Article (December-2018)


HR function will never be extinct

Dr. Anil K. Khandelwal

Designation : -   Former Chairman and Managing Director

Organization : -  Bank of Baroda & Dena Bank, Mumbai


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Do you think that HRD function in organisations, conceived four decades ago in India, has evolved in the right direction? If not, what are the gaps?
AK HRD function in organisations has to be assessed in terms of their contributions to meet the evolving challenges in the organisations in the context of business. There are organisations like in the IT companies, where HRD has contributed in a significant manner in meeting the challenge of meeting talent needs, their induction, performance evaluation, compensation and higher level leadership development. In most of these organisations, the HRD function is driven by qualified professionals who have significantly contributed as a partner of business in meeting the changing needs of the business. Multi-National organisations also have generally shown respect for HR function. The HRD function is driven by qualified professionals who act as an internal resource for organisational renewal.
The other category is public sector. I must say with some concern that HRD function in public sector has not got centrality in its positioning and mostly it operates at a peripheral level with some exceptions. It remains highly tied to administrative function due to high degree of standardisation of policy and lack of autonomy in many areas. There is also lack of professionalisation of HR function in public sector. Then there is another category where HR function is only for name sake with high degree of centralisation in promoters and whimsical policies with questionable style of functioning.
Until two decades ago, HR was taken up as a generalist function but now it has become more of a specialist function. Will it be good for the organisation as well as professionals to become as specialist of one branch only in future?
AK I am of the view of HR function is both specialised and general. Specialised because it requires full understanding of human psychology, group dynamics, process orientation, negotiation and bargaining process, impact of labour laws and understanding of the social system both inside and outside the organisation. But it must be admitted that mere specialisation without understanding business context is like a single engine aircraft with its inherent risk. My own background as a specialist in HR and moving to business side of banking provided me an opportunity to experiment and innovate many powerful ideas of HR to turnaround the business. Increasingly HR specialist should undertake line responsibility to put into practice their professional ideas. This also gives legitimacy to HR professionals from sermonisers to authentic practitioners of ideas.
What could be the advantages and disadvantages of such trend?
AK As I said above, while specialisation has be respected, the HR function should not become fiefdom of only the specialists. An ideal HR department should have both specialist and generalist. In today's world, it is extremely important to understand the context of business and therefore specialist and generalist should complement in the evolvement of an empowered HR function in any organisation.
It is generally said that element of human is no more left in HR function and it is reduced to resources only? Is it correct? What are the dangers of such mindset?
AK It is for the consultant and trainers to win their bread by playing with such cosmetic distinction as to whether HR is source or resource. I will not waste my time on this. To me HR is both source as well as resource. What matters is ideology to value human beings as an important source and resource to create future of organisation and demonstrate commitment through allocation of time and financial resources to develop people and value them.
In this era of technology advancement, How HR professionals can keep them strongly connected with people without sacrificing the potential and advantages of technology in HRD function.
AK In todays time, machines are thinking like men and men are thinking like machines. We must understand this. Technology is sweeping the organisations with both positive and disasterous consequences on the life and careers of people. Overnight, organisations can face obsolescence of technology and products putting at risk the jobs of many. In this scenario increasing emphasis of developing people in terms of their capability to continuously innovate and cope, is something that cannot be underestimated. The human factor has become extremely important and needs to be prioritised. Continuous investment in technology and new capability building should be the new syllabus for sustaining organisations.
Do you also agree that HR function is going to extinct in near future? If so, What HR professionals should do to keep them relevant in business world?
AK HR function will never be extinct. Even in the most technologically advanced organisations, the criticality of the HR function will be heightened as critical talent in such organisation will hold key to the existence of such an organisation. Continuous talent building, succession planning for critical talent and motivation of such talent, creation of facilitative culture for innovations will be the emphasis in such organisations. Traditional HR functionaries will face extinction in modern corporations unless they continuously undergo self - renewal.
Do you think that industrial relations function is separate from HRD and they are not intertwined? How both functions can supplement each other for employees' holistic development?
AK I have always believed that IR and HRD are always intertwined. It is indeed a pity that academic institutions have considerably diluted emphasis on IR function in their MBA programmes. IR function is important to understand the dynamics of social system, aspiration of labour (which remains relevant in manufacturing and public sector even today), union-management relations, bargaining system and issues of equity, justice and fair play within overall legal system. A good HR professional should have good grounding in IR as well.