Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The HR function...

What are we, as HR professionals trying to achieve? I had a heated conversation with a friend today, another HR professional, and he used every logical argument at his disposal to convince me that ours is a highly dispensable profession. To be honest, the thought has occured to me quite often too. That HR as a profession requires no specialized skills that a sufficiently evolved line manager could not learn with the most basic coaching and/or reading and some practice. Why, then, do organizations have an HR dept?

The constant complaint line mgrs have about HR is that we do not understand business. A very small example. If I ask you, what does it mean if your attrition rates are higher than the industry average, what would your answer be as an HR professional? How would you view that question? That there is talent shortage, engagement issues, compensation issues--that you will have to turn up the steam or recruitment & selection, building an internal pipeline etc. If your answer has any of these phrases, we as HR have already lost the battle for a seat on the executive board.

Ask a sales guy what it means, he'll tell you that having a sales officer post vacant for a month will mean the loss of Rs XYZ crore value as business, as there's no one to sell. Ask a logistics guy, and he'll tell you that having a planning manager's position vacant for 2 weeks will mean delay & blocks in delivery of goods worth Rs LMN crore and added strain on an already overworked team. The business is looking for tangibles and HR is there to ensure those tangible results are obtained smoothly.

I'm not saying HR as a function is dispensable--the need for HR processes and systems still exists. But not the need for a dedicated set of individuals to perform the job. I say, hand the job back to line, make it a part of their regular targets and allow them time for HR activities. They understand the immediate impact & benefits of retention plans, succession planning and motivating the team, within the context of their business, much better than we do.

HR jobs have been created somewhat the same way as Keynes explained it. Someone in line decided to start digging up a hundred pits everywhere to jumpstart the economy, and HR was established as a function to fill the pits. And now, the pit diggers are so used to the fillers around that they don't want to, maybe even can't, stop digging the pits. The question I ask myself is, how long before the corporate world wakes up and realizes this, and what do we HR professionals do then? Start looking for an alternate vocation, I suppose... writing, maybe- another generalist profile to satisfy the 'generalist' in us.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The internet era

Some very interesting developments at work. Nokia's stated intention of morphing into an internet company is much more than just ideals to yearn for. The first visible steps we saw as employees is the IT injunct to allow access to certain internet tools, chief among them Skype and similar social software. The idea being that we cannot inculcate a passion and comfort with internet without allowing employees to explore... and if the passion doesn't exist, we can never build the mindset of being an internet company. Much the same way as holding an E61 in my hands everyday has, over time, made me comfortable with mobile technology and willing to try some new things.

Another instance of my heart brimming with pride to work for a company that follows through on what it says...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Corporate blogging and social media

Been a long while since a train of thought stayed long enough in my head for me to blog it... must say broadband at home makes it much easier to log on.

Was doing some research on the prevalence of corporate blogging, and the ways in which social media operates, when I realized that no amount of research would give me as good an understanding as actually plunging into it. To be honest, I am a highly unlikely candidate to carry out such an experiment--for one, I am borderline technology-phobic (much as I'm ashamed to admit it, that's the plain truth). The issue is the inherent inertia to make an effort to understand how the technology works. For another, I'm uncomfortable sharing personal details beyond the most obtuse references--and social media thrives on real, honest and believable voices. I have a fundamental disconnect with that extent of disclosure online. Call it fear of the unknown or just plain stupidity, it's the reason why my writing derives from my life & experiences but I do not claim that it is autobiographical.

A very interesting feature of social media is how certain unlikely issues or events are taken up by the online public and generate heated debates... in traditional media, public thought and reaction is moderated to a large extent by the concerns of business empires that publish the news. Online, it is difficult to predict or even explain how certain events or issues take over public attention.

Given the nature of social media, I see an immediate contradiction with corporate blogging as a PR/ Communications tool. Blogging and social media function on the tenet of 'dialogue', which assumes that the conversation flows both ways and there is room for feedback, collaboration and healthy disagreement. The focus is not on political correctness, rather on authenticity. Traditional PR/ Communications from corporates is a one-way information dissemination channel that conveys very specific, filtered information with extremely limited scope to question or seek additional information.

The moot question is, how do we marry the two? For, corporate blogging more and more is not a question of 'if', rather of 'when'. Some of the questions that I'm trying to find answers to are:
1. Why should my organization blog?
2. What realistic expectations can my organization have about the benefits of blogging, and what obvious pitfalls or shortcomings should we be wary of?
3. Who in the organization should blog?
4. What role does PR/ Corporate Communications have in this?
5. What guidelines/policy should govern corporates bloggers?
6. How can my organization measure the impact & effectiveness of corporate blogging?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic...

Also, please do check out my other blogs, Burnished Silence and Astral Conversations, which are more along abstract lines.