Human Resources Management has 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.
To cater to the rapidly increasing demand, mushroom institutes are opening up in the country. Are these institutes run by HR experts/gurus? 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.
Organisations that advertise for HR professionals will bear witness that it is easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find a good and capable HR professional in the Sri Lankan context. Therefore, it is no wonder that HR is a rare species and very limited in supply.
Safe and comfortable
I have asked several persons who have chosen the HR field as to why they chose that field. Most of the answers were that HR is a safe field, especially for a lady. The core HR function responsibility is not fully realised across the Sri Lankan HR fraternity so as to positively impact business and add value.
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.
During years of my career, I have seen thousands of people landing in a wrong position/job. They are also helpless because there could be many reasons like wrong guidance, wrong selection, last resort for getting a job, myths etc., I feel that before getting into any job for that matter, one should ask himself/herself – why do I chose this job? If s/he gets more positive answers, he should select that job or if not, just leave it.
HR – A tough field
The HR field is not the easiest field to break into. There is a misconception that anyone can enter in to this field and perform. In past, organisations used to transfer all inefficient employees 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 to the field now.
To be a HR coordinator or even 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 at least 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. HR is found in every field of life, 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 and 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 involved 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 and political and other social factors 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 the 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 discussed, where mergers and acquisitions initiatives are strategised, where the corporate culture is evaluated and where mass reductions-in-force, penetrations of foreign markets and employment legalities are 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. Human resources management is not only managing people; tapping 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 the 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 beings, one cannot be a good HR practitioner. But to be successful and to win people’s hearts and minds to implement business strategies, you should have the capability to win people and influence them.
Some sound examples of HR practices
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., come to my mind in this regard.
HR has taken a ‘seat’ of respect in these companies and is a key driver of value through the ‘HR Value Proposition’. The heads of HR in such companies move away from being pushers of the HR function into becoming business and people transformers and business partners.
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.
There are hundreds who study to obtain an HR qualification believing that HR is the most fashionable qualification to achieve. The sad point about all of this is that there is no known body that carries out any validation on the course material and teaching that is carried out presently.
(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.)