Thursday, December 21, 2006

The carrot and 'lip'stick approach

Stockinged legs, high heels and a dash of lipstick. Smart suits, a neat tie and stylish boots. Millions of young men and women around the world aspire to become models, flight attendants and receptionists. Is it the glamour, the fame or just about looking good?

It is well known that doing things to improve one's appearance actually makes you feel better about yourself. Doctors and psychologists urge you to take care of your heath, your skin and your appearances. Cosmetics and accessories are often known to have positive physiological effects on people even if they don't show visible results. But what relation would all this have to HR?

In the 1930s efficiency experts in Britain and the United states came to a conclusion that women worked more efficiently when they had access to cosmetics. Besides leading to a huge demand and thus growth in the cosmetics industry this had other effects. Industrial plants were designed with primping rooms, make up tables and large mirrors along with other facilities for female workers. This led to a large number of women flocking to the war factories for work. Workers were urged to look good on the job, newsletters offered beauty tips to female workers and Lockheed even had beauty salons and cosmetic stations installed in its factories.

According to a 1942 New York Times report a regulation in the US back then ordered that girl workers in British munitions factories should wash and reapply cosmetics three times a day. Unbelievable but true- cosmetics for this purpose were even supplied by the government at a price of half a billion. Quite clearly, everyone believed that looking good not just led to a happier home and a more confident self but also growing revenues due to higher productivity.

More than half a century later, maybe the government has better things to spend on, yet employees looking and feeling good is still important to many corporates. We have restaurants who boast of their smart waiters, tech majors with gyms and petrol bunks attendants with neat uniforms. The demand for jobs that needs you to and lets you look good is higher than ever. And companies are relenting too. More jobs are created that include an interface with the customer and thus requires you to look good. Even jobs which did not earlier attract much attention now have smartly dressed staff- mechanics, sweepers, cleaners, parking lot attendants, etc.

What does all this mean to you? If you are a corporate, make sure a lot of the jobs in your organization have some contact with the outside world. Introduce styles of looking good, like ties and suits for formal presentations, formal wear when the client visits, smart casuals for one day of the week and so on. Feel free to look down on shabby and untidy clothing, informality is not an excuse to shoddiness. Bring down the essence of looking good to all your employees, even the clerks, the peons and all the support staff. Pay attention and invest in smart uniforms. Like Walt Disney, you could even go into the details like scrubbed nails and frequent baths, but that would be stretching it a little too far. Do make sure that your rest rooms are well lighted and have huge mirrors. For, trust me, that investment is all going to come back to you!

For someone who is working/ intends to work- Your job need not require you to look good. You could be a part of an assembly line or at a job where only your voice is head or your letters seen by people. Yet, if a little effort is going to go a long way at work, home and in attracting people to you, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What are we trying?

H..R…We don’t know what we are starting at? For me it’s more of a process of discovery. We’ve learnt a thing or two about the dreaded letters over the period of our stay here at Jampot, and let me assure you…..A good thing or two.

Wise people claim learning is really something…. one never ends up with. We think we are wise. To add to your misery we sport those two letters too. To be at the wrong end of the barrage is not necessarily a bad thing. Well lets say… put it up for our appraisal.

What is it about HR that gets employees all over real cranky? Why does the mention of HR get everyone cussing under their breath?

Hopefully this blog will help us all discover something.

What a journey!!!

Hi guys,
Finally we get to start an HR blog of our own!! I remember, we, as in, Saji, mama and yours truly, had this conversation about the same some time late in 1st year, but like many other initiatives, this one too had died a quiet death, or so I thought, until Saji revived it, so all credit to him, and hope we can keep this one alive.
I was thinking what to write about in this inaugural post, and came upon the idea of reliving the last 5 terms in XLRI, my memory and your patience permitting.
As we start the last and the most frax term here, and are on the threshold of passing out from one of the most prestigious B-schools in India, I can't help recollecting the fleeting events that have come to characterise my life, once the 4 letters X,L,R and I entered my life. Dating back to the day, 31st of March ,2005 I think, when I was having my IIM-B final interview, and I came to know of the XLRI final call. I don't know if it made me complacent, for I subsequently screwed up my interview, but looking back, I have no regrets, as 18 action and fun-filled months, lots of sleepy classes, last minute assignments and submissions, the pendulum swinging from hectic and crazy work to total joblessness, numerous wet nites (though I don't drink, but I guess drinks weren't the only things wet!!), singing, dancing and drama performances, super-effecient team meetings, bike rides and adventures, batting and bowling in all shades and loads and loads of friends later, I really couldn't have thought of a better way of completing my master's degree!!
A lot is said about XL culture, but I can safely say now that such a unique phenomenon can only be experienced, not described. In which other post-graduate class would you have 25-year old guys throwing chalks and paper balls at each other, passing chits in class, playing secret Santa, or hacking each other's yahoo accounts? Or having crushes, for that matter!! ::))
Of course, in the middle of all this, we do find time to study the night before the exams, submit the assignments, take part in and win competitions in other B-schools, as well as frax in a creative and effective way!!
I guess we weren't all gassing after all, when we had told in an uncannily similar fashion, in our XAT interviews, that we like to inter-aaaa-ct, and that we love being with people. That, after all, is most of what we have done over the last 18 months, in different fora, in formal and informal settings, for different ends but through essentially familiar means, and has probably set the tone for the famous XL-bonding that transgresses boundaries of year, sector, geography, gender or for that matter, differing dispositions on a matter so deceptively simple as fraxing!!
So, here's wishing a bright future to this blog and to all of us, signing off in the true XL spirit!!
Keep inter-aaa-cting!!!

