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Trade Unions no longer have the monopoly of representing Employees – Alan Wild, VP-HR & ER, IBM

By | Ramesh Ranjan | Editor www.humanengineers.com

At the monthly meeting of NHRD Bangalore Chapter a program was organised on Global Perspective – Labour relations and future of workforce, where in Prithvi Shergill, CHRO, HCL Technologies was in conversation with Alan Wild, Vice President Human Resources, Employee Relations and Engagement at IBM at the Chancery Pavillion, Bangalore on 28th July 2016.

It was a sort of world round up of  Industrial Relations scenario by Allen. The participants got a chance to know about the challenges, the ground realities & practices in China, Germany, India, Cameroon, Africa, Romania, Mexico, Latvia etc.

He said that important events like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and unification of East & West Germany, the uprising at the Tiananmen Square in Bejing, China and the opening of the Indian economy in early 1992 helped thrust around 1.4 billion people/workforce into the Global Economy. Even a conservative closed culture of China had to open up its economy to help protect its control over the citizens in order to find new jobs and improve their standard of living.

The global market expanded and so also the availability of the Global Workforce and the world became a Global Village. Multinational organisations suddenly had access to world markets and had to learn to thrive in these markets. Engaging & building employee relations with the workforce in these emerging markets required an understanding of the Culture & the nuances of these geographies and a new approach.

At the same time, the Digital revolution and the emergence of the Social Media altered the way in which people communicated, engaged and voiced their grievances/opinions. The world has become Social like never before. Geographic barriers are collapsing thanks to the Internet connectivity, the world wide web and the Social Media.

IR1These changes have had profound effect on Corporate Organisations too, especially the way in which they communicate, engage & collaborate with their employees. Traditionally employees turned to Trade Unions to help represent their  cause (wants & grievances) and be their voice before the management. But with the emergence of the Social Media, employees have found other avenues & ways of communicating with the Management, their colleagues, the media & the society at large. The power of Social Networking is fast replacing tradition Trade Unions and grievance redressal mechanisms in organisations.

The Trade Unions no longer enjoy the monopoly of representing Employees and even with out a Trade Union, employees are now able to communicate with the Organisation (positively & negatively).

Alen was sharing about how the share price of Nestle dropped by 10% because of an adverse news / social media campaign about their involvement in the Thai Fishing scandal.

He also shared about how a stray incident of an employee being fired at IBM India was totally misquoted & reported by the Media / Social media and it became headline news in Times of India and the Wall Street Journal – “Blood bath at IBM” and how it took a lot of effort to handle this negative impression.

We have seen greater events of significance the Egypt uprising successfully orchestrated using the Social Media. Closer home we saw how  HCL Technologies & Flipkart had a battle on their hand when it deffered placement of Campus Graduates and also how TCS had to face a backlash on reports of layoff in their organisation in 2015.

Alen also shared how the employees were leveraging the Social Media – WE CHAT WeChat1_0and even organised a Strike in China bypassing the traditional Trade Unions. He said that suddenly they had to communicate, run a propaganda and even negotiate with their employees using Social Media platform on WE CHAT.

He also shared about the US Army experience of dealing with Militants in the Afghan war and refered to the Left of Boom theory based on the best selling book “Left of Boom” by John Smith & Ralph Pezzulo. The US despite being a super-power and having all the might in their Army, weren’t able to win the war over Taliban and the Al Qaeda in their wars in Afghanistan & Iraq. They were mostly focusing on reactive action after the incident was done. The Left of Boom theory works on a pre-emptive proactive way of looking at solving problems.

Drawing parallel to dealing with the army experience, Allen suggested that Organisations should also look at adopting a Left of Boom approach. They should pre-empt any potential employee discontent and listen to their employees and identify key drivers of employee engagement. He wanted a more proactive approach towards Employee Relations & Engagement and not start action/reaction after the Annual ritualistic Employee Satisfaction / Engagement survey is over. He wanted organisations to embark on a program of Winning the Hearts & Minds of its Empoyees.

He also said that the line managers or their immediate managers are not anymore the sole influencers of Employee Engagement. Its, who they hang out with, influences Employee Engagement index. If the employees are constantly hanging out with Positive & Engaged employees, they are likely to be equally Positive & Engaged but on the contrary if they are hanging out with Negative & Dis Engaged employees, they are likely to be Negative & Dis Engaged. Therefore its imperative for Organisations through HR to identify who are the key influencers in the organisation (informal groups and not based on hierarchy) and start working with them to build a Positive environment & work culture.

Prithivi brought out the dilemma that todays HR Managers face. Are they supposed to be the Employee Advocate or be the Business HR Partner?  He felt that most of the HR professionals today tend to be playing more of a Business Partnering role and less of an employee advocate and this is dangerous and could lead to potential trouble in orgnisations.

It was said that employer relations is not just the responsibility of HR but also of Business leader’s. If issues can be identified and addressed at the ground level, then it becomes easier to manage, than escalating it to higher levels and compounding the problems.

There was also discussions about how we need to balance the need for adopting a global, standard, consistent approach/policy but at the same time need to show some flexibility and be agile to the changing dynamics of the workforce.

Alen shared how the Business has adapted itself very well to the dynamic needs of the Customers and is able to constantly offer dynamic, segmented solutions / offers to its customers based on the customer needs. He exhorted that HR also needs to think like Business Leaders and look at their employees as Customers and work towards offering segmented solutions & offers based on the Employee needs while at the same time retaining some bit of control.

The speakers and the audience felt that Industrial Relations as a function is a dying art and there is a dearth of talent available in the HR Community. Most organisations especially the Multi National and the IT organisations are loathe to accepting a Trade Union in their organisations. Some one pointed that a recent Labour Court judgment from Chennai, has brought Unions to the doorstep of IT Organisations and it will not be far before Unions will make its presence in IT Organisations.

Hence it was felt that Union or no Union, organisations must be on guard with their ears to the ground and listen to their employees attentively, spot any rumblings and address them immediately before it snowballs into an uncontrollable situation. Organisations can no longer ignore or resist Unions. They will need to learn to engage with them and even fight with them on principles if situation demands.

They must also be aware that there are new forms of engagement, both positive & negative largely influenced by the Social Media and they must leverage Social Media as the new platform for communication & engagement with their employees.

Lastly progressive organisations are moving away from just Employee Relations & Engagement to a Employee Experience approach just like organisations are wooing their customers through Customer Experience. A positive and a happy Employee experience goes a long way in maintaining a healthy Employee Relations in an organisation.


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