On 10th May, I was invited by my friend Shyam Iyer on a webinar to discuss the above topic. I had made notes for my talk and am reproducing my notes on the topic in 2 parts. Here is the Part 1.
At the outset, I must compliment Shyam Iyer & 60BitsConsulting for choosing a very relevant & important topic for today’s deliberations. We are in the throes of a crisis and hence the importance of leadership, to drive us out of the woods!! As the actions will have to be implemented by people, hence the importance of HR, as a function, is doubled at the present moment.
I have structured my talk in 4 buckets:
- Context: and here I will not speak about COVID19 & the impact on the economy, etc as there is enough discussion already on these. Rather, I will focus on trends and implications we must understand, to be able to overcome the present crisis.
- Journey of HR: Having worked in Corporate India, for 34 years, and now 5 years in Consulting, I have seen a fair bit of change in the way the HR function operates. We should understand this base-line, to learn how HR needs to be ‘reinvented’.
- Leadership: The ‘What’ & ‘How’ of Leadership in the present context, especially given that we are looking up to our leaders at present, to lead us out of the crisis.
- HR’s new role: What are the areas HR has to focus on, to support the Leaders & the organisation at the present juncture.
So let us dive into the Context & Journey of HR. Leadership & HR’s New role will be Part 2 of this article.
Context: The last blog I wrote was titled A Crisis too Precious to Waste. I wrote that when the First lockdown was announced & I have listed many advantages we can derive, from the present crisis. As an incurable optimist, while mostly people see this with gloom, I believe there are many advantages and benefits. In the words of Charles Dickens (The Tale of Two Cities), ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…..in short the period was so far like the present period” Don’t those words fit beautifully to today’s times? We are facing a common challenge for everyone on the planet. This crisis is larger than the Spanish Flu, the London Plague, the Swine Flu, or any other pandemic mankind has ever faced. It is indeed larger in scope & impact than the 2 World Wars we have been through. In the WW, some countries were thankfully left unaffected. But the present Pandemic has affected and involved entire mankind.
One major effect of this will be that !! We cannot fall into the ‘vacation syndrome’ trap…we go on vacation, we go back and think all will be the same. This won’t happen now. We can never go back to doing business, the way we used to do in the past. BAU is DEAD! Both Personal and Professional lives will never be the same. A New Normal will emerge. In the Chinese language, the word for crisis is written with 2 characters: WEI and JEI. Wei Jei is Crisis, but WEI is Danger and JEI, by itself, is Opportunity. So the crisis brings together, both Danger but also many Opportunities.
As you look at the impact & implications of the global pandemic on organisations and people around us, on a 5 point scale, how would you rate our state of preparedness and understanding of what needs to be done?
Let us accept, that most of us were unprepared. I heard Mr Patu Keswani the other day. He openly accepts that Lemon Tree had BCPs…of 3 different scenarios. What if 20% business is affected; what if 30% and what if 40% business stalls? But the 3 scenarios did not help. What emerged was a totally different scenario, for which they were not prepared; the actual reality overtook all. BCPs is like driving by looking at only the rear view mirror; the actual reality will still surprise you. But “Don’t let the Phantom of the Opera scare you. Remember, collectively mankind wins”. This is beautifully illustrated by my friend Adil Malia.
Lockdown has brought in several restrictions. But, at the same time, there are opportunities galore. At the age of 65, I am attending webinars & learning on different subjects. I am excited with ideas of virtual lunches and tea breaks. Much is locked down, but many new things have emerged, like this platform we are interacting on today. One of my clients, CtrlM which is into print management, has launched a thought provoking campaign on #InOurControl. I invite you to see their campaign on the social media platforms like LinkedIn. Faced with problems, we are quickly coming up with new approaches, learning new skills & new solutions are emerging.
Marcel Proust had noted, “Real Voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” A change of perspective is necessary. We talk about the VUCA world. First introduced by the US Army War College in 1987, this term is liberally used in management/organisational context, thanks to Warren Bennis. Indeed today we live in a VUCA world characterised by Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. So we don’t know what to do. We first need to change the way we see the world we are creating. Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future has given VUCA a new twist. He redefines VUCA as V Vision; U Understanding; C Clarity and A Agility. What a positive frame of reference, for all of us to look ahead. All of this is going to be done by people, so the need and importance of HR.
Journey of HR: Let us look at how the HR function has been evolving. Looking to my grey hair, you will know I have witnessed many changes in the way HR functions. I have worked for 40 years in the field of HR., seeing a lot of changes. When we began our careers in late 70s, we were called ‘Bharti Officers’ because Recruitment was primarily what we did. Time Keeping, Attendance Records, Leave Records, Salaries and Wages were related tasks. It was so bad, that many a times the TK or Admin department, as it was called then, was physically situated at the gate of the factory, along with the Security Office! From there we have indeed come a long way. From Admin to Personnel to Human Resources, to now being called the People Function. Remember Human is the only Resource which does not depreciate. Unlike other factors of Management, Human Resource has the potential to always appreciate, if handled properly. From being treated as problem solvers, sitting separately to whom issues would get referred, HR has taken first a baby seat at the strategy table & now emerged as a partner, playing an active role in the running of the business. Industrial Relations have become an anachronism with the waning union militancy and more educated workforce. Some colleagues and friends, who were masters of the IR game did not see the writing on the wall changing, & got lost when the skill requirements changed for HR managers.
Where would you rate the HR function as it operates today? Service Provider OR Support Partner OR Strategic Partner OR Board Seat?
We have indeed moved up as a function. But still much remains to be done. COVID is a huge opportunity for HR to take a pivotal role. People and Talent are now centre stage for all organisations. Recovery plans will be executed by this important resource: people! Business challenges require people to stretch and deliver: this is a golden chance for HR, to move into a more active role. We have a choice. Do we become an Albatross around the Leadership’s neck, a weight they carry & look to ditch? OR do we become like the Phoenix, burn ourselves on the embers ranging at this crisis time, and the rise from the ashes in a new avatar & take wings? Albatross? OR Phoenix? What will it be?
Next time we will look deeply at Leadership and the new role requirements of HR to redesign and reinvent.
To be continued……..