The true purpose of HR, lest we forget!

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In the rat race to appear technologically advanced, are HR professionals forgetting something that’s vital to their existence?

Most organisations have been embracing technology in HR in a frenzy lately, with HR professionals leaving no single opportunity to talk about HR technology jargons, metrics, and technological interventions and so on. While it is good to adopt new technology in HR, in this rat race to appear ‘most updated and learned’ are we forgetting our reasons of existence?

Recently, in an informal gathering of fellow colleagues, a newly- hired young HR executive asked me “What should I do to be successful in HR?” To answer his question, I counter-questioned him, “How many people in your business unit do you know by their names?” He fumbled, as many of us would have in his position. Not surprisingly, all of us will remember even birth dates of our bosses, and their bosses as well. Probably that’s what most people believe is the mantra to be successful.

However, a bigger question is- “Are we, as HR professionals, on the right track and doing what is desired of us by our people?” I doubt. I doubt our own understanding of the true spirit of the human resource function— the conscious infusion of a sense of ownership, by saying that HR is the business partner and that our urge to do what the world is doing has taken us away from our people.

“We may have the best of the equipment, the best of the facilities for our team, but if we do not reach out to our employees personally, do not give them ears, do not make them feel wanted and important in the organisation, they will leave us for the ones who do.”

I remember one of my senior HR colleagues telling me that the first thing he does every morning when he comes to his office, is that he goes to the shop floor, visits each work area and interacts with the people functioning there. And I know he does it regularly. Still, he says with a feeling of guilt, that he does not even know the names of all the people who work hard day and night in his plant. “But what is the point in doing so. After all, we are not machines and we can’t remember all names”, that young HR colleague opined. True, we cannot remember names of all the people we meet in a day, but we would certainly remember the interaction and more than us, the employee would remember it. There is no bigger motivation for employees than interacting with their HR head. Such interactions are remembered and they form the first step towards developing trust.

Before I took up HR as a profession, I met an IT professional who was travelling with me in a train. During a candid discussion, he told me that one team he does not like in his company, is the HR team. When asked why, his response was, “They do not genuinely care about people. Their job ends with making complex policies sitting in their offices, without even knowing whether those policies will help the last person in the chain or will make things difficult for him. They do not make genuine efforts to reach out to their own employees, as they feel they are better off and have more important things to do than this.”

“We are not machines and we constantly need our share of emotional support, whether at home or at work.”

It made me wonder what HR professionals spend their time doing if they cannot even reach out to their employees! I fail to understand their function, even today.

During my stint in a business unit HR role, I always met people— on the shop floors, in corridors, in the cafeteria, in the parking or wherever I could. Interaction used to be short but informal and I always listened to their issues/challenges, irrespective of the place. Does that mean that I was able to resolve all their issues then and there? No. But I took note of them and ensured that they got resolved. It did something very unusual for me – I was tagged as the most ‘accessible’ manager and people started trusting me with their issues. Genuine feedback started flowing in, even at the formal sessions, and the dead suggestion boxes came back to life.

Ajay Sharma

Now, you may ask – Is this the only thing to do in HR? Of course, not. However, this is the most crucial thing an HR professional should do. We may have the best of the equipment, the best of the facilities for our team, but if we do not reach out to our employees personally, do not give them ears, do not make them feel wanted and important in the organisation, they will leave us for the ones who do.

One of my friends, who recently changed his job, shared that during the performance review in his company, there is no interaction between the appraiser and appraisee. Everything is system based. I cannot understand this. How can anything substitute human interaction? We are not machines and we constantly need our share of emotional support, whether at home or at work. It is not about what we achieve but how we achieve it. Circumstances play a major role. If a sales professional is able to achieve his targets despite the unfavourable circumstances at home, he needs to be recognised, more than just being rated on his performance, which a computer-based appraisal process certainly cannot do.

Unfortunately, all of us know the importance of a friendly, compassionate interaction and the magic it creates, but we fail to practise it. We do not, consciously spend our time with people but keep making policies and creating procedures in anticipation that they will benefit them, make them happy and keep them engaged, without even realising that our people need our time more than anything else. They do not want formal feedback sessions or feedback forms, prepared by an intern or an outside survey agency. All they want is an informal chat with their HR colleague, who can listen to them patiently and offer to genuinely help them or guide them. Trust me, if done with the right intentions, this is no less than a magic wand that can solve a lot of people issues organisations face.

(The author is deputy vice president – HR, The Oberoi Group.)