There was a time when the man who would open and close doors for you at a five-star hotel was simply called a darbaan. His job seemed like a thankless one. Sometimes people would notice him in the passing and tip him generously, but most of the times he was overlooked, and treated as invisible.
Today, after the 27/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, this job has gained a prominent place. The darbaan is now a ‘security officer’ – a custodian of security – responsible for the safety of all who enter and occupy the premises. Frisking and checking of things – as basic as ladies’ handbags – has now become the new ‘normal’ in hotel and mall security.
The HR function is like that of the darbaan’s, or the gatekeeper of a company. It can be your strongest pillar if you invest in it – not just to recruit the right talent but to retain them.
Moreover, directly or indirectly (depending on the responsibilities), HR is a spokesperson of the company’s values and leadership… And hence a low perception of HR reflects poorly on the management.
The Shift in HR Practice
The human resources department is going to require a rapid shift in its approach, positioning and behavior in the coming years…because traditional HR practices are soon becoming outdated. It’s a glaring reality that talent is becoming increasingly scarce. Simultaneously, technology and automation, are picking up at a fast pace, almost replacing many human functions and jobs.
In India, we have also witnessed a series of labour reforms in the past few years. The amendments in The Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961; and even the introduction of The Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013, are all adding to the already long list of responsibilities and liabilities of employers. All these factors together make the HR department an important one in any company.
In addition, smaller business which have experienced steady growth and now ready to scale are finding it difficult to attract the right skills. The workforce of today is very well informed. They are well aware about their rights and obligations of employers. It is common for candidates to research about companies and their managers before applying. Job offers get turned down for slightest of apprehensions. Reputation of an organization and its work culture spreads not just through ex-employees but also through vendors and partners. In such a scenario, developing a business strategy without having an HR strategy can be disastrous.
The most common understanding of HR in organisations – and true to some extent – is that they manage recruitment, joining formalities, performance appraisals, and employee segregation. In more evolved organizations, employee engagement and learning and development (L&D) also come under their fold. However, internally HR departments are not given their due credit and importance…they are in fact positioned very poorly.
Selective application of employee policies such as leave application, reimbursements, and performance appraisals, can make even a talented HR person’s work very difficult. A glaring variance in the quality of infrastructure provided to staff can also deter the functioning of HR. For example, there is no way for them to justify why reimbursements for a senior manager is processed faster than others.
The Impact on Social Image
Just last month, on July 7, 2017, top officials from Tech Mahindra and Anand Mahindra himself posted a public apology on Twitter after a sound clip of their ex-employee in an exit communication went viral. There seemed to be no display of empathy or sensitivity during the exit communication process. But layoffs are not a new phenomenon; many have experienced an insensitive exit with no mechanism to express themselves. If this does not change soon, we may just see a new amendment in labour laws anytime in the near future.
Thus companies who hire HR personnel purely as lip service to the title and department, so that people-related matters don’t reach management directly, will have to revisit their approach… Else many more such clips could go viral on social media.
The Path Ahead
What can leadership or management do along with HR, to ensure the company’s head always remains high? Here are a few ideas that may help…
1. Determine what HR functions your company needs
At Yellow Spark, when we begin a strategic HR assignment, initially time is spent simply explaining to the leaders what the real function of HR is, and what they as a company have missed doing so far.
For example, if 80% of the HR role is recruitment, then it is better to give them the designation of ‘recruitment manager’, which reflects the true nature of their work rather than ‘HR Manager’ – a term that encompasses much more. HR has many sub-functions…identify which ones are relevant to your organization, and design a job description and title that fits your requirements. The next step is to identify the key soft skills needed for the role and then hire accordingly.
2. View your HR managers as business partners
Your HR team is akin to your business partner… They should know the business as well as any of the top management. This will help them drive talent strategies successfully. Therefore, it is essential that all HR custodians are oriented about the way the business runs, its success factors, challenges, and also the values the company stands for, especially during a crisis.
3. Ensure a smooth flow of communication
Communication, both top-down and bottom-up, should be smooth. There should be mechanisms for employees to provide feedback. The work culture should empower HR to express their views and share feedback rather than say – ‘it’s a management decision…’
Today, with technology, companies can explore the use of apps which are cost effective and support open organisation communication in a secure environment. Healthy, unbiased debates, and discussions, between HR persons and leadership must be encouraged to work out solutions in the best interests of all stakeholders.
4. Involve HR in strategic planning
Companies must involve HR heads in strategic planning discussions before firming up plans. Simply assigning execution tasks to the HR resource limits the contribution they can make toward developing a certain strategy.
Most common strategic HR responsibilities, to name a few, include – strategic hiring, succession planning, change management, conflict resolution, or transmitting company philosophy.
5. Stand by them during a crisis
In my view, the Tech Mahindra fiasco was not only because the HR representative did a bad job, but more because there was no representation from the business side to present their case honestly, and display empathy toward the employee. Leaders must never shoot from the HR’s shoulders…employees can see through it, eventually reflecting poorly on the leadership of the company.
People are the biggest asset of an organisation and must be used optimally to ensure organisation’s growth and success. Allow your HR department to play that strategic role that is required of it and let it move on from being a cost centre.
At Yellow Spark, we work with the philosophy that people make companies successful. If you would like to create an incredible HR department in your organisation, let’s schedule a Spark Meet. To ignite the spark, write to us – firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.