HR Automation highlighted as a key factor in achieving full HR potential within organisations at the first hSenid International HRM Conference 2011
By Cassandra Mascarenhas
Understanding the vital role that human resource management plays in today’s rapidly changing workplace environment, Sri Lanka’s number one HR company, hSenid Business Solutions (Pvt.) Ltd. hosted the hSenid International HRM Conference 2011, which kicked off yesterday in, Colombo.
The first of its kind, the theme of the conference, ‘Unleashing HR Potential to Compete Globally’, complemented the company’s goal of wanting to share international best practices amongst its customers located in over 24 countries worldwide.
Both Sri Lankan and foreign delegates gathered yesterday to share experiences and strategies at the two-day conference which began with a CEO Breakfast Meeting. While exploring the many approaches adopted by businesses worldwide, it also delved deeper into gaining a competitive edge by implementing automated HR practices.
Addressing the gathering in his welcome speech, the Chairman and CEO of hSenid Business Solutions Dinesh Saparamadu spoke about the indigenous multinational company which with a 14 year history in Sri Lanka now has its human resource management system used in over 24 countries.
“As the leader, the number one HR company in the country, hSenid came to the decision to host this conference in order to share international best practices to create awareness on how HR can be used as a competitive tool to compete globally,” he said.
He then spoke about the current workplace which has been undergoing rapid changes – technology is revolutionising the way people work in what is now referred to as the Facebook age and the Twitter era. New social media is changing the way things work and companies need to accordingly adjust to this new era.
Another aspect that has changed is the way employees are recruited as this too has now gone online. Saparamadu pointed out that the days where recruitment was carried out via advertisements in print media were now long gone, replaced by online recruitment systems which allow companies to attract the right employees at the right time and such websites in turn have created an environment where online recruitment has been made very easy.
Maximising human resources
The first speaker of the morning was the Chief Guest of the conference, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Patricia Butenis, who drew upon her 30 year career as a diplomat for the US State Department to address the issue of implementing and maximising human resources.
“The theme of maximising human resources is very timely for companies to reach their goals and for Sri Lanka to reach its true potential,” she said.
Her vast experience in several countries, including in Iraq during the civil conflict, has helped her greatly in her work in post-conflict environment in Sri Lanka.
“It is absolutely essential to coordinate all the staff, build common goals and coordinate all their work. A challenge was integrating the American and Sri Lankan staff. We have a talented group of Sri Lankan employees and it is absolutely critical to establish that no matter how hard the Americans work, they will not know the country as well as the Sri Lankan staff does,” Butenis expressed.
She went on to explain how she handles her diverse staff at the embassy by always giving them clear work expectations as employees need to know what they are supposed to do in order to complete projects handed over to them.
Butenis also touched on the subject of treating all employees equally, stating that while it is easy to have favourites, it is important that everyone is treated equally and that one should work to make sure that everybody has a chance and everyone feels part of the team.
“Transparency is the key to the abovementioned goals and in addition to that accountability too has to be practiced. Transparency and accountability must be ingrained so that everybody knows the standards to which they will be held accountable. I always try to share the credit and take the blame. Another key is inclusiveness; especially when working with a diverse team such as mine where there are many different types of people on the team, both American and Sri Lankan,” she explained.
Everyone should cooperate so that individual abilities and perspectives come through and they work together as one team and work towards achieving a common goal. A final key take she shared was empowering people, stating that she personally looks for people who come up with great ideas and push the ideas to their supervisors as there is no point in having a talented staff if all they do is just implement your own ideas.
Being a diplomat for the US State for over 30 years, Butenis said that she had seen great changes occur during this period. When she joined the US State Department in the 1980s, it was still mostly dominated by white men and there were only a few women in management positions but this has increased considerably over the years. It is therefore important to recruit people who can be adaptable and deal with the fast paced changes.
Amongst the many problems faced by the US State Department, one prevalent one is dealing with ‘Generation X’. The current generation of employees is talented but they find it difficult to conform to the hierarchical system followed in such organisations. Many of them see the job as a stepping stone to further careers in the future, whereas previously such a job was seen as a career on its own.
Coming back to the current situation in Sri Lanka, Butenis asserted that Sri Lanka could succeed in its efforts by allowing equal opportunities, transparency and inclusiveness; people from different backgrounds would be greatly beneficial as the country strives to build up its economy.
“The time has now come for Sri Lanka to transform itself through economic growth and we have seen that the Government has strived to achieve economic development, which is absolutely necessary, but of course it won’t be enough on its own as Sri Lanka also needs human capital to reach this goal,” said Butenis.
