As we often proclaim, people are the most important asset to any organisation. In brief, people drive business. How to get the best out of people has global, regional and local relevance. Today’s column will explore the crafting of people strategies in highlighting ten Cs.
Being strategic is of utmost importance in this context. It essentially shows how “smart” you are in “playing the game”. The roots are from the Greek word ‘stratēgikós’, which means the art of the general. Obviously, it has a military connotation. How a general order the troops to attack, or to withdraw or to surround the enemy, with the aim of winning the war in mind. A battlefront and a business front have a lot in common, particularly with the sky-rocketing competition, globally as well as locally.
A game plan cannot be conceived or commissioned without people. In any organisation, we have physical, financial and information resources. All those three resources are not of any use if you do not have the most precious resource, its people. That is exactly why people, to be precise the “right” people, are the most precious asset to any forward-looking organisation. How to acquire, retain, develop, and engage them have become increasingly challenging with the growing complexity associated with doing business in a globalised world. Hence, human resource management (HRM) has become a critical factor for organisational success.
What is HRM? There are hundreds of ways to describe it. I prefer how Garry Dessler puts it across in a rather simple manner: The policies and practices involved in carrying out the “people” or human resource aspect of a management position. Interestingly, it does not talk about a particular department, section or a division, but it does talk about any management position. The good news coming from that is the fact that every manager has a “people” role to play. Let’s take a simple example. You may be the best accountant in town. Yet, you cannot achieve results unless you master the art and science of getting the best out of your team. That is human resource management.
Ten Cs for HRM
HRM is constantly evolving. Having started as personnel management in the early fifties, it has come a long way in bridging the gap between organisational effectiveness and employee development. Alan Price, who wrote about HRM practices in a business context, tells us 10 essential principals that govern the crafting of people strategies. In other words, it can be called as ten Cs for HRM strategies. Let’s review them, with the Sri Lankan scenario in mind.
This tells us the need to include all key aspects of people management. We can identify them in a logical sequence.
- Acquisition: Recruiting and selecting the employees.
- Development: Training and developing the employees.
- Motivation: Ensuring that employees are doing their best.
- Maintenance: Rewarding the employees.
- Separation: Administering the retirements, resignations or removals on disciplinary grounds.
Ensuring the integration between all the above is of high importance. What is essentially required is a holistic approach. Sri Lankan organisations can do much better in this front.
It is all about trust. There has to be respect towards HR practices from the top management as well as from the functional managers. I have seen many a time that the HR practitioners themselves fracture their credibility. It is a case of walking the talk and talking the walk.
“If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings, and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them,” so said Jack Welch, the one-time most-admired CEOs. I see a mixed scene in the Sri Lankan organisations in this respect.
Playing double games in trying to be popular among a unionised workforce, and working with top management to close down the factory is such an example. Proclaiming that they have all best HR practices under the sun and moon also paves way to lose credibility.
This happens in two ways. The organisational strategies need to be clearly communicated to the respective functional heads, including HR. People strategies, stemming from HR should be in tern communicated to the top and the rest of the functional managers.
“The only vital value an enterprise has is the experience, skills, innovativeness and insights of its people,” so said Leif Edvinsson, Swedish Intellectual Capital expert. With proper awareness and understanding, all involved must be clear about the what, why and how aspects of the strategies. Sri Lankan managers can do lot more in this front.
In an era where the world is still recovering from the credit crunch, money matters. Justification of every investment in order to show the ROI is becoming very regular. HR professionals should be thinking and acting in these lines.
I remember an unhappy welfare manager, where his budget was slashed based on a drop of organisational revenue. The clear issue is not thinking on the need to be cost effective. When the world is moving towards the new mantra of “faster, cheaper, better”, we have to act accordingly.
They say managers maintain and leaders create. People strategies have to be creatively developed in order to stay competitive. Out of the box thinking is essential for such an endeavour.
“If an institution wants to be adaptive, it has to let go of some control and trust that people will work on the right things in the right way,” said Robert B. Shapiro, CEO of chemical company Monsanto in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1997. This requires the unleashing of creativity.
HR practitioners have to challenge the fundamental assumptions prevailing in the workplaces. Designing, developing and delivering training is one such area.
This is all about the meaningful connections between different HR strategies. “The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff,” said Roger Enrico, Vice Chairman of PepsiCo, referring to HRM as opposed to quantitative factors in Fortune, 27 November, 1995.
Integration among what I call seven Gs is important in this context. They refer to ‘get, give, grow, glue, glow’ in the broader context of goals and guard. Getting the right people, giving them right remuneration, growing them by providing right training, gluing them to the organisation by right engagement, and allowing them to glow by way of exceptional performance are the key priorities.
Sri Lankan workplaces can strengthen this integration at the strategy formulation as well as implementation. Collective decisions with regular updating each other of the progress should be the way.
"A game plan cannot be conceived or commissioned without people. In any organisation, we have physical, financial and information resources. All those three resources are not of any use if you do not have the most precious resource, its people. That is exactly why people, to be precise the “right” people, are the most precious asset to any forward-looking organisation"
Individual competencies lead to institutional competence. This applies to crafting people strategies. “Take our 20 best people away, and I will tell you that Microsoft would become an unimportant company,” said Bill Gates in Fortune, 25 November, 1996.
First and foremost, we need HR practitioners with required competencies. I have met many CEOs who lament that their HR managers know HR well but do not know the business enough. In Sri Lanka, this has been a discussion topic in many a conference. Have we made sufficient progress with this regard is a question mark.
Essentially it speaks of conformance. HRM strategies should be consistent with broad business strategies. Ongoing control from the HR practitioners in making necessary course-correction is required.
One may ask how control can co-exist with creativity. That is a modern day challenge for HR practitioners in setting flexible policies in giving enough play area with clearly identified boundaries. I see more cases of tilting towards one side than maintaining a balance in the local scene.
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” This was an interesting question asked by Steve Jobs of Apple Computer, inviting John Scully, then President of PepsiCo, to join Apple in Fortune, 14 September, 1987. Championing change has to be a core aspect in crafting people strategies. HR professionals as true change agents should drive change for better. Whether these have become mere rhetoric than reality is a question mark in the Sri Lankan context.
We need commitment from all fronts for the people strategies to work. It involves whole hearted involvement in all what one does. As Fredric Herzberg said a long time ago: “True motivation comes from achievement, personal development, job satisfaction, and recognition.” Organisations should provide a platform for that to happen. I think we have acute issues in the public sector in this regard. What is mostly happening in the name of HR is mere administration. It appears that people development have become secondary when there is a priority need for survival, in the face of political pressure.
The ten Cs for crafting people strategy should be viewed as an assessment to see where we stand, with regard to HR policies and practices. People factor will always remain as the cutting edge of performance. It reminds me of what Howard Schultze, CEO of coffee chain Starbucks said: “Hire people smarter than you and get out of their way.”
(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postrgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)