Monday, 17 August 2009

In defence of HR

Concluding a sequence of posts on HR with a defence of the people who run that function ! I’ve been unduly harsh in some of my earlier posts – to be fair, there’s much to be said about what they do well too.

HR is the most difficult function in a company, in many ways. In, say finance, 1+1=2 – you can’t argue about that. When it comes to dealing with people, as we all know, 1+1 is never 2. How do you deal with something that’s essentially unpredictable ?

Its very sexy to say we should have freedom , no rules, and openness. But the dividing line between freedom and anarchy is a thin one. Take travel expenses. Put a hand on your heart and say that you have never ever mixed personal stuff with official work and claimed it. Never ? We do this even when the Nanny is watching. Imagine if there’s no Nanny. The world isn’t full of Mahatma Gandhis whose iron self discipline can obviate the requirements of rules. For lesser mortals like us, the rule book is inevitable.

Why the complexity ? Its only because organizations are complex places to run. When an organization is small, its easy. But when it grows to say 10,000 employees in far corners of the world , how else to run it on even keel but for the dreaded “employee bible”. I like Netflix’s idea that growth in size and complexity are not necessarily cause and effect. It’s a seductive idea, but in my experience one I haven’t seen in practice.

So , all you HR folks, you have a difficult job. A thankless job, for you are often likely to be criticized and seldom praised. But you can do a few things to help yourselves.

One of the cardinal sins that you often commit, is that you manage by process, instead of people. Everything becomes a form. As the organisation becomes larger and larger, HR folks tend to go deeper and deeper into their cocoon. They wall themselves up, under the guise of confidentiality. They become slaves to the computer – peering into it and answering emails, sending forms, collecting them, analyzing the data, etc etc. Rajalakshmi and Wang Xiao have become Employee no 9432 and 8769.

So let me , in my usual arrogant way, preach something. Junk your computer. Get out from that walled room. Go walk around. Talk to people. Remember HR starts with a H – the human being. Rajalakshmi is not 9432; she’s a lovely girl. Give a shoulder for her to cry on. Listen to the angst floating around. Help a guy who’s going through a difficult period. Break some rule to help out somebody in distress – she’ll value you for life. Bend things a little if that’s the right thing to do. Try and hint to a tyrannical boss that he can change, at least in a small way. Offer to help the line manager deal with chronic absenteeism. Show empathy. But , above all, get out of that chair.

Oh boy. Don ‘t we love HR !

11 comments:

  1. Trust you to be fair! Yes, one thing that most employees feel about the HR people is that they are far cut from reality. They try hard but they are tethered to some lame HR policies.

    Getting out of that chair is one good way to start! :-)

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  2. Hahahahahha. LOL :P
    You started off this post with a few nice words for the HR function and I was a little surprised. I really couldn't think of much that would get the function any praise (at least from me). And then you ended the post on a similar note, yet again. I guess those guys really have it coming. One of these days there's going to be the French revolution in the Indian corporate world and the aristocracy (read HR people) are going to be put to the guillotine :)
    These violent thoughts of revolutions and uprisings are coming to my mind because I have just almost finished reading The White Tiger this weekend :)

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  3. Syed Aleem17/8/09

    I am yet to meet a person like Mr. Gopalakrishnan who knows you by your name. HR in a big company takes care of only Senior Manages & they assume everything is fine. Only the person who goes through the ordeal will come know the fact.
    HR guys don't do anything extra, just do it right & beleive me sufficient.

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  4. Hi Ramesh,

    Absolutely correct. I can feel it as I just experienced a move back home and have seen how HR handles people and it leaves a lot to be desired.

    In SA one of the guys in my team had told me that if he doesn't get paid for HR it is an incident log an incident no and get back to the life, it will get sorted out but for that employee it might be his kids school fee or his wifes medicine expenses.

    Like you said HR needs to show a little empathy to people and get out of their chair and talk to people.

    Cheers

    Mahesh

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  5. kiwibloke17/8/09

    Nice defence of HR but then you are just trying to be fair! HR folks are not descended from some far planet in the Pi Sector of the Andromeda galaxy. They are paid folks like you and me. However what ails HR in most companies I have seen (5 in total so far) is that they are inundated with forms, models, DISC profiles etc. In the pretext of jazzing up their work with tools/tech/models, they have forgotten the basic principle that these tools are just a means to an end, the end being getting better performing, happier people. However our obsession with tools/models gets the better of us.

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  6. @thoughtful train - Yes HR does face a credibility problem and they must "earn" respect instead of "commanding" it.

    @Ajay - Wow - you sure are in a combative mood. poor HR guys in your company !!

    @Aleem - Yes. actually HR must "look after" the ordinary guy. The senior managers can take care of themselves.

    @Mahesh - Nice comment. Thanks. Hope life back in India is as exciting as it was in South Africa.

    @kiwi - completely agree; as usual you put it in better words than me. If they stuck to the basics, they would be much more effective.

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  7. Gaurav Jain19/8/09

    Hello Ramesh, your post has been as usual a great read. I would like to put forward a request forposts on certain topics that have excited me of late. I hope I am not crossing my borders as a mere regular reader of your posts.

    Most of your post have been about the corporate world and have no doubt been great. However I would love to read on topic like entrepreneurs or the small business man, perhaps sole proprietor is a better word. For this is the class that majority of the indians fall under.

    Also your idea about investment of surplus money or rather savings by a common man ignorant of the equity market besides the mutual funds. real estate? gold? fixed deposits? What do you prefer.

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  8. Thanks Gaurav for visiting and for your nice comment. Thanks especially for your suggestions. I won't venture into the investment area as I am no expert and that's a dangerous area anyway, but I see your point on smaller businesses.

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  9. Hmm I myself have hated HR policies at many of my client locations, but I guess that's their job n a tough one too...nice post...btw u've been tagged..chk my blog

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  10. Oh cant agree more!

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  11. @ Rads - yesh - love them or hate them, you can't ignore HR. Will pick up the tag over the weekend.

    @Srivats - Thanks

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