Article (September-2018)

Articles

Looking beyond the obvious

Dr. Prashant Rao

Designation : -   Managing Business Partner & Asst. Vice President - Human Resources

Organization : -  Reliance Industries Limited, Vadodara

01-Sep-2018

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Do you think layoffs are strange way of dealing with cost-cutting or re-organisation?
PR Layoff has been one of the ways of dealing with cost cutting or reorganisation. This method has been deployed umpteen number of times, moreover with an objective to save costs. The implementation had been a big challenge wherever the nature of employment had direct correlations with job security. The scenario has changed to a great extent wherein the new methods & nature of employment are being redefined to meet not only the cost challenges but also the sustainability aspects of the business.
There has always been a challenge of managing people costs, rehiring of required critical skills when required and issues of managing the social and psychological aspects of the after effects of the layoff.
In the present context there is a dire need  to think beyond the people cost for cost cutting and with the advent of the change in the whole ecosystem, various measures have been deployed by the organisations to look beyond layoffs as a cost cutting measure. There has been many success stories where in innovations, digitization, technology, automation outsourcing and customized people policies project based appointments, work week plans have been deployed to focus on cost reduction measures.
The organisations structures have moved from hierarchical structures to lean structures, so as to ensure delivery of value propositions from all the stakeholders. The roles are being analyzed with a view point of relevance, impact, purposefulness, alignments with the business objectives & direct value propositions to the outcome, as well as delivery of the end results. 
There has been a continual focus on restructuring with an end objective of making the structures as simple and free flowing seamless compatible structures with a view to enable free flow of know-how, skills, capacities and capabilities which provides organisation with an ease, flexibility with creativity & innovation to flow in the work dynamics as well as a vast opportunity to build on the multifunctional diverse skill sets.
What is the biggest challenge in conducting layoffs?
PR The biggest challenge is conducting the layoffs is to manage the process of communication with the stakeholders as the layoff as a process very personal, social, psychological and emotional aspects which needs to be managed and addressed sensitively.
There are various stakeholders in conducting the layoffs as it's not only the people who are part of the layoff process gets impacted but also the survivors who get impacted.
The biggest challenge is to have a blue print with the micro detail of the contents and context of the layoff which is communicated with a common framework of understanding the way it needs to be understood & deployed, with possible answers of the frequently asked questions and the possible answers, a risk mitigation plan, the anticipated opportunities inside and outside the organisation and the way that this whole process is managed as a process intervention and not as a standalone transactional communication. The decisions on who will break the ice is very important and needs to be decided in accordance with the cultural artifacts of the organisation so as to ensure that the expectation are managed in the most structured and focused manner to address the emotional, social and psychological aspects.
Are there alternatives to layoffs? Can organisations think of some creative ways to downsize without letting the employees lose their jobs?
PR The condition arising the call of layoffs is not a spontaneous call, there is a trend, history and indicators which warn the stakeholders of the potential measures, The risk mitigation plans need to be in the integral part of the overall operating model and philosophy and the way the organisation takes the initiatives to embark upon to mitigate the future risks.
The alternate way to layoff is to be continually aware, sensitive and build continual measures to ensure cost sustenance initiatives and programs which helps the organisations in minimizing the cost beyond people cost. There are organisations where cost consciousness is being practiced as an organisational competency and is ingrained in the cultural framework which is demonstrated and role modelled and demonstrated in deployment of all initiatives and processes.
The ideation, suggestions, the innovation framework for the improvement projects and ownership mindset help the organisations to embark them sustainable in the journey of the cost sustenance. The recognition framework for developing the cost consciousness can result into motivation and inspiring employees for being the pioneers in developing the cost consciousness approach and building the required cultural shift.
Apart from above focus on technology, hierarchical to lean structures, knowledge management, cross functional skill development programs can surely help the organisations to manage the costs.
The hiring strategies, building the skills not for today but for tomorrow, the talent management initiatives and the Performance Management  interventions can create a key difference in managing the people cost. There are many organisation today which focus only hiring the entry talents, and put them in a developmental roles for the future middle level roles with objective of overall sustaining the people costs.
Being a high performer on a sustainable basis is a challenge, how do we manage the high performers and the low performers, and how do we help the people to look out for challenges, inspire them to ensure that they remain cost competitive. The challenge is to diagnose the cost indices and derive the HR implications and work out people intervention strategies and processes which can help the organisations to sustain on the people cost framework.
Whose call is it anyway? Does HR have a say in the layoff process?
PR Today each and every decision made is a business decision form an organisations perspective and I see HR as a part of the business team as an HR Business Partner and HR needs to play the strategic role in helping line managers not only in the design but also partner with the business managers in the effective execution of the whole process.
To make it happen, there are certain prerequisites, HR needs to know and understand the business as much as the business managers know which shall help in establishing the required say in the layoff process. The HR can add value in the process with formulation of the design, deployment and execution of the communication strategies for the layoff process, ensuring no information gaps, helping and guiding the managers in, delivering the message, providing placement support in terms of making the employees aware about the opportunities, counselling in collaboration with the line managers.
Layoffs are similar to the change management process as deployment needs sharpening of the saw to manage and balance the business reasons and the emotional aspects not just for those being laid off but for those who continue with the organisations. The HR can definitely play a very critical and facilitating role in transition to new employment and also in also ensuring the positivity as required for the employees to make them understand the strategic reasons.
As an HR manager - what has been the most difficult decision that you have ever made in a layoff process?
PR In one of my earlier organisations I had an opportunity to be a part of the team for the design & execution of the communication of the layoff process and I realized that the (What, When, Where, Why and How) of the communication process is the most important and the difficult part which brings the success or the failure to the whole process. Had witnessed the diverse emotional aspects with few of them had taken the same with  lot of positivity and passion to challenge and few of them had anticipated the same and had some preparations and some of them felt as everything was over for them. The most difficult aspect was to prepare a customized communication strategy and to ensure that the line managers deliver the message as planned and the process is deployed.
What is the role of HR in meeting employee expectations - of those who are being asked to go and of those who remains but may lose faith in the organisation?
PR The role of HR manager becomes diversified and collaborative as HR has to play a collaborative and partnering role in managing all the stakeholders. HR needs to partner with the managers on communication and deploy the process to ensure that the process deployed is fair and meets the overall objectives.
As an HR manager it is important to have details of each and everything that matters to the employee about the personal and social dynamics and there has to be a customized and personalized strategy to share the process. Once we know the people and the social and psychological patterns and it is relatively easier to share the content and context of the process and help the employee to overcome this change with an optimistic and positive orientation. The plan needs to be prepared well in advance, need to ensure that the context is rightly built which revolves around the purpose of the process and there is nothing personal and ensuring that there is a well - defined intervention and a robust communication programmes to manage the anxieties and the way forward of building the positivity and moral for the people who shall stay enabling them to continually create value propositions.
Do you think a dreaded thing like layoff can be dealt with positivity or optimism? 
PR Indeed a dreaded thing like layoff is a challenging process and much efforts are required to be dealt with positivity and optimism. The most important part is the state of mind, how do we build the thought process, the quality of the input shall determine the quality of the output, the assimilation and the acquisition of the right content and the real context shall help the stakeholders in dealing with positivism and optimism.