Special Articles

IR and HRD integration develops better problem solving mechanism

Anil K Khandelwal

Designation : -   Former Chairman and Managing Director

Organization : -  Bank of Baroda & Dena Bank, Mumbai


IR and HRD integration develops better problem solving mechanism

What has been the context, of your new book CEO- Chess Master or Gardener?
A. As you know, I have been in banking industry for very long time and have witnessed very difficult industrial relations environment affecting workplace peace and significantly disrupting customer service. The management initiatives have been very limited to take any significant steps to improve IR. In this background I undertook research on CEOs strategies in IR (leading to my doctorate under then Director IIM, Ahmedabad). In this longitudinal study covering six CEOs, it was found that the main strategy of the CEOs had been on neutralising labour militancy by extending favour and concession to key union leaders and pampering them and ignoring issues of discipline and productivity. The trend has been uniform in the Banking industry with some exceptions here and there. My research also revealed that the management strategy changed with the change of CEO and each CEO had played a key role in shaping the strategy in various areas of union management relations. The relationship has oscillated between cosying up to bitter conflict on some occasions. The relationship with trade union could be seen as a game of Chess in which one operates on win-lose dynamics.
So how did you change the paradigm?
A. Post liberalisation and competitive environment, this model of managing IR and HR function was irrelevant and it had to change. However, It has been a very difficult and turbulent journey. Changing the legacy culture is the most difficult task of any leader. No one wants to disturb the status-quo fearing disruption across the bank and trade unions have taken full advantage of such anxieties within management. My research gave me some insights that helped me to craft my strategies. The research revealed that the cosying up with management was resented by member - employees who felt that their leaders had little time for genuinely pursuing their grievances and instead sought favour for themselves. Thus the leader - member connect was poor. I was confident that if reforms in IR are undertaken from an unstructured mode to more formalised pattern, the trade union will not be able to offer any formidable resistance. It was tested when I initiated many reforms in IR in my role as Executive Director. For example - the union could not mobilise any worthwhile protest against management initiatives to come out of legacy culture and formalise union-management relations. Similarly, other insights such as over dependence on trade union leaders to garner support of employees was misplaced to a great degree. The research confirmed my belief that trade unions and employees are two separate entities and management initiatives to engage employee is as important for growth of the Bank. The research debunked the belief of many that keeping trade union leader happy would automatically result in happy workforce. As a HR specialist in Bank, I witnessed dysfunctional consequences of such a short term and myopic strategy pursued.
Could you tell more about your initiatives?
A. At some point in my career, I landed in two business roles and I experimented with my belief to engage employees and de-focus on trade union leaders which was a major corporate level obsession at that point of time. I undertook several initiatives to build confidence in the workforce and improved response mechanism in employee matters. This was my testing laboratory of my ideas and I was more than convinced that we needed to reach out to operating managers and employees and use field wisdom in managing business. I was encouraged with excellent business results and broke the log-jam in union-management relations especially in Kolkata. I was convinced that with open mind and engagement with the live issues, one can find solution to problems.
Your earlier book "Dare to Lead" is about extra-ordinary transformation of Bank of Baroda, did your IR and HR Strategy had any role to play in this?
A. Yes, Very Much. I undertook major IR reform streamlining the relationship with the trade unions, reviewing our process of consultation both formal and informal and come out of some legacy problems in a significant way. This was the most difficult task and we experience lot of turbulence but we achieved our purpose. This eventually paved away from many new initiatives in the bank. Having rid the bank from daily problems at operating level, we built a strong edifice of employee engagement and an architecture of human processes. In essence BOB transformation story is a classic example of HR driven business transformation.
In your book you have mentioned that "conflict is an opportunity to bring about long pending changes", what do you mean by this?
A. I mean that conflict is not necessarily dysfunctional all the time. The conflict situation provides a great opportunity to correct the situation on account of many adhoc practices and violations and streamline the relationship. The book demonstrates in detail as to number of issues that we streamlined during conflict period.
One of the chapters in your book is, "From IR to HRD". How could you as a CEO make time for such an ambition shift?
A. My background in HR and deep conviction about people processes helped me to design the shift. My research insights provide me confidence that this could be done successfully. The rest is history.
How did you integrate IR and HRD at organisational level and linked it to Business?
A. I took several steps to achieve this :
a. Reorienting the personnel and HR functionaries to HRD philosophy and practices through a well-planned training programme. This programme had a special component to develop Human Process orientation through sensitivity training.
b. Rotating personnel functionaries in IR and HR roles.
c. Bringing some senior line managers to HRD and IR roles and sending some HR functionaries to line assignments to understand business.
d. Setting up the joint task forces for problem - solving in IR and HRD.
e. Continuous review to ensure successful integration and take corrective action whenever required.
This integration resulted in better relationship between IR and HRD functionaries, better problem - solving mechanism and overall synergy of HR function.
We would like to know the role of CEO as a gardener?
A. The CEO has a very strategic role in building a culture of an organisation. It essentially involve challenging and dealing with the legacy attitude, dysfunctional processes, overriding bureaucracy and status quoist mindset. Simultaneously the leaders need to focus on organisation - wide communication, engagement and employee development. Culture change cannot be affected by sermons, entreaties, exhortations, or by emails. It requires prodigious efforts in streamlining many existing legacy-based systems, drilling new attitudes, and initiating new processes in the organisation. The CEO also need to prepare the soil by building internal support system and creating a facilitative environment in which people are encouraged to give their best. Finally, the CEO has to focus on building a culture of innovations and also nurture people and next generation leadership through constant motivation, encouragement and emotional support to maintain their level of efficiency and commitment. It is the job of gardener leaders to mentor, encourage, and hand-hold the employees during work, and at times to protect them from unnecessary external interference or unfair treatment.