Technology & HR

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Everyone today is talking about technology and its impact on people. The impact on people could be from different perspectives. Let us examine it from the angle of impacting life and living.

I grew up in an era where the computer was not around nor the television in homes. Both these appeared in our offices and homes post the eighties in most countries and homes. How have they changed our lives ? Our quality of life has improved materially and physically although may have deteriorated emotionally ?

I remember many unions especially in banks were worried about introduction of computers and had resisted it for some time. Today a bank cannot imagine its existence without computers. We as customers do most of our banking ourselves on computers or mobiles. Has it impacted bank employees ? I would say it has helped the bank employees to improve the quality of their work and their productivity.

I believe the impact of technology will be similar in the future as well. Technology may develop more rapidly in the future than in the past. The quality of our lives and living may improve further. However, the same technology may be helpful if we are willing to use it prudently.

Let us examine the impact of technology on employees from a Human Resources perspective across the employee’s life cycle process – from recruitment to retirement. Technology may help in screening and assessing candidates more objectively and much faster. But I cannot imagine whether even artificial intelligence will ever be able to substitute human judgement in the future.

While it is true that a “Alexa” or IBM Watson may be able to derive logic from tons of data available to them but still may not be able to beat human judgement. It is like the development of technology, which brings the best of cameras in the world every day but none of them have been able to beat the human eye as a camera in its capacity and delivery.

We could trust computers and artificial intelligence to help in addressing routine tasks and also developing them in employees. However, the ability to respond intuitively like a human being may not be a reality in the near future. Even today the Alexa and Watson depend on inputs from human beings and programmers to derive logic from data fed into them.

Now, if we move to assessing and motivating employees, we need to examine the impact of technology. Technology can help us in objective performance assessment but the ability to empathise may not be replicable like a human being. I am aware of robots performing all types of tasks including love making but all of it will be without any emotions.

Similarly technology may help in making more precise decisions including in exits. However, human judgement is a combination of logic and gut. Logic can be built in by technology but not the gut. Most of the times in our lives, our decisions are based on gut and not by logic.

I believe technology will change life for the better in the future. But, no technology can substitute human emotions. We need to use  technology for improving our quality of life without getting impacted on our emotions. Today, we are willing to embrace technology and are increasingly losing the human touch.

Its like technology enables you to take a beautiful selfie without much effort as in the photo above. However, if we end up getting drowned in the sea taking a selfie on the beach, whom should we blame ?

Let technology lead us to a better tomorrow and we continue to trust human relationships to improve both technology and ourselves.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018

“WELCOME” to College

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Today is the first day for you at college. I remember I entered this wonderful institution 37 years back. It was a dream come true. I had done my graduation in science and it was my father’s choice. I wanted to study about people, which was my choice. My father gave me the freedom to choose and this college took the risk of admitting me.

I was nervous and the first day was memorable. If I have to welcome you today, I will urge you to remember the word – WELCOME – and what it means to you.

A. W – Welcome to the world of professional education. You may have graduated in arts, science, commerce or any other subject. Today you enter a professional course and it is different. You need to learn to learn all over again.

B. E – Education at college level is different from school. Whether graduate or post graduate level, you have to stand on your own feet and learn. There will be nobody to hold your hands or scold you. It is an opportunity to be self reliant.

C. L – Learn, unlearn and re-learn. Today the world is changing at an enormous pace. What you learnt yesterday may be history today and irrelevant tomorrow. Our ability to learn, un learn and re- learn will be our competitive edge in the future for you.

D. C – Change – Change will be the only constant in the world of tomorrow. Our ability to change ourselves and adapt to the changes around us will be our only guide to success.

E. O -Openness – We have to open our minds like a parachute. There is an opportunity to learn from everyone and everything around us. If we keep ourselves open, the opportunities to learn are limitless.

F. M – Morals – We often have the dilemma whether to be ethical or not. We see a lot of people around us in all walks of life who have made good money, the wrong way. We are also tempted to do. In my view, it is worthwhile to lead an ethical life. It ensures good health and happiness for you right through your life. Please remember, health and happiness, money cannot buy for you.

