HR and Culture – the never ending melodrama

There was a time when HR was the king of the organisation, hiring and firing people, the disciplinarian generating fear and awe, deciding on what stays and goes, making arbitrary rules that instil a sense of calm yet a strange sense of fear. This lead to puns and memes which till today contribute anything negative in an organisation on HR. As the times progressed, HR started to play the role of a custodian, divesting much of its power to the business, asking leaders to take on more accountability and ownership. HR focussed more on strategic initiatives involving building for the future as well as creating systems that stood higher than those implemented by the competition, and while doing this continued to deliver on the entire lifecycle of an employee, from source to exit. With improvements in technology, it was only a matter of time before someone asked the question – why is HR required?

If business leaders take accountability of the employee’s success, if HRIS and other technical platforms take on the role of the employee database management, leaves, attendance, timesheets, interaction, performance reviews, payroll, incident management etc., and online training platforms using a mix of AI, VR and other technology provide the learnings that an employee needs, the HR function and teams that support it are basically redundant. We will probably need a few people from a strategy perspective, and some to run the talent acquisition as well as manage the controls, but largely HR will cease to be a tactical organization. If that happened, who owns the culture?

I have constantly advocated that Operations Managers, Delivery Managers and others need to be held accountable for their team’s behaviour and performance, as they are the ones that the teams look up to for direction and support. If these leaders are not able to uphold behaviours linked to transparency, fairness, problem resolution, empathy, teamwork etc., then they should not expect extra-ordinary results, but be content with just the ordinary. Fast forward a decade, all HR processes will be automated in the digital world, with metaverse providing the platform around a simulated world, devoid of humans, in a world run by robots (read tech). While everything linked to employee motivation or culture will also be online, the Manager will continue to play the role of the custodian of the team culture, behaviours and practices, and the primary validator of all exceptions.

Ever heard of a business that has been plagued with people issues, like attrition, back-biting, politics, abuse of power, lack of vision, siloed approach, fragmentation, poor principles, ethic violations, etc., and continue to be growing, profitable and high customer satisfaction? This may be possible in a heavily funded product company or a start-up services company where the compensation plays a large role in motivating the employee, but would it be the same if excessive compensation was not the case? I am sure we all know the answer, yet it’s amusing to see senior leaders casually pass the baton of culture management to HR, and divert their focus on the clients and the profit.

A good work culture does not get created overnight. It takes constant effort, practice and dedication from a large group of people within an organization. A section of the company believing in something and being passionate about it will not help the entire company. Culture change is like a Tsunami, it flows fast, covers a large ground, is relentless and ruthless. But who in an organization has the power to create such an effect? I believe the answer is quite apparent and within. Poor executive leadership will make and break an organization, especially the 50,000 feet high view which does not understand the actual activities on the ground. Thus, leadership selection is key to deciding the future of an organization, and should never be taken casually. The question is no longer about the management of P&L or size, the question is around supporting the transformation and change around culture, modern practices, technology and stakeholders,

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