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April 02, 2007

Push v/s Pull HR

Amidst all the HR generalist and specialist debate that continues – I’m wondering if we can shift our focus lens view things from a slightly different angle.

Clearly, based on the various functions that HR performs, there are push functions and pull functions.

“Pull” functions are those HR functions, which customers will flock to, like bees to a honeycomb. They can’t get enough of you, their day starts with a mail to you and ends with a mail to you – you are more or less at the center of their existence. Recruitment and Compensation are the two biggest examples of “Pull” functions. And ofcourse, HR Generalists. Managers in these functions will never complain that the business does not give them time, it will always be the reverse – can’t they get off my back? The business will keep asking them for complicated reports, detailed analysis, status updates, and what nots – you are made to feel very much “in demand” and “wanted”. You will never have to justify your existence to them.

functions are those functions which you have to “sell” to your customer. Performance Management, OD, Leadership Development – to name a few. You will have to create a business case which convinces your customers of the value add of your function. Skepticism, cynicism, dismissal – these are only a few of the “not so nice” reactions you will meet with. The customer will never seek you – it is you who must seek him / her. Ask for meetings, call frequently, follow up regularly. In short, you will have to justify the legitimacy of your existence.

Given this classification, I would say even the skill sets required of HR professionals would then differ, depending upon whether they are in “push” or “pull” functions., irrespective of whether they are generalist or specialist roles.

In a pull function, speed of response, ability to provide closures, negotiate with your customers (on deadlines, decisions, process, etc), manage / juggle multiple, sometimes conflicting demands, assume primary importance.

In a “push” function, packaging and selling skills, ability to engage leadership teams and key stakeholders, and an almost dogged pursuit of your goals are crucial to succeed.

Both functions require an equal mix of brain work and leg work, both need you to be completely clued on to your business, and both demand that you be credible.

So maybe the next time – instead of wondering whether you are more suited for a generalist or a specialist profile, ask yourself instead whether you like to be “pulled” or “pushed”. You might view your choices in a different light.


March 09, 2007


Gautam wants to know if I “really” read his blog, just so that he knows I do – here’s my response to his tag:)

Books: Well..where do I start on this? Like all good parents – even mine introduced me to the Enid Blytons of the world – only to later on discover that reading became a disease with me! My Dad still says I got spectacles only because of reading through nights with dim lights on!

Here’s a listing of my favourite books:
>> Books I can never grow out of – Enchanted Woods, Enid Blyton (While other children built castles in the air, I built Toadstool houses thanks to her vivid descriptions and imagery around them!), Malory Towers Series
>> All Seasons Favourite – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
>> Books that make me cry – Bridges of Madison County, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
>> Books which send shivers down my spine
“Perfume” - Patrick Suskind, Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
>> Favourite book by an Indian Authors – Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri,
>> All time energizer
>> Currently Reading – Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Communication: A combination is what works for me. I cant overdo anything – be it email, phone, face-to-face. Texting (messaging) is NOT communication for me. I especially hate deciphering text messages which come to me like this – t c, c y sn, gd nt. Ugggggh! Whatever happened to the simple “bye?” (in case you still haven’t figured that out – it is “Take care, see you soon, good night.).

TV: I’m not much of a TV watcher. The times I do (which is largely over the weekends) – its with a finger endlessly pressing the channel change button. I have very limited attention spans when it comes to watching TV, though I must admit that I have watched all the episodes of the recently re-released
Koffee with Karan - Season 2!

Films: I like all kinds of films – but most of all – films on relationships. In Hindi, “Lamhe” & Mr. & Mrs. Iyer are my all time favourites. My favourite English films are “Speed”, “Primal Fear”, "Stepford Wives", "Hitch" – I also loved the recently released “Babel”.

Magazines – Ocassionally read all the business ones - Business Today, Business Week, Business Standard.

–I like Instrumentals, especially violin and flute. I also like the music of Micheal Learns to Rock, Savage Garden, Carpenters & Boney M.

Radio – It is an integral part of my morning drive to work. 98.3, Go 92.5, Red FM – I listen to all – and thoroughly enjoy the mindless banter, the variety of music, and ofcourse, the traffic updates!

The Web
– If this one is taken away from me, I lose my oxygen mask. I use the web to regularly check emails, visit news sites, read blogs and sometimes do some mindless surfing. For HR & management related updates, I visit Management Issues, Personnel Today, Workforce Management and HBS working Knowledge regularly. I hate “chatting” on the Net, so Google Chat, Yahoo & MSN Messengers are out for me.

Tagging: Shuchika, Cheri Baker, Prasad Kurien, here's hoping they pick up my tag!


February 14, 2007

On Exit Interviews

The CFO magazine writes about how exit interviews can be used as a tool to improve retention.

"Turnover is an expensive proposition, and 32 percent of companies surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers expect that cost to increase this year. Domeyer says exit interviews can be an excellent way to stem turnover because people are more likely to be candid about problems once they know they're moving on, especially if they can discuss them with a more objective party in HR."