G. E – Excel – You need to excel in whatever you do here. Excellence is a journey and not a destination. You have to excel in academics, sports, cultural activities, field work, assignments and et all. If you excel and be the best nobody can ignore you. You will land up with a great job even before you finish your course.

Wish you all the best.

S Ramesh Shankar

July 2018

The flame

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A flame ignites our imagination. I have always wondered what does “fire” consist of. I have not found an answer as yet. I was a student of chemistry but still could not understand it. One thing I have understood is that fire generates light and heat.

A flame could mean different things for different people and in different contexts. Lets start with a teenager or an young adult. A flame could mean a person of the opposite sex, who ignites the passion in this person.

A villager may look at a flame as a source of fuel to cook food or keep himself warm during winters. It could also be significant from a religious perspective too. The flame in the forest could mean loss of life or livelihood.

The flame is a symbol of religious significance for a Hindu. A flame is burnt every day by the Hindus at homes and in temples to worship God. It is also used in religious ceremonies to offer our salutations to God. A flame is God in shapeless form.

When a building or a factory is in flames it is destructive. It can lead to loss of lives, property and livelihood. But a spark neglected may light the flame. This could be a good lesson in life. Are we neglecting sparks in our lives, which may lead to flames and ultimately destroy our lives and livelihood.

A flame is also a symbol of God in churches and other religious institutions. This symbolises that all religions lead us to the same destination. In my view, various religions are different paths leading us to the same God. We may call God by different names but the end is the same.

One of the interesting aspects of the flame is that it has no bias. It provides light to everyone with equal measure. If you tamper with it, it may burn you without any discrimination. It does not discriminate between the haves and have nots. One lesson the flame teaches us is to be unbiased in all our dealings in life.

Another interesting dimension of a flame is that it gives heat and light without expecting anything in return. This is a good quality to imbibe. It may be worthwhile to attempt giving to others without expecting anything in return. It is like the saying that the left hand should not know what the right hand is giving.

In the darkness of night, a flame can be the only source of light when electric power may also fail. It is interesting that man made sources of power and light are not always dependable but flame is. This shows that nature is beyond human imagination and we need to protect and preserve nature.

There is also a flame within us. We may call it our spirit or our soul. It keeps us ignited and always on our toes. It helps us to distinguish between the right and the wrong provided we are willing to listen to this internal flame.

Let the flame be lighted within us always.

S Ramesh Shankar

The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organizations today

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I became an HR professional by choice and not by chance. Now, if I look back at my career it has been a mix of ecstasy and agony at different periods of time. Both the organization and the environment contributes to it. But, I suppose it has been up to me to convert every agony into an ecstasy by creating opportunities for myself.

Let me reflect on some events of both agony and ecstasy to make my point. The first instance was more than three and a half decades back. I was posted to an iron ore mine more than 100 km away from a steel plant in central India. The joy of being selected into a public sector steel giant vanished after my training was over and I was posted to the mines. Within the first 48 hours I was gheraoed by the unions for more than 24 hours. It was agony at its worst, to say the least. However supporting managers and a great team helped me to convert this agony into a valuable learning experience. Even today, I am able to work collaboratively with unions and win their trust based on this experience.

The next big experience was in an automobile company more than two decades back. We had a big dream to evolve a vision and involve all employees in the change process. This was one of my best learning experiences of managing change and successfully implementing it. We introduced the “large scale interactive process, wherein we involved all the 1000 employees working for that business to evolve a common vision, understand where we were, where we wanted to go in 5 years and how do we get there by implementing the action steps. It was one of my most ecstatic moments as an HR professional. I have been practicing this learning even today to involve a large group of employees and implement real time strategic change efforts successfully.

About a decade and half back at an FMCG company I learnt the art of building trust. We had lost the trust of our employees and management lacked personal credibility. Again, although it was a crisis like situation, the support of a new enlightened management team helped us to re build that trust and gain employees’ confidence back over three years. Yet another situation of anxiety converted into an opportunity.

