Cognitive Skill Building For Business Effectiveness: CPG Industry Perspective

Swift decision-making, disruptive agile thinking, and collective learning are a few of the in-demand skills after the recent radical evolution. Change-makers and people leaders from the consumer product goods industry came together to discuss the major areas that require attention, to foster cognitive capabilities. The conversation also highlighted the need for recalibration of organisational learning and development strategies, to identify high potential talent and equip them with cognitive intelligence, for a future-fit workforce


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The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has compelled businesses to take the lead in creating strategies that could move the company forward in the face of ever-present volatility in an unprecedented reality. Skills like agility, quick decision making, crisis management, upskilling, and adaptability were crucial in coping with disruption.

The ability to embrace uncertainty, active resilience and swift adaptability has become necessary, resulting in a rise in the need for cognitive abilities. Changemakers across industries chose to spot the invisible opportunities despite the intensively complex scenarios. The unconventional disruption has brought about a paradigm shift, whether it is in leadership approach or individual thought process.

“Team players and managers have to wear an entrepreneur hat. It is critical to derive the meaning of cognitive skills, specific to a particular organisation. Identify, define and then embed it in the success profile of every key role,” mentions Milan Chattaraj, Chief People Officer, MTR Foods. Adding to it, he said, “At MTR, we have developed strategies to build intellectual agility and decision-making frameworks to train the workforce for the unprecedented challenges.”

Cognitive Skill Development To Build Crisis-Proof High Potential Talent 

Industry leaders from the CPG sector shared their observations and valuable insights during a virtual round table discussion on skilling a high potential talent pool, re-strategising organisational L&D plans, and the critical need for cognitive capability building. The discussion further emphasised how the recent disruption impacted the ever-evolving consumer expectations, demanding a revisualising of organisational strategies and plans, especially in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Crediting the pandemic for initiating numerous transformations, Souravi Sinha, GM-HR, IFB Industries said, “This disruption has given an ignition to the process of upskilling, but it was always there. We do recognise talent’s potential and offer opportunities post assessing to do cross-functional roles if one is capable in emulating skills to suffice the job requirements.”

From recruitment to each performance assessment, it is a critical process to identify various cognitive skills in talent to enable optimum productivity, along with mapping employee potential and interest inclination. Sales and more sales are the ‘core dharma’ (key) for most CPG businesses.

Accentuating the critical need to understand the current uncertainty, as cognitive abilities are highly subjective and difficult to measure, Sidharth Verma, Director Enterprise Solutions, Harappa stresses the top cognitive skills that are increasingly coming into play. He also points out “To be competitive has gone beyond the adoption of amalgamation of enhanced business processes and digital analytical solutions, but also to skilling up talent at all levels to build next-generation leadership bench, to build resilience and to bring in thought leadership is the core.”

Exponential Transformation of CPG Industry, Hyper Customisation In The Focus

Discussing the changing dynamics of the specific industry, panellists agree that it is highly needful to keep the central purpose of the organisation crystal clear across levels. A firm organisational purpose will help navigate managers, teams, and partners, for the future directional roadmap and serve business goals. These were insights coming from a recently concluded virtual roundtable discussion organised by BW Businessworld in association with Harappa, thoughtfully moderated by session chair Noor Warsia, Group Editorial Director, BW Businessworld.

As the market strategies are evolving, companies have to entirely focus on modern trade, e-commerce in place of traditional transactional business models. Consumers are highly focused on 'What’s In It From Me (WIIFM)’ which leads to customisations. Furthermore, consumers have varied demands and to suffice the same, companies need to realign their processes to be able to hyper-customise products accordingly.

“Now we live in a different kind of a world because the pace of change is very fast. There is huge competition in the market from both branded and non-branded players, the companies have to evolve. The companies must have clear upskilling strategies, cognitive skill-building has to be in sync with the business requirements,” Manas Martha, Senior VP, and Head HR, TTK Prestige points out. 

Thanks to the pandemic, companies have been forced to transform their functional frameworks. CPG companies have had to ensure goods delivery in the ‘No Touch, No Meet’ scenario, and ideate a virtual set-up, to fulfil the business and market requirements. 

Pivotal Need Of Strategies’ Recalibration To Build Future Fit Workforce

Thinking the unthinkable would always demand groundbreaking discussions, which could result in the development of disruptive models to work with. This is where employees’ competency framework comes into play, as it’s a huge part of the cognitive skillset.

As an unconventional learning platform, Harappa offers high-impact programs that help drive transformative career success. These programs focus on highly personalised learning, at scale. Harappa’s upskilling journeys foster must-have Thrive skills - an essential set of social, cognitive and behavioural skills to enable individuals to continuously succeed at every stage of their career. Nilanjan Kar, Chief Revenue Officer, Harappa presented research findings on the learning curve for cognitive skills. He also highlighted the emerging trends in the CPG industry and the factors moulding the workforce. Here are a few major key points from his presentation:

● AI technologies, machines, robotics, advanced digitisation are taking over in the industry. In 2018, only 18 per cent of reasoning and decision making was expected to be done by machines, but 28 per cent is expected to be done by machines in 2022.

● Around 76 per cent of CPG businesses reduced revenue goals by 23 per cent, but digital businesses helped in relatively faster recovery. The overall sector was prepared for the disruptive change and hence adapted swiftly.

● High-performing leaders, first-time managers, young talent have the element of these five habits framework i.e. think, solve, communicate, collaborate, and lead.

● Work that requires higher-order cognitive skills like leadership, decision making, mentoring would always demand human skills and is not going to be replaced by AI anytime soon.

● One size fits all doesn’t work with CPG; the leadership approach needs to resonate with the culture of the company. CPG as an industry would always require curated pathways and a growth mindset.

● According to Harappa’s skill map, the CPG industry shows that embracing change, thinking critically, and swift decision making are high priority competencies to focus on.

Diving deeper into the specifics of cognitive abilities, Satyajit Mohanty, CHRO, CG Consumer Electricals highlighted their current five major focus areas i.e. growth mindset, execution excellence, business priority, deep understanding of consumer data, innovation project management. He further stated these five as the emerging themes for capability building among the talent pool. He also shared that his current favourite area to work on is how to establish these successfully in a virtual work setup.

Cognitive Skill Building: An Imperative In The VUCA World

“The opportunity is to identify the areas to leverage technology and upskill talent for higher-order job roles, like judgment-based jobs which require decision making, 360-degree thinking, or the combination of empathetic understanding and intellect,” mentions V Krishnan, CHRO, Havells. The companies need to synchronise their fundamental frameworks, innovative design, and the right positioning of the right talent to get optimum performance.

“First, consider best performing talent as the organisation’s resource instead of function-specific top players. Second, don’t get carried away with data and analytics,” Krishnan points out. 

During the discussion, BW Businessworld's Noor Warsia adds, "Many jobs are becoming redundant because of automation or advanced digitalisation, but in today’s market reality, increasingly research have shown that artificial intelligence can’t take over every aspect, but it shall be called augmented reality or enhanced human intelligence to be able to achieve business goals."

There is a need to build an environment that encourages constant unlearning and relearning. As technology improvises, learners demand more personalised learning programs. In the wake of an unprecedented crisis, the skilling strategy is being reshaped to become an integral part of the learning and development plans for an organisation. People leaders are highly committed to discovering various ways to offer learning programs, and build a learning environment that equips their high potential talent with cognitive skills, along with other high order abilities.


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