Does HR “DEAL” with People?

1 Sep , 2015  

“Why do you want to study HR?” I asked a bunch of enthusiastic MBA students last week.

Most of them said they liked dealing with people; no brainer right? Nine out of ten others elsewhere would probably give the same answer. I’m inclined to think otherwise; if you like dealing with people, you’re better off in sales as there’s where actual one-on-one interaction happens. I might be a bit biased as I started my career in sales but in today’s dynamic technology landscape, sales happen through various e-channels too. For now, let’s get back to HR.

HR, to me, is no longer about dealing with people but rather managing a heap of transactions. Disagree? Take a moment and answer the following based on your experiences or observations in your current or past organisations:

  1. Does your HR team spend more time in front of their desktop and laptop?
  2. Are they always seen in a meeting or conversing with leadership team?
  3. Do you only get to see HR during appraisal cycles, new policies announcements or when you’re tendering your resignation?
  4. And yet, do you always get an email from HR stating that they are available if you need them for anything?

If your answers are no to most of the above, don’t read any further as you are likely to have witnessed some of the best HR experience!

On the contrary, if your answers are mostly in agreement to the questions asked, the blame lies not with your HR folks but with the culture of the organisation!

So if you’re wondering when the HR folks will “actually” be “available” for you, it’s best to ask that question to the CEO or big Boss – in the overall makeup of priorities that has been set up by the leadership for HR.

Picture this: most of the HR people we meet are of a reasonable pedigree; many have majored in HR from credible and distinguished business schools. So it shouldn’t be difficult for them to know that a majority of their time should rightfully be spent talking to the employees and clearing whatever challenges coming in the way. I have worked with many colleagues who believed they can unleash the power of positive human capital and chased their careers to be part of great HR organisations. Yet once the dust has settled and I speak to them on reality vs ideal, I see that the “business partnering concept” has “reluctantly” led them to doing things that the business wants them to do in spite of many other HR priorities.

Imagine a situation when a business leader wants to give selective salary hikes to a few of their top employees (either as a reward or to mitigate the risk of losing them) or a situation in which Operations wants to hire people whom they know and like personally, it’s very likely that HR has to oblige rather than bring in the right perspectives from a big picture point-of-view. More often than not, obliging to business leaders becomes a normal occurrence that gets translated into execution. The concept of “business partnering” has taken away the power from HR at a structural level; disallowing HR to perform at their best which essentially is “engaging directly with people”.

So why do you think HR cannot meet people as uniformly/frequently as they would like to?

  1. Business leaders are happier if HR helped them manage their day to day escalations or firefighting.
  2. Business leaders would rather have HR sit behind their computer screen and churn data and corresponding info graphs, preparing XL sheets, and creating PowerPoints!
  3. Unfortunately in most organisations, HR fails to have an appropriate positioning with the leaders hence they have less of a “voice”.

In one of my employment stints, an employee engagement survey highlighted the lack of ‘career conversations’ in the organisation. I took it upon myself and met the colleagues in my business unit for a one-on-one career conversation. It took me a quarter of a year to complete the conversation but I was adamant to set an example (maybe the wrong one in this case). During this exercise, one of my younger colleagues asked “why doesn’t HR do this for us”. Fair point, I reasoned but I believed I had to set the example and to also put out the KPIs for HR to report on how many employees they met ‘one-on-one’ each quarter. One of my HR Manager quipped, “Kamal, it looks like I am in sales – having to report the number of customer calls I make daily!”

So how does HR meeting you and I impact key areas like engagement, productivity, innovation, teamwork, and culture? One can argue there are other ways to get these things done better including leadership. But I am sure HR showing up and meeting people regularly will be a key factor for many of the enablers in any organisation.

If I have to teach HR, the first chapter will be on Engagement, is it already covered in the B school HR curriculum? One thing I like about teaching is that, you can’t avoid meeting people :)

If I have to teach HR, the first chapter will be on Engagement, is it already covered in the B school HR curriculum? One thing I like about teaching is that, you can’t avoid meeting people 🙂


3 Responses

  1. Kalika Prasad Mohapatra says:

    Excellent piece of article on fundamentals of HR and the article is educative in unfolding practical job of HR.

  2. Excellent piece of article on fundamentals of HR and practical aspect of the job

  3. Subhash S Nair says:

    Hi Kamal,

    Thanks and well said.

    Priorities of Top Management is critical in shaping the culture , priorities could be ( Process/ Product/ Revenue /People/Service ….. )

    HR must always strive to add value to BIG PICTURE / VISION. If I were to put it in very simple words:

    HR plays a very crucial role in meeting Business Objectives: Attract the best → Manage, Retain and Grow the best.

    If HR has to really add value in meeting business goals, there must be continuous engagement.

    As an HR one should never forget that all Tools/ ERP’s/ Reports/Processes are to provide clarity & comfort to employees. Managing them should never drive us away from our core Objective.

    Thanks & Regards,

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