Today I work for a MNC. As a HR professional, I have learnt that we can convert an organizational crisis into an opportunity. Our customers were unhappy with the company. We worked with the management team and launched a “Customer first” intervention and trained more than 8000 employees to win customer confidence back. In this process, we not only earned customer loyalty but trebled our customer engagement scores. This has been one of my most gratifying experiences in HR to make a direct positive impact on our end customers.

Another learning experience in my current organization has been transforming our relationship with our unions. Although, we have internal unions, we had a evolved a love hate relationship resulting in at least one labour case filed by our union every month against us. We worked on this issue in a very systematic manner through establishing communication channels, reviewing all pending disputes in a fair manner and mutually withdrawing court cases and settling them through bilateral discussions. This has resulted in zero court cases filed in the last three years. This has been possible only due to objective support of both the union and management representatives.

All the above experiential learnings have taught me one lesson. Every crisis is an opportunity. As an HR professional, we cannot expect that our career journey will be filled with roses. It is always thorns and roses. It is up to us to convert every thorn into a rose by working on it.

One thing is true in today’s organization for all of us. What I learnt yesterday may be useful today. but may not make me a winner tomorrow in the market place. The rapid transformation of technologies and its impact on people, processes and organizations will have a huge impact on the role of HR.

One major impact I can foresee today is that although technology has provided multiple channels to efficiently communicate with people around the world in seconds, it has not enabled the effectiveness in the human connectedness. We may have a landline, two mobile phones, a tablet, video conferencing and IP calling facilities today but we do not talk to each other and understand each other as human beings. While I am a big fan of technology, I am equally concerned about the human alienation and loneliness within families, organizations and societies. This is a a big challenge for the HR professional to address since it will have impact on relationships within and outside the organization.

The generational shift will have its own consequences. Our ability to manage and balance multiple generations will be a strategic advantage for organization if HR is able to plan optimal interventions. Further, the VUCA world will challenge business models and impact the future of work. In my assessment, this will get impacted in five distinct spheres – work, skills, space, technology and life. All this will mean leaders have to adapt their styles to manage these radical shifts in organizational mindset of employees. HR has to partner employee and co create the future together with them and their manager in a digitized world of the future.

Diversity & inclusion will be an added dimension as a challenge to the HR function. It will be expected that the HR function facilitates diversity and inclusion as a culture in the organization of tomorrow as it is no longer a fad but a strategic advantage for better business outcomes.

As in the photo above, when five girls join the shop floor of your digital factory, you feel diversity is in action and not a slogan anymore.

One vital question for the HR professional today could be the survival of the function itself? Some thought leaders are questioning the need and survival of the HR function in the future world. I would think that as long as human beings exist, HR function will exist. However, tomorrow if an organization is going to be run by robots and AI then HR function may not exist. Having said that, it is important that HR function continually adds value to the business to ensure it is future proof.

Today’s environment is changing even before we realize it. Data analytics may alter business models and decisions. Cloud computing and artificial intelligence may crunch response times. Internet of things and connected devices may radically transform the way we experience life today. But human emotions and empathy will remain. It is up to us to anticipate this change and thrive on the chaos and convert every agony into an ecstasy by empathizing with our employees, suppliers and customers.

Every agony when reversed becomes an ecstasy.

The choice is ours.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th July 2018

Leadership in a digital age

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Leadership is a challenge for every leader every day. The challenges of leadership have changed over time. It is not only the people you lead but the environment in which you lead determines your style.

I wanted to reflect on what will leadership challenge look like in the digital age of the future. I explored it from five different angles – work, skills, technology, space and life. I then examined how a leader could deal with the challenges in each area.

Work – Let us explore as to how the world of work will change over time. The first and foremost distinction will be that the line between work and home will blur. People may work from anywhere and will not be comfortable with drawing distinct lines between home and work. They would prefer flexible working hours. An employee’s needs, wants and expectations from work will change. One cannot motivate employees by money alone. Purpose and values may be be more important than money. Life long employment will be history.

Skills – The skills acquired by a person will determine their value, not age or experience. Employees will tend to own their career and skills as they would like to be at the steering wheel at all times, not their boss or others. Automation and AI may make skills redundant sooner than expected. The only differentiator human beings may add to skills will be emotions.

