Guest AuthorMahalingam

HR-in step with the times

Source  | C.Mahalingam

A look at the varied roles HR is expected to play in the workplace today.

HR professionals are reinventing themselves to deliver a superior contribution to business. This calls for higher levels of maturity, capability, depth and the ability to unlearn and relearn. It is a fairly well-accepted fact that to be a strategic player means to score and not just practice. The traditional paradigms of being a business partner fall short. In reality, there is more to being and becoming a good business partner than what the textbooks and ‘master classes’ might prescribe! Let me describe these new roles for HR to remain relevant.

The business expectations of HR are on the rise. Line managers rely on their HR partners to manage people better. At one end of the spectrum, managers expect their HR partners to be Spiderman and the Piped Piper rolled into one; at the other end, managers expect their HR partners to be their “man Fridays”! Meeting this challenge that envisages vastly different expectations of the HR practitioner, calls for a new look at the roles HR plays.

I have designed the following six roles for ‘New Age’ HR partners. The accompanying table captures these roles and deliverables in a nutshell.

Let me describe each of the above roles and associated deliverables:

Become a ‘biz-kid’: It is not enough for HR professionals to be the whizz-kids out of b-school! It takes much more to be an effective business partner. There is a mistaken notion that confident, young, graduates, fresh out of B-school can move mountains. In reality, the MBA should stand for Master of Business Alignment! So, work on becoming a ‘biz-kid’! Three things to do here:

Build a deep understanding of the business. Much more than learning the three- and four-letter acronyms peculiar to our business, this involves understanding the go-to-market customer segments, offerings and competitive landscape. This is not difficult if the HR partners invest enough time in understanding the business.

Understand what keeps your managers awake at night and how you can help them address their challenges. Often regarded as out-of-scope by HR, business leaders feel let-down. Remember that there is a people angle to it and your HR partners will do well to tackle this angle.

Guy Kawasaki wrote a powerful book titled Enchantment in which he makes the case that almost anyone can create an inspiring organisation like Apple. He cites Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose (MAP) as the three steps to enchanting employees towards superior contribution. HR professionals will do well to work with their managers to MAP this for their businesses!

Culture curator: Much like museums, modern organisations also need curators — experts who understand the value of talent and take good care of them. As curators of culture, HR partners need to ensure a highly productive and energised work culture through:

Design interventions to promote /enhance trust, transparency and teamwork. From performance appraisals to reward systems, many HR interventions can help promote such a culture.

Ensure a culture of high performance. The scope of the HR partnership here is beyond merely ensuring that appraisal calendars are met, to include a quality audit of goal-setting and reviews, two-way feedback and meeting developmental needs.

Equally important but often ignored is to keep a vigil on managers who have scant regard for the desired cultural attributes and, therefore, do things that hurt trust and teamwork (culture vultures). Building a strong case for them to change or be changed is a key HR deliverable.

Talent Tarzan: The metaphor of Tarzan is used here to emphasise the desired motivation and zeal required of HR partners. They need to deliver the following three contributions:

Like Tarzan, build speed, agility, strength and reflexes — this comes with practice.

Help business deliver the “right strokes for the right folks”— employees who deliver superlative performance are the WOWs (Walk on Water), the average performers, Wet Socks, and those under water, Snorkels!

Help build a competent leadership bench to meet expansion needs and to fill unexpected departures.

Brand Bombassadors: I call them “bombassadors” and not “ambassadors” in order to highlight the role of HR in bombarding the brand image of the business both inside the organisation and outside it. Leaving it to PR would be an injustice to the HR role! Three things to do in this role are:

Build an EVP (employer value proposition) based on the unique nature of the business to attract the best talent.

Help business hire the kind of people that customers would love to do business with.

Ensure that business gets its share of talent across the organisation through internal job market opportunities.

Capability crusader: Here, HR partners focus on creating a highly capable organisation to facilitate immediate and long-term success and growth. In doing so, there are three deliverables:

Determine with business leaders the capabilities critical for success. Some of them include speed, accountability, leadership, learning, innovation, talent, customer focus, culture and the like.

Ensure investment on employee capability initiatives towards fulfilling the identified organisational capabilities.

Inculcate a coaching mindset amongst managers.

Become an HR cat! This requires HR partners to continuously hone their competencies and become confident and trustworthy. This also involves delivering HR professionally. Three key deliverables in this role are:

Become a subject matter expert in HR systems and processes as they evolve and mature. Distinguish between chalk and cheese within the broad range of HR practices.

Demonstrate wisdom in contextualising application of the systems.

Deliver with confidence, comfort, integrity, high energy and humility.

We live in challenging times that call for HR to play unconventional roles. Just as we draw comfort from the knowledge that the challenges of the slow-down and the recession are over, we are seeing signs of trouble over the horizon. And the roller-coaster ride for businesses is a reality today. This requires HR professionals to play a different set of roles to remain relevant and become significant!


MaliC. Mahalingam is a leading HR Thought Leader in India. He was Executive Vice-President & Chief People Officer with Symphony Services Corporation and served in organisations like IBM, HP, Phillips, Scandent Technologies etc. He is now a Leadership Coach, HR Strategic Consultant and visiting faculty at some of IIM’s.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 29, 2011)

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