The real competitive advantage in any business is one word only, which is “people”.
Kamil Toume, Author
An organisation is known for its management, leadership, strategies, processes, innovation, culture etc. But it’s ultimately about people – referred to as employees – in organisational terms. It is these employees who can make or break a business. Organisations who believe in this mantra and work towards keeping employees happy and engaged are better placed to handle crisis and take advantage of opportunities.
How to keep the people enthused and engaged in an organisation falls essentially in the domain of the leadership team and its Human Resources department though every team leader or head of department also has a role to play here. The MD or CEO can share his vision and ideas but may not find time for continuous investment. It is for the HR team to instil, nurture and perpetuate strategies and measures to keep the workforce invested in their workplace.
Modern day HR in most professional companies spans across verticals such as Recruitment, Learning & Development, Operations, Performance Management, Employee Relations etc. While processes and systems have evolved in recent years, the core of HR is still about people. In that sense, the most defining trait required for a HR professional is the ability to connect with people – who in this case, are employees.
Within HR, those who are involved in the people-facing functions need this trait more than anyone else. The onus is on the HR partner to inspire trust in the employee, enough to get her or him to freely share feedback and experiences. In the absence of human connection, this cannot be achieved. The employee needs to feel secure enough to openly speak without any fear or concern.
A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candour, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.
Edwin Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar
In some cases, there could be apprehension that no positive outcome may flow out of sharing critical feedback, it may instead invite retribution or public rebuke by a team leader or head of department. The fear that the information shared may reach the wrong people or may go against the complainant is why most employees do not speak up. This arises out of a lack of trust or goodwill between an employee and the HR partner. The employee needs to be given the confidence that no action will be taken against him or her, if the information is found to be true. Trust is the foundation of human relation.
In some organisations, HR is viewed by employees as only echoing the management’s voice. While looking after the business interests and objectives of the organisation is critical for HR, it also needs to play a constructive link between the management and the employees. At times, it needs to be employees’ advocate vis-vis the management. And whenever required, it needs to support the management in executing tough measures for the sake of business longevity. While it may be necessary to serve as the eyes and ears of the leadership team, it is equally required to represent the employees’ concerns and grievances to the management. The best HR practitioners know how to walk the tightrope and help achieve the right balance while managing employer-employee relations.
The best HR leaders push the management to periodically engage with employees in a structured manner. Organising town halls at least twice a year, getting the MD or CEO to engage once a quarter with a small group of employees in a casual, freewheeling chat goes a long way in building trust and boosting morale in the rank and file of the organisation. In companies, where such activities are institutionalised in the annual calendar, employees are seen to walk the extra mile whenever required.
Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability
Anne L Mulcahy, of Xerox
While setting up and institutionalising the right processes are important to help teams achieve efficiencies, managements and HR should never lose sight of the most valuable resource residing in organisations – the people. When people are happy, companies can leverage the competitive edge arising out of their output and performance. In the last decade, some organisations have recognised the importance of this and have felt the need to have a Chief Happiness Officer. Some companies refer to their CHRO as Chief People Officer with a clear intent of sending the right message. Because when people are happy, impossible is nothing.