Technology – Leaders have to continually master technology to have the cutting edge with their teams. Artificial intelligence and technology will replace routine jobs. Human beings need to add value with resonating emotions. Collaboration and co creation will become a way of life. Social good will overtake organisational selfishness.

Space – The cabins in offices will disappear. Work environment will embrace open architecture. Hierarchy will be a thing of the past and cross functional teams will drive organisations. Organisation boundaries will merge. People may work in multiple organisations and are committed more to their profession than to any organisation. Dress codes will be determined by individuals and not organisations. Formals will give way to casuals as comfort rather than impressionistic dressing will be the norm.

Life – Family as an institution may disintegrate or even get redefined. Society will evolve as a network of individuals rather than families and communities. Relationships get established through social media than real ones. Marriage as an institution may break down or change. This may impact relationships within and between families and communities. Stress will manifest in complex ways. As human interactions minimise, social interactions will increase with the use of technology. This means while technological connectedness may increase due to social media, bots, AI etc, human relatedness may decrease due to limited face to face interactions. Values have become relative as compared to absolute in the past. It is no longer black and white. It is grey most of the time and subject to interpretation.

So, if we look at leadership from these angles – work, skills, technology, space and life, we will understand that leadership in a digital age has varied challenges. They need to be dealt with differently from the past. Let us examine each challenge and on how a leader in the digital age can deal with it.

Work – The leader has to to be flexible and an adaptive networker to bring out the best in his people. Without laying rigid guidelines, the leader has to create the space to bring out the best in his team.

Skills – A leader has to be a challenger of their team and at the same time provide continual opportunities to learn and grow. If we can ensure that neither we nor our team members are complacent, we could be a winner.

Technology – A proactive adopter of technology and the latest trends will make a leader deal with the challenges of the digital age in an adaptive manner.

Space – A leader who behaves like a hierarchy less space creator will thrive in the emerging digital age. Our ability to cement collaborative teams to work together will be the differentiator for the future.

Life – A leader of the future has to evolve as an emotional anchor. The break down of family and marriage as institutions in the future will create more stress to the individuals and less coping mechanisms to deal with same. This means that leaders in the future have to be emotional anchors and fill the vacuum created by the emerging social trends. Leaders have to deal with relative value systems as compared to absolute of the past. This means what was considered inappropriate in the past may be considered normal or appropriate in the future. This means the role of listening to one’s conscience will be more important than ever before.

Let us learn to lead in the digital age of the future.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th July 2018

The red carpet

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I have always wondered as to why we use a red carpet to welcome important people on festive occasions. It could be a tradition or custom. It could also be a symbol of celebration. I should confess that I have not done any research on this subject. But I felt it may be worthwhile to spread my wings and let my imagination fly for the reasons.

In many religions red symbolises goodness. This could the reason. It could mean the occasion is auspicious and hence the red carpet. It could mean that you are remembering God while welcoming a guest.

Red could also a symbol of blood. It could show that you are welcoming your guest with your body, sweat, blood and soul – in a way whole heartedly. Blood may also relate to life and relationship and hence a connection is established between the host and guest.

In some countries red cars symbolise energy and youth. I understand that red cars are even charged more insurance. This is because they are likely to drive fast and more likely to make insurance claims. Thus red could represent energy and enthusiasm while welcoming a guest.

Red in Hinduism is sacred. It is supposed to protect you from all evils. This may also may be a way to welcome your guests and protect them from evil eyes being cast on them. It is fascinating how a colour could reflect so many things.

I wonder why the carpet could not be blue or yellow as they are also primary colours. I have no reason to believe why it is so. A simple logic could be that red does not fade easily and hence it may be easy to maintain red carpets unlike other colours.

It may be useful to reflect that colour of the carpet does not make the difference. It is the spirit in which it is used. In India there is a quote, which states that ” Respect your mother like God, Respect your father like God, Respect your guest like God and Respect your teacher like God. “. This means that the guest has to be respected like God. This could also be a logic for using a red carpet to welcome guests.

The red colour reflects royalty. It possibly is linked to the kings and queens of the past. If we look at the world of cinema, a red carpet is the symbol of the Oscar ceremony and may be reflects a regal ceremony.

