IR is simply the science and art of togetherness. Learn about the appropriate length, width, depth and time for industrial relations.
Henry Ford’s words, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success”, remind us of the importance of togetherness in creating not just an element, a tiny atom or a molecule, but an organ, a structure, a body, a family, a society, an industry, a nation and the universe. Any one of these can get dismantled if ‘togetherness’ ceases to exist.
However, this togetherness can only be achieved with the help of gluons, the elementary adhesive. In industrial relations, these gluons can be in the form of facilitators, behaviors, attitudes, systems, ethics, norms, practices, technicalities, codes of conduct, operating procedures, communication networks, standing orders, as well as legal and administrative machinery. These gluons have the honesty and capability to implement togetherness.
Good IR begins around a creative core of two compatible elements coming together—the head of the establishment/HR and the union leader. With all its prejudices and professional compulsions, it is very important to make these two entities come together towards a common interest and mutual growth. In fact, industrial relations is not related to the nature of business, industry, location, size or ethnic background. It is simply the science and art of togetherness, and depends upon the beliefs, behaviour and skill of the executors at both ends.
Length: In our four-dimensional universe, the length of IR denotes the number of people covered and their leadership. Most of us experience a routine difficulty in dealing with domestic IR, even with a single servant, maid or driver. However, there are large conglomerates operating smoothly with thousands of employees working together. Every individual is an independent entity with his own body and mind. He behaves the way he finds most comfortable.
As we are gregarious by nature, in a group situation, we feel comfortable and secure to follow each other behind a group leader. Depending upon his credibility, the group leader may be a colleague, a manager, the union leader, or any business leader. Irrespective of the number of members, ultimately it is the effective leadership—designated or spontaneous—that makes a difference in IR. Numbers provide strength to the leadership. Since all the people cannot be satisfied all the time, it is always better to deal with an empowered leader, than a bunch of disoriented people with varied concerns. It is desirable for both the parties to mutually recognise, honour, support and empower the representative leaders.
Width: As second dimension, the width or broadness of IR denotes the diversity and homogeneity of the people covered. Individually, the employees may be of different orientations, caste, creed, religion, locality, faith, education and position. However, collectively, they are an organisation. If this collectivism is dismantled, the individual existence is threatened by a struggle to survive, where the weak are extorted till they become extinct. IR is said to be effective if it manages to achieve coexistence with shared growth and mutual respect.
A disengaged employee is the offshoot of a disengaged boss with unengaged policies and practices. We tend to deal to others what we prefer, as per our behaviour. However, the others respond according to their own preferences. A person who cannot manage his own behaviour, cannot expect others to manage their behaviours. It would be bullishness and counter relationship if he does. It would not be customer- centric behaviour. Murphy’s second law of thermodynamics — ‘if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong’—applies to IR also. Fair rules must be enforced firmly. People must understand that the rules are to be followed, firstly by self. Deviations do invariably replace the rules in due course of time. “Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”- Baltasar Gracián.
If there is no system of truthful co-existence or no glue for sustained cohesiveness, a suicidal anarchy begins through unbridled dictators on either side.
The policies, procedures and practices need to be defined and well synchronised with the people involved. Generally, a corporate strategy is prepared for the business, but no unified IR policy is created at the central level. While some people are poor at framing rules, most are poor at implementing them. The majority behave as if the rules are not meant for them. However, the exceptions of today become the rules for tomorrow.
Most IR troubles start because organisations have varied sets of behavioural practices, for the staff and workers. While some mistakes are ignorable, some are punishable; some increments are market driven, others are cost driven; some pantry offers a rich buffet while another expects people to queue up in the canteen for a fixed thali. How can discriminatory practices breed non-discriminatory relationships?
The collective system works through self-discipline, which flows from the top downwards. If there is no system of truthful co-existence or no glue for sustained cohesiveness, a suicidal anarchy begins through unbridled dictators on either side. In IR, it is suicidal to preach and behave differently.
Therefore, self-discipline is the only way to enforce a rule, whether written or behavioural. In a broader expression of cohesiveness, individuality is surrendered or sacrificed for a common cause. While we remain individuals within, there are external commonalities, just like an atom of salt in the ocean.
Depth: The third dimension, the height or depth of IR, involves financial and social ease of the company and its employees. This caters to the needs of the employees (Maslow’s hierarchy), and a company culture that encourages employees to excel in their personal and social lives. The environment, where employees are aligned, plays a decisive role in IR. A growing and well-placed organisation has enormous gravity to pull motivated employees.
In IR, gluons can be in the form of facilitators, behaviors, attitudes, systems, ethics, norms, practices, technicalities, codes of conduct, operating procedures, communication networks, standing orders, as well as legal and administrative machinery.
The onus, of minimising the hygience factors, lies with policy managers and leaders. It is of utmost importance that the salaries, wages, perks, benefits, privileges, etc, are proportionately synchronised in a defined manner, and also linked to the balance sheet, productivity, individual contribution, behaviour and shared growth. Mutual interactions and grievance handling procedures are humanised, yet systematised and meticulously tuned to the ‘cause and effect’. Any form of bias will be counterproductive.
Time: The fourth dimension in IR, the concept of ‘time’, refers to its historicity and fragility. During its entire journey, it is affected by individual mood swings as well as collective social dynamics. Like time, people have three orientations— past, present and future. Past-oriented people mainly refer to past practices as a solution. In the same situation, the present-oriented people try to resolve issues in the present context. However, the future-oriented people think of the implications of the present decisions in the future. Effective managers and leaders have a mindset quickly modifiable to the current realities and futuristic vision. They involve a team of differently-oriented people in the decision-making process.
There is a famous quote that implies that even the biggest and most devastating fire could have been avoided by pouring a cup of water at the ‘right place’ and at the ‘right time’. But defining the ‘right time’ is very subjective. Depending upon individual assumptions, it is possible to variably declare the current time as the ‘right time’ or ‘wrong time’. In fact, it is a statement of probability, like flipping a coin and declaring ‘head’ or ‘tail’ before it lands. In this subjective thinking, often we attach our false ego with our assumptive conclusion, as if we are omniscient. This is like driving a new car at the highest speed, assuming that its newness will avoid an accident. Yet, an accident can happen when a nail on the road bursts the tyre, or a drunken driver of another car hits it.
In fact, the ‘right time’ is the one when a related issue comes up to our notice. The solution is right there with the problem. It is co-evolved with the problem, and travels along with it. We simply need to focus to find it. Waiting for an appropriate time to act upon and resolve a solution, is a miscalculation, fear, excuse or overconfidence, and certainly a waste of time. Problems do not die out, and opportunities do not wait for an individual’s delayed response. With drifting time, the problems get converted to bigger or smaller problems, or even opportunities.
Defining the ‘right time’ is very subjective. It is like driving a new car at the highest speed, assuming that its newness will avoid an accident. Factually, it is beyond the reach of human beings to comprehend a time as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. An individual can only make an effort to put the right energy into the right direction to get a desired outcome. It is the direction and availability of critical energy that converts the cause into effect. Like energy, the right time can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be sensed with an appropriate mind, and worked upon for a suitable result. “With a clever strategy, each action is self-reinforcing. Each action creates more options that are mutually beneficial. Each victory is not just for today but for tomorrow.” – Max McKeown, The Strategy Book.
The essential ingredients of good IR are, self-discipline, empathy, and intolerance against every nonsense. The five things that weaken the relations are avoiding, lying, misbehaving, doubting, and breaking promises. Be cautious of these five, and explore and extend yourself to the four dimensions of your work horizon, to enjoy smooth IR!
(The author is plant HR Head, Hero Motocorp.)