HR as custodian of policies

If someone were to ask-Who is custodian of policies in organisation, answer invariably will be – HR Department. This is a legacy issue, ancestors of HR professionals were Labour Welfare Officers, they were supposed to ensure that labour laws were followed by employer and at the same time they were on payroll of employer! How our ancestors managed this delicate balance is anyone’s guess.

Over a period of time HR has evolved, but they are unable to do away with legacy. Onus of designing, implementing and monitoring of policies is HR’s job. Somehow we believe policies will bring about desired change.

Do policies bring about desired change?

In larger context, question also can be did our legal system bring about desired change in behaviour of people?

Answer is yes and no.

Success of implementation of law largely depends on existing norms of society ( or organisation). I will give three cases.

Hindu Marriage Act was passed in 1955 to regulate personal life of Hindus, it abolished polygamy. Monogamy was by and large norm in case of Hindus even before law was passed, so there was little conflict between existing norms and law, so the law was success.

Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 was partial success, as greed for dowry was norm in society, this greed conflicted with law and law has been partial success. We hear about dowry deaths even today-51 years after the law was passed!

Most interesting case is prohibition act of Gujarat, which prohibits sale, purchase and consumption of alcoholic drinks. Indian men love to drink, and this law was totally against the existing behaviour. There was no chance of this law bringing about desired change. Men will continue to drink and their wives will continue to suffer.

While designing policies, attention has to be paid to existing norms of organisation, they will decide success or failure of policies. The norms/culture of organisation is build over years by senior level employees. Asking HR to change it overnight via policy is asking too much. HR is not and should not become policeman.




Are HR best practices generic?

An organisation has personality of its own. To a large extent is it shaped by the personality of the CEO of organisation. Culture of Microsoft is not different from personality of Bill Gates or culture of Apple is not different from personality of Steve Jobs.

Personality of CEO also largely decides HR policies, it decides what kind of manpower gets hired, kind of behaviour that gets encouraged or discouraged, who gets promoted or fired, what gets discussed in reviews etc.

HR practitioner should be aware of this reality. In many cases HR practitioner tries to implement best practices from other organisation in their current organisation. Results are unpredictable- The initiative may succeed or just flops.

Even in same organisation, same initiative may succeed or fail in different periods of time.

Some practices can be generic ex. Respect for employees, transparency, recognition etc., while success of others largely depends on understanding the DNA of organisation i.e practices need to be specific.

You must be the change you want to see in the world

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi ( 1869-1948)

Today is birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he was given title of Mahatma by great Indian leader and Noble Prize winner Ravindranath Thakur- title struck and he is today known universally by that title.

Gandhiji was a great leader, who could visualise India of future. India, which is free from curse of untouchability, communal hatred and inferior status of women. He used freedom movement not just to free India, but also to remove untouchability and upliftment of women. He was the agent of  change he wanted to see in world.

We find many individuals talk about ideal organisation, ideal culture etc. but they always someone else to do it, they don’t want to be the agents of change.

To bring about change one needs mindfulness, optimism and empathy. Mindfulness makes one aware of subtle changes that take place within you and your environment. Many times changes are incremental, and we fail to notice till things change significantly. We become victims of “Boiled Frog Syndrome”.

Optimism helps you to keep faith in your goals. There could be lot of discouraging voices, optimism helps you to overcome this negativity and keeps your faith intact.

Finally whatever you do must result in some benefit to other. Empathy is about giving, a genuine desire to help others.

While working on mergers, I find that mergers or acquisitions result in some employees suddenly becoming redundant, their skills are no longer needed by anyone. These are the employees who need leaders with above qualities to put them back on track via. Coaching, but sadly this rarely happens, most take easy route – sacking or giving VRS.

Just understanding other’s grief is not empathy; see how you can put him in higher orbit.