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Thursday, January 31, 2008

HR Outsourcing: What's the Fuss All About?

This is the first part of a four part article which will look at the pros and cons of Outsourced HR and the basic essential steps that any organization should follow while selecting an HRO vendor and most importantly, the issues it should focus on while deliberating as to whether to go for Outsourced HR Services or not.

In 2005 PepsiCo outsourced it’s HR operations to Hewitt Associates for a period of 10 years.

In Feburary 2005 ACS won a $120 million HR Outsourcing contract with Delta Airlines (North America’s 3rd largest in terms of passenger traffic) as Delta was convinced that it would help save 25% of operating costs.

In July 2006 Accenture signed a 7 year deal to provide Unilever with comprehensive HR services across 100 countries to more than 200,000 employees in 20 different languages from delivery centers located in Banglore, Manila, Dalian, Bucharest, Prague and Curitiba!

Obviously these companies thought outsourcing their HR was a great idea (And I’m sure Accenture, Hewitt Associates and Co weren’t complaining either!), but is your company ready for HRO?

It’s a question which doesn’t always have an easy answer. For some companies it’s the only way to go, for some it’s not an option and for those companies which have experimented and have been unfortunately burned before, it’s obviously a strict no-no.

HR Outsourcing caught steam in the late 90s when it rapidly became a corporate HR buzz word and almost a ‘must-try’ management mantra. But as with almost any trend, it’s hasn’t been smooth sailing, both for companies providing HRO services and for companies which have decided to go for these services.

There are quite a few reasons for these ‘bumps’ on the HRO road, a few of them have been articulated below:

Cost (In) Effective: Though there are hundreds of instances where HRO has resulted in companies saving thousands, even millions of dollars, it hasn’t quite done the same for everyone.

While, generally speaking, LSCs and VLSCs have derived the intended benefit out of outsourcing either whole or part of their HR operations, a lot of Medium to Small scale organizations have burnt their hands while experimenting with Outsourced HR.

This is due to various reasons ranging from simply incompetent HRO vendors to over-the-top expectations from the organizations themselves. One major reason ofcourse has been the inability of a lot of medium and small scale organizations to optimally balance and manage their budgets, resulting in a ‘discontinuous outsourced HR process’.

This discontinuous HR process means that these organizations either can’t afford outsourced HR services after sometime or decide to go for only specific (or what they perceive as important) HR services, thus effectively creating a ‘disconnect’ in the HR process.

The Step Father/Mother Syndrome: One of the most basic reasons that Outsourced HR is a failure in many firms is simply that its’ employees view the HRO person(s) as the ‘other guy’ or ‘the outsider’. Needless to say, this causes undue acrimony, and in many cases the HRO executives end up more as ‘appeasers’ than managers.

To say that actual work suffers in such a situation is an understatement.

This happens without fail in those organizations where the maturity or adaptability level of the employees is low or not properly gauged beforehand by the top management. What results is resentment to being ‘told what to do or how to do things by the outsider(s)’. And don’t be fooled into thinking that the resentment only builds up amongst the operation level staff. More often than not, the crux of the resentment and stiffness starts from the middle management level and then percolates down to the operational level staff and slowly, but surely escalates up to the senior/top management as well!


LSC = Large Scale Company

VLSC = Very Large Scale Company

to be continued.............

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Addition to The HR Story

I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not. Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.
Ok, the above two paragraphs were provided to me by Snap Shots itself. But I do believe this is a nifty tool. However, if you feel that this blog would be better without this tool do let me know.
Take Care,

HR Careers: Which Way Do You Want To Go?

So you are considering a career in the field of HR?

Have you ever taken the time to sit down and think about what kind of a HR career you might be suitable for? Have you ever taken proper cognizance of you natural aptitude, skills, likes and dislikes? Do you think you are good at planning or execution or both?

If the answer to the above flurry of questions is a NO (and is probably is), then its time for you to assess yourself seriously and honestly, so that before you take the ‘plunge’ you know exactly WHAT you are doing and more importantly, WHY you are doing it.

