A dysfunctional management institute converted into a hospital; by a businessman without any medical background; a singular myopic vision of commercial bottom-line with no cognizance to other stakeholders like employees and customers; an operational governing body of sector specialists that give an impression of "Yes man" advice (ED) rather than well weighed informed decisions; a HR department that is expected to deal with anything and everything that doesn't fall into any other functional portfolio; a temperamental and abusive super boss (MD); an insecure family at home worried with the health threats to the only earning member of the family; unchallenging and Authority--Accountability skewed work portfolio; agitated unionized employees; the all pervasive pandemic induced negativity---Prem is caught in a cobweb of multi-dimensional negativity that's little too much and too challenging for a mortal soul to handle.
1. The work environment of lifeline needs a lot of work on cultural basics. To begin with, the majority of eight dimensions of the OCTAPACE model1, viz, Openness, Confrontation, Trust, Authenticity, Pro-Action, Autonomy, Collaboration and Experimentation which are essential for a strong and successful organisation are either missing or negatively skewed. As mentioned in the case, Divakar, ED was practically at helm of affairs of all functional areas. Be it advising the MD for incentivizing duty at the time of adverse business environment or taking away the incentives. Such unilateral decisions at the whims and fancies of the owner (MD) by a notional head without taking into confidence the functional head only indicates appeasement approach by the ED to satisfy commercial greed of the owner.
Basic sense of human psychology, a feel of employee pulse, a realistic comprehension of organisational culture, courage of conviction-- are a minimum non-negotiable must for strategic leaders. Technical knowledge of one's field only compliments but does not substitute for behavioural and managerial competencies. Divakar's success as a renowned cardiologist does not automatically make him a sensitive and sensible manager.
Divakar being from medical background should have demonstrated better appreciation of domain specific human nuances instead of just implementing the wish of his employer. Perhaps the missing element of hospital administration or management in medical professionals training, highlighted in such situations, has given rise to the growing demand of management professionals specifically groomed for hospital/healthcare industry through post graduate degrees like MHA and MBA in hospital management. Leaders at top are expected to be generalists having an all encompassing understanding of sector specific functional areas.
2. A temporary allowance or incentivizing to cope an unexpected unprecedented business situation is a normal practice. There is historical evidence that fringe benefits offered as a generous gesture by employers over a period of time are demanded as a right by the employees later. Whether it is an honorarium to public health workers in the bigger healthcare scenario or an extra cash help to employees during festive season in yesteryears, subsequently become demands of full time employees status with corresponding salaries and the likes of statutory bonus.
However, withdrawal of temporary incentives or allowance needs to follow a specific process that aims to iron out both squeezed wallets and wrinkled brows of employees. Abrupt withdrawal of incentives is bound to create ripples that would vitiate the already uncertain times.
At this juncture enters the role of soft HRM like, informal communication, workers participation in management, phased and selective dissemination of information, creating 'feel good', 'we are in it together' and belongingness vibes.
There are numerous ways in which this could be done, For instance :
a) The taking away of incentive could be done in a phased manner where in first month Sr. Specialist and Specialists' allowances could be withdrawn sending a message that the allowance is temporary and would be revoked. Also, since the quantum of allowance is more in those bands and these are comparatively much better paid employees, they will not feel the pinch of it. Later, in second month nurses and paramedical staff could be impacted when the resistance would be lower given the example set by the seniors.
b) Alternatively, a series of communication thanking people for their commitment during tough times, giving away certificates of pandemic warriors, recognizing their efforts first and then a month later declaring through a soft note, the reversibility of the decision could have been considered.
c) Ideally the thought of rescinding the allowance should have been shared by the MD and the ED with Prem, HOD HR, who should have proposed a strategy of revoking the allowance.
d) Even selectively sharing the books of accounts for authentic information and pitching repealing as one of the several measures of austerity for organisational survival and growth could have been designed.
3. The reasons of Prem's stress are obvious and multi-faceted. Helplessness to carry out his responsibilities without accompanying authority, an abusive boss who has big business wisdom but feeble industry/ sector comprehension, a dissenting base-of-pyramid work force, scared and nagging family, external environment induced discords at home front, overall negativity, a saturated career path and lack of autonomy are some of the stressors at this point of time.
However, none of these are events of a day. May be Prem had been procrastinating or not acknowledging the negative stressors when he was supposed to. Saturation in work challenges do not happen in one day. At the time the allowance was curated as an incentive an exit strategy should also have been planned proactively by Prem. May be he did not listen to his inner voice or wife enough well at right time. May be he let his boss overstep his authority by continuing to endure the abuse. May be he lacked the courage of conviction to challenge the management after the last incident of releasing the dead body. May be his ethical conflict with either the management style or the management vision was not voiced at enough amplitude to be heard.
Even the scenario of Prem's handling the employees' agitation comes under scan as to how the information got leaked through grapevine. Why was the HR department under his leadership not able to control the grapevine? Buying two days' time was a very short term strategy, and then again not able to talk to the seniors on a major issue that can hamper organisation performance before the secretary came to ask for the hard copy is difficult to digest in times of mobile phones and other communication media options. All of this is indicative of a non assertive, delayed decision making and procrastinating approach.
4. In addition to the options suggested earlier in question 2, the best way out NOW to not only arrest the immediate damage but also create a win-win futuristic situation and a positive work culture would be to approach the MD and ED and propose merging the present allowance as a part of increments which fall due in the new financial year starting April. If pitched rightly, there is a hope that strategic leaders will be able to see the big picture for bigger and long term gains. This may also be a starting point for Prem to share his point of view regarding HR driven corporate strategy for growth.
If it works out in his favour, he can think about revamping both his style and career at Lifeline. Else he will have to search for alternatives that align with his personality, style and value system.
1. Rao, T. V. (1999). HRD audit: Evaluating the human resource function for business improvement. Response Books a Division of Sage Publications
Dr. Tanjul Saxena, Consultant, META AIDE, Jaipur