Addressing one last point, the Ambassador pointed out that in the past in the face of all the issues, many Sri Lankans had taken their talent overseas. Now that things are better some Sri Lankans are coming home; the return of Sri Lankans will be beneficial for the country.
Most people thought the Sri Lankan apparel market would fade but it has thrived by developing itself further and adding more value to its products. There were also sceptics who doubted Sri Lanka’s ability to build up its IT industries and business process outsourcing, which it has done successfully and they now continue to grow.
Key takes from several industry experts followed the keynote address and they discussed how they used HR as a competitive tool in various different industries. This began with the Head of Group Human Resources and Services of Hayleys Group Sri Lanka Sunil Dissanayake, who shared with the audience the benefits of following the Hoshin-Kanri appraisal method.
Hoshin-Kanri are Japanese words that directly translate to planning and management respectively. Hayleys as a group is involved in seven completely different business sectors and can be effectively described as having conglomerates within a conglomerate.
Discussing how Hoshin-Kanri is linked with performance management, the implementation of the method results in every executive being accountable for everything and aligns all the business units in one direction, in accordance with the top corporate goals of the organisation.
“In Hayleys, everybody has engaged in it and it has now been successfully implemented. The model also helps measure employee performance which is measured through the achievement of various objectives,” Dissanayake explained.
Commitment and leadership, competence and capability of HR delivery teams, quality and process of cascading goals and timeliness are all objectives that can be achieved by the implementation of the Hoshin-Kanri appraisal method.
Corporate ICT Manager of AMREF Africa Mwoka Matuku Willy spoke next of the overall impact of automating HR to the organisation – how operational excellence was achieved through automation, the benefits of time saving gained through automation, statistical insight to time and cost savings.
“Most of the human resource management just like many other organisations used to spend a lot of time in operational issues. The records that were kept within our organisation were a challenge to update, manipulate and access. Each year, concentrated reports were required and putting these reports together were a big issue as we have five offices across Africa – almost 1,000 employees so managing them was really an issue,” explained Matuku, when describing the organisation pre-automation.
After adopting hSenid’s HRM Enterprise solution, processes became much smoother with HR functions delegated to the branch managers across the country. Drawing upon the simple example of applying for leave, which used to be a process that took anywhere between hours to days, Matuku stated that the process just took a couple of minutes instead.
After implementing the HR automation model, staff were given GSM models which they could log into 24 hours a day, hence eliminating the need for middlemen, filling out of forms and other time-consuming practices.
Public sector implementation
Head of ICTA’s Government Re-engineering Programme Wasantha Deshapriya took to the stage next and during his chat with Saparamadu stressed on the importance of public sector implementation of HR automation as the Government is currently the biggest employer in Sri Lanka, employing over a million people.
“We have commenced HR automation initiatives and so have a few others but most major organisations for most of the part has not picked up on this practice. This is due to the fact that the top management of Government organisations have dismal literacy rates – most barely use a computer and they therefore do not understand the importance of implementing this essential initiative,” Deshapriya said.
The adoption of these methods would streamline many processes, he went on to say and would allow Government officials to assess employee strength, calculate salaries and other wages and rates, etc.
He was in turn followed by the Human Resource Manager of the InQpharm Group, Malaysia, a young pharmaceutical company that works closely with the European Union. With headquarters in based in Malaysia, HR automation once again plays a key role in bridging the distance between their customers in Europe.
He discussed the methodology that can be used to uplift staff productivity in the ever changing global market, the business value and impact from HR dashboards and analytics to staff productivity and the correlation of staff productivity to reduced stress and burnt out rates.
The morning session came to a close with a brief chat with the Director/Chief Human Resources Officer of the Aitken Spence Group of Sri Lanka, Rohan Pandithakoralage who first commented on the number of people who have passed through the doors of the Aitken Spence Group in the audience.
The Aitken Spence Group is well known for their intense training programmes and the Director in turn discussed using real-time people metrics in decision making, meeting overall corporate business objectives through the system and how automation in strategic HR activities were carried out within the organisation.
The first half of the conference drew to a close with this and was followed by several technical track sessions with various industrial experts, both local and international. A networking and cocktail session held in the evening gave the many professionals an opportunity to connect and mingle, building partnerships between the many parties present. Day Two which commences early this morning at the same location will consist of further track sessions, after which the conference will come to an end.
Pix by Upul Abayasekara