Thursday, 17 November 2016

Meeting the 'Real needs'of Customers by HR

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This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Management section – “Avenues” of the reputed Deccan Herald newspaper published from Bangalore  . Allowance may kindly be given for the time warp… For one you will see the word “Personnel “also used along with “HR” to refer to the function.

As I go down the memory lane, an incident in the early eighties comes to mind. I was then a young personnel officer.It was around 3 PM in the afternoon. I was accompanying my colleague who was few years senior to me in age and experience, on a visit to the shop floor. Even as we were passing through some shops of the factory, my colleague kept dishing out  his comments- "These shop floor fellows are all crooks. They don't want us to come here since all their shortcomings will be exposed.These engineers generate a lot of scrap and wastage which they don't want us to see." For my part, I was feeling very uncomfortable. I was hoping to myself that he at least speaks softly. What if someone heard us? What would he think? I was still fresh from college and was not aware of the "they"and "us"mindset.

Later on I realized that the engineers and technical personnel reciprocated similar feelings. They see the personnel guys as problem creators rather than problem solvers; people who are to be avoided and feared rather than to be looked up to for help. At best they can be useful for passing on some HR or disciplinary problem. To cite an example, here is an incident that happened during an  evening class in October 1989 when the students at Max Muller Bhavan including me, were taking a tea break in between German lessons. One of the participants asked me the company I was working for and the functional area. The moment I answered "HR", she became visibly hostile and agitated. This person who was working in a manufacturing company, it appears  had had an unpleasant experience with the personnel department. On hearing the commotion, some others who were mostly working in software firms intervened.They could not understand what the fuss was all about.To them HR guys were quite nice and certainly not obnoxious or harmful.

The functional approach to management, over the years has defeated the very essence and  purpose of service departments. They tend to forget the big holistic  picture of the total organization. HR, finance and other staff functions were envisaged to provide service to those engaged in core activities such as that  employees are free in the mind to totally concentrate on their work , ensuring the standards of quantity and quality. Unfortunately the "Service" departments got bogged down in establishing their importance by insisting on rigid rules and interpreting them  as they deemed fit at different points of time.  

Such interpretations were more to establish their supremacy and not necessarily in the overall interests of the organization or the employee.If some money is due to an employee as arrears, the accounts department does not pay it automatically but expects him to approach them eagerly and make a formal request in writing. Given the attitude and approach of the service departments it is no wonder that an employee expends a good deal of time worrying about correctly getting his salary/ fringe benefits and fairly his promotion/ placements etc. These worries and distractions mean that the performance of the employee is adversely affected.

Marketing employees working directly in the field know the importance of taking care of the customers. They can immediately see the impact of any complacency reflected in loss of orders/business. Yet the question arises as to how the end product given to the customer can be excellent if all the processes in between do not maintain a standard of excellence? Here the concept of internal customer becomes very important. It is only when the maintenance department provides a thorough and prompt service to its customer namely production that the commitment to the external customer in terms of prompt delivery and quality can be ensured. The same is the case with all areas including staff functions whose quality of service impacts the end product.

It is clear that  HRDians will have to devote more time to understanding the business of their companies and focus on the actual needs as perceived by their internal customers.According to Ms Annie Fisher, a New York based management thinker, the HR personnel need to sit down and figure out the 'real work' and see how they could make themselves essential to its execution.The 'real work'may include addressing company's travails in the market place, deadlines that must be be met,and competitions that must be bested. In this regard, instead of reeling out words like change management, diversity, team work,, learning organization etc.Ms Fisher stresses that the focus should be on what those engineers/ internal customers are concerned about ( absenteeism? high turnover? attracting talented employees?) and coming out with concrete ways to help.

Conscious effort to get the entire team tuned to serving "internal customers"is the need of the hour.The mindset that "things should be done the way we have always done" is a major obstacle to a shift in approach.Yet as Eric Hoffer, author says "In times of massive change it is the learner who will inherit the earth, while the learned stay elegantly tied to a world that no longer exists." HRDians would do well to introspect on the "Nine sins of HRD managers"enumerated by professor T.V.Rao namely (1) Not knowing enough about the business of the company (2) Not knowing much about the customers of the company (3) spending 10 percent more on recruitment and visiting campuses for it (4) not spending enough time on performance review and feedback of subordinates in HR departments (5) not visiting employees at their work places (6) undue efforts to furnish HRD department and make it look distinctive and attractive (7) influencing rewards and promotion decisions (8) playing "Yes sir" to CEO (9) overemphasizing only one HR system like performance appraisal or training.

Addressing the above points would to a large extent contribute to the basic theme of this article viz healthy relationship between the customer and the supplier for mutual benefit and benefit of the organization.For what place does mistrust have in a partnership or in a customer- supplier relationship? There cannot be any doubt that mistrust has to be removed.It has to be replaced by mutual respect and concern.If there is a tiff in a marital relationship, it may be a point of debate as to who, whether the husband or the wife should take the first step at reconciliation.

However, there can be no such doubts when the relationship involved is between a supplier and his internal customer. HRDians who are the suppliers will have to take the first step to gain the confidence of their customers- articulate that they really care about them and can contribute meaningfully towards accomplishing the 'real work' as perceived by the customers.Having gained the confidence of the customer that his basic concern and that of HR is the same , the supplier and customer can together take bigger steps for building a healthy, harmonious and charged work environment. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Webinar- Transition from Founder to CXO

Grey tip Software Pvt Ltd is a software solutions company in the HR domain that seeks to provide relevant and cost effective solutions to corporates worldwide. The areas covered include employee information management, leave and attendance management, training, appraisals, compensation etc. As a part of value addition and customer engagement, the company organizes "expert webinar series"  periodically on topics of interest and of benefit to their customers.There are many customers who are start ups with few years of existence. Hence the relevance of doing a webinar on the subject , which happened on 28th Sept'16. 

