Monday, April 23, 2012

Making HR Count

Below is an excerpt of my recent talk before the HR professionals from Hi-Tech sector.
There are always enough people in the organizations who know more about HR than the HR fraternity! CEOs, in any case, know about everything better than anyone else in the organization—(and I’m not saying that there aren’t any exceptions!) That is their birthright! And other Business Unit heads are no different! Assuming that most of us have all the basic (and common?) knowledge about HR, my objective here is to share something little off-beat that will be interesting and something that is generally not found in books and business presentations.

Assume for a minute that you are being asked to make a sound like a cat – what will you do?

What comes to your mind immediately is – meow meow – sound of a cat. Think again. What comes to your mind?

Did you think of roaring like a tiger? No. Not even when we know that tigers are big cats.

This is because our mind is conditioned to think in a particular manner. Why do we feel that there are too many organizational hurdles in making HR count—conditioning again. We need to break that. Here are some powerful ways of making HR count.

So, what makes one count? What sets one apart? Some people catch our attention more than the others. Why?

Let us leave HR aside for a moment and think about our own organizations. Who or what kind of people catch more attention? What are their characteristics? Confidence, rank, expression or mere appearance? Or all of that??

If we think about that majestic creature - Tiger, what sets him apart?

• Presence/ aura/ charishma

• Energy/ vigour/ livelineness/ get-up-and-go

• Impact/ dramatic effect/ bang

• Attitude/ manner/ stance

• Power perception—power is at its best when not in use. This is because people always are left guessing at how strong it will be and the advantage is always with the perceived power holder. What does this power do? Power to change lives, perspectives, organizations.

• Influence/ weight/ sway

• Possibility of benefitting from the association - In case of a tiger, it just a visual treat. But in case of humans, there is a real possibility of tangible benefits like knowledge gain, emotional support, intellectual satisfaction and so on.

• Results - of course they are very important. What if the tiger actually runs away at the bark of a dog? This is an ultimate test. Assuming that everyone contributes adequately to the results (sustained results), what should set HR apart are the aspects that go beyond the routine results, and therefore, a promise to deliver bigger and better results becomes critical!

I am making a reference to the tiger here with a purpose. Corporate world is in a way a complete animal kingdom and let us now explore this wonderland to see where HR fits in.

Tigers want things on their terms. They are generally the bosses, but when they are not the bosses they can be mice in front of their own bosses! So, no one is permanently one animal. They behave like different animals in different situations. Where are the HR professionals in this entire melee?

To my mind, to make HR count, the HR tigers should remain tigers even in the company of stronger tigers!!!

I am sure that you have seen many HR professionals who are tigers in their dens or let us say their domains. There are many such people like the compensation experts, the behavioural experts, the recruitment experts. But what happens to them when they are in the company of the CXOs? As I mentioned at the beginning, every CXO has ‘in depth’ insights in every part of HR function. As a result, HR gets busy satisfying and accommodating each one’s point of view, thereby diluting one’s expert position. It then invariably becomes a mouse opposite a tiger kind of a situation! The HR tigers can do well in standing firm to the ground on convictions that are earned through toil, study & professional passion!

It is for the CEO to discard the compensation study by saying that it is at best a neatly woven piece of imperfect science that can very easily be replaced by his/her rich leadership insights and intuitions—which is another way of saying ‘bin those crap reports’. And it is for the HR professionals to stand up and argue why they are not only necessary for deploying a fair compensation structure, but even more importantly, the direct business result such initiatives can influence - like talent attraction and retention. Everyone in the organization, once a while, needs a reminder that nothing is a bigger competitive differentiator than talent. HR can keep ‘roaring’ this fundamental fact most effectively. Therefore, HR must roar with confidence.

There are also Eagles who fly high and yet don’t lose an eye off the ground. But there are eagles that fly high and lose touch with the ground, the so called corporate strategists!

When confronted with such species, HR should choose to take on role of eagles that fly high but without compromising their ability to be close to the ground. Sounds like a tall order? But who said the corporate world is fair and easy to live in? When the corporate strategists sermon HR to refresh talent immediately i.e. fire and hire--both in large numbers, then HR should be able to argue their case with strength by emphasizing the downsides such as sudden erosion in organizational experience and knowledge, posing risks to business continuity, or the adverse cultural impacts of such drastic actions and so on. The main point here is – do not act like obedient small time birds in front of the eagles, but take up roles of eagle themselves.