Ok now you might want to know why you need to do that? Fair Question.

As any professional will tell you, the field of HR is a vast one. HR has evolved from being a largely ‘welfare’ based function, to a more comprehensive, complex and certainly a lot more strategic function. It encompasses a wide variety of skills and knowledge types. Human Resource executives today are finding a greater voice in board rooms across the globe as compared to a decade ago.

Yes, Human Resource Management today is no longer (largely) just about administrative and staffing duties.

So where in the HR field will you fit in best? You will and should find the answer to this question in rigorous self analysis and by being clear in your mind about the following general classifications which can be attributed to the various kinds of HR jobs:
The Consulting Side:

You could decide to go into Human Resource Consulting.

Human Resource Management (HRM) or Human Resource Development (HRD) consulting is a vast and dynamic arena.

HR consulting firms around the world provide a wide range of vital services ranging from Compensation & Benefits Management, General Administration, Recruitment & Staffing Services to Performance Management, Corporate Training & Development, Manpower Planning, Corporate Strategy etc etc etc.

But not everyone is suited to be a consultant. There are certain attributes that you need to have naturally (I feel), that would help you attain success should you choose to go for a career as a consultant:

a. Ability to communicate crisply and effectively (this is ofcourse needed in any type of job, but to a much
greater degree if you are a consultant).
b. Ability to ‘connect’ fast with various types of clients (especially with really difficult types).
c. A superlative ability to negotiate and convince – an excellent ability to ‘sell’ the idea or suggestion.
d. A high degree of Presence of Mind – an ability to think constantly on the go and to come up with tactical
(and practical) solutions and suggestions often in rapid succession and under tremendous pressure.
e. Ability to maintain a sense of calm and order when under fire by a client – and believe me this WILL
happen sometime or the other!
f. A good memory and an ability to remember names, numbers, relevant and up-tp-date industry data (Read: the industry in which you are functioning as the HR consultant)
The Operative Side:

The Operative or Operations side of HR refer to jobs like a HR Manager, HR Executive, Trainer, Team Leader etc.

The main difference between being on the Consulting side and the Operative side is that in the former you usually give advice and support to the person(s) who is/are the decision maker(s) in order to help that person(s) make decisions (just like the American Secretary of State would help the American President make decisions), while in the latter, you are the decision maker.

Hence, as a manager or executive (any level) and not a consultant, you are in-charge of making the decision to take a specific action. The onus for the final yes or no after taking in all the available information and advice rests on you.

The basic attributes needed to be an ‘operative’ HR executive are:

a. The ability to be Decisive and Objective and take stable, practical and logical decisions based on the available information or a particular situation.
b. Good Leadership Skills – a tendency to take the initiative, an ability to motivate your sub-ordinates and to lead by example in all situations.
c. An Extrovert and Confident personality – the ability to deal with various kinds of people, from various backgrounds, the ability to assert yourself when needed.
d. Ability to analyze a situation objectively and with an open mind – an ability to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and also to be able to ‘read-between-the-lines’ when needed.
e. The ability to handle a crisis from start to finish.The ability to plan both tactically and strategically
Ofcourse, irrespective of whether you go for the consulting side or the operative side, one factor remains irreplaceable: Sound Knowledge of HR Concepts, Trends and Processes.

This knowledge will ofcourse be largely theoretical in nature when you are starting out, but once it is supplemented by knowledge and skills derived out of practical experience, then you can consider yourself to be a true HR Professional!
In Part B, I will write about the difference between being an HR Generalist and an HR Specialist. Keep Tuned!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Book Club Edition One: HR From the Heart

Welcome to the first edition of the HR Story Book Club!

I thought it prudent to start with a book that reiterates what I firmly believe in, that to be a great HR professional, one has to learn to connect with people (Read: employees) by adopting a principled and proactive approach, being genuine and last but not the least, being adaptable, flexible and openminded.

HR from the Heart has been written by Libby Sartain and co-authored by Martha I.Finney.

