Traditionally, the roles of HR function in most companies have often been limited to
- Performance Management
And in companies engaged in manufacturing sector, perhaps a fifth dimension will normally appear, namely Industrial Relations
With changing times of uncertainty and competitiveness these traditional roles and responsibilities are continuously evolving. As the organizations tend to become more and more global in working, the DNA also undergoes significant pressures to align towards the objectives set by the top management.
However organizations experiencing strong growth face very different challenges. With urban infrastructure growing at frenetic pace, a large number of projects are being executed in collaboration between multi-ethnic workforces around the globe in record timelines never seen before and are constantly shrinking. In such scenarios, talent, especially product development and project management has to be found from across industry verticals and nationalities.
Thus the manpower becomes much more diverse in gender and nationality as also very diverse within India too. Such situation necessitates HR to play a significant role in creating an environment in which everyone is feels safe & secure, productive and wanted.
As a CEO therefore I expect the following from HR function:
Business and Industry Knowledge–Understanding of specific needs of the industry, the business cycle and phase in which it operates – growth, technology – and the company’s positioning & image in industry with respect to competition, awareness of the industry (best) practices and availability / challenges in obtaining right talent. For instance, project engineering & management is a key topic in many companies involved in execution of projects. HR function should be fully updated on how and from where right talent can be found to meet the current and future needs of the company in these functions. A HR manager should therefore be fully live to the human resource needs of the company and proactively seek other line functional managers on their plans and understand the skill sets needed in the near and far future. A lot of informal communication with his colleagues will help in developing such understanding.
Induction and Orientation–Providing an environment that every new entrant feels welcome – including periodic checks on the level of acceptance of the new entrant in the organization and vice versa. This can possibly be done through informal discussions time to time with the employee and his peers / subordinates and superiors. The discussions should focus on what the new entrant feels and whether the company met his / her expectations and if not, what are the suggestions to do so. The most vulnerable period of a new entrant in any company is the first 6 months to one year. If he or she crosses this period without any hassle, it will show in his / her body language and behavior within the community
Retaining critical talent – this commences with identification of such personalities and personnel that are basically driving the processes and whose presence or absence can be clearly felt in meeting or not meeting customer as well as internal expectations. Most often, organizations do not spend adequate time and effort in this direction as they get drawn into other rigors of routines, with the result, some of the most critical employees including managerial staff feel that their performance is not being noticed. While part of such responsibility lies with the line manager or immediate bosses of individuals, HR manager should institute a mechanism to identify such pin-pricks and lend a shoulder to listen to the experiences of such critical talent, as losing even one such individual would tantamount to almost 10 average performers and more importantly the ripple effect it creates among the minds of other high performers who may also start to see other side of bank for greenery and slowly make up their minds to detach. This may or may not show up in their performance immediately, but over a period of time, quite visible in the organizations, as a disgruntled high performer can damage reputation of the company heavily and cause irreparable losses of credibility among customers apart from increasing the workload of their managers who may feel extremely pressurized. Some progressive organizations engage external consulting professionals to work closely with such high performers and ensure right feedback is given to management before they take steps or think about leaving the company.
Empathy to other functions – HR function as such does not work on business-critical targets. A delay of few days in recruiting or training or any other related tasks is not directly impacting anyone. But there are other functions who face customers and internal & external stake holders. A finance function has to get auditing completed within a certain period, a manufacturing manager has to ensure delivery of products, a field service manager has to make sure that his customers get the promised attention, an engineering manager has to deliver designs and documents within a certain time frame for production to happen in time, a sales guy has to book orders before end of quarters, etc. Showing empathy and offering to lend a helping hand to such colleagues and employees in line functions and responsible for meeting targets will go a long way in keeping the whole organization happy. For instance a HR manager can go to a supply chain manager who may have to burn the midnight oil and ask if he or she needs help with transport for his /her staff or additional helping hands to meet monthly target(s). Such things will go a long way to show to everyone in the organization that someone is caring for their well-being and comfort and there is always somebody to fall back on for support.
Employee Engagement– Meaningful engagement of all employees towards common goals. It is commonly agreed that every organization and individual tends to drift to its own level of (in)efficiency and methodology of working if there is no fresh injection of energy time to time. While the CEO himself has to play a vital role in communicating and providing feedback on performance in last period and challenges for next period, through such mass communication methodologies that are available and appropriate and reaching every individual in the company, the HR team has an onerous task of making sure that such communication results in realignment of the individuals and teams towards larger organizational goals like improving customer delight, reducing waste, cost reduction and sustainability, strict compliance to ethics, moral and quality standards time to time and reaffirming their commitment towards such objectives.
Promoting Team Work-Promoting teamwork and team success is more important that individual success is a primary lever of employee satisfaction, as typically every employee spends about 10 hours every day in the organization physically and mentally. To do this, the HR team has to constantly invent and reinvent methods of seeking feedback and making the individuals comfortable to work in their teams and deliver their part willingly
Diversity & Inclusion at Workplace-Handling international and multi-ethnic teams, varying demographic employee workforce, especially in areas of product development or project execution that are not very easily available in India and even if available, not perfect fit for the industry in which the company operates. For instance, if foreign employees are working side by side with Indian staff and engineers, the standards of salaries and benefits offered to ex-pats will be constantly compared with that of the locally available talent. HR function should recognize the need to upgrade the skill sets and the level of respect the Indian staff command on par with their foreign counterparts. Building right level of confidence and communication capabilities in the Indian staff without feeling insecure or inferior in any manner whatsoever, will be a very vital aspect to be focused on by immediate managers as also HR professionals.
Work environment- like seating, communication, meeting rooms, a hygienic canteen or even a personal vehicle parking facility, conveyance and travel policies, that serves the needs of all demographies and nationalities are nowadays being compared with facilities enjoyed by their own age group of personnel in other companies, especially those operating in technology domain, apart from salaries and perks. Group activities that promote teamwork without being seen as a force, should be encouraged to maintain a workplace enviable by everyone. Although these are also largely defined and provided for at the time of building or upgrading infrastructure time to time, a HR manager should lend his own viewpoint before they get installed and implemented.
Organizational Culture- Setting the organizational culture and enforcing values that are the trade mark characteristics that every individual will portray in the company, especially if it is a multi-ethnic workforce, as demonstrated even outside the company premises. A HR manager should therefore find ways and means to reinforce such values perhaps by organizing workshops and discussions involving various levels of personnel or inviting external experts if necessary to conduct programmes with themes depicting the value system of the company, etc.
Going beyond KPIs – since his or her main task in a company is to ensure that everyone in the company feels proud and wish to deliver. HR managers must also help in providing platforms for continuous improvements and set up mechanisms in which everyone is free to voice concerns and ideas without any inhibitions. For instance, though there is no specific policy or statutory need, a HR manager can strive towards achieving gender diversity and attract more women staff in the company’s talent pool. Or for instance he can ensure that TVs are provided in vantage locations during a world cup football or cricket event for employees to get to watch.
Family get together and other events that help in developing a bonding among employees will also be good ideas for HR managers to think about. In general HR can and should help in celebrating festivals, promoting sporting, music, drama and other activities as after all, it is said that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
Author–Seshadri Srinivasan has 30 years plus experience and he is Ex- Managing Director of the Indian entity of a French MNC, M/s. Faiveley Transport India Limited a pioneer in railway rolling stock sub-systems. Currently he is helping companies which need his advice with strategies for growth, performance & compliance.
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