Thursday, August 23, 2007

People Are Our Greatest Asses (oops ...Assets)

Every Human Resources person worth his payroll, has heard these cliches over and over again. "People are our greatest assets" - usually put on posters all over the organizations that least believe in that philosophy. Ask anyone why they wanted to choose HR as their major in Business School or as a career and you get another cliche that makes me groan. The person will curl up their toes and say, "Because I really enjoy working with people." or that "my friends told me that I am really good with people." That basically means I am not sure what I am good at, but I think I can have coffee and make conversation.

So why do people choose HR as a profession? I chose it because
a) I knew enough about all other courses to dislike them.
b) This was the only one that I did not know enough about to dislike.
c) All of the above

Of course, when I started working after B School, they used to call it Personnel Management. Today you would be really deemed to be uncool if you did not know that we no longer handle Personnel. We are the new and improved Human Resources Department. I guess those days we had to handle the animals in the zoo ourselves, unlike the new kids who get computers to do it all. No more human contact. We can now outsource the contact part of it. Someone told me that anything that can be templated can be outsourced. So I guess human contacts have just been so classified. Outsource that stuff so that we can get down to doing real work.

In one company where I worked they were implementing a new fangled ERP system that was sucking up more resources than the Gulf War. I was told we had to implement that HR system so that it would leave the HR folks free to do real work. "If all the work was taken away, what WOULD be left for that fellow to do anyway?", I had asked. My boss who was standing at the podium with the big cheese of the ERP Company said that he would take my question offline. That basically means that he would either ignore the question or would that he would be allowed to stab me when he met me in the hallway later that evening.

Look at the seminar topics on HR. That will tell you what is the big question that the clods are grappling with? In those days seminars were around topics like, "Human Resources - Art or Science?" Two days or five days of asking bad questions left neither the participant nor the trainers any wiser. In fact I have always had a queasy feeling when I was told that someone was a trainer. It always reminded me of the trainer who came to teach Rover how to shake his paw without wetting the carpet. It was after I joined HR that I discovered there were trainers for humans too. Their task was not different from what Rover's trainer tried so hard to do.

I am just curious. Do all functions manufacture cliches like HR does or is it just us? Do all other blokes have self doubt like we do? Well you know every now and then we will hear seminars where people ask "Is HR a Business Partner?" The answer is obviously expected to be yes if you are to be let in to join the party. But truthfully speaking the jury is still out on that one.


Prasad Kurian said...

In general, any organization (including the HR organization/ function) 'appears to be neater' when it is viewed from outside than when it is viewed from inside. Since the 'entry barriers' are practically non-existent in the case of HR, HR's 'trade secrets' might be leaking out a bit more than what happening in the case of other functions!

Kim said...

This blog sounds like a good idea. Hope u manage to carry the momentum :) Would be lovely to read the thoughts of so many noted people in the HR domain.

Sophia said...

This post takes me back to my B-School days when we were made fun of only because we had taken HR as a specialsation, (especially the guys)
Nothing has changed since then as today my Busines Head calls us all HR Jokers.
Probably the times of P"ersonnel Management" were better.At least people were scared of us.

Viji said...

thanks for speaking up - Adding to what Sophia says PM/IR days were better when we knew we had work that was clearly defined for all to see- wage /bonus settlement , ensure no strikes/lock out- if so negotiate and "tackle" trade union guys

now - we are trying to justify our existence

donkeySOUP said...


We neither know why we are born nor what we will be after death. Somehow we are in an unknown process. In this process, few sub processes are tested, documented and 'MADE' a system. HR is one such. It is a mind game to ensure our stay in this process a dynamic one. LOL.

In simple terms, we will not die using a lifeboy soap. Still we MARKET a NEW soap and fool people around.

It all depends on one's convenience - Complex or Simple...

bombay dosti said...