Developing the HR Balance Sheet - A review of article by Jeffrey K. Cordes

‘HR as strategic partner’ has been a buzz word now for quite some time. Dave Ulrich identified four primary roles for HR in any organization namely strategic partner, administrative expert, change agent and employee champion. With emergence of knowledge sector where focus is on development of human capital and introduction of powerful IT tools to assist HR in administration, it was expected that HR would gradually move from role of administrative expert to strategic partner but various cross sectional studies done across different times have shown that still HR has not been able to take over the role of strategic partner in organizations. The article “Developing Human Capital Balance Sheet” by Jeffery K Cordes, human capital officer at Navigant Consulting explores some reasons about why it has happened and provides a roadmap to making HR a value adding strategic partner of business

Cordes begins his argument by stating the perception about HR being organizational overheads among peer professionals as it used to involve mainly administrative work. He further asks critical questions about mistakes HR has been repeating for last many years and diagnoses HR’s inability to understand business as root cause of its image. He stresses that it is imperative to know how to measure the ROI for HR function before one can expect executives to value HR. Every small move like reduction in attrition etc should be seen from ROI or balance sheet point of view.

In any value chain, there are critical points which add value to the chain. Similarly, Cordes suggests asking top management what is the value driver for the organization and trying to see what HR as a function is doing to contribute to that value driver. This is where Cordes argues that a new Human Capital Balance sheet should be developed for every organization which should focus on cost avoidance instead of cost (against the traditional balance sheet). Therefore, instead of cost of training, the balance sheet would reflect cost avoided as a result of training. The advantage of such balance sheet would be realized only if the internal clients support it.

This is followed by another suggestion that HR should be run as a business unit in an organization. Here Cordes puts forward various steps which would help in streamlining the processes and stresses putting in effort for only strategic activities. These include every member of the team proving his value add, building of a cross functional team (IT, HR and business) to focus on only value adding activities and outsourcing rest of the activities. Such steps are bound to face some resistance from those who still believe in traditional HR as high touch job. Cordes very forcefully states that one should learn to distinguish between high touch and high value job. There is no problem retaining high touch and high value job but low value job should not be retained even if it is high touch. Such activities should be delegated to an ‘e HR’ system

Explaining the philosophy of HR Team at Navigation consulting, Cordes mentions that they believe that recruitment is a high value activity which can even help them in tackling the retention problem so they have a dedicated internal recruitment organization for it. Other activities that they focus on are learning and professional development all of which focus on high value activities. In order to tackle the resistance and increase the acceptability of new model of HR as a Business unit, Cordes also stresses on having a communication strategy to communicate the vision and implementation strategy of the new avatar of HR. When all functions in organization are focused on clients, why shouldn’t HR also focus on its internal clients?

To conclude his argument about need for treating HR as a business unit, Cordes mentions three points to be taken care of namely:

Setting measurable goals and objectives

Developing, executing and measuring a business plan for HR and communicating it to internal clients for their acceptability

Building credibility

The idea can be summed up quoting verbatim from his article, “Think strategically, become a business driver, eliminate administrivia, measure tangible, quantifiable results and then communicate your success effectively and often.”

The article gives good insights into the principles of strategic HRM and actually substantiates everything with live examples of implementation in Navigant consultants. The positioning of HR in an organization is one thing which needs to be looked at to make it a strategic function while another is the competency of people who join this function. If the B Schools fail to develop good business and financial perspective in HR professionals and they do not understand how the business earns money, how can we expect future HR managers to take central role in planning and other strategic initiatives? The steps mentioned by Cordes are more relevant to positioning of HR in organization. However we should also focus on developing the required competencies and attitudes in HR professionals so that they can run HR organization like a business unit. With both right positioning as well as right people, HR would be able to make desired impact on the business.