Consultants cannot create the HRD function by themselves, when organisations themselves have other priorities
Q. Where did the thought of having a distinguished HR function for the development of people originate?
While interviewing managers during our consultancy project with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in 1974-75, we realised that the Personnel Department did not have the required credibility to be able to create and implement a development plan for people. In fact, the Personnel Department spent all their time on administrative tasks and if development of people was to be taken up seriously a new department had to be created that was beyond personnel management and that should be called human resources development department. That is where the thought of an HR function originated.
Dr Udai Pareek and I conceptualised the function and defined the principles on which the HR function had to be structured. This was integral part of our report. Based on our recommendation, N.M. Desai and Holk Larsen appointed a task force to implement our recommendations and a new function and department was formed that was named Human Resources Development (HRD) Department. Soon the State Bank of India (SBI) too created a HRD department as advised by Dr Pareek. L&T followed by SBI were the first in the country to have a HRD function.
Q. Is the idea of HR being a business partner really new as it is made out to be? Is there evidence that HR has indeed been a partner – when did it change? Give us a historic perspective.
The term “business partner” is in vogue now, however it has always been implied in the conceptualization of the HR function. The principles we outlined clearly indicate this. I recollect we conceptualised HRD as the responsibility of the top management. They should take care of the learning and other developmental needs of employees who spend a significant part of their waking life for the organisation. The role of HR function was to build organisational capabilities. Organisation Development (OD) was conceptualised as a part of HR’s job – diagnosing the organisation’s health continuously. Thus, HR is not merely seen as a business partner but as a business propellant.
The terms “HR Business partner” is a brain-child of 1990s post liberalisation. It was the need of the day to put it that way and hence it became more popular. Dave Ulrich and such other HR Gurus in the last decade and half, promoted this concept.
Q. Do you think the HR function has shaped the way you visualised it? What is better than what you had in mind and what is not?
In a few organisations, it has shaped up reasonably while in others HR is still a transactional function stuck in administrative tasks. Most of them do not understand the philosophy and those few who do are unable to push the agenda as they are caught up with administrative activities that demand immediate attention. There are few who depend on consultants to do the work for them and I strongly believe that consultants can only give tools and techniques but HRD needs a lot more than that. Consultants cannot create a HRD function by themselves, when organisations themselves have other priorities. Short term goals and targets overtake long-term goals. Quarterly profits, monthly targets, cost savings become priorities rather than intellectual capital building and enhancing people and organisational capabilities.
Q. How do you see the function evolving in the future and what will it look like 15 years from now?
The HR function will become an integral part of the mindset, actions and activities of good leaders. HR will get integrated into business and it will take new forms. Most current HR managers doing jobs that can be outsourced will either end up as outsourcing agents or administrative consultants.
There will be no business without HR and soft areas & intellectual capital building are bound to become focal points after the current turmoil is over and people start focusing on sustainable corporations and the role of competencies, culture, values etc. gets more recognised.
Q. What are the five competencies that HR professionals need today to be successful?
The five competencies are: Business Leadership (vision, mission, values etc.); People Leadership (people orientation, customer orientation, team orientation, interpersonal competence and emotional intelligence and empowering styles); Change Management (technological, systems, culture and other forms); Integrating Capability (ability to coordinate and integrate various departments, generations of people, diversity management etc); and Execution Capability to bring it all together.
Q. If you were to start your career as an HR professional, what would you do to succeed?
For me, HR is not a career. It is a philosophy and necessity and a way of life. For those who take up HR as a career, it should be only a phase of their life lasting for a certain period.