Positioning a noble profession – HR

Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Hundreds of people from both genders have grown a strong desire for Human Resources Management (HRM).

This desire has sprung from the creation of several scenarios, i.e., constant advertising by Institutions that run courses on HRM and HRD, perceptions that HR is a ‘safe’ profession offering lucrative career paths, ideal field for a lady, with lapses/mistakes not leading to critical or serious business consequences when compared to manufacturing, finance, sales and marketing.

This has, of recent times, become one of the most popular subjects amongst school leavers and those who look for professional qualifications to make their profile look good in Sri Lanka today.

Are these institutes that currently run HR programmes in Sri Lanka properly validated by knowledgeable and authorised bodies? Are the corporates who are fed by the finalists of these Institutions happy with what they get? Do the curricula and programme agendas of these institutions fit the critical business requirements of organisations?

It is one thing to be happy about the growing recognition for HR as a career, but the more important element to worry about is the quality and standard of those passing out from these institutions.

What some organisations say

I have spoken to several CEOs and heads of HR of several organisations that I am associated with by way of corporate trainer, management consultant or executive coach and asked them how happy they are with the quality of HR professionals in the market. Their responses are discouraging.

Organisations that advertise for HR professionals will bear witness that it is easier to find a needle in a hay stack than to find a good and capable HR professional in the Sri Lankan context. No wonder that HR is a rare species and very limited in supply.

This is the reality which we don’t have to live with. We can change it!  It is my opinion that HR professionals in this country must get together and help IPM, the recognised incorporated HR teaching body, to relook their examination quality level and the quality of the lecturers, course content and assignments.

It saddens me to note that the true purpose, definition and responsibility of HRM is not known to many HR practitioners in businesses. They generally carry out personnel management functions believing that they are driving HR value, i.e., maintaining personal files meticulously, rolling out procedures and regulations to dictate staff behaviour, disciplinary actions and procedure, labour tribunal appearances, legal explanations for human needs, salary scales, meeting trade union actions, feeling indispensable and unnecessarily important, etc.

I know that many organisations recruit HR persons based upon their attitudes and learning skills. Thereafter, they inculcate values and teach HR within the organisation. This way, there is less to unlearn.

I, for one, follow that same principle. I recruit candidates who are following the HR Course at IPM not for their knowledge of HR but for the way they look at life and at work. I carry out psychometric testing, hard-nosed interviewing and simulations so that I am able to choose from the quality of outcomes. I then teach them HR and they score very high marks at their IPM exams. So I grow my own timber!

HR – A tough field

The HR field is not the easiest field to break into. There is a misconception that anyone can enter this field and perform. In past, organisations used to transfer all inefficient employees in to the ‘Personnel’ department. These people have gotten into the field through sheer luck.  They had no HR experience.

But today, HR is not a field where everyone can fall into for lack of options. It is much harder to break in the field now.  To be a HR coordinator or an assistant, one should have some experience in the field and a fair knowledge on the practical applications of HR interventions that will add value to the business processes.

Thus, students who have followed professional courses or have degrees in HR should do paid/unpaid internships to get the exposure and hands on experience. HR certifications can only help you get the basic academic HR knowledge.

Let’s take our minds back to the greatest HR practitioners who ever lived upon this earth, i.e., Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohamed. All three of them were genuinely focused and concerned about the development and developed sustainability of people. They went through several hardships without looking for any pecuniary or other gratification.

What was their earning? Well, one was killed on a stake, one was pursued by his cousin to be killed and the other had to flee from Mecca to Medina to save himself from being killed. Is this what they deserved for the unconditional love and concern they had and showed for humanity? Thus, HR functions cannot be considered as a laid-back ‘easy come’ ‘easy go’ sort of discipline.

Another reason why HR has become so popular is that the HR department is progressing at a high level; thus, people find a good scope in that field. The HR is found in every field of life. They are working in every organisation. We always choose a career in which we see chances to move upwards and nowadays HR is a department in which they can explore their jobs. It includes a variety of activities and the main key is to make them satisfy or hire the needs of the employer. Recruiting the employee for their best performances, dealing with their performance

However, HR is not just about hiring and firing employees anymore. The HR department is now vital to a company’s success, as they get involve in both strategic planning and implementation. HR is changing as a result of many influences.

These include: globalisation, increased competition, diversification, customer demand for businesses, new findings, financial factors, political and other social factor like demographic trends, as all these factors have a direct impact on the labour market. The HR practitioner needs to understand the impact of these factors on their organisation.

HR in today’s business world

Before considering a career in human resources development it’s important to understand how this job has evolved over the past few decades. Those working currently in Human Resources Development, formerly known as personnel, or just HR, will find themselves doing various jobs depending upon the size of the company for which they are employed.

The mention of HR officers brings to mind an outdated image; an employee who only works with the administrative side of a company, handles employee benefits questions, or is only concerned with recruiting and hiring personnel.

