Article (June-2018)


Proactive IR : A high impact HR tool


Designation : -   Head- HR

Organization : -  Haldia International Container Terminal (P) Ltd.


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One large manufacturing complex has one of Asia's largest finished goods warehouse. About 300 workforces are engaged on regular basis in three rotating shifts for loading of finished products from this warehouse to trucks/containers for reaching to end users. From business point of view it is obviously a cash generating point. One fine morning at about 09.30 am, plant HR people were informed that the entire workforce of the warehouse went for flash strike and the supply chain in the warehouse operations became stand still. Product silo is getting slowly filled as the workforce stopped discharging of products from silo. HR people rushed to the warehouse immediately and tried with the utility of dialogue with some of the union representatives to restore the normal work. But to no avail. They were trying desperately to contact with the higher leadership of the union and our calls not attended. At about one pm HR persons at union leaders' office and sat together with union leadership. He agreed to come down to the shop floor but not earlier than 4 PM. Union leader reached at 5 pm and he started discussion with the rep. of the workforce in our presence. The reasons what prompted them for their action brought to the surface the following :
  • Drinking water system stopped function at the warehouse.
  • People used to sitting on the floor of the warehouse for taking their foods.
  • The height of loading platform and the height of the trucks are uneven in most of the cases and it has become more painful for the workers for loading operations.
At 8 PM Union leadership summed up the situation that people are working quite oblivious of the environment around them and these issues have been brought to the notice of management on various occasion but the same has been neglected by the management for weeks and months. This cannot be tolerated anymore and hence the workers are correct on their action. The work will start once their issues are resolved. On the other hand product silo is already filled to the brim and production rate reduced at the 50% of capacity by the mother plant. Everyone was trying to manage crisis through correction and very little time was left to plan for permanent action. Somehow things were brought under control at 3 pm next day. The cost of under capacity plant operations is about INR 2 Cr and the cost of goodwill for late dispatch to the customers was irreparable.
This is a typical scenario depicting the state of affairs not only in a manufacturing set up but also in a conventional Indian company --- Manufacturing or service. Emphasis was on "managing today" rather than tomorrow. We realized that potential risk analysis was not properly understood in the HR/IR function. How to make a beginning? Changing our APPROACH from reactive to proactive!
HR persons took an integrated view of the entire plant activity where manual input are involved and identified potential risks arising out of people issues involved in the business ecosystem.
Holistic View - Need of the hour
  • Strategic Perspective
    Problems are generally of two types : the big and the small. Small problems are too many and it is not possible even to know them by a handful of managers and executives. Big problems are eye catching and can be seen by all. These are fatal accidents, strikes etc. The small problems often have a close relationship with big problems. It is the lack of the ability to see the small problems that results into the big problems. Examples of such problems may be given as occurred in the given incident. Small problems are considered small as long as they don't cause a big problem. It is very difficult for an executive or manager who has the responsibility of looking after productions or maintenance to understand and attend to each and every small problem. The direct employees like shop floor workers only could be able to notice and attend to such problems. Again it is difficult to make a person to see small problems when he is used to adjust himself to the small problems in his daily life.

So, let us address the small problems.

  • Operational Perspective
  • There are quality and safety coordinator in every section/department but no people coordinator in the department. Designate one of them as people coordinator in each department.
  • One may divide the entire premises into a number of zones.
  • Designate one HR person from HR department with the responsibility to coordinate with the shop floor manager and the people co-ordinator in a particular zone/sub-zone.
  • HR Coordinator will be meeting regularly with the people.
  • The frequency of such meeting would be depending on the number of people engaged in the particular area.
  • HR Coordinator will make notes of the discussion points in a structured way as proposed below :
Source of the problem : Area (e.g.; Maintenance, Utility, Production etc.)
Type of the problem : Supplier, Customer, Product, Process, Housekeeping, Productivity etc.
As above we may generate a list of problems and prioritize problems using A, B & C analysis.
"A" Category Problem : Minimum involvement of other departments in solving them.
"B" Category Problem : Involvement of other departments (like HR dept) is a necessity.
"C" Category Problem : Management sanction may be needed in implementing the solution.
Actions taken for the points raised in the previous meeting will be reviewed first in the follow up meeting and then only proceed for the next meeting.
The primary objective behind the whole exercise is to identify potential risk to the IR front and to attend to the problem(s) proactively with a process approach.
Foreseeing probable resistance
There are laws in the physical sciences - Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics - that are consistent and apply in a wide range of situations. They allow scientists to generalize the pull of gravitational force - controlling remotely the satellite in the orbit. In contrast, human beings are very complex. They are not alike, which limits the ability to make simple and accurate generalizations. Two people often act differently in same situation and the same person's behavior changes in different situations. So, we need to carefully examine the acceptance line and try to foresee possible resistance while bringing some changes because changes are not easy to implement unless and until it is acceptable to the people involved.
The primary objective behind the whole exercise is to identify potential risk to the IR front and to attend to the problem(s) proactively with a process approach. People are made to see the changes happening and this consciousness helps slowly in building trust and confidence amongst the workforce in turn reducing IR issues.