CEOs must take Lead & make HR more accountable in current times | The Economic Times.

Remember the famous opening lines of Dickens’ classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities’? Much like what Dickens saw in those turbulent times, India Inc is currently seeing ‘an epoch of belief ‘ and at the same time an ‘epoch of incredulity’.

We are not sure of anything. Before we despair over the so-called policy paralysis, we see a spate of bold and decisive actions. And yet, before we rejoice at change, we encounter severe resistance – sometimes perhaps out of genuine concerns.

Inside our companies, we see similar volatility. One month of growth followed by another month of stagnation. Ask any of your sales people – irrespective of the sector you are in – and they will tell you of customers engaged and wanting to buy, but they are not sure the deal will close.

“ You will see managers (in most sectors) moaning over the shortage of talent and skills but who cannot recruit, for there is an unofficial hiring freeze. Ask employees – they all think the job market has picked up a bit and yet, they can’t switch jobs as easily as they used to, even if they would qualify for such a position/job open to be filled…then why are they not being chosen ? OR invited for a interview discussion ?? It is such an Irony…Is it that the HR Dept Executive(s) / HR Managers…have grown complacent ? Have they become significantly dependent upon external recruiting agencies/consultants to fill in these open positions..? even a commercial benefit to such HR Executive/Manager of the recruiting firm/company from the External Recruitment Agency/Consultant…cannot be ruled out in current scenario of so many vacant positions advertised all over…and none of the eligible candidates get an interview call ?? OR these HR Executives/Managers..want to fill in one of their own / referrals to such a position…despite that referral candidate would not qualify with all relevant job required skills..? as many corporate are announcing referral bonuses to the internal employees to refer a known candidate in their network to fill in such available positions…which can be a cause for these positions remain unfilled for quite a while and then get filled by one of such referrals…Is there a bias?…” 

It is the responsibility of the CEOs / M.D’s to ensure the best qualified & suited candidate fill in such vacant positions…and therefore, all of the above discussed possibilities of not adhering to best recruiting practices without any bias & personal vested interest…have to be checked & scrutinized for deviation/malpractice…by the Senior Management / CEOs..?

In such unpredictable times, CEOs must make new demands of the HR function. They must ask HR Leaders to be more proactive & help managers, employees and others to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity in newer ways. CEOs will do well to first pause, notice and acknowledge that if times are unpredictable externally, they will be the same internally. So they need to distribute their time equally between handling external agencies (customer, regulatory, shareholders) and the most important internal constituency of their own managers and employees.

This is where they must ask their HR leaders to renew employee engagement plans and do a reality check on what’s happening on the ground. Chief executives must identify the inertia which usually takes over successful HR Programmes, especially if they were crafted during ‘good times’.

Much of India Inc’s HR functions are, of late, nicely-branded programmes – usually rehashes of the old welfare regimes. In unpredictable times, these oft-repeated gimmicks fail to fire the imagination of employees and leave them with a depressing deja vu. Unless CEOs demand more realistic and value-adding plans from HR, they will get more of the same. Here are three provocative actions CEOs could ask HR function to deliver in these unpredictable times.

First, ask HR folks to measure everything they do. If they say, we recruit well, ask them how many of the new hires stayed in the company over two years. Ask if the cost per hire has come down over the past four quarters and at what rate.

If your HR teams run induction and orientation programmes, ask them to measure their effectiveness in terms of reducing settling-in time of employees (measured as in new hire productivity). If you have been told you must approve budgets for a fun event, ask what the outcome will be. If you are told this will improve morale, ask how, and ask for proof.

If  CEOs engage the HR function to improve predictability of their programmes, it will reduce some degree of unpredictability that the volatile external environment has created.

Second, in unpredictable times, your HR function must help you separate your men from your boys. You need to identify the ‘long-term horses’ (to borrow a phrase from Hindi) and do so ‘objectively’. HR Departments must in current times re-tool themselves and show the mirror to the leaders. This is no time to hide the warts.

Good and predictable times allow you the luxury of carrying some passengers. But in volatile times such as these, you will do well to have an HR leader who will tell you (again, objectively) who are the “horses” you should bet on. In the overall softness and socialistic hangover that afflicts most managers in our country, we see more milk of human kindness flowing out of HR departments.

Used to the good times and believing their jobs create the feel-good in the company, HR departments don’t often call a spade a spade. CEOs must ask for a fresh assessment of talent and demand heightened rigour from HR managers.

The third is the need for building resilience in the company and the people. Ask if resilience is one of the desirable competencies in your company. Resilient people stay steady under pressure, and drawing upon huge resources of optimism, prod and persevere under the most difficult and ambiguous of circumstances.

Resilient leaders not only cope with confusion but interpret the external environment to the employees in clearer terms. If you as a CEO see resilience in this light you will instantly recognise its immense value. So go ahead and ask your HR leaders to present a roadmap for building resilience in the company as a core competence – for the people and processes.

We have often heard the adage: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Intoxicated by a great run of growth. HR functions have not had time to toughen themselves. That is why you see so many cases of employee discontent boiling over. CEOs must demand a new toughness from the HR function. Caring must not be confused with pampering and HR functions must partner with CEOs in managing and defining expectations as opposed to merely catering to and appeasing.

Well-grounded people engagement programmes with predictable outcomes will be chief executives’ best bulwark against the current unpredictable external environment.

P.S: Please share your views and opinions on the above detailed perspective…

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