Working in the age of tech: Microsoft Gulf HR director's advice – Gulf News

‘We’re all humans at the end of the day,’ Anu Sabapathy says
DUBAI:
Flexibility. Adaptability. Tech-savviness. Everyone looking over the job ads, whether they’re a college-leaver or someone looking to change jobs, is familiar with those requirements.
Gulf News spoke to Anu Sabapathy about why employers want those qualities, and what you can do to demonstrate you have them. As HR Director of Microsoft Gulf, she’s at the very heart of both career-building advice and the technological revolution sweeping workplaces.
“Everything we’re exposed to right now, whatever industry, whether its financial, public sector partners, small- and medium-sized firms, everyone has been exposed to digital transformation in some way, shape or form,” Sabapathy said in an interview on the fringes of Gitex Technology Week recently.
She added, “What used to be relevant 20 years ago isn’t as much [now] … Everything that we do is anchored in this growth mindset, which is premised on the fact that potential is nurtured, not predetermined, that everyone can grow and develop, and that it begins with a learner mindset.”
Microsoft adopts a top-down approach to developing adaptability: train leaders and managers to be flexible and creative, and encourage them to coach their teams. “We expect our leaders to kind of storytell and role model around what a growth mindset could look like: how do you take risks and fail, how do you learn from your mistakes,” Sabapathy said. “And so through storytelling and giving examples from the leadership right down, disseminating it right down through the organisation, having a consistent message, has really helped us in terms of the language and the communication that we’re using in shifting our culture.”
Alongside that, Microsoft Gulf has changed the way it conducts appraisals. Gone are the individual targets to be marked ‘achieved’ or ‘progressing’. Instead the firm has adopted what Sabapathy calls a trifecta of qualities measuring employees’ impact on the company: individual priorities, what you’ve contributed to others’ success, and what you’ve learnt.
“I think the important thing for employees or people to think about is, ‘Are we growing and developing at a pace that the organisation requires.’ That’s the critical factor there,” she said.
For job candidates, she said, it’s important to demonstrate the willingness and ability to be innovative, no matter what role you seek in an organisation.
“Someone who’s able to articulate that aspect of their experience has become a game-changer for us. It’s not a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘plus to have’. Sometimes that’s the must-have in particular roles,” she said.
“We’re focused on customer obsession — if I say to you … tell me how you influenced a customer differently, or in an innovative way, it doesn’t matter if you’re from a small company or a large company, if you articulate to me how you help the customer at the core of your engagement, and how you influenced the customer to do something differently because of your leadership in there, then that’s an interesting conversation for us.”
You don’t need qualifications in computing or engineering, or other STEM subjects, she said. “There’s so many different fields in technology. There’s finance, there’s HR. You don’t have to be a technology expert to work for a technology company. You have to have a passion for technology and what it can do.”
While automation and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence are changing the way we work, flexibility and lifelong learning ensures continuous relevance to employers, she said.
“You don’t need to be left behind. I don’t think anyone needs to be left behind, but I think people will progress at different paces depending on where their mindset’s at.”
There were significant changes within human resources, she pointed out. “We’ve got an influx of big data and power VI that’s taking over how we do our roles as well, which is a big shift even from as recently as a few years ago … The way we do HR today isn’t the same as we did HR three years ago. The capabilities and the new skills that technology also offers and provides, it provides for a really innovative learning experience. If you shift your mindset and take on this whole learner mentality and not have this fear when technology comes, that you’d rather embrace it, there are very unique ways you can do your role, whatever role it is, and amplify your impact.”
Keeping current and learning new skills keeps employees relevant in an changing employment landscape where the future is hard to predict, she added.
“I do think that the set of capabilities and the set of skills that are being required from people in the workplace today is very different from what it was five and 10 years ago, and I think one of the things that I love about this learner mindset, this learner mentality, is that it transcends the kind of era that you’re in.
“Whether you’re in a fast-paced upturn or a downturn, if you keep this at the core there’s always something that you’re taking away, and there’s always and capability or muscle that you’re building, that’s making you better as a person, as an individual.”
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