In search of HR excellence

Monday, 17 June 2013 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

We will witness the inauguration of the National HR Conference 2013 tomorrow. I had a critical role to play as the head of its technical committee. We decided on a simple yet significant theme, ‘In Search of HR Excellence: Thoughts, Tools and Teams’. Today’s column is all about this unique experience.



Excellence is all about being exceptionally good. When applied to enterprises, it involves exceptional achievements in a consistent manner. Human resources is undoubtedly a vital contributor to it. In search of HR excellence is an endeavour to gather current thoughts, share cutting –edged tools and coach multiple teams in making an impact on the bottom line.  

As we know, human resource management is all about policies, practices and processes of performing the people aspect of a management position. It does not confine to a particular department, division, section or a unit. Every manager has a people role to play. That leads to the golden rule in HRM: Every manager is a human resource manager.

What we mean by thoughts is the cognitive dimension which is simply the ‘head’. Tools refer to ‘hands’, in essentially focusing on ‘doing’ and ‘delivering’. Teams are about synergy in action, highlighting the ‘heart’ aspect. In a nutshell, we will discuss a whole-hearted approach in making HR effective, results-oriented and value-adding.

The emphasis is not on mere rhetoric but manifest reality. We will discuss what, why and most importantly how dimensions of HR excellences. The key underpinning will be innovation. In fact, innovative HR policies, practices and processes will be in discussed in detail.  

In search of excellence

We were inspired by the seminal work by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, titled ‘In Search of Excellence’. It was published in 1982, and remains one of the one of the biggest selling and widely read business books ever. According to them, the essential message of In Search of Excellence is how people, customers and action are intertwined. Peters says that In Search of Excellence turned these ‘soft’ factors into hard ones, when previously the only ‘hard factors were considered to be the ‘numbers’.

The eight themes highlighted in the ‘In Search of Excellence’ book, can be stated as follows:

1. A bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it’.

2. Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business.

3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’.

4. Productivity through people – treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.

5. Hands-on, value-driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment.

6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know.

7. Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.

8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.

Even though there were criticisms about their approach, the awareness they created on excellence, particularly the focus required on ‘soft’ aspects is significant and noteworthy.

HR excellence in focus  

People management has never been easy. Awareness on best practices and making them next practices is one key approach in achieving excellence. HR excellence becomes central in such a context. We need right thoughts, tools and teams for such an endeavour.


Thinking strategically is what is essentially required for HR excellence. Strategic HRM becomes critical in a competitive environment. It is an approach that defines how an organisation’s goals will be achieved through people by means of HR strategies and integrated HR policies and practices.

Strategic HRM can be regarded as a connector. It links people management practices with strategic management processes of the organisation. It emphasizes the coordination and congruence among the various human resource management activities in ensuring alignment and value addition. Strategic HRM is also viewed as the pattern of planned human resource deployments and activities intended to enable a firm to achieve its goals.

Are we practicing strategic HRM in Sri Lanka? Are our HR professionals strategically oriented? These are pertinent questions the National HR Conference will address. As we are well aware, an HR professional can be viewed as a senior person engaged in human resources activities as an occupation. In other words, a manager with experience and qualifications, handling the responsibilities associated with the human resources function of an organisation.

Strategic orientation refers to thinking and action of a person, reflecting the long term plans of the organisation he/she works for. It also includes the involvement in the strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation steps of the strategic decision making process. Hence, we can clearly see the link. In search of HR excellence demands the HR professionals to be strategically oriented.

Such a move is significant, globally, regionally and nationally. A global survey cited frequently, on emerging trends in HR revealed that there is much concern about HR’s absence in the ‘boardroom’ and in organisational leadership positions. It further illustrated the problem of inadequate resources, inability to influence strategy, and decisions in organisations, and HR professional’s continued ‘separateness’ in the organisation.

The issue here is that the function of HR is perceived as too inward looking. The challenge in front of the HR practitioners is to move beyond a silo mentality in which solutions can only be found within HRD and to embrace a perspective that organisational problems are systemic and require systemic solutions.


We observed the recurrent issue among the HR professionals is the need to be strategic. The key word here is ‘how’. How can they be strategic in showing their value addition and their impact on the bottom line? Having brainstormed about the whole matter, the technical committee of the National HR Conference decided to invite achievers to share their toolbox with us.

There will be a forum where a CEO and his/her respective head of HR would share the success story of growth, profitability and sustainability. The CEO will share the essence of business excellence. The HR professional in turn will share what tools they used and how they impacted in contributing to the organisational processes in creating value. We have invited several such pairs to showcase their successes.

Tools such as balanced scorecard and HR scorecard will be handy to ensure strategic fit of HR practices. Also, there are other unique tools used by enlightened enterprises in ensuring HR excellence towards business excellence. It is expected to bring such practices to the limelight through this year’s conference.


Why teams? Can’t people work as individuals and achieve results? Let’s take a situation. Imagine one’s house is on fire. Father does one thing in panic, and the mother does something totally different, also in panic. The son and daughter are thoroughly confused and just running around. Obviously, the house cannot be salvaged. That has to be a coordinated effort. That’s why teams are essential in facing turbulence.  

Bearing these factors in mind, we have included a segment where the importance of teams in achieving HR excellence will be discussed in detail. As we observe, teams and groups are often interchangeably used to describe a set of people working together.

In perusing through the literature of organisational behaviour, veterans like Stephen Robbins and Fred Luthans have identified a group as a set of two or more individuals interacting and interdependent with each other in achieving a common objective. A team is one step ahead. I would simplify a team as a group with synergy. We need such synergy for HR excellence.

‘Outside in’ for HR excellence

Having discussed thoughts, tools and teams, the culmination of the whole conference will be truly glamorous with a global thought-leader sharing his views via satellite link. It will be Prof. Dave Ulrich, the world’s number one HR consultant once again. He will highlight the key research findings related to HR as documented in his newest book ‘Outside In’.

Based on research, Dave and his colleagues have summarised the patterns found into three spheres of influence of HR work.

n Individual:  What high-performing HR professionals do as individuals to build effective relationships and reputations within their organisation?

n Organisation: How effective HR professionals design, develop, and deliver HR systems and practices that enable the organisation to create capabilities, manage change, innovate and integrate HR practices, and deploy HR technology?

n Context: What respected HR professionals do to ensure understanding of the external trends and realities facing the organisation, and responsiveness to external stakeholders?

We look forward to hear from him, and eagerly wait to question him live as well.

Way forward

The National HR Conference 2013 will showcase many a local talent, including Prof. Uditha Liyanage and Dr. Anura Ekanayake. It will also feature unorthodox segments such as ‘Practicing Yoga for HR Excellence’ by veteran film actress Anoja Weerasinghe.  

We want to make it a conference with a difference, having much emphasis on practical actions. Participants are expected to be informed and inspired to take away key ideas for implementation. Inspiring thoughts, innovative tools and integrated teams will be much in focus with regards to many speeches, discussions and other novel activities lined up for the conference.

Be there to witness a unique experience of fun-filled learning with valued insights to be a better ‘people manager’.  

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on [email protected] or


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