I interview Mr Sumit Nurpuri, Capgemini’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) who shares his views on management, leadership, and his view on the future of work.
In his years as the chief operating officer of Capgemini, Mr Nurpuri leads the service lines and operations across the South-east Asian region. Mr Nurpuri is also responsible for establishing new service lines and promoting sustained practice development and leads a team dedicated to Client Success.
Development wise, he is responsible for a number of people-related initiatives including the establishment of a Graduate programme, a Reverse Mentoring programme, and he is the sponsor for three organisation development initiatives dedicated to diversity, employee engagement, as well as learning and development.
Apart from being a member of the management board at Capgemini South-east Asia (SEA) and Hong Kong, he was key in many of Capgemini’s new initiatives in SEA, including the establishment of an Applied Innovation Exchange (AIE). Singapore’s AIE is part of a diverse global ecosystem that aims to apply innovation meaningful ways to help businesses move from problem statements to tangible and competitive outcomes.
Mr Sumit Nurpuri, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Capgemini
Mr Nurpuri was also instrumental in Capgemini’s portfolio move to digital that includes setting up numerous practices across multiple technologies as part of the Digital Customer Experience (DCX) Service Line. It helps that he is a passionate individual when it comes to making time for client engagements especially in three key sectors that are undergoing a substantive change like transformation of Telcos into Digital Ecosystem enablers, the opportunities in the region from deregulation in utilities, and the aspiration of traditional retailers to increase their share from E-commerce.
Mr Nurpuri shares his views in this interview pertaining to his work, his management and leadership styles among others.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Mr Sumit Nurpuri (SN): While the terms leadership and management are interchangeable, there are also significant differences between the two. Leaders orient more towards creating a vision and goal for the company, while managers often helm the role of execution. Today, effective leadership would consist of three key attributes—delivering digital mastery, understanding the disruption in business, and shaping the future of work. The shared effort of managers drives such results as they utilise their skills to coach and coordinate the overall ecosystem.
SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
SN: I am a firm believer that adaptability is key to successful leadership. This means that leaders must be flexible in operating under a working style that aligns with their business environment. In the past, I held a more autocratic leadership style, where I focussed on producing results in alignment with my goals. As the world turned more towards building a diverse, inclusive, and learning-centred workplace culture, I have adopted a more guided approach in my leadership style. This means providing employees with a sense of empowerment and accountability regardless of position, as well as promoting collaboration and partnerships across teams to deliver on organisational goals.
SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
SN: Balance is key to effective leadership and a successful business. This means being future-oriented while having an ear to the ground, challenging the status quo where fitting, and practicing empowered accountability. That aside, leaders also need to ensure that their behaviours are in line with their company’s culture. We need to be the change we want to see, especially in today’s “Show me, don’t tell me” millennial age.
SJN: How do you stay motivated?
SN: As much as we love what we do, I understand that there will be instances where we find that our motivation at work dwindles. During times like these, I try to find a balance. This can be as simple as taking on projects that I am passionate about or having hobbies outside of work. Over the past three years, I have played an active role in Capgemini’s Graduate programme, and more recently a reverse mentoring initiative where younger employees are paired with senior executives to mentor them on various topics and skills. What I love about this arrangement is the promotion of continuous learning between both parties. Through this programme, younger employees are exposed to broader business processes and networks, while senior executives can learn from the digital natives and adopt fresh perspectives.
SJN: How big is your team and how do you manage and motivate your team?
SN: I work with a direct team of not more than a dozen individuals, each cutting across diverse work functions—operations, service lines, customer success, recruitment, and graduate programmes. I like to empower and support my team to take action and be a part of the decision-making process. This also means that there is trust and understanding in place to ensure that their efforts are in line with company goals.
SJN: When and why did you join Capgemini?
SN: I joined Capgemini in September 2012. Mr Gaurav Modi, then Regional Director and now Managing Director of Capgemini in Southeast Asia, was setting up the regional unit, and it seemed like an exciting challenge to set up something from the ground-up. Fast forward to today, and we are now a thousand-strong team delivering programmes across a range of sectors in SEA that I am incredibly proud of—programmes of national significance, cutting edge digital technologies, as well as on cultural transformation in legacy organisations.
SJN: Any personal favourite projects that have come out from your time with Capgemini?
SN: The best projects are those that not only meet their objectives but also drive exceptional outcomes that radically transform the organisation. At Capgemini, majority of our business focusses on implementing digital technologies in legacy organisations. Some of our most gratifying works are when we not only transform customer experiences through the solutions we implement, but the employee experience and organisational culture as a whole.
SJN: What are your views on the future of work?
SN: With COVID-19, ‘Virtual work” is the area that comes most into focus. Even though organisations like ours have had substantial remote working for decades, the pandemic has posed a whole range of new questions to both employees and their leaders.
The move to virtual working becomes more than a change of modus operandi—it requires a deep change in behaviours and mindset for both leaders and employees.
In addition, there are three key factors affecting the future of work—automation, talent upskilling, as well as diversity and inclusion. As today’s digital landscape gets fuelled by automation and artificial intelligence (AI), findings from a World Economic Forum (WEF) report suggests that 61 per cent of work can be done by a machine or algorithm by 2022, up from 36 per cent in 2017. Often, these tasks are manual and susceptible to human error, and automation allows for better efficiency of business operations.
