Constant Communication and Creating Enablers for Change is Vital: CEO, Asia Pacific Region, Global University Systems

In the recent conversation with BW People, Sharad Mehra, CEO- Asia Pacific Region, Global University Systems discussed and shared his valuable insights over the importance of constant upskilling and learning and on how the future looks like.


The power of technology has already manifested at the speed of thought in our workplaces. As we continue to innovate, explore, ideate, and create new ways and methods to move ahead, technology will be the key component that will drive every sector, says Sharad Mehra

On a general note, how do you see the HR as a function transforming due to the disruption?

The post-COVID-area will bring a transformative shift in the way people work. WFH, the inertia of coming back to work, the use of technology in all spheres of work and its resultant impact, economic downturn, and insecurity linked to it are some of the bigger challenges that HR will have to face. This has also brought to fore some important changes that are already taking place—recruitment processes, creating new roles, exploring hybrid means of work, connecting to employees, greater thrust on employee-wellbeing, and finding ways to keep the workforce motivated. In this scenario—Communication— will play a very significant role.

Today, the most vital skill for any business and its employees is: learning agility. What do you think about how one can develop agility?

The traditional ways of running a business and dealing with employees are no longer relevant, now. In today’s VUCA world, dealing with challenges-on-the-go, being responsive to one’s environment, and embracing ambiguities with a positive attitude is vital for both employee and organizational growth. Therefore, the real learning starts with realizing that change is imminent, and not accepting change is not a solution. For this to happen, an organization two vital ingredients- communicating constantly on changing dynamics and creating enablers for change (policy, infrastructure, rules, etc) -- catalyze learning agility. Increasingly, organizations in India and across the globe are realizing that learning agility—which also entails motivating employees, encouraging flexibility, adaptability—will happen only when organizations are people-driven, not process-driven.

Skills are undergoing a huge transformation. Critical thinking, risk management, empathy, collaboration, adaptability, valuing people is being witnessed in many Indian workplaces. What changes do you foresee for the new future?

The ‘We’ over ‘I’ approach is a new trend that is unfolding in many Indian workplaces. This learning has become more pronounced during the pandemic where teams came together, achieved targets, collaborated despite challenges, and in some cases delivered creative and some never-seen-before solutions. While technology remained a common thread in facilitating these processes and changes, skills are the new heroes in the workplace. ‘Employee well-being’ is a serious consideration for many organizations as they have realized happy people bring more motivation, positivity, ideas and innovations to the table. Employees are being more valued and recognized for their contribution and roles and there’s a realization by the leadership that it’s not just the technical nuts and bolts, but people who their greatest assets. This wheel will gather greater momentum in the coming days and in my opinion, the pace of change will be much faster. Hence, along with the above skills, change agility as a competence needs to be added to the above. I foresee more organizations giving importance to employees having the above skills.

Importance of soft skills along with the knowledge of the work. To what extent do you think the soft skills are equally crucial?

As the complexity and level of hierarchy changes, the softer skills become more important than the technical ones. Researches have shown that for leadership it is the strength of being an adaptive leader that matters most.

How upskilling and learning and development models need to change to create more jobs in the future. Personally, what have you discovered or learned in the last 3 months of crisis?

Despite hard challenges, leadership and workplace changes, digital expansion, teaching and learning processes, and even governance have undergone a tremendous shift in the last six months of the pandemic. The kind of progress we’ve achieved with technology in this period is something that we would have achieved in a few years. This scenario has highlighted the need to reskill and upskill the existing workforce, embrace changes, and adapt to whatever that comes our way. It’s also clear that jobs that exist today may not exist in a few years and we must be prepared to slip into roles and careers that don’t exist in the present.

My learnings in this period have centered around these points:

· New skills and competence need to be learned for survival: Constant upgrade is the need of the hour if we want to stay relevant and be aligned to the unpredictable and unforeseen changes the future holds. To move ahead, it is important for every organization to reskill people, not release them.

· Learning can be anywhere and anytime: The sudden ‘pause’ created by the pandemic is not a point of stagnation. Rather, it turned out to be a massive opportunity to learn about dealing with unforeseen challenges, finding solutions and not giving up. That’s why in the social distancing era, technology turned out to be the greatest unifier of mankind as we discovered ways to learn and upskill irrespective of our geographies, time zones, and timetables.

· Individuals will have to take more ownership of their own learning: While schools, higher education institutions, workplaces, governments have been taking steps to ensure that their students and people have accessibility to learning tools and technologies, ultimately, it’s about individual responsibility. ‘What can I do to learn and how can I achieve it’ is a crucial question every individual must introspect, about.

How can HEIs help students develop and enhance these skills on a practical level? 

The days of getting employed with degrees are over. Now, curriculums must strike the right and delicate balance between technical skills and life skills. Students need to learn modern-day competencies as part of their education—this includes industry live projects, exposure to real-world scenarios, critical thinking, risk management, and exploring unchartered territories. Therefore, the approach needs to be integrated with the demands of the industry and the challenges of the real world. In this light, the concept and implementation of the Ministry of Education’s NEP is a right and much-needed step on that front.

What is that one powerful message you want to give to the world in these tough times?

Unlearning and relearning is one of the biggest takeaways in today’s world. What was applicable five years ago, is not relevant anymore. The pace of learning and development has accelerated the globe towards new realities and unforeseen situations that have caused everyone to introspect on what matters in education, workplaces, organizations, leaderships and most importantly, life. The most powerful learning, in my understanding today is -- Change with challenges and you will survive and grow.


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