Article: The Counsellor - Best of 2011 by Vivek Paranjpe

Life @ Work

The Counsellor - Best of 2011 by Vivek Paranjpe

People Matters introduced the section “The Counsellor” in February 2011 to provide expert answers to professional, personal and ethical dilemmas that our readers encounter at their workplaces.The last eleven months has seen many questions answered.Presented here are two of the most read on our website
The Counsellor - Best of 2011 by Vivek Paranjpe

Don't get involved in the savings and investments that your employees make


In the HR function, like any other function, we have multiple roles and tasks to perform, and everyone does not have the aptitude and competence to do all the roles


People Matters introduced the section “The Counsellor” in February 2011 to provide expert answers to professional, personal and ethical dilemmas that our readers encounter at their workplaces. The last eleven months has seen many questions answered. Presented here are two of the most read on our website



I love your section as there is always a lot to learn from the pertinent questions that our colleagues ask. I really appreciate you taking time to run this space. Here is my question: We have recently been included in the Great Place to Work list and we are proud of all our initiatives like taking care of our employees’ career aspirations, learning and growth, health and fitness, work-life balance, etc. We think the next step will also be to support our employees in managing their finances, so our company can ensure that they get the best deals and do not have to waste time in paper work for loans, insurance, etc. From your experience, what are the best practices in caring for employee wealth? How can we support them in making better financial decisions in life?

It is always an excellent idea to support your employees wherever you can, however, just ensure you don’t go overboard. Having achieved a lot, you want to now support your employees in managing their personal finances. While this is a good idea, I am uncomfortable with the words “support the employees” in this arena. I would suggest that you should try not to be paternalistic. Providing education, sharing knowledge and making the resources available is a right role to play, but avoid advisory service. Don’t get involved in the savings and investments that your employees make. As a corporate house, you don’t want to get mixed up with the decisions that employees make in respect to their personal wealth.

There are several ways in which you can help. Multiple workshops, coffee talks, knowledge sharing sessions, etc. can be conducted by various financial institutions and professionals to improve the financial savvy of your people along with sharing of information on the investment avenues. You may also consider allowing financial institutions, insurance professionals, stock brokers, tax experts, etc. to periodically do their road shows at your campus. Avoid prescribing anything; let your employees use their free will to choose from multiple options that exist.

Consider segmenting your workforce and work on the age specific needs. The younger workforce may be in need of loans to acquire assets and therefore you may consider asking financing companies to showcase their products and services. Consider regular seminars for older people in financial planning for post retirement period. Several products and services like medical insurance schemes, life insurance programs, and discounted vehicle purchase programs offered by certain car dealers can become a permanent fixture of an employee service corner in your campus.

To sum up: There is no one way to achieve what you have in mind. You just need to create space and provide some time; many institutions and professionals will be interested in building awareness and promoting their business at your campus. As management, your focus should be on education and making the resources available without taking the role of being a promoter of any one ideology or investment. You don’t want to be accountable for the returns that an employee gets.


Dear Vivek, thank you for your continuous feedback, I find this section really interesting and insightful. I have been running my own business for the last 10 years and 2 years ago I decided to recruit a head of HR for the organization, as we have reached a critical mass of 100 employees and I felt that a professional HR manager will add tremendous value to the organization. I recruited one person from a top level school hoping that she will complement the work we have done so far in HR. Today, I am actually quite unhappy with her work and I feel she has become a bottleneck between me and the rest of the employees. I am not sure if I recruited the wrong person for the role or if I have not groomed her correctly, but think that I need to ask her to go and at the same time I need to replace her. How should I handle this difficult situation? Should I first find a replacement and then talk to her or should I be straight forward about the situation?

First and foremost, I must applaud you for aiming to be a professionally managed company, which you have demonstrated by hiring a HR manager even though you just reached the employee strength of 100. While this was a right step in the right direction, I am not sure if you had your specifications right for the role, and the person you hired was the right person for the role you had in mind. You need to review this first, before you fire the current incumbent and hire another person.

In the HR function, like any other function, we have multiple roles and tasks to perform, and everyone does not have the aptitude and competence to do all the roles. In a small organization of 100 plus, while you want most of the right HR interventions and initiatives to be in place, you cannot have more than maybe two or at the most three people in the HR function at a steady state, unless you are an extremely fast growing organization.

In a steady state of a 100 plus employees, the most work volume will be that of HR administration, which may comprise of, legal compliances, payroll management, records management, routine welfare activities, etc. In most companies, this work is clubbed with security, facilities management, safety, etc. We cannot undermine the importance of this work; it is very critical and creates a foundation on which we build the balance HR function. For such work, very unique skills and aptitude is necessary. Most of the young graduates from the top schools hate to do this administrative work if that becomes the predominant portion of their portfolio. In most cases, these young graduates do not also possess the necessary knowledge and skills to perform this work effectively. This can be best handled by those who have grown from ranks from the grassroot level, with the right knowledge, skills and aptitude. You need to ensure you have the right group of 2 to at the most 3 people, who are competent and enjoy this work. This becomes your core foundational HR team to begin with. Having built this strong foundation, you may consider doing some good higher-end HR work like performance management, people development, employee communication and engagement, rewards and recognition related activities, design of compensation and benefits, etc. For such high-end work, in a 100 plus outfit, to attract a matured and competent generalist may be very difficult. You may consider doing this work yourself or ask one of your senior line managers who has the interest and aptitude to additionally do this work. You may support yourself with the consultants on the need basis to ensure planned initiatives are well-designed and are well-thoughtout.

Finding a replacement and asking the current incumbent to quit are comparatively easier things to handle, whereas the most crucial things that you need to focus on are: what are your business plans, where are you heading to, and what skills and competencies are you looking for in your HR head. To get a full-time HR head with capabilities that you want may not always be possible due to your small size; a hybrid model of consulting help from outside and internal strong HR administration outfit to take care of fundamentals and hygiene factors, may be the right model.

To sum up: You may consider reviewing what went wrong with the current incumbent; for the role you have in mind, or maybe even the next person may not be the right person. You need to realistically size up the role, determine the specifications and determine what is possible before making any decision. A good heart-to-heart chat with the current incumbent after having clarity in your mind on what your expectations are, may be the right first step.

Vivek is a Senior HR professional with over 35 years of experience, ranging several leadership positions, in India and abroad. He leads his consulting practice since 2003 and presently works as a Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries, and is also an independent Director on the Board of Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd. Prior to this, he was based at Singapore for several years where he was Director HR - Operations at Hewlett Packard for the Asia Pacific Region.
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