I have no doubt that red is royal and regal. It expresses the emotions of the host to the guest in visual form. We have no doubts that a visual representation speaks more than a million words. This could also be the reasons for using red to welcome guests.

Red is used in most advertisements and this may also be a factor. Red could represent a colour which is striking and will be viewed by all. We can either believe our past and agree that there is logic in using a red carpet for any or all the reasons above. On the other hand, we can forget the past and change the colour to blue or yellow and see what people around us react.

The choice is ours. Red or blue – the emotions remain.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th June 2018.

The Appraiser & the Appraisee

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It is performance review time in most organisations.  The year is over and the appraiser has to review the performance of the appraisee. In most organisations, the appraiser is expected to have a pre-appraisal dialogue before she appraises her reportee to understand how the year has gone and what went well and what could have been done better.  Many appraisers do not take this step seriously and even give it a slip. In this step, the employee is expected to speak and the manager listen.

The appraisee fills in the form and based on the understanding of the same, the appraiser assesses the employee.  This then becomes a one sided appraisal as the manager has not been able to return to the other side of the story.  It may be said that principle of natural justice, wherein you give a chance to defend yourself before being judged has not been followed.

In the next step, the manager assesses the performance of the employee and fills in her comments and feedback to the employee.  This could possible be discussed in an appraisal group and then it is time for the manager to give feedback to her employee.  The manager is expected to fix a date and time and preferably do a face to face feedback session.  Most managers do it casually and in an informal setting like a canteen over a cup of tea.  I recently met a manager, who stated that his boss met him for breakfast and gave him feedback in exactly five minutes.  This negates the very purpose of a feedback session. In this step, the manager is expected to speak and the employee listen.  The manager is expected to give feedback with real life examples of what went right and what could have been done better.

The appraisal is expected to be complete, when the manager sits with the employee and agrees on the targets for the next year and also the development actions.  This enables the employee to focus on key areas during the next year and also helps the employee to take ownership of his development.  This could be reviewed periodically with at least one review every six months.

The real conflict arises when the appraiser and the appraisee have opposing view points on the performance of the appraisee.  This conflict could be resolved by asking for clear examples of high and low performance.  It can also be substantiated by feedback from peers and internal or external customers.  This may help the employee to get a realistic feedback and also take necessary steps for the next year to improve.

In most organisations, performance appraisal becomes a ritual and not so liked phenomenon.  This is mainly because managers are not trained and do not possess the necessary skills to listen, appraise and give feedback.  Both the appraiser and the appraisee dread this process and want to get over it more to tick a box then to celebrate the process.

As in the photo above, two way communication is critical for a successful appraisal dialogue. Listening more than speaking by the manager may facilitate a rich conversation.

One can make a performance management process rich in content and delivery by honing the skills of the employee and the manager.  Each has a distinct role and has to play it effectively to ensure overall development of the employee.  The real test of a good performance dialogue could be if it is inspirational or perspirational. The day the performance dialogue becomes inspirational, we have achieved the end as much as the means to the end.

S Ramesh Shankar
December 2016

Work from home ?

“Work from home” ( WFH) has become a good option for organisations to combat the Covid crisis.  I am aware of many senior leaders, who always believed that work from home meant no work and no control over their teams.  They were not only sceptical of this concept but generally discouraged their team members opting for WFH.  Now with the Covid crisis, these leaders have not only accepted this concept whole heartedly but are willing to accept it as the new normal.

While  WFH is being lauded as the the way to go into the future, it has its own limitations.  We need to be fully aware of the pros and cons of working from home. Let us first look at the positives of this concept :

a. Flexibility :  It provides flexibility to the individual and the organisation in terms of time and place of work and also enables individuals to manage their day accordingly.

b. Time-saving : It saves a lot of time especially for employees working in the big metropolises of the world.  The commute time is generally waste of time and energy to say the least.  This option ensures that people do not waste their time in commute.

c. Family time :  Employees tend to spend more time with the family in this option as they are physically at home even during working hours and thereby can lend a helping hand to their spouses and family members

d. Cost saving :  It could be a potential cost saving measure for organisations in terms of infrastructure and real estate costs.  A part of this could be passed on to employees in terms of their salary and benefits.

e. Work-life balance :  It can promote better work life balance if we are able to manage it optimally at our end and managers are supportive of the same.