In the book, Libby Sartain utilizes her extensive Human Resource Management experience of more than 25 years at companies like South West Airlines and Yahoo! Inc.(where she is currently Executive Vice-President & Chief People Yahoo), to articulate guidelines as well as highlight areas of strategic focus that HR professionals at all levels (and of all ages) need to take cognizance of and to act upon, in order to become highly effective at what they do and to over a period of time, become visionaries in the field of HR. She does this with the help of some great and inspirational stories that create an everlasting impression on your mind and spirit.

In short, the book throughout it’s 253 pages expounds quite effectively on how to transform from ‘a’ HR professional to ‘THE’ HR professional!

I recommend it highly to any and everyone in the field of Human Resource Management and also to students of HR!

Book Stats:

Author: Libby Sartain & Martha I.Finney
Publisher: Amacom Books
First Published: March 1st 2003
Price: $ 22.00 to $ 24.95 ( approx Rs. 880 to Rs. 1000 INR)

Happy Reading!

INTRODUCING: The HR Story Book Club!

The field of Human Resource Management/Development is a vast one. It incorporates so many elements today, that without a well rounded understanding of atleast more than half of such elements, one can never hope to become an effective and more importantly, a path breaking HR Professional.

While there is no substitute for actual on-the-job experience when it comes to effective learning, reading well researched literature, especially that borne out of actual professional experience, can also add a substantial amount to the knowledge and confidence of aspiring/in-experienced professionals in any field.

So, keeping this in mind, I have decided to initiate the ' The HR Story Book Club' which will focus on upto 3 HR books every fortnight while laying a comparatively more comprehensive focus on or highlighting one of the books selected to provide the potential reader a better insight before he/she purchases or borrows a copy.

Wishing you a Great Read!

P.S: Business Authors, particularly those in the field of Human Resources, can send in a request to get their books reviewed along with the relevant details and a copy of their book. The copy can either be sent through e-mail or by post.

Incase you would like to send in a copy of your book by post, please contact me on my e-mail to obtain my postal address.

Readers are also very welcome to recommend books for reviews from their side if they feel that a certain book should be highlighted or deserves praise.

Job Interview: A Few Pointers (Part B)

This is the second article in the ‘Job Interview: A Few Pointers’ series. In Part A I gave you 4 pointers on how to prepare for and approach your Job Interview. Part B will focus on a few more of such pointers.

Pointer 5
: Switch that Cell Phone Off!

You might be the ultimate Technocrat, your Cell Phone might be more than your lifeline (Read: You got secretly married to your iPhone in a $20 Las Vegas ceremony at the White Chapel, and no, you weren’t drunk), and usually you can’t imagine spending even a minute apart from your phone. Great, but this is not ‘usually’, unless you ‘usually’ manage to get a lot of Job Interviews lined up for yourself (in which case there’s something wrong, because you still don’t have a job!).

So before you step into the room, make sure you Cell Phone is switched off or is on the silent mode. A perfect interview can sometimes go down the drain if your cell phone goes off during it and especially if it has one of those laconic polymorphic tunes as the ring tone!

On a lucky day, even that might not go against you, but what surely will is you actually answering the phone (Yes, even a polite ‘excuse me’ will probably not cut it.) smack in the middle of the interview! When your phone goes off in all its glory or worse still, you actually have the gal to answer it while your interview is on, it sends one of the two messages (and probably both):

a. You are too casual and not serious enough.
b. You are disrespectful, and care a hoot for basic etiquette and manners.

