Just like other individuals and departments, the HR professionals too tend to do whatever management throws at them
System and its merits are not properly explained to managers on a basic level
It is no news to managers that the global economy has gone – and in many countries is still going - through a rough patch. The unemployment rate in the US recorded 9.7% in February this year – a notch down from last November’s 10.0% level, the highest in a quarter century. The pressure is more than ever on reducing costs wherever one can. And, staff invariably constitutes a major cost element to most companies irrespective of the kind of industrial sector they are in.
This does not mean that the situation across the globe is uniform. While employees in North America and Europe will hold on to their jobs by the skin of their teeth, Indian employers will continue to face salary inflation to the tune of 8–10% over the next couple of years as well as high attrition rates as the economy picks up speed with a vengeance.
So should we be satisfied with the HR merely concentrating on hiring and in bad times, if not firing them outright, on developing intricate voluntary redundancy schemes (VRS) and other ways to reduce employee entitlements including holidays, pay, training, et al?
Talking to some HR professionals, it often feels like it. But HR teams are not the only ones to blame. Just like other individuals and departments, the HR professionals too tend to do whatever management throws at them. So the question is: What should the management reasonably expect the HR to deliver in order to actively drive an organisation’s goals?
Let’s be clear about some facts first! HR’s role in any organisation should be that of a service provider. This means that an organisation must have defined roles and responsibilities, which its HR department is expected to deliver. And these must go beyond the punch cards and payroll that HR departments, particularly in India, seem to consider their primary responsibilities. In practice, this has to translate into frequent and sustained interactions between the HR function and other departments, employees, management and trade unions. Anybody working in the HR department must fully understand how the organisation functions, who its customers and competitors are, what strategies it pursues and simply how the business works.
From my own experience as an employee, a senior manager and an expat in India, I know that HR faces a multitude of conflicting expectations. Not all of these can or should be attempted to be entertained at the same time or with equal vigour. However, they all need to be addressed!
Expectations as an employee
• Fair and equal treatment of all employees
• An open ear for career and personal counselling when required
• Personal and professional development opportunities
• Adequate and market based pay
• Performance measurement system to be user friendly, objective, fair and equitable
• Empathy and compassion for an employee in need of help or support
Expectations from an Expat’s viewpoint
• Special compensation for extra responsibility and commitment
• To be looked after well while out of sight
• Not to be ‘out of mind’ when ’out of sight’!
• Participation in training & development programmes
• Transparent and foresighted reintegration process upon return to parent company
Expectations as a senior manager
• HR to understand and manage employee expectations
• Hire the right kind of people (organisational fit as well as appropriate attitude and skill set)
• Keep salary inflation in check
• Have an effective people development programme
• Maintain low turnover of staff
• Establishment, implementation and measurement of performance measurement systems that are followed by all managers
• Active involvement in organisational strategy formulation and implementation
Dealing with people issues clearly requires a special set of skills and personal traits. Take the instance of Air India. The mess at Air India partly stems from poor communication between senior management and employees. Management, which should be advised by HR, has not been effective in convincing their staff of the dire need for change and cost cutting – with all the sacrifices this would mean for them.
Real life examples such as this clearly demonstrate the dearth of qualities such as empathy, back bone, fairness coupled with assertiveness, forward thinking, effective administration, lucid understanding the needs of the employee as well as of the organisation.
Important elements for organisational development and performance evaluation such as appraisal systems are often seen as a waste of time and bureaucratic burden on managers. Why? Some of the answers may lie in the fact that the system and its merits are not properly explained to managers on a basic level. Often key departmental heads have not been involved in the development or implementation decision of such tools. As a consequence, they lack the support from those who matter and at best quickly disintegrate into an annual paper exercise that only benefits consultants or product vendors but not the organisation itself. It thus discredits an important and well intentioned management instrument.
Future oriented companies need to ensure that their HR teams are equally forward looking! HR has to become actively involved in forging corporate strategies based on ruthless assessment of the company’s own human capital and its potential for growth as well as in establishing the processes and systems to implement it.
As a Hindi proverb aptly says: ‘Ek anaar, sau bimaar’ (one pomegranate is all there is, and a hundred men are sick trying to get it) or in other words all good things are in short supply.
Ansgar Sickert is Managing Director of Fraport India