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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Human Resources (Mis)Management

The advertisement appeared in the jobs supplement, Power Jobs, of the Hindustan Times. An N.G.O. (non-governmental organisation), which runs an institute for providing vocational training to the youth among the economically weaker sections of society, had advertised a number of job vacancies. Among the positions advertised, was one titled 'Executive - Human Resources'. So, I went along to attend the 'walk-in' interview.

The N.G.O. is backed by and, I believe, receives substantial financial support from a leading India-based pharmaceuticals company that has a presence in over 100 countries and is a front-runner, globally, in the generic pharmaceuticals business, in terms of revenues. The N.G.O. even shares a part of its name with the pharmaceuticals company.

Much of what transpired during the interview was quite interesting. It provided an insight into how the organisation, otherwise involved in philanthropic work, treats its own employees and how much it trusts them.

The following is an extract from the conversation that I had with the interviewer, who was a podgy, dark-complexioned woman, with a pronounced South-Indian accent:-

Interviewer: What is the most important quality that a person working in the field of Human Resources Management should have?
Sidhusaaheb: He or she should be a good listener.
Interviewer: Any other qualities that are important?
Sidhusaaheb: He or she should be able to empathise...
Interviewer: No, those are wrong answers.
Sidhusaaheb: I would say that is your point of view and it is different from mine.
Interviewer: The correct answer is 'confidentiality'. The Human Resources department has all the data about employees' salaries and a lot of problems are caused when employees find out about their colleagues' salaries. So, the HR department has to ensure that the data about salaries remain confidential.
Sidhusaaheb: All the data about salaries are also available with the Accounts department, so how can the HR department keep the information confidential?
Interviewer: No, no...The HR department has to keep the data confidential. So, 'confidentiality' is the most important quality to have, for a Human Resources professional.
Sidhusaaheb: Well, I shall again say that is your point of view and it is different from mine.
Interviewer: Thank you!

I did not bother to take the time to explain to her that if the salary structure of her organisation was fair and based on criteria understood and accepted by all employees, the company would not have had to try and adopt such a cloak-and-dagger approach. Incidentally, in all of the organisations that I have worked with, most employees had a fairly good idea of the salaries associated with various positions, whether or not the information had been shared with them by the 'management'.

Such policies, I believe, are fundamentally in disagreement with the basic concepts of Human Resources Management in the modern world. Over the years that I have spent working, I have realised that those concepts are employed only in the name, in most Indian business organisations, even in this day and age.

Recruitment and Selection are, still, largely based on the personal preferences of those in charge. Decisions to conduct Training programmes are not based on any scientific Training Needs analyses. Money and material rewards are still thought of as the greatest motivators for employees. Performance Appraisals, even though these are ostensibly based on best practices, are rigged so that the results reflect the personal opinions that the bosses have of the employees being appraised. The concept of Self-Directed Work Teams is alien to organisations in this country and what has been very conveniently done is that units formerly known as departments and work-groups are now called teams, with the 'worker' now known as 'team-member' and the 'supervisor' as 'team-leader', without effecting any change in the functioning.

Team-building is limited to periodic trips to scenic locations, with pleasurable activities like rock-climbing, river-rafting, etc., thrown in and is not taken too seriously by any one, since the Appraisal, as well as the Compensation and Reward Management systems, are still based on individual, rather than team-based performance criteria. When I sought to implement a Team Reward System in one of the organisations I worked with, the COO (Chief Operations Officer) rejected the idea saying that he had worked for five companies, earlier, and none employed any such system, when he ran out of logical arguments against it!

In his book titled 'Organizational Behavior: Concepts, Controversies, Applications' (published by Prentice-Hall, Inc.), Stephen P. Robbins writes, "Throughout this book we've argued that national differences-that is, national cultures-must be taken into account if accurate predictions are to be made about organizational behavior in different countries." and "The research indicates that national culture has a greater impact on employees than does their organization's culture.". I could not agree more!

So, is there still hope and will the hypocrisy ever come to an end? I do not have a definite answer.


Sidhusaaheb said...

I have often felt that the Indian corporates still have miles to go before they ensure an environment of maximum employee efficiency. The working hours in most Indian companies are inhuman. There is serious lack of opportunity for creativity of any sort. Even in places where you need to think out of the box, the outside of the box is just a bigger box.

Neither does management nor do employees understand these things. No wonder then, that we are seeing staggering attrition rates in almost all sectors without anyone coming to realize what the problem is.
Vinod Khare | Homepage | 07.11.07 – 5:38 pm | #


I think it’s a question of this whole paradigm shift from command and control to a bottom-up emergent sort of HR that is slowly beginning to arise as a result of greater individual freedoms and multiple channels of expression (blogs, forums, social media). I suppose the HR bosses of today will never really learn to change unless they understand how young people think today. For that, they need to first create an orkut account
Krish Ashok | Homepage | 07.11.07 – 6:46 pm | #


Was this by any chance Naandi Foundation?
Neha | 07.11.07 – 7:35 pm | #


@Vinod: Thanks for bringing out some additional and very pertinent points!

