Article (May-2020)


Organisational freedom to question and suggest is a must to innovate

Dr. D. Prasanth Nair

Designation : -   Co-founder

Organization : -  Asynithis (Indus Partners), Mumbai


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What accounts for HRM innovations beyond the technology intervention?

PN There are multiple areas where HR can innovate beyond the technology paradigm.

1. Design and Execution of the HR Practices : create policies that are fair but which do not end up creating bureaucracy like rigidity. For example, does the Performance Management System actually enable performance improvement at an individual level or is it seen as an increment 'fixing' system?

2. Ensuring the capability is a step ahead of the curve as needed by business: By building business partnership, HR can anticipate organizational capabilities needed for business and then proceed either by hiring or creating internal development initiatives.

3. Creating a culture of trust: The outcome of every intervention should be to improve trust factor in organization - do the employees actually trust the organization. Can HR help change the relationship between employee and organization, from contractual to emotional?

4.Creating flexible and nimble organizations which can adapt to changing external environment: This is situation that we are seeing now - how nimble and prepared are organizations if they have to change the way they work. When the country is in a lockdown and employees are working from home, are organizations prepared from infrastructure point of view, from communication and did it actually have a business continuity plan?

5.Fostering innovation, change and entrepreneurship. In an environment characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability, the only sustainable organization strength is the spirit of entrepreneurship : the ability to spot opportunities and then seek to make it happen. Can HR create that culture, provide platforms and ecosystem that makes it work?

In fact, technology should be seen as an enabler, not an end in itself. Technology can accelerate and help improve effectiveness but the larger purpose of HR should be the objective.

Why should HR lead the innovation agenda in the organisation?

PN Given the importance of innovation in the organization, it is a role for all leaders to lead the innovation agenda. Innovation needs to be a cultural trait - wherein it should be natural for all to suggest and try new ways of doing things.

Given this, HR has an important role to ensure that there exists organizational freedom to question and suggest. Many a time, when existing way of doing things are questioned, it can create its own repercussions and the fact is there will be organizations and leaders who may not encourage the same. Further, any change of doing things may affect the political dynamic and power equation in the organization. Given this, HR leaders need to be proactive in creating organizational readiness in acceptance of change and innovation. Further, platforms should be provided which encourage individuals to participate- this can be done by creating systems to voice opinion, to designing policies which reward such participation, most importantly giving the sense of ownership to all to be part of the innovation ecosystem.

What kind of challenge does HR face in the organisation when it tries to come up with out-of-the-box ideas, policies and practices?

PN Like in any process of change, there will be push backs that HR faces when new/out of box ideas are introduced. The push backs essentially emanate from:

1. Lack of clarity - How would the change manifest? What will change? Why is the change being introduced?

2. Impact of self - any change will have an effect on roles and individuals. Some of them are minor, some would be major. Quite natural that individuals will have concerns about how this would affect him/her. Again, some of the reactions would be openly spoken, there would also be reactions which will covert in nature. Some of the changes may affect the 'unseen' and 'not so manifest' as well.

3. Preparedness from capability perspective - Many a time, individuals feel inadequate for change. This may be from a capability/skill perspective.

HR needs to understand why a change is being opposed and then handle it according to the context. "Fit all size" way of responding can derail the out of box ideas that HR is driving. In fact, the challenges, if addressed properly will strengthen the ideas and ensure better execution of the changes.

What according to you have been the top innovations in HR in the last five years that have helped amplified business success and employee engagement?

PN There has been introduction of engagement policies - bringing in employee participation in the organization. Also, lot of HR practices have been changed leveraging technology which help facilitate work and provide opportunity to people to enhance their contribution to organization. There have encouraging trends in improving the social consciousness of the organization, where employees are making a contribution to the society. Significant innovations have taken place in training and development space in design and delivery of programs.

While there have been constant tinkering and incremental innovation, I would like more transformation in HR practices which is not seen much. For example - why have HR head in an organization, why have the PMS process: can we do away with it. Can we bring in a system that attendance is not needed? Will be good if the fundamentals of managing employees through systems and policies need to be looked at.

What is needed to speed up the process of creating and implementing creative solutions in the HR space?

PN HR leaders need to focus on couple of areas to enhance the process of creating and implementing creative solutions.

1. Start thinking as an employee - Any change that HR needs to bring in, ultimately will impact the employee and most importantly, employee will have an important role to make sure it succeeds. Can HR think from the shoes of the employee - this will give clarity on what needs to be done and how it needs to be done.

2. Look at solutions from a shareholder perspective - here, HR needs to think as to what needs to be done to enhance value for shareholder.

3. Leverage technology - Given that we are in an era where technology can help and leverage our reach, analytics and predictability, HR needs to use technology to maximize the returns from the interventions. Very often, technology is used just as an attendance and payroll tool with some basic functioning. HR technology can deliver much more in terms of intelligence and integrability.

4. Do zero base planning - To help in design of solutions, think zero base - assume there is nothing. Start from scratch. Will help 'unlearn' some of our assumptions.

5. Learn from others - There are useful practices that other organizations are working on and implemented. While not doing a cut and paste job, it is useful to learn from those practices.

How HR innovative practices have played a crucial role in safeguarding the business interest as well as employees safety and their interests along with learning out of this crisis?

PN Crisis like Coronna virus is a Black swan moment - this has drastically altered the business context at a global level. While some organizationshave adopted to the situation well, others are struggling. What is the role of leaders in such a situation?

1. Create not just a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) but a Business Survival kit (BSK): Organizations need to be nimble and adapt to changed situation - like working from home, office closure or complete absence of leaders for significant period of time. In such a situation, how will the communication work, the chain of command function. Do the organization have the technology platforms to enable them to ensure smooth work from home? Do the organization have hardware to support - I know some organizations had a hard time getting enough laptops when country went for a lockdown. Will the finances of the organization support a period of low or no business? How will organization ensure continuity of operations to clients who need it? These are the answers that leaders need to be ready with, to ensure survival in times of crisis.

2. Level of alignment: Organizations that have invested in clarity and alignment will tide over crisis like this. Does every employee know why and what of the job? We can learn from armed forces where, in spite of communication being 'blanked out' every person knows what needs to be done. In a work from home situation, there are lot of instances where employee feels lost - better alignment helps. Clarity enables a person to deliver as per expectations. Organizations need to ensure that the purpose of organization that everyone relates to. Additionally, there needs to be clarity in structure, OKR among others.

3. Leadership Credibility and Inspiration: Leaders need to be seen and be visible during crisis. They might have to take some 'unpleasant actions' (like in this case, reducing salary or deferring salaries) but if explained well, lot of employees will be willing to be part of the same. Leadership credibility is 'not built in a day' and times like this, credibility and inspirational nature of leadership helps.

4. Positivity and Empathy: Understandably, there will be a lot of negativity in a context of uncertainty. Leaders need to realize the same, reach out to people and relate to the situation. The constant messaging should be 'Let us control what we can'. No point in bothering about what we cannot. Let us play our part and most importantly, they need to send the message that 'we will come out of this and thrive'.