On the one hand, there is general recognition and even acceptance that of all the factors that can lead to competitive advantage, human productivity is a vital metric. Thus, we have a paradoxical situation in which at the macro-level HR is eulogised for its contribution to the achievement of an organization’s goals while at the micro-level HR is lambasted for its alleged insensitivity to employee concerns.
HR has indeed come a long way since the days of “Personnel Management and Industrial Relations.” Yet the fact remains that a large part of the mind-set that characterized the earlier era continues to this day. With rare exceptions, HR’s objectives are often perceived to be an extension of management’s objectives and not that of the employees. The chasm between the notion of a Learning Organization (SENGE) and the reality is visible and tragic.
If one were to go by the comments of many participants, there does seem to be a problem with the manner in which HR is managed. A number of practitioners with whom I have interacted corroborate the fact that in a typical organization, the moment a strategy issue comes up in a meeting, the HR manager excuses herself. If execution is the key to success (RAM CHARAN) and execution is dependent on people, such a disengagement of HR from key strategic processes is strange and difficult to comprehend.
A superimposition of the gamut of HR roles from recruitment to retention on the high attrition rates observed in most sectors would inevitably lead to the conclusion that something is amiss. Again the perception appears to be that of HR as a harbinger of rules, regulations and procedures and not as an integrating force to inject synergy into an organization. This is a far cry from JACK WELCH’s notion of the borderless organization wherein both the artificial compartmentalization into functions and asymmetries resulting from tall hierarchies are sought to be dismantled.
With the complexity of the modern organization adding to the pressures of semi-globalization and mobility of people increasing by the day, HR can still play a vital role if it reorients towards the “big picture” instead of micro-managing everyone in the organization. Obviously, the role of the leader assumes added significance since a cultural change can only be driven from the top. Leaders need to recognize that capabilities and competencies can only be built through people. The obsession with tangible resources should give way to nurturing the most vital asset of all – people. It would then be possible for HR to provide an invisible bond that would propel the organization to new heights.
If leaders ignore the early warning signs and continue to use HR for their “carrot and stick” philosophy, the disenchantment would grow and the noise against HR would only become shriller. One hopes this does not happen. After all, no organization can do away with any function altogether. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an organization is only as strong as its least efficient function.