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Leadership needs a human touch

HR has to take responsibility of ensuring business goals are met

Anita Bandyopadhyay 

Leadership needs a human touch

In the VUCA world, many organisations are continuously reinventing themselves to keep pace. There are far too many examples of absolutely top-class organisations becoming irrelevant like BlackBerry and Kodak.

In this context, reinventing the HR function is a foregone conclusion. There is pressure to reduce employee costs and while the easiest route is to reduce our investments in capability building, this can be disastrous. There is a crying need to build capability to keep pace with the changing environment and also remain updated with the latest practices in every field.

The costs have to go down dramatically by enhancing per person productivity and by ensuring greater return on the investment in each employee. This calls for HR to play a leading role in strategic workforce planning. All too often HR professionals do some cursory manpower budgeting. I won't be surprised if in some companies the finance teams do the formula-based x-per cent increase over last year calculation. Strategic workforce planning is a key exercise. HR should lead this process because it understands business strategy, the value drivers for the business and the resources need to implement strategy.

It is not just an exercise to fix the number of positions to be filled, since one also needs to understand the expectations from each position, and the capabilities required to identify the right people to deliver. While most HR professionals will be conducting this exercise in some form, it is important to ensure that this plan is not a static document. In a dynamic environment, HR needs to be flexible and make changes to ensure people-readiness of a business to deliver on the goals and targets.

Another change that the HR function needs to bring in is to move from a mindset of managing the performance appraisal process as an administrator to creating processes and capabilities that drive performance. HR has to take responsibility of ensuring that the business goals are cascaded down the line appropriately. All the deliverables of stakeholders need to be linked and sufficient stretch needs to be built into the targets. In the era of matrix organisations, virtual teams and boundary-less offices, HR has to step up and play a proactive facilitator's role.

Having said this, it is important that HR continues to strengthen its role as an administrative expert. Managing day-to-day operations has become challenging for HR professionals more than ever since most activities are e-enabled. Ensuring that all activities are seamlessly coordinated and employees manage their teams and their work themselves without much difficulty is a challenge that HR has to take. At each stage, it needs to be able to contribute strategically.

HR also has to ensure that the human touch remains, the quality of output of each of the processes is enhanced and all stakeholders are adequately aligned. While this seems trivial, there is growing evidence that in HR-led surveys, employees do express dissatisfaction with degree of communication and the ease with which they get answers to HR queries. HR has to be around all the time and not just during appraisals.

Can HR leaders start playing the role of a strategic partner? If HR is competent enough to understand the business's operations and its customers and can make itself adept at setting up completely aligned inter-functional processes, the HR leader can even become a strong contender for the CEO's position, something that we are seeing in the developed world where HR leaders are assuming business leadership positions successfully.

Anita Bandyopadhyay
Director, Corporate HR, Raymond LTD

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First Published: Mon, December 30 2013. 00:17 IST