Human Resource : Nothing Human, Just Plain Resources – K RAMKUMAR, Executive Director – ICICI BANK

Human Resource:

Human Resource Professionals have lost sight of the connect with their people, because of their obsession with high sounding concepts, processes and metrics.

The last few weeks have been life defining for me. I have struggled to remain in touch with my normal life, while having taken up the job of trying to focus attention on a broken window – our employee relations. Awanish (the Maruti Suzuki HR executive) paid with his life for the follies of an entire profession and the working community.

In all the multitude of proposals and mails I saw from senior people who manage humans, I could not discover any humanness.

They missed the person, engaged with the title even in offering condolence and glibly believed that healing is rooted in skill building and fixing the law. It appears that, to many of us, the ‘resource’ reference to humans has assumed giant proportions.

I have in the last decade watched with horror the decadence of our thinking, from engaging and relating to people to managing human resources. We are obsessed with high-sounding concepts, processes, tool and metrics, but have lost sight of the human being.

Talk to any professional in this function, you will struggle to make sense of the jargon he speaks. Walk into their workplace and ask a 100 ‘people’ about these ‘human resource managers’, you will discover the disconnect these professionals have with their people. So, to me, this resource management piece has to be substituted by people relationship focus. Even market-facing staff are called ‘relationship managers’.

The argument here is not that name change will alter the central disconnect. But at least it will notify to all of us that we are essentially relationship managers and not only resource managers.

We believe in the absurdity that there is something called an ‘engagement index’ and by tracking it we will change the ‘quality’ of our relationships with people. When was the last engagement survey and index publication we did with our family and friends? Once again, do you see the mechanical metaphor?

Humans are endowed with the gift of judging the relationship quality and strength. It is contrived to reduce it to numbers and believe that a 0.5% or a 5% change in it indicates anything. You may ask me then how do we know the health of our workplace relationships? Certainly not by these indices.

It is by staying connected with people. Conversing and debating with people at their workplace regularly. This is what we do with our family and friends. This, though time consuming, helps us deal with the emerging areas of strains early and not wait for this impersonal index. The relationship-mending process, when we stay connected, is like the way our tissues heal.

Intervention through medicines and surgery is when illness has gone beyond self-healing. Human body may respond to this but people at workplace respond better to ongoing self-healing, because unlike humans, a workplace illness is an epidemic due to the numbers.

To further this argument, let me place before you another evidence: our obsession with performance management. We have progressed from the absurd to the insane.

We believe that the system and process of budgeting, goal and metrics, will replace the trust and engagement-intensive process between the performer and the boss who enables it.

The argument again is not that goals and metrics are unimportant, but they cannot replace the human process of working with and showing people the way to achieve them. Here again, the clinical mindset over emphasizes the impersonal aspect of engagement viz tools, MIS and numbers.

We try to make up for this by eulogizing the term ‘feedback’.

But do we realize the way this sits in our minds is also in ‘mechanical system metaphor’. That it will be periodic, goal-focused, result-centric, direct and action-focused.

Brilliant! We could have had this statement for any mechanical or electrical system. But where is the human here? Where is the place for joining in and assisting? Where is the place for handling emotions – fear of failure, anxiety of not knowing the how, disappointment of repeated efforts not yielding results, angst that a peer is speeding along and I am stuck, the shame induced by target-review meetings, the tight stomach at the end of a day of things going wrong and above all, the burden of having to carry the pressure of the bosses’ performance.

Add to all this the ‘resource’ centered concept of ‘productivity’ and ‘pay for performance’, the damage is complete. Once again, no one is complaining about having to be productive and delivering performance, it is the approach to it which is being questioned.

Finally, it is only where care is, discipline and toughness can be. One without the other creates excesses and abuses. Unfortunately, our definition for care is also mechanical. Automated calendar-generated birthday and anniversary wishes, concierge-delivered flowers, company-budget funded mementos and rewards. There is nothing personal about it.

An IIT admission, a 10th class result or daughter’s wedding are all cherished memories for all of us but how do we show our care for people who matter to us? How about sending an sms to the father or mother. Isn’t this caring?

We fail to visit the colleague who is unwell but simply send a ‘get-well-soon’ card or email. We do not lend a shoulder by being with the family which has suffered the bereavement by being with them. We send the CEOs letter and a compensation cheque, as governments do after a rail accident. Who will stay with the family and help them heal and move on?

You can ‘fix’ anything but not the personal touch. Care is not in words, it is in deeds. It is deeds that humanizes care and lends it a personal touch.

In conclusion, if we fail to discover the people at our workplaces and dignify their humanness, we are in for a strife-filled period of resource management, irrespective of what the engagement indices will tell us and the cover pages of ‘Best employers study’ may brag.

About the Author

The author is the Executive Director at ICICI Bank, a leading Private Sector Bank in India.

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