However, as automation advances, millions of workers often risk being left behind. To counter this, organisations need to place their efforts in attracting, developing, and retaining digital talent. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey by Capgemini, only 16 per cent of organisations plan to upskill their current workforce as a primary response to the impact of automation, with 73 per cent yet to execute a pilot run of their upskilling initiatives. Furthermore, there is an equal onus on employees to upskill themselves continuously. This requires a radical change in mindset from administering an incremental upgrading of skills to having an aptitude to self-learn.
As we journey through this epistemic opacity, what we can do is create an adaptive culture of continuous learning and expose ourselves to as many options as we can, so when the future reveals itself, we can exploit the opportunities.
Mr Sumit Nurpuri with teams
SJN: What is the relation between Capgemini and the future of work?
SN: Capgemini is actively involved in the future of work, both as a consulting research firm and its own organisational transformation to be future-ready. Our Capgemini Research Institute (CRI) has been collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to research and publish on digital trends for many years now, and Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Report has been considered a reliable and definitive perspective on this subject. Post Covid-19, you can see relevant reports from CRI on Contactless customer experience, reinvention of the supply chain, and trends in HR. All of these aspects have impacted us as well, and as an organisation that works with clients in over 45 countries across all industries to navigate digital journeys, we use that experience to build the future of work from within. Both globally and in Southeast Asia, virtual work, employee engagement, diversity, inclusion, as well as learning and development are significant priorities for us.
SJN: What have some of the challenges faced by local companies pertaining to the future of work?
SN: As technology evolves, workplace culture will face some significant shifts and challenges for companies across the board. In the same Capgemini survey, 62 per cent of organisations consider culture as their top hurdle to digital transformation, an integral part of the future of work. To prepare for the future of work, organisations need to drive towards a culture that is future-ready for their customers and employees. This includes creating a transformation vision, a governance structure to enable the execution, the business and technology relationships to produce the results, and engaging employees in the journey.
What has been heartening to see is the innovation that a number of organisations have brought in their business in the current context. Touchless Retail, online ordering and payments, and online customer experience. This has not been restricted to just large organisations but also in areas from yoga trainers to small restaurants.
SJN: Based on your years of experience, what are some of the misconceptions of locals’ view of the future of work, as well as the opportunities that have surfaced from it?
SN: We live in extraordinary times. The opportunities created by the fourth industrial revolution are exponentially higher than the previous three. Think about all the jobs that exist now with automation and compare them with what existed even 30 years ago—the evolution is extreme. The rate of innovation is always accelerated by crisis, as we’re seeing in this pandemic. However, like the crises before it, this disruption also brings along the fear of lost jobs, displacement, and outdated skills. To outweigh these challenges, organisations ought to develop actionable steps to manage this transition to ensure the least possible disruption, while maximising the benefits it brings. The steps we spoke about earlier—envisaging the demands of the future organisation and understanding current and future skill needs, and deigning an effective employee value proposition. Talent insights, adaptive ecosystems, workforce augmentation and automation—all these and more are some of the digital and leadership capabilities that organisations will have to focus on even more.
SJN: How can the government help local companies and the like to work around the future of work?
SN: Regulators can, in general, design prudent and forward-looking economic, education and employment policies. In Singapore, the Economic Development Board (EDB) encourages organisations to upgrade their capabilities or expand their business scope through several schemes—the Research Incentive Scheme for Companies (RISC), Training Grant for Company (TGC), and Pioneer Certificate Incentive (PCI), amongst many others. Furthermore, programmes like SkillsFuture have also been put into place to encourage Singaporean employees to engage in continuous learning and upgrade their skills. Government measures aside, it is also essential for organisations to collaborate closely with the government to develop an effective and sustainable strategy together.
SJN: What is your opinion on Singaporean companies’ ability to maximise the future of work?
SN: The disruption of work is an opportunity for Singaporean companies to highlight their adaptability. To maximise this opportunity, businesses would have to address these four areas:
- Developing a clear vision and strategy alongside cultural initiatives in collaboration with stakeholders across the ecosystem (i.e. education, start-ups, and social enterprises);
- Continuously reskilling and upskilling of talent in alignment with current market trends and organisational strategy;Moving towards a dexterous organisation structure that is flexible and adaptive to market developments; and
- Promoting a digital culture that encourages collaboration, empowerment, customer orientation, and appropriate risk appetite.
SJN: Any advice for Singaporeans as to how to deal with the future of work?
SN: As individuals, we need to understand the technological transformation trends that will affect the future of work, and then adopt an attitude of continuous learning and upskilling. When the first industrial revolution started in the late 18th century, there was fear and panic that people would be out of jobs. Conversely, such shifts contributed to global economic and productivity growth. What we need to do is prepare for a different dynamic—be adaptable to the new opportunities that will arise and be prepared to work to exploit them to our advantage. Author Mr Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who predicted the financial crash of 2008, would call this epistemic opacity—while we cannot predict what will happen, we can definitely choose to expose ourselves to happy accidents and put skin in the game.
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