The role of an HR professional has traditionally been a supportive one, like that of a personnel officer, handling administrative and backend activities. In India, the manufacturing sector was the most prominent among sectors and most jobs were mainly about managing labour. However, over the years and especially post liberalisation policies, things started changing. New businesses started entering the economy and then the IT and services sector grew exponentially.
In the HR domain as well, the focus shifted from industrial relations (IR) and administrative work to capability building, employee experience and enhancing the productivity of employees. Human resources was considered as a true business partner in the organisation.
Now, however, in this pandemic drama, the HR is playing the lead role. It has grown to be the most important function during these trying times. “While HR has played the true business partner in progressive companies in the last two decades, it has taken centre stage in the last 13 or 14 months, thanks to the pandemic pushing its relevance,” says Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, global operations, India, emerging Asia & access markets, Viatris.
“In India, businesses are very asset and process driven. For organisations, business assets were more important. COVID – 19 made the organisations realise that people are also equally important to run the business.”
Pankaj Lochan, executive director & group CHRO, Jindal Steel & Power
With the lockdown coming into the picture, HR leaders feel that there has been a major shift of focus to the health of the employees. For businesses, people became their priority. “With the spotlight on the in the last 14 months, HR gained more relevance in the business environment. It was the HR that was banked upon to manage business continuity,” points out Ganjoo.
“In India, businesses are very asset and process driven. For organisations, business assets were more important. COVID – 19 made the organisations realise that people are also equally important to run the business,” shares Pankaj Lochan, executive director & group CHRO, Jindal Steel & Power (JSPL).
Giving an example, Lochan explains, “During the lockdown, many manufacturing units around the country were shut. However, operations continued at JSPL and the HR team played a major part in making that possible. I took everybody into confidence and assured that manufacturing would continue to operate.”
At JSPL, arrangements were made for the workers by creating cubicles inside the factory premises where the workers could stay. This saved them the need to travel to work every day and also ensured business continuity. When the lockdown impacted the supply chain and logistics, at JSPL, they were able to overcome the challenges by providing hostels for truck drivers to stay after work.
“While HR has played the true business partner in progressive companies in the last two decades, it has taken centre stage in the last 13 or 14 months, thanks to the pandemic pushing its relevance.”
Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, global operations, India, emerging Asia & access markets, Viatris
With HR coming into the limelight, the lives of HR professional changed too. While earlier it was the CEOs or other business leaders who always appeared to be talking about business to the media, this role was taken over by CHROs who came forward to talk about business continuity. “I would not shy away from saying, that now, CHROs are being considered for the role of CEO,” shares Lochan.
Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore, adds, “The spotlight was on the HR leaders to talk about the well- being of the people and how companies were maintaining business continuity. Also, other companies were keen to know about the industry trends and what others were doing in the people management area.”
Not just the HR leaders, but the lives of all HR professionals, in general, changed. As per Ganjoo, the tasks and work related to HR have become more challenging, because it is now all about the survival of the people, and hence, the business.
“The spotlight was on the HR leaders to talk about the well- being of the people and how companies were maintaining business continuity. Also, other companies were keen to know about the industry trends and what others were doing in the people management area.”
Anurag Verma, VP-HR, Uniphore
“The HR team is working round the clock to ensure the human resources of the company are safe. Whatever needs and requirements they have, are fulfilled by the HR team. In these difficult times, people are looking up to the HR for help and support, in terms of medicines, beds or oxygen. Everything is facilitated by the HR. Also, the very out look of people and departments towards the HR function has changed as a whole. Realisation has dawned that the HR is adding directly to the sustainability of the business and organisation,” explains Verma.
Ganjoo also describes that it was the responsibility of the HR to facilitate the coaching and training of leaders and manage teams during these days, because team management and the need for a shift in leadership skills was felt during these difficult times.
There has been yet another important change, as Lochan cautions — the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of HR leaders or professionals have changed. “For instance, I have realised that with rewards I can drive the performance of people and improve productivity. At JSPL, we changed from annual payouts to quarterly payouts, which has resulted in better productivity. As mentioned earlier, HR has been at the forefront in helping continue production at factories, which has really made a difference. Now, HR professional will have to maintain these KPIs to see success, because now businesses will need KPI-focused people in the HR department,” explains Lochan.
Organisations have come to realise, now more than ever before, that people are their most important assets. This realisation has pushed the work of HR into more prominence. With conversations increasingly revolving around what organisations are doing for the overall and holistic wellbeing of their people, much attention is being given to the mental health of the employees too. This is one area that is set to grow in importance with each passing day. This momentum is expected to continue, because the pandemic can bounce back any time. Therefore, the safety of the people, and hence, business continuity, rests on the HR. Therefore, the spotlight is likely to freeze on the HR and remain so in the foreseeable future!