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BW Businessworld

HR: Fuelling Business

“Trouble results when the speed of growth exceeds the speed of nurturing human resources. To use the analogy of growth rings in a tree, when unusually rapid growth caused the rings to grow abnormally thick, the tree trunk weakens and is easily broken” — Akiyo Toyoda, President Toyota Motor Corporation

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Kaizad Nariman sat at the Precinct Club waiting for his guest Manu Madhav to arrive. This was an important meeting and Kaizad felt that these unplanned meetings were leading up to something better for JustOrder, a home delivery food start-up, which he had invested in along with several others.

Last week, Kaizad, one of the promoters of JustOrder (often referred to as JO) had an unscheduled meeting with a customer, Sanjeev Rishi of Wordsmith-4. He had felt compelled by a letter Sanjeev had written to JO about an order he had placed, which had disappointed him. They met, they talked about JO’s difficulties and dreams and Sanjeev had been greatly surprised that JO did not have an HR department (Read Part 1 ‘An Order Gone Wrong’ in BW issue dated 22 June 2017). In the end, Sanjeev had suggested that JO needed to invest in HR.

The idea had not pleased Kaizad and they had talked about it for a while. Kaizad resisted as he knew the young team would be most unhappy. “…they won’t hear of it,” he said.

Sanjeev: That day when my Prime Rib Steak Sandwich went wrong, have you been able to establish what went wrong with that order?

Kaizad: Where do I begin and who do I ask?

Sanjeev: Exactly! Exactly my point! A people business must have people based systems and that is why HR!

Kaizad: But we are so tight on budgets. We are small, trying to achieve big results with small means! Then again, since everyone works on his own steam I wonder if anyone can really adhere to rule making.

Sanjeev:  Let me introduce you to a very good friend and HR thinker, Manu Madhav. He will tell you what HR does for building a good organisation. He is better placed to help you. I only have a ringside view of HR but cannot transfer that understanding to you. So, meet Manu…

That was how Kaizad was meeting Manu. And as Manu walked in, Kaizad took one look at him and felt greatly reassured. As they began to talk, Kaizad could tell that his meeting was going to be most useful.

Manu: Every organisation, however maverick its orientation, however young its team, will need people, will need skills, will be working at growth, will need to be guided by systems. For, there is the everyday need to transact successfully, and the long-term need for stability. Just like money,  you need both, working capital and wealth accrual. The long term beckons even as the short term is playing out. Then again, where you have people as resources, there will be interpersonal relations at play. And then, you need someone to manage relationships. Very simply right now, take a look at your fouled-up order. How will you…

Kaizad: Pin blame?

Manu: No! Exactly the contrary – share the learnings and help establish collective ownership. This is not about blame. It is about auditing a system to find out why it failed. Because that is where success lies. Systems are played by people and systems fail when people fail them. People don’t mean to fail the system but sometimes we unwittingly get ahead of ourselves…. Clockwork is what makes systems succeed and, for that, you need accountability, responsibility… these are owned by humans not systems.

Then there is another angle that I love playing up: the emotive power of humans. Humans come with a head and a heart, Kaizad. The head adheres to systems. The heart creates magic! Organisations must therefore, galvanise the emotive side of people, to bring about purpose, to bring about fulfilment.

Like money and wealth, there is another pair that operates: success and fulfilment. Success is getting what you want and fulfilment is wanting what you get. Likewise, for an organisation too, there is the success part, where there are some measurable tangible ‘must haves’; and there is the higher order purpose, a vision that is achieved through capturing the imagination and the hearts of the people to make that magic happen. Together with people’s hearts and the organisation’s dream and vision, you create the DNA for fulfilment!

The ingredients that go into this are a combination of capability, culture, the ‘how’ of inter-personal communication, clarity of the vision, of the purpose; these come together to create success. But organisations that go beyond, are the ones that move into the next level, the fulfilment zone of its higher purpose, the ‘what we stand for’ of their credo. In this zone, organisations lift the hearts and minds of people to this purpose, where everyone sees the goal as “our goal”. And that unified vision, over a period of time, galvanises daily action. It becomes the habit for the organisation.

So, what I am saying is, while you can create a habit for success, you can also create a habit for fulfilment Kaizad!

Kaizad was overwhelmed with the connections that Manu was making. “Awesome thought,” he said. “ Well, we did not think of all this when we set up!”

Manu: And that is why HR. Good HR will start with success and fulfilment. For these can be the concerns of only humans and can be delivered only by human resources.

As the everyday successes are shepherded, the environment for fulfilment is also developing, growing. No doubt, there is your output and productivity and scale and complexity and so on; and your product, your service, your market, connect you to the customer; but the key is, moving from ‘doing’, to ‘becoming’ and to ‘being’ as the journey. So ‘doing’ is conscious – all the routine acts of organisation. Becoming successful, is dependent on what you ‘do’ and how you ‘are’ (‘being’). If JO does what it does with the right intention of becoming what you have defined for yourself as a goal, say – the finest, healthiest door delivery food organisation’, then there have to be in place certain standards and values that every team member adopts and makes his own.