Butterflies spread colour and happiness and are a treat to watch, but they are very delicate and fragile. They can’t really be befriended; they will perish with your touch. They are the new product developers, who break very frequently in the face of real life questions. They are so much in love with their creativity that they almost become fragile vis-à-vis any criticism. And there are such stereotypes present in the HR fraternity as well. They are the folks who normally conduct (or roll-out!!!) sexy training interventions. They also hobnob in other soft areas like fun events, festive celebrations et al. Great presenters, their slides are a visual treat, their delivery is eye-catching, their programs are attractive but if you ask them how they influence the business results, they will fly away like the butterflies. We don’t need such butterflies in HR! What we need are the folks who tailor interventions that best suit the people and the business priorities at once. Family day may be a great concept in India, but not in an organization whose average employee age is 26! They will require a different stimulus altogether.

There are Honey bees as well, whose only mission in life is to collect lots of honey and offer it to the queen bee. It is beyond a doubt that the organizations do require a platoon of honey bees. But they also need queen bees that command extra-ordinary performance from ordinary folks.

And then there are plenty of Giraffes – their presence denotes a situation where people are meddling into the affairs of others. Don’t we all have them in our organizations? We always come across many people who have strong opinion on how other departments should function. With a long neck they can hardly see what lies below and near their feet, but can easily see what lies outside their areas. We in HR have a clear advantage of being giraffes with a difference. We run a function that has an intrinsic advantage of knowing what is happening in all business groups. Our information and knowledge bridges are people. But if we confine ourselves into our own citadels we are forgoing the best opportunity to contribute to the overall business. Why can’t the HR person be a candidate for the business operations role? Why can’t HR be invited into a brand-building task force? Why can’t we contribute to the process of defining where the new centers should be located? And why can’t we be part of the takeover decisions? Why should HR come into picture only at the implementation stage? Therefore, we must actively leave our fortresses of comfort first.

Faced with a sudden growth challenge, the Bull, with its narrow focus, springs into an immediate action. He contacts placement agencies, starts working on the employment adverts, pulls the team of recruiters together and briefs them on the task—basically, simply calls for frenzy! Thoughts such as inviting creative solutions, collaborative decision making, drawing teams into detailed planning process etc. do not even touch the bulls. Overall scale-up of activities, heightened noise levels, palpable intolerance to any thorough approach defines the situation. Misses and near-misses are ignored and the pace is kept intact. More than the progress itself, a perception of progress transmitted through urgent actions, insulates bulls from any immediate criticism. But they certainly hit their own milestones of failure, owing to lack of adequate planning. They then get assigned to another high energy project, leaving the rest to the DOGS to faithfully clear the mess. Of course, in a different organization, the bull may get weeded out as well. That really depends on which animals are more favoured in a given organization. Do we need such bulls in HR?

Therefore, a time has come for us to change our mindsets…

• Impact and not Programs

HR should be known by the impacts it makes and not the programs it runs. This has traditionally been a tricky area—the intangible. But no longer! Everything that HR does ‘is’ (and if not ‘should be’) expressible in the language of tangible business results. The problem arises when HR runs good programs but not necessarily the business enabling interventions.

HR does employee satisfaction surveys or engagement surveys. Why? Because it is now established beyond any doubt that E-sat and C-sat have a strong positive correlation. The point is, how many HR professionals monitor such co-relation in their organizations? And do they take corrective actions when they find any disconnects?

HR does compensation surveys to keep employees at market competitive salaries. Why? Because if that is not done, employees will leave. So what if the attrition raises? Opportunity cost, replacement cost are downsides from cost perspective. What about tenure and higher quality of service correlation? And at what stage tenure starts returning unfavourable results? Are your HR programs tuned to your organizational reality? Do you know your business metrics well? Or are you engrossed in implementing either most commonsensical or just attractive looking programs that draw attention but not necessarily the business results.

• Relationship and not Position

Gone are the days when HR was seen as an all powerful function because of the position it held, the data it owned, the decisions it made (hire/fire etc.). Organizations are much decentralized now. Managerial self -help tools and processes have taken much of the traditional ‘power’ away from HR.

• Information sharing and not holding it up

• BMP and not PMP i.e. Business Management Process and not merely Performance Management process

• Capability Building and not Training and Development

Training and Development is no longer a discretionary HR initiative. In fact, Learning and Development—please note, it is not Training and Development, is an integral part of the holistic HR offerings aimed at Organizational capability Building process—it is not a bunch of stand-alone and ‘nice to have’ training programs.

