“Straight from the Heart : Thoughts and experiences of an HR professional” is a book by Rajeev Moothedath. As the author says diverse subjects that affect the HR professionals are discussed in the book. Sweeping issues under the carpet will not help in solving them. It is only after the first step of ‘acceptance’ happens, that we will be able to move forward. Time has come for HR professionals to stop treading the same beaten path. It is necessary to understand the needs of the internal customers, empathise with them and accept their inputs before embarking on solutions that are more suited to the local situations according to the author. These views of the author are conveyed in 33 brief articles under four sections : Direction and signposts, Leadership thoughts, Experiments in L and D, and Introspection and way forward.
The author examines the eastern and western perspectives. In the eastern tradition it is always the collective that comes first. Individualism on the other hand is paramount in the western culture. As all the countries of the world are now increasingly influenced by the West, individualism has begun to dominate all aspects of life. The joint family system, with its merits and demerits, has given way for nuclear families. The schools focus on competition and becoming toppers with little or very little focus on winning as a team and supporting each other. No wonder then that in corporates the buzz word is talent management.
Performance appraisals are now being done on the basis of the percentile system. This system compares employees with each other and assesses as to who among them are outstanding, good, and who are average and below average. In one company, I have seen employees working with a lot of expectations prior to the annual appraisals. Once the results are out, if they got a high rating or promotion they smile. If not, the chest caves in and for the next three months they just go through the motions unable to concentrate on the job. It takes a while for them to pick up the pieces and slowly move towards performing normally or enthusiastically. Towards the end of the year, it is once again frenzied activities and high expectations. Then the appraisal results are out and the cycle continues depending on what rating a person got. Similar responses from employees are observed in other companies following the percentile and the bell curve in their appraisal system under which no matter how well they perform, team members are essentially to be placed in a curve with some rated average or below average. While lip sympathy is extensively given to the word “team work”, employees know that in the real world out there, one has to be constantly in competition to get ahead.
People will exhibit that behaviour that is encouraged and recognized, and not what we just talk about as important. If we want people to exhibit team behaviour, those who exhibit this behaviour needs to be honoured and a team’s contribution assessed and rewarded rather than an individual’s. Training departments need to focus on building skills of teams rather than those of individuals. The author stresses that it is high time that we stopped aping the West blindly but understand our own motivations and drives. We may find that our calmness, clarity of purpose and collective desire to win are much more powerful than individual brilliance that does not have the support and cooperation of other team members.
All companies have their DNAs and corporate values are signposts, says Rajeev. One quality or characteristic that sets apart a well-aligned, highly energised unit is the clarity about what is important for the unit, what is negotiable and what is not. As for example if ‘truth’ is important for a family, all members including the youngest child knows this and will take a stand on it without compromise. In the same manner in a factory, if ‘Quality’ is a core value for the organization, every one across the organization is clear about this and any suggestion from anyone to compromise it in any manner would be refused by even a junior member of the team without a second thought.
“Matching the job and the man is the key” is what we were told in 1980 when I passed out, writes the author. In 2002, it cannot be said differently. Yet experience tells us that this is a tough task. There is a gap between text books and the nitty gritty realities of the industry. There are too many compulsions particularly in a country with a huge population meaning pressure to accommodate those who are less than a perfect match. Even after providing employment, not much effort is made to ascertain and analyse the natural aptitude of the candidate while placing him or her. There are even instances of employees sent abroad for intensive technical training at a considerable expense to the organization, being posted to unrelated areas on their return from training. These things happen because in our country many of us still believe that what actually matters is the production volumes, and that appropriate placements and other such exercises merely distract attention from the core purpose of achieving targets. Yet it is only the employees with correct fit who can meet the requirements of the demanding customers of today.
Every human being has his strength areas in which he can naturally excel. If the person is provided an encouraging environment in which his natural instincts and abilities can blossom, excellence is assured. However signals given to a young person starting on a career are to choose a profession that is very lucrative or held in high esteem in terms of status rather than one’s natural aptitude.
The author draws the attention to a situation after an engineer has secured employment. In a government department, he is given designations of junior engineer, senior engineer, superintending engineer, etc. All the while he is reminded of the fact that he is an engineer. In an industry, however the engineer is designated as junior manager, assistant manager, manager and so on. He is constantly reminded that whatever might be his core calling, his contribution would be measured against managerial competencies. Little wonder then that after the initial anxiety and interest to understand the basic technical process of the industry, the focus of the engineer shifts to planning, organizing, directing and controlling. The author stresses that if the employee has the full freedom to devote his time and energy to what he has as the natural aptitude and training, without the fear that his future prospects in terms of status or monetary benefits would be adversely affected, best results can be assured. In the instant case an engineer can concentrate on continuous improvement of technical processes, quality issues, avoiding rejections, etc. without being burdened with the problems of man management. Another person having a natural flair and training for administration can take care of the planning, organizing, directing and controlling activities. Both can work shoulder to shoulder solving the problems of the shop floor together without feeling threatened by the other, their roles being clear cut. They feel safe with the knowledge that at a particular level in the organizational hierarchy both enjoy the same facilities whether monetary or other office privileges like personal transport.
The author presents the concept of “Appreciative inquiry” (AI) developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastava. It is a step by step methodology of using appreciation as the base for dreaming, developing action plan and implementing them for a better reality. AI can be described as an effective OD tool for bringing about positive changes in social settings, schools/colleges or corporates. The five phases of AI are Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny/Delivery. While putting into practice AI process in its totality could get big results. If we want our employees to be more motivated and contribute more, we need to appreciate what they are already doing well instead of always trying to find or look out for the shortcomings.
Today, we are living in a world of stiff competition observes the author. There is a mad rush to reach the finishing line any way. In line with the Western thought, the feeling in the industrial circles in our country also is that ‘individual’ is the saviour and ‘individualism’ is the panacea for everything. The term ‘team work’ is merely good to parrot and pay lip sympathy to. As a result, although everyone claims to work as a team for beating the competition, they have no qualms about tripping a teammate or company mate in order to be the star performer. In our haste we tend to look for short cuts and disrespect the basics. Quality for example can be a casualty in the number game. The basics which include respect for a fellow human being may seem old fashioned. Yet there are some things like politeness, integrity and respect which can never go out of fashion.
“Straight from the Heart” is a compendium of perceptions and views of an HR professional with more than three decades of experience. A careful editing would have strengthened the publication of the occasional articles into a book. The panel discussion and NIPM conference proceedings are avoidable additions. On the whole, a welcome contribution to the growing HR literature.