Now let us look at the negatives of this concept :

a. Over-working& Under-working :  Employees tend to work more and thereby get more exhausted mentally due to calls and video conferences.  With time zone differences, it could end up eating into personal time of employees. On the other hand, some employees may misuse this option and work less too.

b. Impact on relationships :  The WFH option could result in impacting workplace relationships as conflicts cannot be easily resolved through web chats, phone calls or video calls.  Face to face interactions help in resolving conflicts at the workplace.

c. Family relationships :  Over-working and mixed priorities of work and home could end up in avoidable family conflicts between spouses and other family members as well.  This could result in misunderstandings, which otherwise may not occur in reality.

d. Work life balance :  While most people would think that work life balance could be better, in reality it could be the other way around.  Family members may start believing that they were better off when you were going to the work place rather than working from home.

e. Team work :  Team work at the workplace could be unplanned causality of the WFH option.  When team members do not meet face to face or talk to each other, their productivity is likely to dip and conflicts may increase.

Having looked at the pros and cons of the WFH option, it may be prudent for organisations to take a balanced view of the same post the Covid crisis.  It is neither desirable to swing from one end of the pendulum to the other and make all employees work from home nor stop this as an option when we get back to our old ways of working.  It could be provided as a flexible option and gainfully utilised by employees and organisations to strike the right balance between employees’ needs and organisational priorities.

It may be useful to remember that “Work from Home”(WFH) should be a means to an end and not an end in itself.

S Ramesh Shankar

26th May 2020

Featured

Role of HR post Covid crisis

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What could be the role of HR in the post Covid scenario ? This is a question, which may be lurking in the minds of many people. I would state that HR could evolve their “Ten Commandments” post the Covid crisis is over and employees gradually trickle back to the workplace.

1. Job Security : In the post Covid scenario, most employees would be worried about their jobs. This would mean a lurking fear that their organisations would have lost revenue for more than a few months and this could result in job losses for many. So, the first duty of HR could be to make the CEO communicate to all employees how they plan to get over this crisis and assure employees at all levels that they would not lose their jobs.

2. New Workplace : The new workplace will have a new normal. It will not be the same place of work like in the past. Apart from physical sanitisation of everything, there would be silence and loneliness at the workplace. There is need to make people adapt to this new work environment through effective communication and counselling by the managers and leaders at all levels.

3. Cost optimisation : While HR leaders should try their best to save jobs, they could be the champions of cost reduction efforts in the organisation. They could engage with employees at all levels and enable formation of teams so that cost reduction is in everybody’s radar and the organisations are able to make up for the losses incurred by this pandemic.

4. Employee engagement : In the post Covid scenario, employee engagement actions become all the more critical. It is important to make employees adapt to the new workplace and at the same time realise that we need to continue to serve our customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and all other stakeholders as we did before.

5. Work from anywhere : While the Covid crisis forced organisations and employees to adapt to the work from home option, it may be an opportunity for HR in organisations to enable employees to work from anywhere. This means no fixed workstations, laptops for everyone and they could work from any office or any place of their choice in the future.

6. Re-engineering processes : This is a great opportunity for HR to facilitate all the functions in the organisation to challenge all their existing processes and eliminate unwanted ones, simplify those needed and automate wherever possible. The shop-floor could also be digitised and automated so as to minimise human interface in routine operations and use employees for human value addition, which robots or machines cannot do like listening to and attending to customer grievances.

7. Rewrite the HR manual : Just like the Constitution of a nation gets amended from time to time based on the needs of the nation, this is a great opportunity in the history of the organisation to re-write its HR manual. It may be helpful to keep it simple, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and all paper work if possible.

8. Productivity : While many of us may not realise that India still has one of the lowest labour costs in the world but our productivity is not on par with the best in the world. This reset post Covid gives us an opportunity to rejig our productivity levels at the shop floor, in our offices and also in all our processes with suppliers and customers. For eg. is it possible for all employees to deal with all HR processes through their mobile phones and eliminate all paper work in the future.