Next Practices Vs. Best Practices

• Leadership Vs. Followership

Leaders create followers; followers create leaders.

This whole idea revolves around the paradoxical thought that those who are the best leaders usually are the best followers. Truthfully, we all follow someone or something and it is our ability to follow guides us to lead.

If we only channelize all our energies creating leaders , aren’t we forgetting to shape a large majority that is expected to follow the leaders in a particular manner?

• Integrating company business objectives into CSR programs

The realization that companies can and should play an important role in the communities that they operate within—and for the larger organizations they need to work across the nation and around the world has become extremely critical. The sole purpose of the business used to be to increase value for shareholders. However, modern day businesses are expected to have concurrent priorities and not all of them are in exclusive realms of enhancing shareholder value.

And quite independent of the above point, business leaders are beginning to realize that an effective corporate social responsibility goal can be much more than a feel-good public relations (PR) release for prospective customers, employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders; it can have a significant and positive impact on the core business metrics.

• Exiting Vs. Existing

While the industry focuses on “why employees are exiting”, it is equally (or indeed much more!) important to shift insightful inquiry to understand “why employees are staying back in the organization” and identifying the organization’s strengths and building on them.

• Profit Vs. Sustainability

The dilemma faced by the organizations today is balancing profits vs. social/environmental sustainability. But is it really necessary to view it in such a trade-off type of a paradigm?

Aligning business performance and sustainability is actually quite possible, and many leading organizations are waking up to a reality that it is possible to maximize profits AND also simultaneously shape positive social and environmental impact. In fact organizations are pursuing a sustainability agenda to advance their business goals and improve their profitability. Sustainability is seen as (a) a driver of innovation and tool for market leadership, and (b) improving the top-line/ bottom-line.

• Appraisers Vs. Appraisees

Every organization has 100% of its employees as appraisees and ~30-35% who are appraisers as well. And yet, we spend enormous amounts of resources training only the appraisers! Shouldn’t we also prioritize enrolling a large majority of appraises into the organizational thinking around performance management? Or should we continue to leave that task exclusively to the appraisers and then blame them for doing a shoddy job? Enterprise-wide initiatives covering appraisees are sadly lacking and badly needed!

• War for talent — Poaching Vs. Building

When the time comes to fill your vacant positions, will you promote from within or hire outside talent? Is your talent management strategy to coach or poach? The organizations should be able to grow their talent from within by hiring their people at an early age and developing them over the course of their careers. Poaching may solve your immediate problem but remember, that adds to the overall strain on the wider business landscape and most importantly, if you try to poach, sure enough you will be an equal target for poaching.

• Upstream involvement in campus

Attracting talent sometimes means marketing the corporation to the people who might one day take a job there. Organizations should take steps to increase its name recognition, improve its brand attraction and fill its talent pipeline by inviting students for internship programs and training them. This is not a new idea, but a lot needs to happen in engaging prospective employee community upstream.

• Managing the rejected candidates well

Improving the rejected candidate experience can reap benefits by retaining the interest of unsuccessful job seekers for future vacancies and building a talent pool of candidates who want to work for your organization. In any case, not making a rejected candidate your brand ambassador is clearly an example of a lost opportunity. A point that also needs attention is ‘whether organizations can have a systematic program that can train borderline rejected candidates to quickly scale-up.’ Any experiment in this area will yield productive results for the organization and also help them optimize their otherwise wasted effort.

• Mastering all HR functions…going beyond specialization

Have you heard of a Generalist Engineer or a Finance Generalist or indeed a generalist in function other than HR? If not, then surely we must accept that this is a self-inflicted problem within the HR community. No, we are not the generalists. We are as much the specialists in our field of HRM as any other professional is in his/her area. And mastery is anyway beyond any specialization and applicable to every discipline and not just HR alone. We of course need to understand the importance and relevance of mastery—works of Pink, Senge and Gratton give plenty of insights on the subject that any HR person should know about for effectively managing their function.

And this is how we must do it…

• We must do HR with an Attitude.

We are no longer the note takers, or mere facilitators in senior management discussions, or the team building resources! HR professionals should actively participate in creating company strategy.

• We must make our cause so credible that impossible becomes possible.