I dont believe this!
Why are we afraid of cliches? It is true that people make the difference.Its true that some people like to do something for people - either personally or through systems.
I really dont see the relevance of these "my existence" questions in any case.
It is true that line managers are expected to be the HR managers and if all managers take the time to prioritise their people development and their issues,there would be not much role for HR managers. But its not an ideal world and therefore the role for HR.Their roles become important as the organization becomes bigger and it becomes difficult for line managers to actually prioritise.
And please, just because the truth has been spoken many times, it earns the tag of 'cliche' but that does not mean that we undermine the truth behind the cliche.

I think this function has a value.
And yes some people also preferred to choose HR because they knew what it was and wanted to be in it.

Sonali Lavande said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sari said...

i dnt no much abt all , but i always though "if my company wud have had one , v vud b in better shape "


Nabomita said...

I guess it is the current scenario with HR is quite a paradox .At one end , HR functions are quintessential .At the other end, given the new business structure we work as custodians which clearly means we are there to take the blame in trying times but never show or prove our existence during the sunny days . I always wanted to be an HR and will continue to be one as I believe we have the innate ability to provide solution and workaround within the limits of the organization. Couple of days back, I was in an industrial conference, wherein the role of HR Business partner was questioned. A gentleman rightly posed a question that HR needs to prove its capability to share a seat in the boardroom. I consider my self a novice in this scenario and would request readers to enlighten me further on this!

Siva said...

There's this large company in India, which goes around saying Employee[r]s first, Shareholders second[sic]...

Nice rant...

Sanjeev said...

Any trade or practice will have the real thing and the shams. So too in HR. You think HR has too many jargons? Try having a conversation with a s/w engineer, a marketing manager or a quality control guy. If you can make simple sense of what they are saying, you are a genius. I like sales guys. Its either up or down:-)

Sujata said...

Hmmm... interesting..

I've never asked you this one ... but why did you take up a career in HR ?

Abhijit Bhaduri said...

Hi Prasad/ Kim/Sophia/ Viji/ Donkeysoup/ Bombay or is Mumbai Dosti/ Sonali/ Sari/ Nabomita/ Shiva/ Sanjeev/ Sujata

Thanks for commenting. Like everyone else on the planet, each function needs to build credibility in the organization. That is done through the individuals who represent the function. Hope this tongue in cheek nudge will help us think about it for a moment.

As for your question Sujata - "Why did I take up HR?" The honest response is - Serendipity.

Rajendra said...

Really enjoyed it Abhijit! Especially the offline question part! The Art and Science question also brings back memories from all the interview/group discussion training pre b-school.

This need to justify existence, prove the worth of the function is not just a phenomena I've seen in India. It's a global affliction.

Somehow, the function's credibility is always a direct relation to the Individual in the case of HR. So perhaps, in the search for the function's worth/value - we're all really searching for our own?

Dheeraj Goyal said...

Its so strange..

Most of us are aware of all these , but we still turn our backs towards
this. Not many people actually dare to take the plunge .

Far Rider said...

hi .. this is priyanko from TOI .. was wondering if u want to be featured in the 'tribal instincts' column we have each week .. if yes .. please mail me at with ur contact details .. cheers .. and good job with the blog!

Dheeraj Goyal said...

Addressed to ‘The Extraordinary League of Gentlemen’ -

What a way to start this Blog – the first post itself captures the dilemma that we HR Professionals face often. Not many people can still differentiate between an admin and a HR Role.

If you were to ask a random sample – What all does an HR function involves, most people would be mum after mumbling out Recruitment, but then this bunch of earthlings can’t be blamed. It is purely reflective of the failure on highbrows of the organization to relate and attribute a tangible part of success purely to the HR Initiatives – maybe they are themselves too unsure or skeptical! A conscious effort is needed to drill down this gospel in the masses.

Abhijit Bhaduri said...

Hi Rajendra Priyanko and Dheeeraj
Thanks for your comments. Nothing like a pat on the back to motivate someone to write their next blog piece!