The expert who interacted with the participants was Mr. Rakesh Mishra, Co-founder & CEO, Excubator India whose company has been helping start-up companies to set up high-performance incubators.  I got to attend this webinar on the invitation of a friend Mr Sayeed Anjum, Co-founder & CTO, Grey tip, I am happy I accepted the invite since it turned out to be a very informative and insightful session. The webinar kicked off with Mr Dinesh Babu, Application Trainer, Grey tip, introducing the speaker and the subject . He said that the top challenges for young companies in the 21st century are having a mission and vision, raising funds, hiring the right employees and managing them

Mr Rakesh Mishra began the session underscoring the fact that the role of the founder changes as the company grows and many new challenges are confronted by him/ her.The company moves from the seed phase to the stabilization phase and then to the growth and evolution phases. In the initial stages passion and dedication could primarily be the driving force that propels the creation of the company. At the stabilization phase however, you realize that you need to start focusing on a vision and that a different kind of leadership which  is more structured becomes essential. The transition calls for changes in aspects such as core attitudes, skills & competencies,  growth as an entrepreneur and sharpening of role design in terms of what you do and how you operate..

The founder needs to introspect and get clarity for himself  as to what role he is now playing- CEO? CFO? COO? It is essential  to acknowledge that some founders may not necessarily fit in to the role of a CXO. It is this clarity that would lead to role design sharpening and facilitate the founder to contribute effectively in the present times as well. Managing the transition from the seed phase to the stabilization phase and beyond  would involve the following:

Managing the business effectively  

An important aspect here would be moving from doing to leading. It is necessary to recognize one's limitations, protect quality and control economics as you scale. It also means facing what doesn't work and maturing functional processes in terms of  financial, hiring, procurement etc.Proper processes need to be in place as you grow bigger, as reputation issues become more important.

Building the organization

At this stage building the organizational culture, developing leaders,selling the vision, communicating and drawing up responsibility matrix etc is very important. One has to guard against the tendency to become disconnected on moving to senior positions. One relevant question that needs to be asked is "What do I have in my organization in terms of culture in various areas like collaboration, growth prospects,ability of employees to move to the next role, delegating and developing leaders? " If this is not done, the founder will end up doing everything himself.The staff would still be depending too much on him. The founder would do well to hire and groom someone   better than him.

Selling vision and communicating

The vision of the company needs to be developed and communicated widely throughout the organization to ensure that everyone is on the same page.There should a clearly defined responsibility matrix with everyone being clear about their roles.

Building growth horizon

From the stage of a start up, as the company matures, it needs to have growth horizons short term and long term ranging  from 3 years to 5 years  and 10 years. Horizon 1 would be focusing on defending the existing core in terms of existing markets and existing solutions. Expanding the core would be the Horizon 2 wherein new  markets and solutions get attention. The focus in   Horizon 3 would be Transformative growth when questions of the amount of investment in R&D  , leadership talent that would be available  after a time span of say10 years etc get priority attention.

Building  growth horizon would involve seeding new markets for products and services, providing cross functional innovation support system, arresting activities of  silo functioning  and encouraging a team working culture.

Managing corporate governance

As the transition happens from a young company to a mature company the processes in place for a transparent corporate governance is very significant.This will need to address the following effectively:

-    Develop policy infrastructure:   Proper documentation and processes in areas such as procurement, compensation etc.

-    Manage the Board of Directors:  More external members get inducted in to the board as the company grows.Alignment with them becomes a crucial requirement.

-   Manage investor expectations :  The bigger the company, the more engagement would it have with its investors. IPOs etc are  likely to be issued and hence more transparency about projections and focus on meeting investor's'expectations.

- Manage Compliance : When  a small company, compliance of all kinds  may be viewed as a necessary evil. For a bigger company its credibility and reputation is at stake and therefore it is necessary to manage in a more thorough fashion for ensuring strict compliance.

Work and life discipline  

The speaker Mr Rakesh Mishra explained how there is a lot of passion at the founding stage.Later the passion tends to get dissipated and one may feel exhausted. Looking at the next ten years can be challenging. Every human being has to pay attention to his family and his health also while focusing on his career.
The CXO is not a settling down role and  the incumbent  is required to continuously focus on the Growth and long term vision. In the process, the family or one's health may get ignored. Small activities addressing these needs are to be done; "collective wellness" is the key and not just the business.Your own 'machine' should be strong and powerful enough to meet the challenges in all fronts.

In the question- answer time, the question posed was "How do you solve the problem of  managers behaving like CXOs and stifling the juniors from expressing themselves and being visible to the senior level?"
The solution suggested was  informal meetings over lunch or tea where juniors can interact with the senior executive  without the presence of their immediate managers or supervisors.It was suggested that  HR can facilitate such meetings.    

Note: CXO is a short way to refer, collectively, to corporate executives at what is sometimes called the C-level, whose job titles typically start with "Chief" and end with "Officer."
  Officers who hold C-level positions are typically considered the most powerful and influential members of an organization; consequently, they make higher-stakes decisions, their workload is more demanding, and they have relatively high salaries.

CXO titles include CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer)

CIO (Chief Information Officer), CCO (Chief Compliance Officer), CSO (Chief Security Officer)