But ‘becoming’ is the stage where you are still thinking about success and working with the elements everyday. Guiding you in this are the founders, the promoters, the directors, the strategy builders who are the essential architects of your vision, including idols and ideals. Take a family. As a child, you are taught values, ingrained and instructed.... then, you are shown the behaviours of people around and you see and learn about rewards and recognitions, the shame and the failures, right and wrong actions and responses... with the grandparents as direction setters and parents as implementers.

Watching, imbibing, learning, a person ‘becomes’ a personality, develops a personality. From learning to becoming is all this and something beyond. That beyond is how you, as boss, fire the imagination of people collectively.

Kaizad: I like the family analogy… that inspiration, that culture, like the family... so perfect... as you grow you learn absorb and become. And then, you say,
‘Where we come from we do not do this or that…’

Manu: Correct! So, you learn, you observe, you do, you get reinforcement, you learn the consequences through experience, then slowly and steadily the synaptic connections of the mind become a part of your mental culture, of that family's culture. Or the parampara of a family at a macro level and sanskaar at an individual level. But truth is, these are the building blocks of how you create success for yourself at an everyday transactional level first, and thence, fulfilment for the longer term. So, what we will come to see is that, whatever situation people find themselves in, their learning is so deeply ingrained in their belief system, that they behave in a consistent manner; which means it has entered the realm of their habit.

Kaizad: Hence the emphasis on grooming and counsel in the family?

Manu: Absolutely. Where does a child get his conduct from? From grooming. Now, translate this into the workplace: when these ingredients abound in an organisation, where everyone believes in the values and ethos carved by the organisation, they go on to shape a person so sharply that he will deliver the same quality and with the same integrity, supervised or not. That is when culture can be defined as: what people do even when no one is watching.

Great organisations that ‘deliver 100 per cent’ do so not because somebody is watching them; great organisations are not doing what they do because it will bring them success. Yes, it means success to them but that is not why they are doing it right. They are doing it because they have already gone into that orbit where this is just the way of their life. That is how they are. From becoming efficient, perfect organisations, to being efficient, perfect, that has been their great journey.

So, the McKinsey way, the HP way, the GE way, the Microsoft way... are all ways where people are ‘put into’ that ‘way’, they enter that ‘way’ and, over time, you cannot behave in any other way than ‘that way’ in that organisation. You are the ‘way’!

Kaizad: So, how do you enable the becoming and the being in an organisation?

Manu: That is why, HR; both those roles are enabled by HR. The first one, is the doing and becoming role – the first stage of an organisation’s expression in business and establishing itself as a strong industry player – in its everyday conduct, responses, behaviour and thought. And the second is the ‘being’ role – the right HR leader has the capacity to lead the organisation from doing actions right, to ‘being’ consistently value driven.

Therefore, the function of HR is not just the aspect of systems and processes, scale and competency, but also aligning people’s hearts and minds such that you create the right DNA for the organisation.

Kaizad: Manu, this was an eye opener to what great institutions think of when they are in business. But, tell me, how does HR enable the everyday behaviour or response of an organisation as a collective?

Manu: Like organisations grow and have needs, people too grow and have needs. Today all these boys are friends. Tomorrow they will gain experience and will either want out or will seek stock options or shares. Finally, everyone has a dream, see? Do you have a plan for retention?

Kaizad laughed. Shaking his head he said, “These are big stuff! We are barely getting our rib steaks right!”

Manu (laughing): That too! And no, these are not ‘big stuff’, my friend, they are just the bare essentials. Ok, let me tell you this story differently. Say, you have a 18-year-old, yet in college, who plans to go to grad school. What would you do?

Kaizad: Oh, that is different. In fact, I do have an 18-year-old and she is so darn clear she is going to be in market research. (And then, there was no stopping Kaizad). ...but yes, I have to get her prepped for her GRE and Toefl, I believe, there are tutorials you can enroll for and better your scores, and soon, we will make a visit to some colleges to prepare a short list …

Manu smiled. “And she is barely getting her rib steaks right at 18…”

“What?” asked Kaizad and, then, it went home. “Oh!... yes, ha ha…” he said happily.

Manu: And that is what HR does too. Preps you for the long haul. Except, in the case of a startup, the path too must be plotted by the management and promoters. And plotting includes watching out for speed breakers and pot holes.

Thus, we come to the everyday business. Hence, protecting your people. Just because they are all good workers does not mean it will not be a bumpy ride. There will be conflicts that can creep into good living. They can be tiring, exhausting. I recall a time when a team I was working with got so aggressive on the assignment, they rubbished a lady team member rather abrasively. They were young and unkempt and hasty. The gender is only incidental, so that is not the point. As it happened, the lady was going through a really bad spot in life (her husband had been dating another woman) and she was under pressure from family to stay on while she wanted out. Not a soul, trust me, not a soul had any idea of her problems. And the team’s response to one of her financial projections hit her exactly where her husband had punched her: rejection. The poor thing keeled over and went into depression.

