Friday, 22 November 2013

A participant’s account of the NIPM Southern Regional Conference-“The New HR agenda-Respond, Realign & Re position”

The conference started in the evening of 15th November at the Accord Metropolitan hotel in Chennai and concluded the next day after a lot of interesting deliberations. As it often happens in conferences, you like parts of it, and it is for you take away what you find relevant & suitable. I am therefore in this post going to focus on what appealed to me instead of a giving a running commentary of everything that transpired.
In the welcome address the chairman of the Chennai chapter, Mr K.Manickam explained  the background for choosing the conference theme and its relevance, given the tough economic scenario that has impacted many industries.
It was the session on “Perceptions & expectations of CEO & stake holders” that I found the views of the entire panel insightful. Interesting & illuminating, right from that of  the moderator Mr Srivatsram, MD of Wheels India to the speakers Mr Prafulla Agnihotri, Director (HR) IIM Trichy,Mr J.N.Amrolia CEO, Chennai business school and Mr Deepak Kumar Hota, Director HR, BEML Limited.

Mr Srivtasram stated that he expected HR  to play a big role in the big challenge of communicating to employees correctly & frequently, the perspective of the management. In order to contribute appropriately & be effective, HR needs to understand the business part of the company. As CEO he continues to have the traditional expectation of HR being able to resolve conflicts. However, this needs to be done by taking steps proactively. Another important expectation from HR is that the function evaluates the skill level of employees after which in case the skills are less vis-à-vis the job requirements and the payment made to the employee, HR needs to take steps to ensure that the skills  are upgraded. He stressed on not only improving the skills but imparting changed /new skill sets as per changing requirements. The speaker wanted HR to become the ‘barometer’ for the management which is able to gauge the passion level of employees so that action can be taken to increase the percentage of passionate employees.

Mr Agnihothri pointed out the fact that the younger employees of today (Gen Y) have a mind-set that is very different from that of the older generation. They expect to be in senior positions at a young age, want more flexibility & autonomy. They seem to say “I am like this. Take me as I am” meaning they are  not prepared to dance to your tunes. They are also short term oriented & less judgmental and want a work-life balance. What a CEO expects is that the HR person is able to appreciate these changes & respond appropriately to retain and develop employees. Rather than merely playing the role of a recruitment agency, what is expected is that HR spots talent, lures talent and develops them. Mr Agnihothri said that quite a few HR persons are offering to come and give a guest lecture in his institution. The real purpose, he realized was to assess the quality of the students during these interactions. Past students are sent to take the selected candidates out for dinner and give them a pep talk on how their company is a very good employer. Another expectation from HR is that they maintain a healthy work culture and be known as a friend and mentor and not as a watchdog.  A CEO is seeking to have the best quality employees at all levels in terms of efficiency, knowledge, skills & attitude. He is looking to HR to make this possible- attracting the best, creating trust & respect in the organization.

Mr Amrolia opined that the expectations from the HR is in a way contextual. As for example , the expectation from the CEO of  a software company could be different from that of a manufacturing company. In general however the HR person needs to be the CEO’s sounding board- give the correct picture of what is happening in the company after accessing & filtering the information. He would expect that the HR person does not play politics- Tell the information “like it is” and not what people would like to hear.He shared incidents from his career when he had the courage of conviction to hold on to his position when he knew it was right. As for example, when 360 degree appraisals were introduced, it was agreed that initially for two years it would be used only for developmental purposes & that the results would not be shared with anyone. It would be known only to  one person in the company identified as champion for the purpose & the outside consultant. The CEO however could not contain his curiosity and asked to see them.Mr Amrolia stood his ground and the CEO though initially upset was able to see his point of view. This experience sharing reminds us that in order to be respected we, HRDians need to at least articulate clearly  our professional views.

 Mr DK Hotha, as was done by most speakers  throughout the conference underlined the need for HR to understand business. He said most HRDians do not make efforts in this area  and that they need to 'dirty their hands' and work hard to make an impact. He also drew attention of the delegates to the fact that it is CEO's with good HR orientation who are the most successful.He talked of the need to meet aspirations of people. In this regard he shared a story of an OD intervention in a previous company where a team went & met truck drivers in their own work situations, collected data on their needs & aspirations which were presented   before a management audience  that  paved the way for arriving at strategic decisions.  

In the session on HR business & strategy, Mr R Venkatnarayanan,Executive VP(HR) Rane group drew attention to the changing business realities & how HR needs to respond appropriately in the changing times.There is a need to approach Gen Y employees with realistic expectations-commitment to the organization during the period of their working with the company instead of expecting them to put in long years of service.Ms Parvathi Karthik,head talent management of TCS discussed the changing role of HR from that of responding to enabling and now advising. She explained in detail as to how in TCS,HR metrics have been aligned to the business metrics.This has changed the image of HR from being just a service provider to that of a key business driver.The HR strategy & plans are aligned to the HR processes, leading to HR outcomes that impact the business outcomes.The HR metrics are measured against the outcomes and also serve as inputs for changing or modifying the HR strategies and plans The metrics help in letting us understand whether we are on the right track in terms of recruitment for example.The head count ratio lets us know the actual intake versus the attrition which gives you a better picture about the success of the  recruitment effort.The metrics help in developing the next workforce plan, fulfillment of demands & addressing unorganic growth.Learning & development plan will emerge from the information as to how many of our team members are upskilling their competencies from level-1 to expert level.

