Infosys’ Global HR Head Krish Shankar authors ‘Catalyse’, a contemporary HR Playbook; Shares views on Management Practices and Education, fondly remembers XLRI days: Interview

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Updated on May 24, 2022
Krish Shankar, the Executive Vice President and the Group Head of Human Resource Development at Infosys, has authored ‘Catalyse: Power up your People Ecosystem’ which focuses on developing the ‘People Ecosystem’. Founder Amit Agnihotri interviewed Krish Shankar on the key lessons from the book, his views on changing management practices and the role for management educators.
‘Catalyse’ by Krish Shankar, Infosys Global HR Head

Well known CXO, and now an author, Krishnamurthy (Krish) Shankar is the Executive Vice President and the Group Head of Human Resource Development at Infosys. Krish has over 30 years of experience and has led several global HR functions in organizations like Bharti Airtel, Philips, Hindustan Unilever and Unilever. Krish completed his management education at XLRI Jamshedpur.

In December 2021, Krish published his first book - ‘Catalyse: Power up your People Ecosystem’. The book focuses on developing the ‘people ecosystem’. Set in a unique reader friendly style, the basic intent of the book is to help the readers improve their understanding of working with people – a key 21st century skill. The Book has CXOs like Leena Nair, Global CEO of Chanel; Anuradha Razdan, CHRO of HUL and Anand Kripalu, the former CEO of Diageo sharing their experiences on hot topics. Innovations of new-age companies like Amazon, Zara, Indigo and Swiggy have been studied and highlighted too. Founder Amit Agnihotri interviewed Krish Shankar on the key lessons from the book, his views on how management practices are changing today and its impact on management education. Edited excerpts from the in-depth interview follow. A must-read interview for every MBA educator and student!

Q: Krish, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Let’s start with the book. Catalyse has received a great response. Did you anticipate this…What is the most cherished moment since your book came out...
Yes, the response to the book has been very positive. The key moment for me was when people I don't know at all write to me on Linkedin that they read the book, and they are going to treasure it as a 'mentor' or a guide! Even seasoned CHROs wrote to me that they found the book very useful. Quite heartening when you consider that reading as a habit is coming down all across!

The most cherished was when respected academics like Prof Madhukar Shukla of XLRI and Prof Zubin Mulla of TISS gave great recommendations. Of course, the best was when an HR head of a company orders hundreds of copies for all his team- these moments make you feel that your effort was worth it! 

Q: You wrote the book in 2020 during the COVID times. What was the process like... How much time did it take.
The pandemic weekends gave me some free time- and also a lot of food for thought as there was a lot of debate on how things are changing. It also gave me time to read more books, listen to interesting podcasts and discussions. That's when I thought I should write a more contemporary HR playbook- put all my learnings over these 4 decades together with some latest research ideas, and inputs from other CEOs/CHROs.

Q: So, what has the process of publishing a book taught you?
It has taught me more patience- a book is a long, tough project. Initial enthusiasm when you have the idea and start writing, but there are always some dips when things don't come together easily. Then there is the long process after the writing- the editing, layout, proofs etc. You may have the ideas- but to get it to reality needs a lot of little things, and a lot of people, coming together.

Q: As you mention that megatrends like Technology & Automation are changing how we manage companies. How is HR Function different today than in past?
The rate of change in every industry is huge- more so in technology dominated ones. As a society, we are also changing- our attitudes, wants and aspirations are changing significantly. This reflects in the HR function- over the years the function has changed to become more agile, we have to keep refreshing our value proposition as an employer, lead more contemporary issues of culture, inclusion, diversity etc, become more tech enabled and at the heart of it, the function has become truly integral to business success.

Q: How is Technology and Automation changing nature of Managerial Work? Is ‘Management’ different today than it was a decade back?
Yes, very much different. Today you just can't be an aggregator or a pure people manager. Routine operations or decisions no longer need a manager. Technology has also flattened and softened the hierarchy. So, the manager today has to be at the leading edge of her work- you have to add value, and you have to inspire and develop your team. You have to have some expertise that helps you add value too. 

Q: Some experts like LBS’s Prof Lynda Gratton have proclaimed death of the ‘Middle Manager’. Do you agree?
I don't agree that the 'Middle Manager' is dying- but yes, it is changing. They have a key role of managing change and developing talent- in every large organisation, this group is critical in driving change and grooming talent. But they can't be rooted in the past- they have to be at the cutting edge of their work area. In our careers, we have to build one core area of expertise that is current and will probably last for another 5-6 years, and then we have to pick the next one. So reskilling and learning has to be core for our careers- in a way, we have to reinvent ourselves every decade or so.

Q: Given the Mega Trends, why should businesses focus on the ‘people systems’?
Understanding how to leverage 'people systems' and to get the best out of people, at scale, is critical. Most successful leaders have three strengths- strategic business acumen, great leadership skills and the ability to leverage their people systems. With so much change that we see in people and society, we have to be contemporary in, and keep refreshing, what we do to get the best of our people ecosystems.

Q: In Chapter 3, you say that by understanding Positive Psychology, Emotions, Growth Mindset we can get more out of our people. Can you please elaborate…
There are many ideas in the book, but let me give you one example. Take 'collective emotions' of a team, for instance. In the past, the general thinking was to keep emotions out of everything. But current research says that emotions can be a powerful lever for change. If you want the team to grow the business aggressively, they need to feel the emotions of optimism and pride. Similarly, if you want them to collaborate well, they all need to feel the emotions of compassion and gratitude. And these emotions can be built consciously by a set of routines in the company and by our behaviour as leaders. 

Q: So, what are key takeaways from your book that you want everyone to understand and benefit from?
The first is that I want people to go back to the basics, as they say. Look at what people outcomes you want to achieve for your business to be successful, and work on that, without getting caught in 'silo thinking'. I have outlined ten foundational outcomes that we all need to plan for- pick up a few priorities for you and work on it. Another takeaway is that while HR is still a lot of basic common sense, there is some new research you can rely on and be more effective. And lastly, if they could understand the changing role of HR. 

Q: Coming to management education, what are your reflections of XLRI days!
My years in XLRI, although now 40 years back, have been life changing. It opened my eyes to the wider world, from my small-town middle-class upbringing. The network of classmates and friends has been a great source of learning. It helped me with a way to think through and solve problems. Most importantly, it helped me build my interpersonal skills and helped clarify my values, especially the need to respect people, be humble and collaborative. Lastly, it kindled my passion for what we called 'Organisation Behaviour' (OB!) those days- the foundation for HR. 

Q: What is your message to Faculty members teaching Business and HR areas? How can they prepare their students better?
I think the faculty is doing a fabulous job teaching HR. The only suggestion I would have is for us to increase the experiential part of learning and integrate some of the newest research into our teaching. Can the students be encouraged to do some original work through research or live projects?

Q: Finally, your message to young MBAs on why HR Function continues to be important…How can they prepare themselves?
As the world around us changes faster, is becoming more complex and interconnected, and people becoming more critical to the success of every organisation, HR will become even more significant in its impact. Irrespective of whether you are a business leader or an HR leader, you need to understand the nuances of people systems, and how to leverage them to get your people to be at their best. While you can start by reading 'Catalyse', this will be an important journey for each of you- so keep learning, reflecting! 

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