It feels blessed to have readers like you!!

@Krish: I agree that the young can bring about a lot of positive change, if they take the initiative. However, most decide to become a part of the ’system’.

@Neha: Since I have decided not to reveal the name, I am unable to either confirm or deny. I hope you’ll understand!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.12.07 – 4:07 am | #


Its all in the game. The game is based on the tournament theory. Its not enough if you are just good at your job. resou…nnerTakeIt.html 20…rk_0523pay.html
Anonymous Coward | 07.12.07 – 6:32 pm | #


@Coward: Thanks for dropping by and posting the links!

However, your comment seems to bear little relevance to the issue(s) I’ve tried to raise in the blog-post.

Meanwhile, in the Forbes article (the link to which you have posted), the intern, in the instance cited, is well aware of the amount of money the CEO is earning. The CEO or the HR personnel of the company are obviously not trying to keep it secret and are quite open about it.

Openness fosters trust. That, among others, is a point that I am trying to make here.

Thanks again!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.12.07 – 8:41 pm | #


Yes Sidhu,
Trust is the last thing in our work culture. I really liked the last few lines you quoted from the Robbins book. What is inculcated in us as a collective psyche is what we reflect ultimately in our work lives, and to some extent in our personal lives too. And the vicious cycle goes on because what we do in our personal lives has a great impact on what we do in our work life. The national culture becomes personal character and personal character is what builds work culture.
This was very enlightening and thought provoking, keep it up.
And yes, hypocrisy will come to an end one day, as long there are conscientious people around,
Amen !!
MP | Homepage | 07.19.07 – 5:54 pm | #


By the way, I came back to comment on the interview fragment you posted. It was wonderful… do I need to explain why?
MP | Homepage | 07.19.07 – 5:56 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

While many lala-type indian corporates do indulge in such cloak and dagger stuff in their HR practices, I suspect that there is a lot more of this in the NGO sector. While working in Television, I saw a couple of NGO’s and their events quite closely. Their methods, i.e: the money they get, the accountability in how they spend it, how they pay their own workers and the sheer unscientific rabble-rousing they indulge in, the methods by which they mobilize villagers and illiterates, are questionable. I definitely want to do something for the poor in India, but I would rather volunteer or spend my money directly but I will never give to an NGO.
Rahul | Homepage | 07.20.07 – 9:46 am | #


Ohh what a rudely adamant lady she was … I agree things like this are more based on one’s personal inclinations and way to deal and manage. Things are usually not that straight-forward and single tracked in life … but just that she was on judging position … sigh.

They dont deserve brains like you
Asma | Homepage | 07.26.07 – 9:19 pm | #


@MP: I do agree with you about national culture, personal character and work-culture being inter-related and also hope that the hypocrisy does come to and end, someday.

Thanks for the compliments!

@Rahul: You have made some very pertinent observations, indeed!

@Asma: You have analysed the situation quite correctly. She need not have been so unaccomodating about points of view different from hers.

Also, thank you so much for the kind words about me!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 07.30.07 – 1:21 am | #


“podgy, dark-complexioned woman, with a pronounced South-Indian accent”

How much of this was pertinent to your write up?????? Would it have been any different if she were lean, fair, and had a North-Indian accent ?????

Grow up Siddhu saheb – Immaterial of what your write up contained, you are making yourself look like a fool with racist comments of this nature.
Karthik | 08.14.07 – 11:33 am | #


Well, she definitely was podgy, had a dark complexion and did have a pronounced South-Indian accent.

You are welcome to draw your own conclusions about what the write up makes me ‘look like’ or how ‘grown up’ I am or am not.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 08.14.07 – 12:09 pm | #


Well – I take back the fool and the grown up part.

That still leaves the observation about the racist part…..

Just felt I should point it out. What conclusion YOU draw is entirely upto you too.

I shall stop with it here. Just wanted to retract the comment about “look like” and “grown up” – it was in bad taste !!!!

Karthik | 08.14.07 – 3:56 pm | #



I’ve never known stating the facts to be part of racism and, therefore, stand by every word that I’ve written.

Again, you are free and welcome to have your own opinion on the subject.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 08.14.07 – 4:50 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

The boss is always right :P So, now Mr. Sidhusaaheb “What is the most important quality that a person working in the field of Human Resources Management should have?”
Fariha Akhtar | Homepage | 08.27.07 – 7:49 pm | #


To be able to listen carefully to the sub-ordinates of such bosses, who seem to think they are always right, and do whatever possible to promote more of participative decision-making in the organisation.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 08.27.07 – 11:55 pm | #


Have you read cameron and quinn’s book on competing values?

It suggests different priorities for different organsiations. You and your recruiter were imagining different companies.
Craig | Homepage | 08.31.07 – 6:54 am | #


No, I haven’t read the the book.

I agree that the recruiter and I were imagining different companies, or, rather, had different ideas as to how a company should function, as I have attempted to enunciate in the blog-post.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 09.02.07 – 10:24 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

wow! i learn new ideas and insights about these topics on to others comments

Thanks alot guys
Public Records | Homepage | 02.01.08 – 6:05 am | #