My experience with exit interviews has been a little different. In fact, for a long time now Ive been wondering about the value of exit interviews. I believe they give you data, which you, as an HR person, should already have been aware of, and that too data - which many times is:

Highly exaggerated and unidimensional - "I hate my manager. and mark my words, everyone from his team is going to attrite in the next 3 months!"

Plagued with recency effect - Promotion loss, dissatisfaction with compensation hike, conflicts with the current boss

Coated with diplomacy - "It's a great place, but my interest lieelsewhere". "I've grown a lot here, now I need something more, which Idon't see this organization being able to give me"

Plain lies - "I wish to take a break in my career", only to find out a month later that the person has joined your competitor.

No one to blame here - because a lot of this is also about the way the exit interviews happen, and when they happen. Often they happen in the last week, amidst a whole lot of paperwork and winding up activities that the employee is swamped in. Also, their end outcome is a paper with the relevant checkboxes ticked - meaningful conversations are rare. And on those few ocassions when the interview has provided a lot of data, HR professionals get caught in the confidentiality rut - how do they act upon this data if they are not allowed to share it in the first place?

On the other hand, doing exit interviews after the employee has left (say within 3 months of his leaving) may be more useful. Logistically a little difficult to manage, but potentially more impactful.

As this CLC report says - (membership required)

Research suggests that companies are increasingly waiting to conduct exit interviews until several months after the employee has left. According to Entrepreneur, employers wait three to nine months, while IOMA and Workforce Management suggest waiting two to seven weeks. Conducting interviews after an employee has left may have the following results:
  • Participation levels may decrease the longer a company waits.
  • Employee feedback may be of higher quality because employees have had time to reflect on their experience with the company and are less busy dealing with other factors associated with changing jobs.
  • Employees may be more level-headed and provide honest, actionable feedback.

And then ofcourse, it could be a great way to build your corporate alumni network!


February 09, 2007

Time to Confess

I have a confession to make. Actually "many" confessions.

I try and practice what I blog (not to be read as "preach"), but sometimes I am unsuccessful.

I still don't have answers to the questions I keep posing.

I dont raise the red flag sometimes.

I try to compete, but end up comparing.

I do not always know the pain areas of my customers

In all the flurry of a hectic work day, I don't end up taking smoke breaks.

No........ I don't get sleepless nights over these contradictions and thats because I manage to retain my authenticity in my writings and in my interactions when I acknowledge that my blog does not always mirror my work life.

But yes, what the blog has done is increase my commitment to executing the written word. Its like this- once you hit the "publish post" button, you have made a "this is my world view" contract with yourself, and living the world view therefore becomes part of that contract. Atleastfor me.

Needless to say, the contradictions remain. They show up when we keep harping about effectiveness metrics and then end up measuring efficiency. They are the cracks on the wall that get formed when we forsake quality to meet numbers. They parade as process improvements when the problem is structural. Or worse still, they get showcased as automations. They become value cards that talk to you of behaviors that you never get to see in the organization.

So why do these refuse to go away? Why is there a gap between what we think and what we end up doing? I think its an interplay of factors. Sometimes its the situation - deadlines, budgets, pressure of meeting targets - and we end up compromising on the solution. Many times its the courage of conviction thats lacking. Its not easy to tell a Line Manager that he is a rotten leader and all the attrition in his team is because of him. On a lot of ocassions, its the credibility that you have built or not built with the business. There's no sense in talking about partnering with the business when you have a pile of mails you havent responded to. And here's the thing about credibility that I firmly believe in - easier to build than to lose. Easy to build because you can start with the small things - regular communication being one of them. Once you've built that, believe me - your customers will forgive you for small omissions you make later on.

And with that, I link to the post that inspired me to write all of this- a post that is already causing some ripples in the HR / OD community - the HR Multiple Personality Disorder.

I think the use of the term MPD has caused a lot of us to sit up and respond!

Whats your soul profile?

Deepak Chopra advocates doing a soul profile while interviewing - to get an insight into what really energizes the person.

He lists the following questions one can ask:
  • What's your purpose?
  • What kind of contribution do you make to the world?
  • What's your passion?
  • What are your peak experiences?
  • What are the top qualities you look for in a good friend?
  • Who are your heroes and heroines from mythology and legend, andfrom history and religion?
  • What are your unique talents and how do you like to expressthem?
  • What are the best qualities you express in your relationships? (Those are the qualities that allow soul to manifest in the world and inthe work place.)

This approach is also a lot about saying "we know you can deliver on thejob because you have demonstrated it through your past experience", but how can we continue to engage your "whole self" and in the process enhance your contribution to yourself, the workplace, and the larger environment?

February 08, 2007

Asking Dumb Questions

Have you ever asked a “dumb” question?

I was three months old in my career – making a presentation to some fairly senior people on a Quality Initiative that I was spearheading. Three slides into the presentation, I was asked by one of them “Whats your “deliverable” at the end of this? All I knew about deliverable that time was how to spell it. So what…..do I go ahead and admit that to this team, who were my management sponsors for the initiative and can at once dismiss me as being naïve ? Well yes…I did just that. “What do you mean by a “deliverable”? is what I asked without batting an eyelid. I got my answer. Which helped me give him the answer he wanted. And I got the support I needed for the initiative.