A nice, calm and respectable lady went into the pharmacy, walked right up to the pharmacist, looked straight into his eyes, and said, "I would like to buy some cyanide."

The pharmacist asked, "Why in the world do you need cyanide?"

The lady replied, "I need it to poison my husband."

The pharmacist's eyes got big and he exclaimed, "Lord have Mercy! I can't give you cyanide to kill your husband!

That's against the law! I'll lose my license! They'll throw both of us in jail! All kinds of bad things will happen. Absolutely not my dear! You CANNOT have any cyanide …!"

The lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her husband in bed with the pharmacist's wife. The pharmacist looked at the picture and replied, “Well now, that's different. You didn't tell me you had a Prescription."!!!

• In the rigmarole of daily life we may sometimes forget micro-level details, but never lose control over the broad context that defines our professional being.

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple's house, and after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen.

The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, 'Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.'

The other man said, 'What is the name of the restaurant?'

The first man thought and thought and finally said, 'What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love?

You know.... The one that's red and has thorns.'

'Do you mean a rose?'

'Yes, that's the one,' replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, 'Rose, what's the name of that restaurant we went to last night?'

• As subject matter experts in HR, we will have to define problems for people and also solve them. Leaders, Managers - almost everyone often miserably fail to articulate the problem accurately. And if we simply respond as badly as the original articulation of the problem we will land up in a situation like this:

P = The problem logged by the pilot
S = The solution logged by the engineers

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

And finally, we must know that the first country-wide tiger census conducted in 1995 - Project Tiger, launched in 1973-74…and it is the Tigers who are counted continuously and not the mice!!

The power to influence nuclear peace doesn’t come from your inability to build the nuclear fact the reality is exactly reverse! If Nelson Mandela is an idol of the South African blacks, he is the God of the South African whites, because he had all the power to destroy them but he chose to bring them into the national mainstream by using his power constructively.
There many such lessons that we can draw from the happening around us, but a time has come for us to change first! PERIOD!!!


Nitin Deshpande said...

Great article.

Nitin Deshpande said...

Great article.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Dear Reina…Thanks a lot for your prompt feed-back. I am glad that you liked the idea of using the animal kingdom metaphor..Cheers..Abhay


Dear Abhay,
Although most of it was technical, I truly enjoyed the extrapolation of animal behaviour in humans. i am sure each one in the audience could define the people they have come across, more so themselves. the little anecdotes brought in some fun in the talk. Rest of it was of high technical quality. One can see the in-depth knowledge you have about your subject. Great work.
CHEERS to that.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Pallavi..I’m glad you find it useful…Cheers

From: Pallavi Mardikar []

So true! Working in a company where HR has been in existence only for 6 years but the rest of the management for as long as 20 and 30 years, makes HR so vulnerable to criticism.
And even more when HR department is run solely by women in this male dominated business.

It's been a great learning in all aspects! Long ways to go still...:-)

Sent from my iPad

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Hi Buck..Thanks.Yes, you make a very good point about every support function.Cheers..Abhay

From: Buck Kulkarni []

Hi Abhay,

It has been a long gap but hey, well worth the wait! This piece is really good. Your analogy of cat vs tiger got me reading right to the end even though it is a pretty large piece.

I was able to map every animal you mention to atleast one person I have met over past 30 years, that made it more interesting.

"Standing Up" is the key, for HR as you say but I guess every 'support' function that does not have the hubris of a 'revenue' function has this challenge.


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thank you Kishorrao and Saylee for your comments on my blog…cheers.

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks a lot Nitin....Cheers

Pranav said...

Great article baba! I can relate to so many things that you mentioned in here. Some HR individuals in my company surely need to read this article

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks a lot Pranav.I am glad you found it good and

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Amit...You make a very interesting point. Yes, we must change first! Cheers...Abhay

___________________________________Amit Malik has left a new comment on your post "Making HR Count":

Hi Abhay

Long wait but worth it. Totally agree with HR to be "Tigers". Problem today is not so much the Business leaders who have somewhat come to accept that you will roar and are learning to manage a HR tiger , but challenge is the HR leaders who want to be the Tiger but have a problem with the growing up of their own Cubs.

They forget that even as cubs tigers are tigers and they need to teach them to roar. But Most HR leaders wants cats who meow inside the house and roar outside which is creating a paradox.

May your Tribe grow so that HR has more tigers than Cats.


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