Apart from listening to the lessons learnt in the Army Public School, Udhampur, and the details about the weekend routine of long-distance cycling and running, I could also bring up for discussion the role of HR (human resources) in the technology industry, during my recent interaction with Sanjay Bhan, Director - Human Resources, Texas Instruments (India) Pvt Ltd, Bangalore (http://bit.ly/F4TSBhan). And that became the theme of the email exchange Business Line engaged Sanjay with, after the brief meeting.
Excerpts from the interview.
What has changed in the way HR’s performance is measured in the technology industry?
HR’s role continues to be critical in the technology industry, especially in the R&D environment where the success or lack of success is directly attributed to talent. Product development and the innovation associated with finding out new solutions for existing and future markets happen only when talent is stable and engaged.
For example, in the past, we were measuring HR’s performance mainly on attrition. Low attrition would indicate that the talent engagement levels are high and various talent programmes are working effectively. However, in the current context, low attrition does not necessarily mean that HR is doing its job perfectly.
What matters to the success of the business is the retention of top talent that is actually bringing differentiation to the products and contributing to most of the innovation. Losing a few of such people would impact the business severely and the question, therefore, leaders should rightfully ask is what role HR is playing to continuously engage its top talent.
In summary, HR’s performance measurement criteria should be no different than for any other function. It is all about business performance, and HR like any other function must work directly towards the success of the business. It is not about the change in performance metrics, it is all about the change in mindset.
How does Indian IT industry’s HR fare in terms of both the traditional and the newer metrics?
I think the best people to answer this question would be the CEOs of the technology industry. However, I can share my perspective and say with reasonable confidence that different organisations are at different levels of evolution on the HR performance – from one end of the spectrum where the role of HR could be limited to administrative functions like issuing offer letters, payroll, benefits processing, employee database management, processing training nominations, etc., to the middle-of-the-road where the role of HR could be to plan headcount, work on staffing programmes, compensation and rewards, training and development programmes, employee engagement, etc.
At the other end of the spectrum is HR that plays a strategic partner role in the business – right from identifying the right business opportunities where talent needs to be invested, the right talent mix, effective organisation structures with the right leader leading the group/function, identifying long-term talent needs and designing programmes now to impact the future pipeline, effective career plans for the talent, and creating room and opportunities for their career growth.
While HR performance in these organisations is measured by how HR contributed directly to the success of the business, the expectations and understanding of the stakeholders is that HR will also continue to fulfil traditional roles and administrative roles. So it is not one role of HR in lieu of the other, it is all-encompassing.
In what respects do you feel that HR in the technology industry operates in situations unique to the industry?
As I mentioned earlier, the technology industry is as good as its people. Though this comment can be argued in favour of any industry, I will try to qualify my statement. In the technology industry, where the engineers are primarily involved in writing software, designing solutions, or designing products in a virtual environment, the quality of output is directly proportional to the innovative solutions for the market. The smarter the people, the better would be the products and hence the success in the market.
In other words, the challenges for HR are similar in technology industry like in any other knowledge industry. What works very effectively in such an environment is collaborative culture. For example, in Texas Instruments, our employees not only have opinions about various policies, they work together with HR to define the right policies and implement them. A section of passionate employees volunteer to run the entire work-life initiative which they fondly call “Balancing work & well-being”.
Are there insights from the IT product companies (such as yours) which can be adopted by the IT services companies?
Each organisation operates towards its business goals and strives to achieve them with its respective cultural context. What works at one place does not necessarily mean that it would work with the same level of effectiveness in another organisation howsoever great the initiative is.
Some of the best practices I can mention about Texas Instruments in India are about the dual career ladders for technology employees, ability to gain experience across R&D and sales, collaborative way we define (and sometimes run) our benefits, our partnership and engagement with the academia and students, etc. There is always a context to why we have these best practices and how they work effectively in our culture.
Going forward, what do you see as the HR practices that will get the highest rewards for corporates?
HR’s impact in making the business successful will get the highest reward for the corporate. Many times HR professionals confuse their role with being the employee champions and effectively end up slowing down the speed at which business decisions need to be made. In my opinion, HR practices are the means to the end, and the end goal is the success of the business in a corporate environment.