Article (December-2018)


HR is expected to more of a specialist function

Rajesh Padmanabhan

Designation : -   Director and Group CHRO,

Organization : -  Welspun Group, Mumbai


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Do you think that HRD function in organizations conceived four decades ago in India, has evolved in the right direction. If not, what are the gaps?
RP Over the last few years, there has been a continuous evolution in the way HR has functioned in an organization. The focus has shifted from being a small rule based personnel department to being able to take part in decision making. Gone are the days when the KRA of HR department was to percolate the management decision to employees as a one way road, now HR connects the employees to the employers and facilitates their two-way communication for a more efficient business and collaborative operation. Such development has pushed the boundaries of overall HR operations from being a support function to becoming a strategic partner in the organization.
There have been significant developments in case of recruitment, where the social media presence is playing a massive disruptive role. Unlike earlier, where referrals and organization job portals were the biggest source of recruitment, now social media has taken up the pole position in connecting organizations to their prospective employees. However, the success of such recruitment strongly depend on the level of presence in the respective platforms.
India being at the cusp of changing dynamics of business models, macro - economic trends and digital disruption etc needs visionary leaders to drive organizations towards success in the ever - changing market conditions with severe talent crunch. With the advancement of technology, the definition of employment has changed. Concepts like Gig-Economy have kicked in. In such a case, identifying talent and retaining them have become a greater challenge than ever. HR function is now at the forefront of managing the employee life cycle for the future, planning succession and developing leaders all the time.
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 organization as well as professionals to become as specialist of one branch only in future?
RP At the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, internet of things (IoT) has become the driver of change. Earlier, applications were about people or IT processes communicating, but now its machines and devices that are communicating, continuously and in ever greater numbers. This revolution is fuelled by the convergence of computing, data, artificial intelligence and universal connectivity.
Shared economies, technological advancements and dynamic market conditions with high level of competitions have left no choices to organizations except adapting to agile methodologies as 'business as usual' and an agile business need an agile workforce.
The definition of talent has changed. The scope of job has become specific with the expectations detailed out. Quality over quantity has become the mindset. Hence HRM is now expected to be more of a specialist function as it adds more business value and supports the business through its expertise.
What could be the advantages and disadvantages of such trend?
RP The advantage of such a trend is, HR department can work as a specialized team to support and exceed business developments in dynamic market conditions and changing talent landscape. However, it takes out the flexibility required to perform tasks. Expertise in specific domains of HRM and lack of knowledge in other aspects may lead to fixed HR roles and sometimes may lead to unwanted talent scarcity in few specific functions.
As discussed earlier, the future is agile and needs agile resources to culminate business goals into reality. Agile work method needs flexibility to a large extent to operate. Hence a blended balance between specialist and generalist profiles could answer such a dilemma satisfactorily. However, to go with any one of the earlier mentioned options can create complications in the future.
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?
RP In the era of technology, the focus has shifted to productivity through intelligent automation. Waves of disruptions are transforming businesses. By not "disrupting" their business, many companies have seen business models become old and outdated which resulted in employee dissatisfaction, high turnover, inefficient management of resources etc. and also impacted on the revenues big time!
AI and IOT in recruitment and engagement, JIT recruitment, workforce analytics in manpower planning, succession planning along with many other changes in the conventional ways has taken the world by storms.
As a result of such disruptions, the roles and responsibilities have completely transformed for HR professionals in collaboration with business needs. The workforce has become more efficient, productive and connected. This shift is a disruption itself - forcing the HR technology community to move even faster and efficiently than ever. HR is at its agile best right now.
However, the people decisions are quite different than the algorithmic decisions through analytics and automation. Decision on people can never be in the form of 'Black and White' or a simple 'Yes and No', rather, it has multiple shades of grey in between. Hence, no matter how advanced or complicated the systems become, the human aspect persists and moreover, technology helps us in performing better. It never takes the human touch away. The way we work might change or evolve with time, but it won't perish. Only the human understanding can improve the system. Hence it's a virtuous loop of hi-tech and high-touch evolution.
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?
RP In our journey towards excellence, technology is there to support us. With advancement of technologies, through complex algorithms, we are getting better inferences out of data which enable us in making better judgment of a situation and take actions accordingly.
Technology  has  had  positive  effect  on  internal  operations  for  organizations,  but  it  also changed the way human resource management work. Technology facilitates better human resource planning, decision making, Job evaluation, performance management and communication.
Although, the aforementioned developments have increased HR department's dependency on the technology but, the human touch is always there to understand the situation better and take actions accordingly.
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?
RP Technological advancements, AI, IoT have started transforming business. However, the target is not a specific function, rather all the transactional tasks, where humans can be replaced with machines so that, humans can do something better.
Now to cater to such changes, HR department needs to focus on five key ingredients, i.e., people, structure, processes, technology, and culture. The HR analytics data points should capture the plan to alter capabilities needed to pivot from the current operational level to being the innovation leaders. To drive this cultural change, senior leadership involvement and frequent strategic communications are critical.
In the knowledge & digital economy, the workplace is converging along with future skills and talent requirements. Many leading organizations are using HR analytics to their competitive advantage through looking at future trends, building future - ready skills, and enable the right talent to be present at the right place at the right time.
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?
RP Industrial relations and HRD are intertwined and both work towards uninterrupted work, high level of engagement, reduction in disputes, and reduction in wastages in the organization. Although Human Resources Department (HRD) was defined from Industrial Relations (IR) in the age of Industrial Revolution, gradually HRD established its identity, on its own and currently both are considered as seemingly different studies of Human Resources.
However, in the sphere of reality of work, most employment relationships represent a mix or blend of HR and IR assumptions sometimes slightly tilted towards Industrial Relations and sometimes the other way around.
While HR departments work as a facilitator for two way communication between leadership and employees, IR department does the same for senior management and labourers. Their mode and method of communication may vary based on the audience they cater, but the overall goal remains the same, which is to disseminate a standard message across the workforce and align the entire workforce to the same. In this way, both the departments work hand-in-hand to a sole purpose of improving organizational efficiency and business effectiveness.