Article: New face of HR in PSUs

Strategic HR

New face of HR in PSUs

In the VUCA world marked by technological shifts and economic uncertainties, the role of HR is going to be a transformative one.
New face of HR in PSUs

Various PSUs are at different steps of the ladder in which their size, sector, performance and age determine the type of HR issues that are most pressing to them today


PSUs today are going through a soul-searching process of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis of creating parallel initiatives to overcome traditional bottlenecks


Cutting edge technological disruptions and automation are fast transforming the kind of skills that are and will be in demand. With globalization and economic fluctuations constantly changing the way businesses function and the industry operates, along with the inclusion of a younger workforce, organizations are increasingly vouching for adopting HR practices that enable them to achieve superior performance through its ‘people’. This is also validated by the fact that HR’s relevance now depends on its ability to lead organizations from the front and in keeping up and staying agile in a world that offers unlimited possibilities. Such is the context that motivated the convening of the SCOPE HR Summit, aptly titled, “Reinventing HR: Breaking the Mould Globally”, which brought together HR leaders from the public and private sectors, along with consultants and academicians to deliberate on how the HR can be a strategic business partner, how it can align its People Strategy with Business Strategy along with discussing the best talent management practices and solutions to various challenges that HR faces.

Former GAIL CMD and current DG of SCOPE, Dr. U.D. Choubey recounted at the Summit commencement that this ‘reinventing’ was indeed a constant evolution of HR’s critical function, from administration in the beginning of the century to a supervisory role in the 1930s, post the depression years and a hiring champion after the second World War in 1945, when human resource itself had become scarce. Post 1950s, it took the shape that we are most familiar with, with the functions of talent management and recruitment at its core. A major paradigm shift took place around 2008 when the fast globalizing world was in throes of an economic uncertainty and a technological shift of a scale and kind that was not known before. Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud revolutionized the world of information, insight and possibility. 

Today, we are operating in a VUCA world in which a struggle for talent, attrition rates and workforce retention have become serious issues for organizations in both private and public sector. There are also additional challenges of managing and encouraging diversity in the workforce – be it in inclusion of more women, integration of people of different age groups with different styles of working and learning, or in making workplaces accessible to leverage abilities of differently-abled persons. The multipronged challenge ahead for the HR community is to facilitate the creation of an inclusive workplace and leverage this inclusivity to build organizational agility in times of advancing technology and economic uncertainty.

As opinions and gut feeling are being replaced by big data in decision-making processes, HR needs to incline towards a technology-centric model. During a Summit Panel Discussion on ‘Reimagining HR: Building Readiness’, Rajeev Bhadauria, Director Group (HR) at Jindal Steel & Power, expressed the need for HR to be agile and nimble in a world where automation has started to eliminate jobs and which has led to a transformation of job roles, in-demand skills, along with demand and supply of talent.

PSUs in India have largely been on the right track in leading economic growth as well as in their social function of nation-building. But some of the serious challenges that have hounded PSUs over the years pertain to heavy losses, overstaffing, poor leadership pipeline, unsatisfactory industrial relations, lack of motivation and political interference. However, today, PSUs are going through exciting changes in their environment, with a range of new opportunities and challenges as the Indian economy integrates with the global markets. Today, being profitable is the most important goal and that is only possible through good performance. It is the organization’s people who drive the performance and they need to be world class, highly skilled and engaged with the organization.

The challenges that confront the HR departments in PSUs are therefore similar to their counterparts in private sectors, although somewhat uniquely placed. There are however certain common denominators. Capability and skill building, along with access to opportunities and recognition is what the young generation workforce wants more than anything else. Certainly the salary package and job security aspect still hold importance, but are far from sufficient in building loyalty or engagement. The organization’s commitment to providing exposure, training and developing its employees is indeed the key differentiator for youngsters. This investment will sharpen the saw, which will be critical in raising the performance bar for PSEs. 

Engagement of the young generation is a challenge for many PSUs, especially when they have to compete with private sector companies, particularly startups, who offer attractive growth opportunities and compensation to the best of the talent in the market. The younger generation wants their opinion to be taken into account, which has not been always done in the PSUs with a command and control legacy. They seek to have upwards, downwards and lateral communication channels to be open for them and fewer hierarchies.

– “A sky blue collar of sorts rather than blue and white collars”, as Saurabh Kumar, Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, puts it. They also want their achievements to be recognized and duly rewarded with growth. While such a level playing field cannot be achieved overnight, HR Directors like Deepak Kumar Hota at BEML are trying to change that by actively involving youngsters in strategic discussions. 

The well-performing PSUs today are able to make huge investments in technology development as well as R&D, which enables them to provide a high quality technical exposure to their employees. Many PSUs like EIL also have set up annual awards to recognize their young professionals, managers and executives. Important responsibilities such as leadership of plant commissioning teams are assigned to those who perform really well. “The younger generation is bubbling with so much energy and knowledge. We need to have meetings with them and constantly give them opportunities. We do paper writing competitions; we let them go to conferences, learn, present and publish papers – all in addition to their jobs”, shared SCOPE Summit Convener and EIL Director of HR, Veena Swarup. At BPCL too, youngsters are thoroughly engaged in its IDEAS program that fosters a culture of innovation and creativity.

In the last few years, technology has been ushering in a cultural change towards a clean and transparent working system, by enabling employees to self-service their paperwork and file for claims without human intervention. This led to the standardization of the rules and policies, which were earlier subject to human interpretation. Technology platforms, however, are designed with a single rule, which gets  implemented uniformly towards all. This has automatically created a level of transparency that was not possible in the earlier days when data was not digitized and HR departments used to virtually own and therefore control the employee data. Modern HR departments with their qualified professionals are quite different in their level of professionalism. The automation of mundane tasks that earlier fell in HR’s domain has freed up time for direct interaction with employees, finding out about their problems and needs, and bringing in more intervention. HR Directors today realize that communication is a part and parcel of engagement and retention. “If we communicate to people, and make them understand their stakes, then the commitment comes.”, shared D.Bandyopadhyay, Director – HR, BHEL.

PSUs today are going through a soulsearching process of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis on creating parallel initiatives to overcome traditional bottlenecks. Typically, promotions in PSUs tend to be tenure based and this aspect generally cannot be overridden solely on the basis of performance, which is where they differ from the private sector. The SCOPE Summit session on Performance Management also saw an enthralling discussion on the subject of Bell Curve, which is the PMS mandated in the PSUs by the Department of Public Enterprise guidelines. Like Shrikant Gathoo, Director – HR, BPCL puts it, Bell Curve “is like having just a hammer in your tool-box and no other tools.” While the Bell Curve can be useful, as a standalone tool, it is liable to omissions and biases, which disrupt the purpose. It is also ineffective while judging team activities such as manufacturing. This is the reason why many private sector companies have done away with it. Therefore, perhaps an exploration of alternatives in performance management is in order. Similarly, there are other prescribed external guidelines regarding payrolls, career progression etc. that do not necessarily improve workforce engagement or provide PSUs with a competitive edge. 

Either way, HR has a critical role in influencing the right polices and the right behaviors. This Special feature presents the views and perspectives of 8 HR leaders from the SCOPE HR Summit as PSUs brace themselves for greater competitiveness domestically and internationally. 


Various PSUs are at different steps of the ladder in which their size, sector, performance and age determine the type of HR issues that are most pressing to them today

PSUs today are going through a soul-searching process of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis of creating parallel initiatives to overcome traditional bottlenecks

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Topics: Strategic HR

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