HR in India : Boardroom Is both an opportunity and stress

WorkAmmo’s mission, in line with human resource development activities, is to help people achieve at the workplace. The organisation seeks to develop the capabilities of individuals and firms so that they can seize key opportunities. However, the role of HR in India itself has undergone a sea change. The context that has evolved in the workplace is based on a solid foundation and the belief that learning has a value and is required for progress. Richard Cowley, founder, WorkAmmo in an interview with Shishir Parasher admits, however, that HR professionals are confused by the expectations. Excerpts:

HR in India

How do you see HRM function in India?

HR is evolving at a pace. I recently met two freshers who had just completed their HR personnel degree. They told me that the name of the course had just been changed to HR management — this change alone indicates a positive step. A personnel is a term we used many years ago and reflects the peoples’ administration nature of HR. In summary, there are two clear paths being followed. One direction is being driven by global MNCs, where they are applying global structures and trends, i.e. HR business partner versus the traditional HR generalist, and the outsourcing of administration and transaction accountabilities to regional hubs. Closer home, local organisations are moving to the standard generalist HR roles and are focused on payroll and administration and potentially a hiring/ learning position. At a more granular level, the emphasis is towards finding greater HR value. A shift of emphasis to leadership, L&D and engagement from too much of recruiting time will solidify the transformation.

What as per you are the strengths and weaknesses of Indian HR leaders?

The India context has evolved in the workplace —based on a solid foundation and belief that learning has a value and is required for progress. A workforce, hungry for knowledge acquisition and unafraid to express themselves, is a critical capability the leaders can leverage. In contrast, the HR context somewhat reflects the country context with bureaucracy as the norm. Generally, with a leadership belief that we are administrators, HR is disadvantaged to deliver the value that we can. To compound this necessary shift, HR leaders need to build personal capability and evolve their confidence to contribute at the most senior levels.

Recently, there has been a buzz around Indian HR professionals being strategic business partners. What do they need to understand about being strategic?

Indeed, this is a trend in more advanced and often, in multi-national firms. The demand for greater clarity of the HR role is prevalent since confusion of actual accountabilities is the norm. Changing the job title, outsourcing the administration and transactional accountabilities have blurred the picture for the line manager, instead of providing clear value. As HR professionals and practitioners, we ourselves are confused by expectations. I believe that two key activities will start to connect HR leaders to business and commence the transition to our new role as business partners. They demand that we take risks and push our confidence levels by facilitating business opportunity/objective/KPI sessions with the leadership team, followed closely by a facilitated capability session. Post these two critical sessions the HR leader will have built a bridge to the leadership team. Further practice and application will strengthen the bridge.

It has been seen that the confidence in the HR community takes a back seat in the boardroom. What factors will you attribute to it?

For many HR leaders, the boardroom is a source of opportunity or stress. The boardroom of ten years ago is significantly different from that of today. Generally, the discussions and focus have changed, from one of business management, process improvement and the requirement for more people of similar capability as growth intensifies. Today, we are more energised around discussions on numbers and ratios, use of technology and automation, process outsourcing of non-core activities and leading the new generation. At the core is the challenge of finding new business opportunities within India or outside and the capabilities to execute them. Fixed costs are increasing, while price points and margins are reducing. The context has changed and is far more dynamic — it demands a far more capable HR leader who can find the balance between a focus on business and helping people achieve in the workplace. This new paradigm will demand capabilities that we don’t typically possess and a motivational drive to involve ourselves in areas that we typically are not confident in — given this, we will continue to be present in the board room, but our confidence to contribute will be minimal. The enabler will be ourselves and CEO/MD, their understanding and support in helping the HR transformation will be critical

Not a lot of HR leaders are eager to become CEOs. What factors will you attribute to this?

This is generally the context. The lack of confidence and motivation, is representative of the source of a typical HR leader. Mostly driven by a desire to help people, with higher comfort levels when it comes to counseling, coaching and training versus potential conflict situations that a front-line role possess. Fundamentally, the education is clearly different at this time, with business development, sales and marketing clearly more external customer-focused versus internal HR roles, which by nature are more administrative. Confidence may grow, as the desired HR business partner role becomes a reality. Also, I am challenged to think that HR leaders of today are either motivated or capable of becoming CEOs, unless of course it is in a related HR organisation.

This interview appeared in the print and online edition of the Financial Chronicle.

About Malathi Jogi

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