Future of HR: Be lean, seen and green

Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Human Resource has always been an evolving function. It not only focuses on the most precious resource in any organisation but also engages in actions to ensure the presence of competencies for competitive advantage. As much as it had in the past, and having in the present, the function of HR will have many challenges in the future. Today’s column will discuss three global trends with respect to future HR. I would call them the challenge to be lean, seen and green. Let’s discuss the details.


Be lean

There is a wave of becoming faster, cheaper, better in an increasingly competitive global scene. HR cannot avoid its influence. Stemming from the Japanese concept of creating value by eliminating waste, lean management has spread its wings to cover both manufacturing and service sectors.

Gone are the days that HR was “humanly rich” as a department with all sort of people, mostly dumped by the seniors. Efficiency with regard to optimising cadre, in clearly identifying the needs and the specific roles associated is of utmost importance.

Lean leverage

Lean management is in fact a philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Some management authors have already coined the term Toyotism to describe this pioneering approach. TPS is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota was from a small company to the world’s largest automaker. As Toyoda Sakichi (1876 -1930) firmly advocated, “quality must be built in during the manufacturing process”.

Relevance to HR

There is a five-step thought process for guiding the implementation of lean techniques is easy to remember, but not always easy to achieve. It can be appropriately adapted by HR for serving the organisation better.

1.    Identify the target product, product family, or service.

    For HR it applies for what the organisation requires from it. It could be viewed as    the availability of right person to handle the right job, in the right way with the right     resources in producing right results.

2.    Draw what is called as a “value stream map”, which shows the current steps, delays,     and information flows required to deliver the target product or service.

    This may be a production flow (raw materials to consumer) or a design flow (concept to launch). HR needs to identify their value stream maps regarding the areas such as    recruitment, selection, training and performance management.  The simple argument     here is the use of lean concept for making HR processes more efficient.

3.    Assess the current state value stream map in terms of creating flow by eliminating waste.

    This can be a good brainstorming exercise for HR professionals. Identify the bottlenecks in the existing recruitment process can be one such example.

4.    Draw a future state value stream map.

    It refers to the improved way of doing things. Referring to our example of recruitment,  proposing an improved process with the addition of technology, such as getting application through internet can be the case.

5.    Work towards the future state condition.

Here lies the challenge. The clear concept has to be put into concrete action. HR has to     deliver results by being lean.

One important thing to remember is that HR has to work hand in hand with other functional departments in being lean. There is no room for silo mentality.

Be seen

We are increasingly moving towards a virtual world of work. There are a variety of flexible technologically connected but geographically separated. A global virtual team might have members based in New York, New Delhi and New South Wales. Telecommuting is an arrangement where a person can work from home by connecting through technology without physically coming to work. What could be the possible HR challenges? Let’s discuss.

Trust without touch

Based on my research with two US-based colleagues, it was evident that one major challenge in a virtual team arrangement is to trust each other. If you have worked with someone physically in the same office at least for some time, they found it easier to work as a virtual team. The challenge was to interact with relatively unfamiliar members of the team in a distant location.

It is an interesting HR scenario in this context. Each member of the virtual team based in different locations have to be governed by their local labour laws and other local HR practices. At the same time, there is a global HR strategy. Hence, it is a case of think globally and act locally with regard to HR practices pertaining to virtual team arrangements.

Guiding the net-centric nomads

Why the “seen” factor is so important to HR? The answer lies in the nature of virtual teams and telecommuting workforce. They are the new net-centric nomads. Nomads, in the sense that their work desk can be a seat in an airplane with laptop or palmtop connected to the internet. For them, what matters is the connectivity more than the location. Their daily HR functions are carried by a supervisor, also in a remote location.  Some of the virtual team members have not seen the central HR colleagues, after their initial hiring discussion. On the one hand, it is good to delegate and to make every manager a people manager. However, on the other hand, the vibrant presence of the HR as a guiding and facilitating function is also essential.

Such a scenario leads to a visibility issue. How can HR show its availability for coaching, training, performance  advice and other matters? Is it practically possible to meet all employees scattered all over? What should be the best cost-effective arrangement? These are some of the questions that HR professionals have to find answers.

Be green

We are living in a world where nature has begun to strike back. Chaotic weather patterns across the globe are a grim reminder that eco-friendly practices of work need a lot more attention. What matters is not only profits and people, but planet as well. Obviously, it impacts HR.

Triple bottom line

The phrase “the triple bottom line” came into use in early ’90s. In 1994, John Elkington, a Briton interested in sustainability, argued that companies should be preparing three different (and quite separate) bottom lines. One is the traditional measure of corporate profit — the “bottom line” of the profit and loss account. The second is the bottom line of a company’s “people account”— a measure in some shape or form of how socially responsible an organisation has been throughout its operations. The third is the bottom line of the company’s “planet” account — a measure of how environmentally responsible it has been. The triple bottom line (TBL) thus consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet. It aims to measure the financial, social and environmental performance of the corporation over a period of time. Only a company that produces a TBL is taking account of the full cost involved in doing business.

Green HRM

Some common green human resource initiatives in the west include, using the Web or teleconferencing to reduce travel, promoting the reduction of paper use and implementing wellness programmes to foster employees’ proper nutrition, fitness, and healthy living.

The important point here is the need to integrate green initiatives with lean and seen initiatives. In other words, they are not three isolated sets of actions but one holistic path. Take paper reduction for an example. Instead of having piles of personnel files in a store room, a well-designed HR information system (HRIS) will do the needful in a much more effective manner. It is a case of being lean and green at the same time.

By being green, HR has to foster SHE, meaning safety, health and environment. A healthy workforce which performs its duties with safety in mind, without polluting the environment is the growing need of our workplaces.

Green policies and practices

Policy is like an umbrella guiding the practices within. Future HR policies need to be green. So should be their practices. Take recruitment for an example. Minimising the use of paper, by resorting to more IT based techniques is becoming popular. Training employees on energy conservation and making them more environmentally conscious are also vital actions HR can do.  Here again, eliminating waste as a way of saving energy appear prominently, highlighting the link between be green and be lean.

Initiatives with insights

The world of HR is full of jargons. My attempt is not to complicate it by adding more terms.  As Shakespeare vividly wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Whether we call it triple challenges of HR or the GCL phenomena of HR or by any other name, the reality is the need to act promptly.

That is where HR professionals have to act as “thinking performers”, in taking the profession forward. The call is simply crucial. Be lean, seen and green. 

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