Another area you can measure is the effectiveness of your employee connect or communication exercises  (As for example in my company Hyundai,  the effectiveness of  events  "Coffee with CEO" for executives & supervisors .and lunch box meeting in which shop floor employees meet the VP production and HR can be assessed).Are they improving quantitatively & qualitatively? You can find out the relationship between the employee connects & attrition.Ms Parvathi stated that research has shown that "people who are connected do not leave the company." In TCS,all the metrics are reported to the business heads along with the comparative average of the various businesses. This also enables sharing of best practices.

Mr N.V. Balachandar ED(HR) Ashok Leyland underlined the importance of dovetailing HR strategy to business.As for example training calendar needs to be realigned each year in accordance with the changing needs. He said that the long time vision of HR is to be articulated & made known to everyone in the organization.HR ought to be contemplating "How can I excite people to join me and remain with me?"He also spoke about the need to provide the necessary resources & tools for employees to enable them to perform effectively.For example your  traveling salesman may be denied or given restricted access to 3 G card   which is most essential for his effectiveness while  a CEO or director may be given the card  which  they may  hardly use .With regard to rewarding good work, he felt that HR need to constantly look for innovative  ways  to recognize & reward, as studies in India  show money  alone does not motivate employees to give their best.

In the session on  Talent management & employee engagement the moderator Mr Prasanth Khullar,Director (HR) Luxury hotels, pointed out that customer engagement is not possible without employee engagement.He said that the staff of the Taj hotel Mumbai selflessly saved many lives of their guests during the terrorist attack.The question was asked as to "How do you train people to sacrifice one's own life  & save other's lives?" Care is taken to select caring people right from the time of selection.Importance is not given to marks scored by candidates but on their behaviour towards seniors, teachers & parents.The engagement activities for creating a sense of belonging include  inviting an employee to visit the hotel along with his family to dine in the hotel's restaurant as against the normal norm of the hotel industry which is- " where you work you should nor dine" The new joiners on getting married is granted free stay at the Taj for their honey moon.

Mr Issac Arunkumar Head (HR)Telecon ISU TCS, stated that the engagement model needs to create a sense of purpose & a sense of belonging.It is high engagement that leads to a better retention.He also explained how employees are encouraged to participate in CSR activities  and stated that their experience was that "Those engaged in CSR activities tend to be more engaged".

In the session on "New age workforce Dynamics"  Mr Venkateswaran, Dy MD(IR) sanmar group who was the moderator felt that situations tend to change rapidly & hence we need to understand the the live situation on the ground and respond which could mean a change in approach.Mr A.S. Girish Head HR Appolo tyres brought in the much appreciated humour in an afternoon session. He pointed out that the British institute of personnel Management had stated decades ago that "The business of personnel management is business." As early as in 1954 Peter Drucker had asked the question "is personnel management bankrupt?"  Yet not much has happened over the years in terms of the HR practitioners  becoming business savvy.He used a cartoon to indicate that the present status dealing with workforce is one of 'subsidized conflict & confrontation.A customer focus , becoming a strategic partner & HR getting to the center stage is the need of the hour.Towards this end we need to have strong HR policies, become the employee champion( so that employees don't run to the union for everything) and elicit partnership attitude from trade unions.The success of a IR or HR person lies in his ability to have insight in to the mood of men and his tact in dealing with them.

Overall I felt that the conference threw up some thoughts for us  HR professionals to introspect- Approach to business, approach in dealing with the younger employees whose number is going to increase day by day, adopting of HR metrics to make a mark and the challenge of  engaging & developing employees among other things. Responding to these challenges positively would enable us to realign and re position ourselves for success .


  1. Wonderful article with lot's of learning from views of many experienced HR professionals.

    In my views, Human resources of any organisation must understand the true nature of their business’s competitive environment and the company’s executive strategies to achieve success. This understanding isn’t simply a responsibility of human resources leadership. For processes to deliver their true value, every member of the team has to be ingrained into the business.

    Since, most of the part of HR like recruitments, payroll etc are outsourced to third party to take care of, so organisations can think of upgrade the skills and knowledge of their HR employees to take up new strategic roles and responsibilities.

    I belive, HR peoples needs to have more analytical skills, the ability to develop talent management and human capital strategies to business objectives, and the ability to coach managers through important organization changes.

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    1. Thank you Ankit for sharing your thoughts. The conference also drew attention to most of the things you have mentioned in your comment.Of course additionally you have called attention to the need of HRDians equipping themselves to meet the new challenges.


  3. Informative article that show cases current challenges and opportunities for HR Mangers as also offers valuable suggestions. Nice of Mr. Rajeev to put in a nut shell the essence from views of many experts.

  4. Thank you soldier.It is feedback from readers like you that motivate one to write. Warm Regards

  5. I am happy to inform readers that this article in its entiriety was included in the magazine 'Bouquet' published by the NIPM Madras chapter (Oct-Dec 2013).