Well what can I say? HR Managers just don’t like to listen to ‘I Like to Move It, Move It’ blaring out from the swanky cellphone when they want to know about what you can bring to the table! Unfair, but true………

Pointer 6: Have a Great Body Language

Ok, this is easier said than done. Your body language is something that you have inculcated over a number of years and is certainly affected by factors like your personal and professional backgrounds. But a good body language can immediately give off a positive vibe to the Interviewer (and no, I am not asking you to go over the top with moves from the ‘Paris Fashion Show’ or ‘America’s Next Top Model’). A good body language is all about displaying a quite and subtle sense of confidence first up and gradually displaying a sense of dynamism and purpose as you go along.
Your Body Language (atleast from the Job Interview point-of-view) is essentially made up of the following components:

a.Your Posture (Before and After Sitting)
b.Your Eye Contact
c.Your Hand Movements
d.The Movement of Your Head
e.Your Facial Expressions

I will put out an article explaining each one of these components in detail soon.

Pointer 7: Learn How to React When You Don’t Know the Answer.

Ok, now that was one sizzler of a question. You have no idea how to answer it. The Interviewer is glaring at you, almost trying to read into your thoughts (or so you think!)……Blank….No wait!...Yeah, still Blank.

Not knowing an answer is not a crime and it’s not the end of the world either.

When you feel unsure about how to answer a question, or simply don’t have an answer to one, here’s what you can do:

a.Politely ask the Interviewer to repeat or rephrase the question is possible. This is ok maybe once, at the very most twice during an interview, but anymore such requests and the interviewer is bound to get the impression that either you are not a good listener or have low levels of concentration or are simply not competent enough for the job.

b.Communicate to the Interviewer confidently that you cannot answer the question at this moment or don’t have an answer to that particular question. Simply ‘dilly-dallying’ or wearing a stupefied grin on your face when you can’t answer the question will only help in irritating the Interviewer, especially if he/she has already interviewed a sizeable number of candidates before you, and is probably tired.

Ex: “I am sorry, but I do not have an answer to that question right now”


“I am sorry, but I unfortunately don’t have an answer to that question”

Quite often, the fact that you can confidently communicate even your inability to answer a question gives off a positive impression to the Interviewer with respective to your confidence level and maturity. This might work in your favour and get you the job even if your interview, with respect to answering the questions, didn’t go that great.

That’s because confident people are also invariably seen as fast learners and potentially great employees.

That’s all for now folks. Watch out for ‘Part C’ soon……….

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Employee Motivation: Factors Paramount for a Motivated Work Force

Google Inc. and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have been rated by the Fortune magazine at number One and number Eight respectively in it’s 2007 list of the 100 best companies in America to work for. (I am not mentioning companies from rank 2 to rank 7 and jumping directly to rank 8 because I took the liberty of assuming that BCG has comparatively better global recognition than the others which have secured the intervening ranks).

What makes these companies better employers than the other 90 odd? More importantly. what makes the 100 chosen companies better employers (atleast in Fortune magazine’s eyes) than the others not fortunate enough to find a place in the coveted list?

Obviously, a lot of factors are taken into account ranging from facilities, infrastructure, employee systems, policies, career growth opportunities, management style, employee satisfaction levels, industry perception, perception of the company amongst the student community, feedback from industry analysts and sometimes even feedback from ex-employees etc.

But no matter how ‘snazzy’ the physical work environment, no matter how scenic the location of the firm, no matter how cozy the cubicles, a company can never ever hope to witness great productivity levels let alone retain great employees if there lacks a critical component – Employee Motivation.

A great physical work environment is a complementary factor that helps enhance a positive work experience for an employee. You would be making a cardinal error in assuming that just because you have a posh facility with a well stocked pantry, your employees are going to be satisfied and content forever. As many companies (particularly hundreds of failed start-ups every year) have found out, the aforementioned are just cosmetic factors to a large extent, and do not help attract or retain good talent. It’s essentially like dyeing your gray hair and hoodwinking yourself into believing that you are young again. The fact is you are only getting older and the only way you are going to live long is to look after your health and habits.

Hence, Employee Motivation is about starting from the basics and progressively delving deeper (HR Climate Surveys, other HR diagnostic tools etc) as you go along. So where do you start?

The best (and the cardinal) starting point would be your company’s Policies, Rules and Regulations followed by a structured employee engagement and the creation of an objective & a positive work culture.

