“#MeToo can end up as #NotHer & organisations can be wary of hiring women” Sudheesh Venkatesh

The under-evolved people supply chain is the most serious challenge in the social development sector. In conversation with Sudheesh Venkatesh, chief people officer Azim Premji Foundation for HRKatha Forecast 2019.



More power to HR in 2019

‘Power’ is often used as a pejorative, particularly in the modern organisation where the  nature of work is changing dramatically. Companies are seeing a movement towards less hierarchy; employees are less reverential, and co-operation has trumped competition. In this milieu, instead of wishing more power to HR, I would rather want HR to become more influential, more valued and more effective in 2019. Why and how will this happen?

First, the big challenges confronting organisations revolve around people – getting the right talent, continuous re-skilling, and managing cost, for instance. The HR function will naturally have a pivotal role in addressing these key organisational challenges.

“I would rather want HR to become more influential, more valued and more effective”

Second, the contours of organisational challenges are changing rapidly. This means, solutions need to be crafted to suit every new situation quickly and in a collaborative manner. The HR function, by design, has an enabling role and an integrative character, and will certainly be critical in shaping these solutions.

Lastly, more and more organisations derive their value from soft power. Their intellectual property, brand and culture often count for far more than the hard assets of land, building, machinery. People are at the centre of such soft power, and HR is the guardian of the
interests of the people.

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The biggest challenge for HR in your sector

I believe each sector has its unique set of HR challenges. For instance, it can be the sweep of automation in manufacturing and IT sectors or the excessive mobility of the workforce in the real- estate and e-commerce sectors. I work at the intersection of education and development and in a sense, our sector has its unique HR challenges as well.

For one, the under-evolved people supply chain is the most serious challenge we face. To start with, colleges and universities in the country are not developing students who fit our bill in adequate numbers. Rare are the students with a passion to improve society, with competence in their subject and a willingness to work in the difficult areas of the country. Next, the HR ecosystem of recruitment consultants, trainers and technology tools does not address the needs of our sector, partly because the sector is still sub-scale. There are not too many organised players and it is relatively less remunerative. Further, people are still to understand how to build long, meaningful and rewarding careers in this sector.

This has no easy solutions. At the risk of sounding pompous, I believe our organisation in a way is shaping the people practices in the sector. Starting a university with a focus on education and development, a systematic and sustained recruitment effort at several campuses across the country, significant investment in capacity building of new recruits, building a contribution culture and a fair salary and benefits package are some of the things we are doing. It is a long haul. We will reap rewards over time, and many others will as well.

C-Suite and HR to work together to create an adaptable and sustainable culture

The way we learn and where we learn from are both undergoing a remarkable transformation. Life-long learning has become a necessity for each one of us. It is human nature to adapt and I see that most people are making an effort, ably supported by their organisations.

Here are a few pointers to what C-Suite and HR can do together:

 – Learning is getting democratised with easy, economical access to the best resources. Employees can be encouraged to complete these courses and acquire relevant certifications. These budgets will not break the bank while at the same time will make an enormous difference to the employee and the organisation.

 – Learning on the go has become necessary. People are learning from podcasts, YouTube videos and the like, while travelling or whenever they have free time. Rather than frown upon such use of their time, HR can be more liberal and progressive.

 – With all learning, you ‘use it or lose it’. So, we need to create opportunities for employees to apply their learning and give them the freedom to fail.

 – A lot of the learning happens outside of our comfort zone. So, the time-honoured traditions of stretch assignments, job rotations and exposure to multiple geographies are still very valuable.

#MeToo – Safeguard leaders or the employees: role of HR

#MeToo has brought sharp focus on an important issue today. This movement is an effort to create awareness for gender balance and remove ill practices attached to it. HR has several roles and responsibilities in the way this plays out in organisations.

First, organisations need to create a safe place to work, where everyone feels welcome. While the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act in India concerns itself only with sexual harassment of women, HR has to uphold the law in letter and spirit and prevent harassment of all kinds. This includes having a functional and empowered Internal Committee and setting the right behaviours through exemplary action.

“#MeToo has brought out stories of women who lost out on their careers or were victims of unfair appraisals, because of the power asymmetry.”

Like with everything else, prevention is better than cure. There is therefore a very important role of creating awareness and communication. This includes e-learning modules on what is appropriate and what is not, gender sensitivity workshops and ample

Quite often, #MeToo has brought out stories of women who lost out on their careers or were victims of unfair appraisals, because of the power asymmetry. HR and C-suite leaders need to ensure fairness, transparency and speed in acting on these matters. An organisation pays a heavy price if it is seen as shielding the wrongdoers. It will need to apply consistent yardsticks regardless of the seniority of the person.

It is often said ‘people may not do what I say but will do what I do’. Leadership behaviours are watched closely by all employees and it is important to ensure people take the right messages.

Lastly, in a perverse turn of events #MeToo can end up as #NotHer because organisations start to become wary of recruiting women. This is dangerous and HR needs to be the gatekeeper to ensure there is no discrimination whatsoever.

HR technology is no longer a forms automation system but a true system of productivity

Yes and more.

If there is one sub-function within HR that is undergoing disruptive change, it is HR technology. Analytics, social media and ubiquitous computing have already revolutionised HR. The way employees interact with HR, the way they learn and the way recruiters interface with candidates are illustrations of how much of an impact HR Technology has already had.

There is more to come. I believe, in the coming few years AI will make serious inroads in areas, such as candidate assessment and employee- response systems.

There will still be a place for the human touch, no doubt, for while reliability and responsiveness can improve with technology, empathy will still come only from the people.

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