Now examine, Kaizad, teams play rough games. It is normal. But what do you do when you hurt someone unwittingly on a fresh wound? We were so darn lucky to have cottoned on to the underlying problem, thanks entirely to a hardy HR that gathered Leela and took her far away to heal her and then they brought the team together and did a beautiful session that drove home the need for ubuntu as an underlying attitude. Kaizad, this episode is nine years old, and that team continues to produce great work!

The people who come to work are driven by passion to perform and produce. As well as a love for home and family. In the workplace, you have to manage a total composite personality. That is the greatness of a good leadership. That needs infrastructure – intellectual and physical.

What we are focused on just now is funds and finance. That is key to our survival. We have what it takes and we need to be sure our investors are many and remain inspired. At this stage then, to have a monitoring system that shackles… maybe some other day we can return to this thought. Right now, everyone is working at tension point, I don’t feel ready to add a new element.

Manu: Revenue and funds cannot be seen in isolation. To maximise earnings you need to control costs and outflows, no? And you are already in a high-risk category, startups fail more frequently than the big, established ones do. Yet, the buzz for startups is huge. Everyone coming out of grad school looks at startups to work in, despite the risk.

And don’t forget – when your team is young, and nimble fingered with their keyboards, you will have situations that will cause you social embarrassment and image disaster. Listen to this: In 2009, a young student who had an internship offer from Cisco, tweeted – partly excited, partly mindlessly – what is common on social media – opining etc, opining for no reason: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now, I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

The tweet was noticed, word went out fast and the internship was withdrawn.

Kaizad: And how is that damaging?

Manu: Take a look, first her tweet went worldwide, then she was given a name by trollers ‘Cisco Fatty’, then someone set up a website to gather all the trolls and infamy, people need any excuse to lampoon someone they don’t even know!

My point is, the internet gets the organisation name in mud as fast as it can get an employee fired from a job. She lost face and a job, but the name ‘Cisco’ went on trolls, crazy number of times, but with it, went an image that someone out there thought that working for you is not fun. That correlation gets engraved on the pages for life. It is not a nice image for your people to experience.

Kaizad: Social media has actually complicated what used to be simple once. Online allegations can be suspect…

Manu: Can be. And till proven, you are paying hell! Today, women, having found their courage do not feel anxious about revealing that they were assaulted or attacked or propositioned. Since they are here to work and contribute, they are rightly annoyed by men who continue to reach for them as objects of consumption. And the more they are committed to work, the louder their voices.

The internet gives you a quasi anonymity that makes it easier to reveal that you were harassed. But your doubts are valid. So that JO does not become a victim, you must provide for rules and processes both for the women who will work here and for the men who may be in the wrong, or mistakenly blamed. If you want to ensure a balanced environment, you need to have processes. I can’t emphasise the need more. Funnily, the law is unique: the aggressor, the wrong doer, can actually obtain a High Court order restraining the media from writing about the allegations against him. But there is no legal clarity on whether the same can apply to social media taunts! People are happier using social media than mainstream media, because social media puts the pen in your hand and removes the middleman – the reporter, who can gravy a news report for eyeballs..

Even if there was no social media, you need to have a balance between goals and means. The means used can sometimes be very damaging.

So, will you be juggling all this and more. Things have changed so much with the changing of the economy, technology, workplace demographics, and changing social mores. Managing people and relationships has become more complex. So yes, it is to a large part the changing profile of the world we live in.

As they talked, the news from the TV screen made them both stop and read slowly as the ticker tape spat out the news, a word at a time. Uber’s CEO had announced he was going on leave to reinvent himself. There had been a slew of top-level attrition at Uber and some investigations into workplace culture, one among them being alcohol on the job, sexual harassment allegations, and other wrong doing that was affecting the image of the company.

The news also reported that Uber was embarking ‘on a sweeping reorganisation to ensure executives are more closely supervised by its board’. And the news reiterated that a senior board member had resigned after he made disparaging remarks about women at a meeting, causing outrage.

Manu: I heard somewhere a sentence that caused me to think: ‘A CEO must be synonymous with the companies that he runs.’ Therefore you have work to do with your CEO too. He needs continuous management, coaching. Think. (His attention was drawn back by the TV screen) Oh, wow… they are planning to bring in more accountability to Uber executives for their actions… times changed even as we were talking!

Kaizad smiled wanly. “I get it,” he said.

Manu: Bottom line, Kaizad, is this: success is not just the doing. It lies in the eventual ‘being’ and without HR, I wonder if you can get there.

Case Analysis: Anu Sharma | C. Mahalingam (Mali)

Click here to read part 1 of the case study