HR used to be part of the ‘Administration,’ some paper shufflers who colour-coded a variety of filing folders and brought no real creativity or strategy to the process. HR managers were often viewed as the systematising, policing arm of executive management. Corporations, on the other hand, used one-liners such as “our people make the difference” as sound-bite slogans that had little to do with their internal realities.

Nowadays, the HR department is the place where recruiting strategies are being discussed, where mergers and acquisitions initiatives are being strategised, where the corporate culture is being evaluated and where mass reductions-in-force, penetrations of foreign markets, and employment legalities are being assessed.

True, there is little routine in the human resources work. But the real excitement comes when new employment legislations are introduced. Then HR professionals have to study and be updated in those areas, there are always changes in industries that one has to learn and needs to adapt to, there are always jobs evolving and professionals evolving with them, needing appropriate professional counselling.

In order to succeed in HR, one has to have a real interest in other people’s careers and their development and to commit to the core culture of an organisation and work on improving that continuously.

From the management platform, the HR person should have vision to participate in the growth plan of the organisation with support from the human resources angle. HRM is not only managing people but also how to tap the human resources for the growth of the organisation is the key.

In my point of view, people who claim that they are in HR because they “love people” are in the field for wrong reason. It is the kind of work that requires one to perfect thought processes, to keep abreast of new events and developments in the workforce, and to challenge intellectual assumptions about human psyche.

Just because one loves humanity or human being you cannot be a good HR practitioner. But to be successful and to win people’s hearts and mind to implement business strategies you should have the capability to win people and influence them.

Some companies practicing good HR

Going by some of the companies where I have done consultancy, training or executive coaching, I have noticed very good HR value being introduced to strengthen business effectiveness and even, in some instances, to uplift business expectations.

In my opinion, to mention but a few, Union Assurance Ltd., Fonterra Brands Lanka Ltd., Ceylon Tobacco Co. Ltd., Nestle Lanka Ltd., Hemas Plc, MAS Intimates Ltd., MAS Active Ltd., Unilever Ltd. and Brandix Ltd. comes to my mind.

HR has taken a ‘seat’ of respect in these companies and are key drivers of value through the ‘HR Value Proposition’. The heads of HR in such companies move away from being pushers of HR function into becoming business and people transformers and business partners. Of course, there will be other organisations that I am not associated with in Sri Lanka that practice good HR, contributing value to their businesses.

HR Role: Business and strategic partner

In today’s organisations, to guarantee their viability and ability to contribute, HR managers need to think of themselves as strategic partners. In this role, the HR person contributes to the development of and the accomplishment of the organisation-wide business plan and objectives.

HR Role: Employee advocate

As an employee sponsor or advocate, the HR manager plays an integral role in organisational success via his knowledge about and advocacy of people. This advocacy includes expertise in how to create a work environment in which people will choose to be motivated, contributing, and happy.

HR Role: Change champion

The constant evaluation of the effectiveness of the organisation results in the need for the HR professional to frequently champion change. Both knowledge about and the ability to execute successful change strategies make the HR professional exceptionally valued.

A re-positioning

Consider the critical responsibility of identifying and developing talent in people linking talent outcomes to promote and grow the business. Is this not the fervent prayer of all CEOs? Here is where the HR manager plays a vital role in partnering with the business.

I believe that HR should be repositioned as the function that creates intangible wealth in an organisation through the identification, development and maintenance of talent in a manner that unleashes their potential towards the creation of tangible net wealth and profitability of an organisation.

Consider the case of Gillian who was eight years old and her future at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster. Her handwriting was terrible and she tested poorly. She was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out of the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class and attempt to get Gillian’s attention back.

The school thought that Gillian had a learning disorder and wrote to her parents suggesting that she should be in a school that catered for students with special needs. All of this took place in the 1930s.

Gillian’s mother took the letter seriously and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst. The psychologist took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a sofa. The psychologist went back to his desk and for the next 20 minutes he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties she was having at school.

The psychologist thanked Gillian for her patience and asked her to be a bit more patient while he would have to talk to her mother confidentially outside the room. As he was leaving the room the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio. As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the psychologist said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment and watch what she does.”

There was a window to the room and they stood to one side of it where Gillian could not see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. They caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.

At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said. “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She is a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

The mother did exactly as the psychologist had suggested. Eventually, she was accepted by the Royal Ballet School in London. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing around the world.

She formed her own musical theatre company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theatre productions in history, including ‘Cats’ and the ‘Phantom of the Opera’.

Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars.

This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes – someone who knew to identify talent and the potential that could exist. Someone else may have put her on medication or restricted her. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school. She just needed to be who she really was.

Good HR professionals will play the role of the psychologist and develop talent to yield great results to the company and society. There are many Gillians in your organisation and, Mr. HR Guy, have you recognised them?

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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