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HR Leadership – A board level matter

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Vinod S. Madhavan - Business Head – Company into People Mobility Solutions

07-Jul-2020

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This article throws light on why Human Resources are seen as a support function than a business enabler. As a business practitioner, it suggests ways on how HR Managers and leaders can improve their business image in the senior leadership team.

A frequently overheard remark amongst leadership is that Human Resources are more of a support function than a business enabler. HR Managers & leaders are looked as cost functions than actual profit creating units. Many professional companies (large Indian organizations like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, ITC, L&T and many others have a robust HR process and proven methodologies to fulfil and surpass HR goals but key question we need to ask a lot of home grown organizations are:

•    Are all organizations driving these processes diligently?

•    Is HR really looking at the Health of the organization (Physical / Mental / Emotional)?

•    Are we taking care of our people in the same zeal and spirit as we try to maintain our other factors of production – buildings, machines, computers etc.?

In organizations where HR is seen as important and valuable, People are treated as assets – We will find HR is part of the top leadership and sometimes even on Board. However, many medium sized companies do not have a proper Head – HR who can sit alongside boards / business heads and be part of the decision making process. Even hiring decisions of C- Suite Executives – HR is only a part of the Pre -Interview and Post Interview paper work and not once involved in selection.

As they say, clapping does not happen with one hand.HR is also equally responsible for this state of affairs. Many HR managers just follow the flow and not take responsibility for their roles and happy merely functioning as a IR/Recruitment /Payroll Manager and sometimes even a firing manager at the leadership behest instead of standing up with leadership to building a culture of success in the organization. HR cannot remain just a staff function. It has stopped being all about just above functions but gone beyond in terms of building an Ethical Culture, Building values, Motivation of employees, Managing emotional health, Being Inclusive, Ensuring Coaching at all levels of organization and all these means more than 100% commitment & a herculean task for HR managers.

Which are the areas top leadership / board feels HR can contribute more – Interesting studies identifies the three areas -

1. Taking Responsibility for entire organizational success: Too many times HR was seen more as a function and their KRA not linked to organizational success. The score card more read on whether salary was paid on time, Training Need areas were put down but a success approach to their function was missing. The board needed ownership from HR leaders for results which was a missing ingredient.

2. Re-invention of the HR Function: HR Managers & leaders needed to be abreast of Innovations/Latest techniques in management of labour and work force/Policies being used by leading organizations to drive results and incorporate these in decision making at boards for the companies. Rarely is a note by HR added to board level decision making on new tools to be procured/implemented that increases team efficiency or processes chopped because they do not impact productivity. A simple example is-Till COVID did not strike, how many HR leaders have recommended that WFH could also be productive. Even now HR is only mirroring the voice of the Top management who feel that we could save considerable workspace rentals by WFH policies.  Is this not reactive than being proactive?

In the same light, how many HR leaders actually have vociferously put across additional compensation for their WFH team members to compensate for the savings accrued to the organization. We know of many MNC already doing it for many years now but this is because HR leaders in India were forced to adopt global practices and not the other way around.

3. Expert Inhouse consultant: Too many times since HR also encompasses the legal aspect of workman compensation, Agreements – The HR leader depends heavily on his eco-system of legal firms for advice. While this is good, it rarely sees HR leaders as a expert team associate. People see HR as a senior messenger than decision maker or implementor. This again goes to taking responsibility for advice. This prevent senior leadership to nominate HR leaders into board level assignments.

There are many more factors but tackling the above can be seen as fundamental to move the perception towards making HR Leader Image even better:

• Keeping Abreast of all technologies that impact business – Factor of reading/Attending conferences/Online Certifications

• Subject Matter Expert – Especially Legal aspects – HR leaders need to remove the dependency on outside experts for regular matters and should prove to be dependable for legal advice

• Courage to stand up and speak for organizational good – Most HR managers do not want to call out wrong organizational practices to the board – It is time for HR to become bold – This boldness itself will make them a useful board member.

• Best Practices Implementor - Suggest  HR leaders  carve out a separate budget for having flexibility to implement new best practices / tools / programs that can impact organizational culture – If HR leader is seen as a innovator – He or she will ensure a board seat.

• Understanding technology better – Not just HRMS but immersing and hands on future technology products that can impact results. He needs to be an early adopter to succeed.

The list of skills are endless but key success factors can be had if HR leaders are able to do even a bit of the above and move their imagery to being a successful implementor and board level resources of the future.

All important factors are that HR needs to build the confidence of the board in their capabilities to add value. HR is a valuable resource but not valued in organization which sees finance heads, sales heads or even production heads as value add members but are not able to value HR – This needs to change we need to do an earnest attempt in bringing about this culture change in India.