Monday, December 12, 2011

Role of HR in Tough Times - Talent Perspective

Paradigm Shift and Talent Management:
We are witnessing a paradigm shift in the role of and perception about HR. The real challenge for HR function lies when the days are no longer sunny. There are two aspects to this – ‘Proactive HR’ and managing the paradox of being ‘Employee Champion’ and ‘Strategic Business Partner’. Let’s discuss both these scenarios.

We have been saying that HR has to be proactive. But then what is that ‘proactive approach’ we are talking about. When it comes to global economic downturn, the first measure that most organizations take is ‘downsizing’. A proactive approach would result in ‘Right-sizing’. There would be no need to cut the extra flab when the organization is already in shape. For this again, effective manpower planning has to be carried out and several analytical techniques can be used to get the count right. Scenario analysis is one such technique which can help us visualize different scenarios by juggling with several parameters. The Talent pool has to be just right. This also involves taking a long term view of things and avoiding myopic and tunnel vision to attain short term stability. We need to also understand that any economic crisis is a transient phenomenon and so we should not sacrifice vision for immediate short term gains. One excuse or explanation that comes from many organizations during downturn is that the non-performers are being retrenched. But my point of contention is – Why to wait for economic downturn to chuck out the non-performers. Besides, what could be the quality and effectiveness of selection procedures in these organizations so as to induce non-performers into the system? What has the learning and development team been doing all this while? 

 Its important to understand that 'Employees' are important stakeholders contributing to business success even in tough times and post that. HR being a business partner has to aid the decision making of Leadership team by presenting concrete rationale and do what is right for the business not only in the present but also in the long run while preserving the interest of the internal customers. An analogy that strikes me is that of a 'mother' in the family. 'Mother' always has to balance the act of the 'father' (Leadership Team) and that of the 'children' (Employees) for the emergence of a happy and loving 'family' (Organization). An organization should stand by its employees in the tough times which will build a culture of trust and loyalty. Employees will reciprocate by higher productivity and higher commitment levels. This is a simple human phenomenon – a psychological contract. As someone has said, “If you exceed someone’s expectations by a little, they will make sure to exceed your expectations by a lot more”. HR has to strike a balance between the employees’ needs and the business demands. SAS is one organization which has never retrenched its employees and has consistently figured in the ‘Great Places to Work’. This has a positive impact on the employees as a whole resulting in high motivation levels and sense of belongingness for the organization. Besides, other stakeholders – shareholders, suppliers, and customers take note of such initiatives and are highly appreciative resulting in better relations and more business. As stated earlier, a long term and far sighted view has to be taken. 

HR has to understand these realities and pitch for the most rational option. It is HR’s responsibility to make the management cognizant of the holistic picture and present the pros and cons of any decision before them in the language they understand. HR has to take the Central Stage and make a mark.

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