“What is the biggest skill that an HR professional needs today?”, is what I asked a
friend of mine. “Facilitation skills”, she responded with her characteristic depth and intensity, which her blog is so full of. I couldn’t agree more. And what is at the core of facilitation? Asking dumb questions.

“Is it so?”
“Why does that happen?”
“What do you think about this?”
“I don’t know the world you come from. Tell me more”.
“Is this what you are trying to say?”

We never have complete knowledge. And yet we need to get the big picture. We need to get to the bottom of things. And how do we do that? By asking dumb questions. And sometimes it could be as simple as a

Asking dumb questions requires character. It needs a combination of courage, humility and perseverance. Many
professionals get paid for it. On the flipside, many also get humiliated for it.

But if it is the only way of getting my answer, I would pay the price.

January 23, 2007

Of Smoke Breaks and Misanthropy in Corporates

Penelope Trunk at Brazen Careerist says -

"The point is that people judge your work skills as incompetent if you are not likeable — no matter what your work skills are. It may not be fair, but it’s what people do. So if you want to keep your job, you need to do enough politicking at work to make people like you"

A few years back, I would have scoffed at this. Why would have..I think I did scoff. After all, when you are fresh from Bschool, armed with delusions about your work speaking for yourself and delivery being the only thing you would want to focus on, a statement like this would be so "uncool" to make.

It takes the tough terrains of the corporate territory to bring you to a level playing ground and make you ask the important question - "If we are all so good, how do I get better?"

Lets face it, in today's information age, every individual has the knowledge and skills he needs to perform his job. If he does not have it, he can get it at the click of a button. It is hardly a competitive advantage.

On the other hand, what gives him the advantage is the "how".

You have a great idea...How do you sell it?
You have a great team...How do you manage them?

At the heart of these questions is a very very fundamental ability - "The ability to enhance your delivery by leveraging people / relationships" (Point to note - Leverage is not a euphemism for manipulate. A seperate blog post on what will follow)

So what are the elements of this ability?

Timing: Many ideas flop, not because they are bad, but because they have bad timing. Had you spent time with your customer understanding his preoccupations, you could have timed it better and increased chances of its acceptance.

Style: Very subjective, but crucial nevertheless. To put it simply, behaviours that demonstrate openness and willingness to accept feedback definitely find more acceptance amongst people.

Addressing the "Whats In It for Me". A sharp "people's person" will have mapped this out at the outset. He will know exactly what each of his stakeholders value and build that into his proposition.

And how will you know all iof us? Only when you engage with people, no matter how much you hate them or how much they tire you. There is no alternative to this, you cant delegate this, you cant outsource it. You need people around you, and you have to make them listen to you if you are to succeed.

So go ahead and take those smoke breaks, especially if you are NOT a smoker. You will be surprised at how many key decisions get made there!

January 11, 2007

The 3-2-7 principle!

My HR generalist friend recently introduced me to an interesting concept.

He said, with his inimicable sense of humour - "HR generalists always operate on the 3-2-7 principle". On seeing my quizzical look, he explained," On a scale of 1-10, an HR generalist typically enters at Point 3 (when its time for roll out / communication to employees), pushes himself to Point 2 (since he has incomplete information and needs the full picture), and then exits at Point 7 (because most review and decision making happens at a corporate level).

Thats the 3-2-7 principle for you!

I thought this was an extremey powerful way of describing what is a pertinent problem today across many organizations in India. A central HR function - with Business interface through HR generalists - who play multiple roles, wear multiple hats, do balancing acts, cajole, convince multiple stakeholders - and all of this - without having the complete picture ever! Can HR be really effective in this scenario?

As i try and answer this question, I have some ideas on how the generalist interface can move from 3-2-7 to 1-9:

Let corporate / specialist roles define the "what", let generalists define the "how". So, we may have a common framework for a particular initiative (eg, mobility), which outlines the objectives, the boundaries, definitions, terminologies, etc - the way it gets implemented may differ from business to business, depending on the profile of their people. Some business may encourage mobility through "Internal Job Postings", others may want to link it the advancement process, still others may want to look at global mobility only. The true worth of an HR generalist comes to play when he is able to advise the line managers on what is the best option given the motivational needs of his team members and the challenges in his business environment.

Specialists to start viewing generalists as internal customers. Think about it. Would you ever go to your customer AFTER you have finalised your deliverable? It would be sacrilegeous right? Ditto for our internal HR customers. They need to be actively involved in the input process - be it training need identification, specification gathering or new system implementation.

Just as a Business Head makes a contribution to the performance review of his / her HR generalists, a specialists' performance evaluation should have one component that comprises Business HR feedback. This should be made an integral part of a Specialist scorecard - and reviewed on a frequent basis.

I've started my goal setting for the year, and as a Specialist, these three points have been / are going to be the pillars of my goal sheet.

Long live the 3-2-7 principle!