Dr Madana Speaks at the HR Best Practices 2015 event organised by Sodexo and D&B
Transforming the Thinking
The discussion on whether HR is a strategic function or not, started quite some time back; may be 25 years or so back. When the discussion started there was always a comparison. People used to say, this question is never asked about Finance. Or more recently people will say, this question is never asked about Technology. They are assumed to be strategic in nature. But when it comes to HR, the discussion still rages on. I was wondering why does it happen to HR? Why can’t HR be seen automatically strategic? Why does one have to prove that HR is strategic to business?
I am not a traditional HR person; I have worked through Manufacturing, Technology, Project Management, Total Quality Management etc. before I consciously chose to move to the HR function of Learning and Development. When I moved in HR, and started interviewing others for HR positions one thing struck me. Whenever, I used to ask people, why they wanted to join HR, the most common answer was “ I Love People”, or some variations of the same. Now, at the outset there is nothing wrong with that answer. However compare it with a finance person. I am sure the CFO is not going to look for someone who “loves money” (everyone does, by the way), or a CTO is not looking for people who just “love technology”. A CFO will look for people who can use money well for the benefit of the organisation. A CTO will look for people who can use technology for the benefit of the organisation. By that argument, a CHRO or a CPO, should look for people who can use “people” for the benefit of the organisation. Let me repeat the phrase, “Use People”. Sounds rather cold and rude and I am sure many of you don’t like the very idea itself. That discomfort, that uneasiness is what makes Human Resource Management or HR different, sensitive, and emotionally charged. We deal with people, and when we do that it has to be done with sensitivity and attention to the changing needs of human beings.
When we look into history, you will see that this is what differentiated HR during the Industrial revolution; this is what differentiated HR during the advancement of core computing. This is what differentiates HR in the period of Internet. This continues to be the differentiator during the period of Digital Transformation that we are undergoing now. This is what differentiates HR during the period of the startups. Many of you would remember the resistance we had for the automation of manufacturing, or computerization of banking sector or of the railways. All of us now know and admit that those apprehensions were misplaced, and technology has not replaced HR, but has only accentuated the need for better HR, better engagement policies, better linkage with business etc. (And of course a lot more employment opportunities).
This puts a huge pressure on HR professionals. They are constantly on the run trying to see what comes next, and how to keep the employees engaged and accept the changes that are coming. They are challenged to think on ways to “Use People” without losing the sensitivity that it is human beings that they are handling. This requires Transformed Thinking from HR professionals. I do believe that the efforts of Sodexho and Dun & Bradstreet towards releasing this publication on HR best practices will help all organisations, especially the HR professionals who are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to manage the changing circumstances, changing eco systems, changing technologies, changing generational needs. I wish to congratulate them on this effort, and the excellent outcome.
How do we apply this to Employee Engagement? How do we transform the Thinking in this area?
Last year, Gartner, the IT analyst firm, did a research and brought out what they call the Brain Works Model. Their Premise is that people resist change. Hence to make change succeed, HR needs to be able to understand how the employee brain works and then plan out the implementation of any change. According to Gartner’s model, the organisation (that is HR) needs to address the threat perception along five dimensions. These are important for Employee Engagement. While the research has been done on IT firms, I am sure that it is applicable to all areas of business where people are involved (and that is ALL business, isn’t it?)
Reputation: Employees are sensitive to how their peer group perceives them be it explicit or implicit. The concept of self-worth is very high. Peer group includes both internal and external people. With social media explosion, the influence of external (to the organisation) peers is more than that of the internal peers.
Choice: Employees need the ability to choose. All of you know the difference between “having to do something” Vs “Choosing to do something”. The ability to choose makes all the difference in the way employees engage with the organisation.
Mastery: Employees what opportunities to continuously develop meaningful expertise. The operative word here is “meaningful”. They want to be in projects and/or jobs that will add meaning and significance to them. How to match the job descriptions to these desires is a challenge for HR professionals. A 2012 global workforce study by Towers Watson found that employees who derived meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations than those who did not.
Relationships: People are social beings and they look to develop networks within and outside the organisation. Creating and maintaining relationships with colleagues is an essential part of workplace satisfaction. An organization’s success in creating and maintaining an internal social platform for employees to do just that might be key in improving employee engagement.
Equity: Some of you might recall the old Lalitaji Surf advertisements “Uski kameez mere kameez se safed kyo? “. This is a human psyche. The temptation to compare. Employees need assurance that the workplace is safe and that they will be treated with impartiality. This forms the foundation of trust upon which positive workplace interactions depend. Equity wraps around the other four dimensions because research shows that if this is taken care of, it can neutralize the threats from other dimensions to a great extent.
I would now request the respected panelists who have many decades of experience with them to share their knowledge and practical tips on how to improve Employee Engagement, in the fast changing world.