9. Digitalisation : The ability to go digital in all aspects of work is a real possibility in the new workplace. Sales can happen online and service can be remotely handled. This means manufacturing can be digitilalised and automated and so can be all other processes. If banks can provide all their services through digital means so can all other organisations and this is the best time to transition and go digital, wherever feasible.

10. Employee Health & Safety : This crisis provides the best opportunity for organisations to rewrite its health and safety standards. It is not only physical health but mental and emotional health and wellness, which will get tested post this crisis. So , it is the best time for organisations to prepare for similar unknown crises in the future.

While I may not have listed down all possible things, which HR leaders could do post this crisis, I have focussed on the most important and called them the “Ten commandments for HR”.

Do let me know if I have missed out anything ? You can make your own “Ten commandments for HR” based on the needs of your own organisation.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th May 2020

The plight of decision makers in a crisis

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I have always wondered how difficult it would be for decision makers to make decisions in a crisis. The current Covid crisis is not an exception. Every country is trying to deal with the crisis in their best possible way. However the citizens are unhappy with the decisions being taken by their respective governments.

In a democracy, it is much more difficult to take decisions as compared to other forms of governments. Here, if you decide you are criticised and if you don’t, you are criticised. Either way, there will be people waiting for you to take a decision and then they are ready to pounce on you as to how bad a decision it was.

I sometimes wonder if these critiques ever put themselves in the shoes of those who decide. If there is a lockdown, they say livelihood is lost and if there isn’t one they say lives are lost. Those in governance are finding the right balance between protecting lives and saving livelihoods.

The beauty of a situation like this is that everyone becomes an expert on everything. We have common men and women advising us on how to deal with preventive health to deal with the virus. Whereas, even doctors and health workers are finding it difficult to deal with an unknown virus.

We have arm chair economists advising us on how to revive the economy and save livelihoods at the cost of lives. Some business honchos have even gone to the extent of saying that the economic downturn will result in more loss of lives than the Covid crisis.

The governments in the centre and the states are trying their best to decide what they think is in the best interest of its citizens. However, we all are restless and are ready to pounce on any decision taken by the state or the centre in our country. We do not realise that the people we have elected to take decisions supported by smart and knowledgable bureaucrats have more information than we have to decide on matters to deal with this crisis.

While we all have become public health experts, economists, administrators and futurologists, we forget our duties as citizens. We are the first to violate a guideline set by our local government on the pretext of being educated and knowing what we are doing. We go out to buy things which are not essential or demand for services from others risking their own lives for our comfort.

We do not realise how difficult it is for the urban and the rural poor. The situation is tough especially for the urban poor and most developed cities today run on the work of the migrant labourers. As citizens, we need to find ways to support these people during this crisis and not sit back and blame only the government in power for not doing anything. Are we capable of taking care of our security staff, our maids, our gardener’s, housekeeping staff and so on. If each of us commit to take care of people who touch our lives every day then the problem is simpler for the government to handle.

In a crisis, the most important factor to remember is that there is only one leader and all of us have to be diligent followers. Like in the Army they say, the word of the commander is their religion. So, we need to behave. We have elected governments at the centre and the states and we need to trust our people in power including politicians and bureaucrats to deal with this crisis effectively.

Let us learn to be trusted followers rather than quack experts in every field especially in a crisis. If I can put myself in the shoes of those in governance, I may realise how difficult it is to decide. I am an office bearer in our community association and can tell you that it is very difficult to deal with community decisions in a crisis like this. We have only 25 families living in my community. Imagine someone deciding on behalf of a billion people or even a few millions in a state.

As in the photo above, it is wiser to sit at home and admire the pond heron eating fish in your pond rather than sit in your arm chair and criticise the decision makers in a crisis.

Trust is key in a crisis. Follwership is our duty. Let us empathise and appreciate the difficult role of the decision makers by being self disciplined and following whatever guidelines are given to us.

Let us make a difference by being positive always and being enablers rather than detractors in a crisis situation.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd May 2020