Sound Policies & Sensible Rules

Far too many organizations lose themselves in a self created maze of multi-layered policies and rules that at times defy logic

I found that one client of mine, when I joined it as a outsourced HR Manager, had such a complex Travel Expenses Reimbursement policy, with so many insensible stipulations, that leave the regular employees (the Admin Manager included), the upper management executives themselves completely disregarded it! In fact the ‘International Travel’ section of the policy was a frequent joke topic amongst the leadership team!

The trouble is, that not all employees everywhere would find something like that funny. It could obviously cause a lot of confusion amongst all and sundry and lead to unacceptable levels of ambiguity in the day-to-day functioning of the organization.

Make sure that:

a. All the basic pre-requisite policies (Leave, Travel, Hiring & Firing, and Compensation etc) are in place and are not created as a reaction to an arising situation.

b. The policies cover all important angles & contingencies, both from an operational and legal perspective without being too longwinded.

c. All policies are put on paper and are accessible to all employees in a simple, direct and easily understandable language.

d. The policies are reviewed at mutually agreed intervals (Yearly, Bi-Yearly etc), so that they remain up-to-date and the conditions contained therein are practically implementable at all times.

e. The tone used in the policy documents is not dictatorial or condescending or worse still, insulting. The tone can be strict (Especially if the organization is a military one or involved in sensitive activities), but doesn’t have to make the employee feel like he/she is facing a firing squad!

f. Educate those who are in-charge of enforcing these policies at the ground level about how to go about doing so. The ‘Enforcers’ or ‘Supervisors’ have to know the degree of discretion to use in varied situations.

Coming to rules, well there’s no doubt that every organization, in order to be professionally managed, has to have a well defined and comprehensive set of rules and regulations. But that does not mean that the rules have to be over-bearing or so rigid that employees feel stifled or infact start treating them like a joke.

Make sure that:

a. There is an optimum number of rules and regulations in place, not too few and not too many, so that the day-today functioning can be smooth and not cumbersome.

b. An easily understandable and comprehensive Code of Conduct (CoC) is in place.

c. All your employees are adequately educated about all the CoC apart from the other major rules and regulations and the reasons these are in place.

d. All employees have a good understanding of the consequences or repercussions of violating the Code of Conduct either on the company premises, or on the premises of the company’s clients incase onsite work is involved.

e. There is no generalization of an employee’s offence or violation with that of others, and as far as possible, each case is treated on it own merits.

Employee Engagement & the Creation of a Motivated Work Culture

Employee Engagement is not just a fancy corporate term as many organizations I have worked with as a consultant seem to think. Employee Engagement is all about engaging your employees in the over all scheme of things in a structured, practical and enthusiastic manner.

Motivated employees are the first step towards a great work culture, something not many companies around the globe can truly boast of. Employees, if engaged in a practical manner both in the day-to-day and overall strategic functioning of the organization, can help create an unparalleled and envied work environment and display exceptional levels of productivity (Ask Google. It’s now famous Gmail application was allegedly developed by an employee while working in his ‘Your Personal Time’ time period which Google provides to its employees.)

So how do you go about doing it? Here are some basic guidelines:

a. Engage your employees if possible, in the rules setting process to ascertain their point of view and to understand the ground realities before embarking on framing the rules and regulations. No doubt that certain and basic rules have to be framed and followed even before employees are hired, but these can again be restructured and revised after some constructive feedback sessions.

b. Encourage employees to ‘own the process’. That is, not just the process involved in the execution of their job responsibilities, but also the process of maintaining the required rules and decorum. This imparts a sense of confidence and responsibility in individual employees, and while there are still bound to be some ‘bad apples’, if implemented logically, this philosophy can make for a seamless and highly functional work culture.

c. Adopt ‘Coaching’ as a tool to help employees go through workplace problems. This will make employees or sub-ordinates more comfortable in approaching you with their problems and over a period of time help the them make their own decisions with more certainty and also keeping the company’s interest in mind.

Keeping your employees motivated is no easy task, but it's no rocket science either!