Article (January-2020)


The HR and its realm : In the line of fire

Prashant Sharma

Designation : -   President - Group Manufacturing and Operations

Organization : -  Zydus Cadila (Cadila Healthcare Ltd.), Ahmedabad


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In the present business environment, how important is to have HR skills for non HR managers in an organization?

PS All managers work with people, and are essentially HR managers. And they also have line responsibilities. You look around at most CXOs and CEOs. They are where they are essentially due to their people skills. So, as a fraternity, we must challenge this notion of HR vs non-HR. We have to create organizations with talent fungibility.

Organizations are networks of inter-dependent people. Whether to produce or to sell or to develop financial strategies, we need to work with multiple stakeholders and balance multiple interests. People skills are the enabler.

Many of us join as individual contributors. While you may not have a team reporting to us, we do need to work with peers, our manager(s) and external stakeholders. All of these take people skills. As we grow into managerial roles, the need for HR skills are more pronounced. Whether it is recruiting, and hence assessments, appraisals, performance dialogues, engaging the team, working with HR on team's development, on-the-job training : All of these are HR skills and we use them throughout our own growth journey. Anyone who is not adept at these skills will not grow.

In my own case, my most difficult transition was from an individual contributor to a team manager. Having relied always on my own strengths to achieve goals, transitioning to succeed through an engaged team whose skills would help us achieve goals was very difficult.

What are such minimum required skills non HR managers must acquire or develop?

PS The same as any HR manager. The HR managers indeed spend time on policy frameworks, on talent acquisition and development strategies, L&D strategies etc. In my own past experience as a CHRO, wherever I or my team worked in a silo developing these by ourselves, mostly they bombed or never won true engagement with line managers. I witnessed, what we thought were great strategies to increase retention of field force based on only HR function's assessment, bite dust because we never worked hard engaging actual stakeholders in the field to co-create these. Luckily we learned fast, and all co-created strategies and policies worked well. We engaged deeply with the line managers who shared great insights.

The HR team brought in a neutral perspective as well as a holistic view cutting across businesses, learning from their peers in other organizations, their own experiential learning, and an understanding of organizational boundary conditions. They also were sensitive of decisions in one area impacting other areas and ensured equity and fairness. Both the teams had healthy debates, differences of opinion but collaborated to produce some great and sustainable work.

So let me use this context to answer the question directly. All Line managers must know how to assess people using tools developed for these. A large number must get trained in understanding competency frameworks, Behavioural Event Interviews, Assessments. This will enable them in making better hiring decisions and also in performance dialogues. At Zydus, we engaged large sections of business in developing our competency framework with the help of Hay group. Drafts were discussed with Line Managers. We trained more than 700 people in Behavioural Event Interviewing skills in collaboration with DDI. Interviewing Templates were designed to help people have common best practices. Could the HR team alone have achieved this transformation if it did not have the support of skilled Line Managers? No.

Select Line Managers must be groomed as trainers and equipped with skills to design and deliver training programs in their areas. I am surprised how little we leverage our own sea of talent in developing teams.

Select leaders must be trained in having difficult conversations. Most line managers are good at taking accountability. A key HR skill which they must be developed for is holding people accountable in an empathetic manner. Good HR leaders are adept at working across boundaries, and exude fairness. While fairness is not a skill, HR needs to constantly work with top management and help people imbibe it as a value.

Plant based HR teams are lean. Line Managers must be trained on Labour Laws and other statutory requirements. They should be an extension of HR/IR team in managing workforce. You hear complex IR situations evolve in parts of country. HR needs all help possible to see symptoms of unrest ahead of time. Well trained Line Managers will be their extension.

It is generally seen that non HR managers don't get along with HR managers? What could possibly be the reasons and way out to bring both on same page?

PS Organization is full of such myths. Such as: Sales people are not respected by Marketing people; No one likes Finance people. I think people respect anyone who they see adding value to the system. People dislike bureaucracy, they value honesty, decisiveness and transparency. They will reject anyone who they think does not stand for organization's values and work ethics.

In my own experience, I have seen, in few cases, HR managers thinking of themselves as "king makers". I have seen some HR managers not hold themselves accountable to the same set of standards that they expect organization to follow.

A good example is lack of good quality KPIs in HR function, as they go around preaching the need for robust performance management system. When I asked a L&D manager on his KPIs, they measured themselves on no of programs, no of attendees, training hours/employee etc. These are tasks. Not outcomes. These programs were to increase field force effectiveness. So my challenge was if we should have KPIs including sales/MR (also called YPM), infancy attrition etc. Business immediately connected to this. Earlier even if sales was struggling and got lower incentives, the L&D manager would still be rated as outstanding because he had checked all "activity boxes". Would this approach gain respect?

Each function will have a few Teflon coated managers, and HR is no exception. Whether it is attrition, or quality issues at a site, or lower productivity : I have seen a few HR managers quickly take on a distant advisory role in such critical issues, essentially people problems. It is at such moments Line managers challenge their contribution. These are the moments of truth for any function.

HR and Finance are the conscience keeping functions of any organization. Thus they will be, and should be subject to higher Lumen scrutiny and discussion in following organizational values and culture. They cannot slip. Caesar's wife will always be subject to highest standards!

Any HR leader who is contributing to business discussions, understands the nuts and bolts of a business, can work shoulder to shoulder with someone on the field will always command respect. HR exists so people are built to build business. Challenge is for the social media superstar HR leaders who spend more time in HR Conclaves and less time on the field or at the site. They are the ones who business finds hard to accept.

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