Video Quick Take: Accenture’s Manish Sharma on Skills for Future-Ready Performance

Video Quick Take: Accenture’s Manish Sharma on Skills for Future-Ready Performance


Manish Sharma, Group CEO, Accenture Operations

A new report from Accenture Operations argues that as digital acceleration advances a company’s operational maturity, new expectations will emerge for what is possible and what skills are needed to achieve future-ready performance. In this latest HBR Video Quick Take, we hear from Manish Sharma, group chief executive officer of Accenture Operations on this and other topics.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Welcome to the HBR Video Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, editor of special projects at HBR, and I want to thank everybody for joining us today. In this Quick Take, we’re joined by Manish Sharma, group CEO of Accenture Operations, to discuss some of the themes that came out of Accenture’s recent research, “Fast-Track to Future-Ready Performance.” Manish, thank you so much for joining us today.

Manish Sharma, Accenture
My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Manish, I wanted to start by asking: What are some of the more interesting themes that came out of your new research?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
What’s transpired from this period of unprecedented change is leaders’ expectations of what the operating model can achieve in the context of strategy, growth, and future of work. We are seeing the role of operations pivot from cost efficiency to driving growth and value, especially as the current environment has put a premium on new, agile ways of doing things. Our new research found that even in the current economic uncertainty, a small group of companies, about 7% of the total, still outperform peers with three times higher profitability.

These future-ready leaders drive what I call “operational reinvention.” They approach future-readiness by thinking about how work actually gets done across technology, processes, and people. Practically speaking, this might be finding new ways to fill orders, serve customers, or develop products by enhancing the processes and the roles of technology, data, and people.

Julie Devoll, HBR
What are examples of future-ready leaders that were able to change operations so quickly during the pandemic?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
Operational maturity and a strong digital core have helped leading companies adapt to the crisis quickly. Let me give you a few examples from our own work. We helped a major grocery chain reduce inventory by 30% using AI-powered insights to achieve more precise forecasts and allocate to stores with more accuracy, in some cases up to eight weeks in advance.

Another example: A telecommunications company improved chat forecasting and reduced manual chat analysis by 90%. This significantly improved customer satisfaction and resulted in $65 million in additional value from digitized processes, specialized talent, and AI assets.

Julie Devoll, HBR
What are some of the things that future-ready leaders do differently?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
We found future leaders do six things radically differently. One, they think big and go beyond incremental change to harnessing for reinvention. Two, they put cloud infrastructure at the core, as knowledge workers can only succeed if they have a seamless flow of information.

Third, they enhance intuition with better, more diverse data. Critical thinking and problem-solving are the backbone of an enterprise, and having actionable insights to support decisions is the only way for data to translate into employee productivity. Fourth, they scale automation, AI, and integrated solutions with leading practices—considering only 20% of what can be automated actually is automated today. Fifth, they foster a specialized workforce and augment them with technology. The last one, sixth, they build complementary ecosystem partnerships.

Julie Devoll, HBR
How will the talent blueprint change for companies as they progress to future-ready operations?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
These future-ready leaders understand one thing above everything else: It is about maximizing talent in an era when people are critical to success. That means it is about emphasizing the human skills that distinguish us from machines. The future won’t be a one-size-fits-all. In fact, it is possible that the workforce will look different for every organization. However, we can expect the talent pipeline to evolve as a company’s operational maturity advances, setting new expectations for what is possible and new performance standards and needs.

This progression will automate more transactional tasks and extract more value from the data. As this happens, future-ready leaders will see the talent blueprint expand and shift into equal parts specialists, robotics solutions, and transactional talent. In other words, you typically need more people—not fewer—but the type of work they do changes.

Julie Devoll, HBR
What new skills get added as operational maturity advances, and how do you make these changes?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
For example, in my own business we have seen this progression has increased demand for several new type of skills. One, business advisors, finding how to reduce inventory and optimize working capital. Second, tech advisors, such as the automation engineers.

The third is the industry and the functional experts who can account for new ways of working, areas of expertise, and how to best to transform and adapt. Fourth, the data scientists who analyze the data and structure so that it can extract huge amounts of value. Case in point: If only 1% of data is being used today, this is an area with significant untapped potential.

Fifth, the tech engineers who can continually scale and advance maturity of AI, cloud, and security—for example, an AI engineer working with data scientists to create an algorithm to predict which vendor will pay and when. A key point that is crucially important is that you bring your people with you—as demand for talent shifts from transactional to specialized expertise—and you equip them with the skills they need to move into the future through reskilling and training programs.

For example, we have six reskilling centers in my business as of today. The fact is, automation must be seen as an enabler, not a threat, if you want to succeed. You do that by making your people part of the process, incentivizing progress, and rewarding ideas that align with the future.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Manish, why do you think the impact of technology is greatest when it starts with people in operations?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
Technology shines the brightest when it augments human ability and changes how the work actually gets done. This is because the very essence of a company is guided by how it operates. Changing how the work gets done has effects that ripple across all aspects of the enterprise, including employee retention and customer experience. We know from our own lives that nobody enjoys doing boring work.

When you take all the boring stuff away, what’s left is what human beings really do best: creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication. When the right technology also augments people and improves experiences for the customers and the employees, automation can make a service feel simple by streamlining processes and making interactions consistent at every single touch point. It can also make services accessible anytime, anywhere.

Julie Devoll, HBR
What is the guiding principle you keep top of mind when you’re tackling these challenges?

Manish Sharma, Accenture
I think it all starts with thinking big. One of my most favorite aspirational quotes is, “The great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in aiming too low and achieving our mark.” I say this because it’s about stretching our imagination and the boundaries of what we can achieve when we explore what’s possible. I’m a strong believer that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without aiming high and testing the limits of what we can do. Human beings have unlimited potential if given the opportunity.

Julie Devoll, HBR
Manish, this has been a great discussion. I want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Manish Sharma, Accenture
Great being with you. Thank you.

To learn more about the skills needed to be a future-ready operation, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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