Wednesday, January 7, 2009

HR: No more the 'soft-guys'

It is indeed time for some deep introspection, otherwise, the HR impressions are unlikely to change in any remarkable hurry. And that will be a real tragedy.

Sure, every CEO worth every rupee of his precious sound byte says, “people are my most critical assets”; but beyond that famous lip service, do we really see a genuine long-term commitment to that clich├ęd phrase? To be brutally honest, the answer is a deafening NO. Which is why the moment that we have even a temporary down-turn, the drawers are suddenly emptied, business forecasts are re-done and the pink slips emerge in a dramatic hurry. Now why would an intelligent professional suddenly drop his supposed “most crucial asset” in such a desperate hurry? The reasons range from short-term focus, an obsession with business numbers, lack of understanding of HR role, down to sheer inability to recognise the human angle. Yet, the principal responsibility for being shafted unceremoniously by the CEO at the slighted pretext lies with the HR professionals themselves. That’s the harsh reality.

What is the bottom line mission of a solid, well-founded HR unit in today’s modern, savvy organisations’ people-driven team? How does it really add real tangible value to business results and overall effectiveness, breaking away from the traditional slot of being payroll masters , doling out salary cheques and minding attendance registers, and receiving unending flak for every trivial human failure.

If you do a basic assessment of the profession of Human Resources compared to that of Marketing or Finance (it’s usual competitors) or even General management, you can begin to see that HR has traditionally chosen the quiet corner voluntarily, retreating almost humbly into the backwaters. While Marketing (along with Sales and Distribution etc.) has always prided on being the bread-winners who create the revenue pipe-line, Finance has the perennial positioning of being the cold-hearted systemic function that does hard number-crunching and talks complex ratios. They are seen as more cerebral et al. From time immemorial, the HR guy, on the other hand, has allowed a perception to float and register that they are the 'soft guys'. Just because they end up often dealing with conflict resolution, employee motivation, counseling sessions, and morale building, the rest of HRs contemporaries treat them as the “feel-good” blokes, who occasionally break the monotony of the boardroom. And bring some mild entertainment along.

It is time for HR professionals to reposition their own stereotype image, and as they say, charity begins at home. It is time for some deep introspection, otherwise, the HR impressions are unlikely to change in any remarkable hurry. And that will be a real tragedy. Because the bottom-line is that HR has every reason to believe that they are, in a services economy and consumer-driven markets in particular, one of the key variables for success. If not, probably the most important one.

HR professionals who are able to look at the company business strategy and identify those internal processes and people-practices that need to be newly created or amended to support the business are poised to make a leapfrog. That’s the only way forward. Change management starts with the HR professionals themselves raising their performance bars. Quite simply, because the entire success story gets scripted by how HR gets the right team going. Not just by recruiting right talent, but getting them to stay. And perform. It is a tall order.

Give me one company’s high-sounding lofty vision or mission statements that do not have the people and employee element in it. Or are some companies presumptuous enough to believe that their business success can be achieved without motivated and quality employee effort? The ability to identify the communication and human interventions that need to take place to support business activity with a vibrant and engaged workforce, is today a required competency of HR practitioners. Employee engagement is no longer just a passing buzzword or a fashionable management fad.

Can we even contemplate the impact of the professional uncertainties and personal struggles world-wide amongst several thousands of employees of the Lehman Brothers-Merrill Lynch –AIG bale-outs and virtual bankruptcy? While the investment banker makes a massive mess (after pocketing million-dollar bonuses), it is the HR person who cleans the stacked-up debris. Who does the tough task of severance, settlements and not-so-golden handshakes, an inevitable fall-out.

The soft guy usually becomes the fall-guy. But it is now time for HR to rise. And shine.

Ref: Sheetal Srivastava

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