oneself. What matters most is whether one perceives oneself as a generalist or a specialist.

Kamalesh Dangi, group CHRO, INCRED Financial Services

Rajorshi Ganguly, president and global head – HR, Alkem Laboratories, drew attention to the fact that there are various aspects to cross-functional training. “As we go up the ladder in any role, be it HR or technical, it is very important to understand the organisation and its motive in its entirety. Any decision that we take has an effect on the organisation, as a whole. So, one should have knowledge about the organisation in its totality,” he explained.

Taking the discussion further on how to train people cross-functionally, Ganguly said, “There are various methods out of which some are determined by the kind of work an organisation does and the legacy that it has set over a period of time. It is highly important for all the employees to have cross- functional knowledge, which in turn is effective in the long run. However, this is for the leading positions whose decisions matter to every sphere of the work. If we go a level below to the individual contributors, I think people need to be specialists because not everyone can be a generalist.”

As we go up the ladder in any role, be it HR or technical, it is very important to understand the organisation and its motive in its entirety. Any decision that we take has an effect on the organisation, as a whole. So, one should have knowledge about the organisation in its totality.

President and global head – HR, Alkem Laboratories

Ganguly further stated that job rotation is not so common. It depends on the culture of an organisation. In certain organisations, specialists with cross-functional orientation are required. Answering Mahipal Nair’s question, he said, “The need for the process suddenly became urgent during the pandemic because the definition of certain functions completely changed. People who were performing tasks manually had no idea what to do while working remotely.”

Talking about the pandemic, Nair raised a question on career transition and restructuring of the functions. In response, Kamalesh Dangi, group CHRO, INCRED Financial Services, shared his experience of the cross-functional training at his organisation. “The desired outcome of the cross-functional training comes with a lot of effort because one has to enter an area other than one’s own, especially when one was hired for a specific role. A set of high-potential people end up being exposed to different functions. To a great extent, however, it also depends on how one perceives oneself. What matters most is whether one perceives oneself as a generalist or a specialist. Even our bosses who are a part of the board expect us to deal with the organisation’s problems and we cannot refuse saying that we can only solve people’s issues. They want to see us as generalists,” explained Dangi.

Cross-functioning was important pre-crisis, during the crisis and also post crisis. So, cross-functional training is a long-term investment.

Mahipal Nair, CHRO, NIELSEN (IQ)

Agreeing to the benefits of cross-functional training, Satyajit Mohanty, CHRO, Crompton Greaves, said, “The benefits of cross-functional activities are beyond doubt, but, it is important for us to use our understanding of people’s psychology to drive certain business agenda. While an analyst will understand the profit and the market, we as HR understand the nerves. Therefore, we also need to use our knowledge of neuroscience in the business making decisions. We need to attend many business meetings, after which we are expected to figure out the implications of the business ideas discussed on the people.”

Cross-functional learning needs have always been there. For people to move from specialist roles to generalist roles, cross-functional training is a must. The need may, however, have been highlighted during the pandemic because people were concerned about several things at the same time.

Nihar Ghosh, president – HR, Emami Group

Sharing his view on the matter, Rajorshi Ganguly said, “The benefit of cross-functional learning is high within HR. One needs to understand the different aspects of HR minutely — if not all, then at least to the extent to which business and HR policies are interconnected. This is because, the HR is expected to review and drive the people agenda of the organisation. I think it will also be good for rotation of functions within the organisation, which in turn will broaden the perspective of the functions.”

Mahipal Nair concluded the session stating, “It is clear that the importance of cross-functioning was realised even before the pandemic. It was important pre-crisis, during the crisis and also post crisis. What also came as an outcome is that it is a long-term investment.”

The Great HR Debate was sponsored by Harappa Education and organised by HRKatha.

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