Growing Vertebrae: Mr. Shashikant speaks at THRG

[This is a summary of the speech of Mr H R Shashikant, Group HR Head, Aditya Birla Group at the meeting of Thane HR Group on March 12, 2011. This summary is prepared by Ms Sonali Sarma, Head L&D, ACC Cement on my request, and she was helped by Kavi, Head L&D, Asian Paints; my thanks to both of them. This is the 99th post on this blog!]

Mr. Shashikant Group Head HR of the Aditya Birla Group, addressed the Thane HR fraternity on the evening of Saturday the 12th of March. Using the outside to inside focus he gave the HR professionals a glimpse into the future of the profession, of the skills it would require and most of all made each person in the group introspect on what “sort of a HR professional one was and what would be required to remain a good HR professional in the future” .Every sensitive & thinking participant left with a question

“Do I have the courage of conviction to act and do as I see right & best for my organization, for my profession and most importantly for myself?”

He predicted that India would continue to grow at a rate of around 6% GDP & China at about 8%, this growth would be both in the manufacturing and services sectors. The US would grow at a steady pace of 3% and the European union at about 2.1 %. However the world employment will grow at meager 0.8%, yet around 40% of that employment would be fueled by India and China. That being so, the cutting edge requirement in market would not be product or cost but service differentiation. The reason is clear; the former two would not bring in much difference as much as “human touch” would. If the Human touch is to be the single differentiating factor for industries to be competitive, Shashi says, “You as the HR professional would have your job at least for the next ten years”. Yet the job would be different, the employer expectations would be different and the context would have changed.

Global companies would require HR professionals who would understand the local mindset and local companies would want HR professionals who would operate with the Global mindset. Workforce retention would remain and rather rise to be an issue to reckon with. Employees would choose to be in a large or small company, global or local company, depending on what stage of life & experience they would be at. The Employee relation professional or the yesteryears which India has collectively lost will be back in demand. The OD professional with depth of knowledge in understanding individual, group and organization behavior would be required. Both these persons would be required to do a stellar role in the future. Professionals with high collaboration skills, problem solving skills would be sought after.

Organizations will require good grievance redressal systems. Safety at Work will become very important. Safety not only in terms of having an accident free workplace, but having a secure and safe work place. Does the organization make women feel safe? Is it supportive of the differently abled people? Has it taken care of these seemingly small but eminently present micro inequities?

If these be the challenges of tomorrow, Shashi propounded that it is obvious that the HR professional of the morrow would require to drive employee trust. He would need to understand people and be one amongst them and not the one sitting away in a virtual office somewhere. The OD professional would need to design and develop organizational initiatives which would enable the leadership to steer the organization through tumultuous times, not once but many times over. The Compensation and Benefit professional would remain as a specialist. The learning and development professional will be outsourced to shared services and work from consulting organizations.

If the HR professional needs to champion the cause of the employees and also balance it out with needs of the business then it is imperative that the person knows a bit of business, bit of production & process, a bit of Sales and marketing and has a lot of functional depth and expertise in at least two pillars/two areas of his own function. If the HR professional is to act as an internal consultant to his own production and sales staff, he needs to be able to give more to the line manager than what he knows already. Needs to mirror to them what actions they are taking, what they could do better or differently. In other words as quoted by Ram Charan in an interview with Shashikant, “the HR professional needs to know the basic guts of the business”. All managers need predictability. The deliverables have to be specific, on time, always without fail. Is the HR professional ready to guarantee that predictability in a constantly changing business environment? Ultimately the hands that reduce and the feet that sell are the Heroes & Heroines, all others are character actors.

All this lead to one very central and important question, that Shashi asked the audience,” Do we as HR professionals have the “Courage of Conviction” to stand up, vouch for a different and better way of doing things, are we ready to put our necks on the chopping block for that?”. This was the central theme of Shashi’s talk. He quoted many examples from industry, some from his experiences which portrayed how each and every time he personally had to stand up for what he believed in, he needed to bring in multiple data points. The ability to look for this data, present it and relate it, draw correlations to the problem at hand, is one of the strong skills which would be required of an HR professional worth his backbone! After all opinion is discounted, but data counts!

If the HR professional could do this, stand up for the values of his profession, prove his mettle with data then he would also become central to the organization rather than remain a “midwife”.

Shashi said that conviction comes from the deep knowledge of one’s own function and courage comes from one’s own value systems and from the point of time in life or the compelling circumstances that a person is at that time. Both these together help the HR professional either to stand firm and make the right choice or merely flow and drift with the current. Growing vertebrae, developing a backbone is a function of this courage of conviction.