Mumbai Capital

HR isn’t black and white

Poornima and Parag Pandey deal with the greys differently—Photo: Special Arrangement  

When it rains, it pours grey. Poornima and Parag Pandey realised this through their stints spanning over a decade-and-a-half at blue chip companies. Most human resource issues cannot be force-fit into black-and-white slots. For example, should you train the average many, or the good few? Should organisations make themselves more attractive for women at the cost of men? Should you tilt reward systems towards the group or the individual? The solutions to most of these issues, therefore, lie somewhere in between.

This is where they were clear they would differentiate themselves, and in July 2013, the HR consultancy, ‘Raining Grey’ took shape. When organisations come to them with problems, they look beyond stereotypical solutions and draw inspirations from life. “If there isn’t an expression of us in our work, then it seems like it is not ours”, says Parag.

Apart from the fact that the couple tackles the greys, they also do it differently. There are no elaborate pitches at the client’s office. They stay miles away from networking, development centres and coaching, and prefer a deeper engagement with clients. They have used drama and dance to teach problem solving techniques and career management.

Here’s how the Pandeys break the mould: when an organisation comes to them with problems, they look for subtexts. “Subtexts are quite apparent if one looks for them, and can be addressed by just looking around in the world outside”, says Poornima.

One company recently asked them to address the issue of employee engagement. The black-and-white solution would have been to carry out annual employee surveys, draw up themes and make action plans. The Pandeys told this organisation they did not have to do the survey – that would lead to limited solutions. They scratched the surface, and found that people managers in the organisation faced ‘doctor’s fatigue.’

The concept refers to what doctors ask, at the end of a long day caring for others: ‘Who will care for me?’ The Pandeys got a well-known Mumbai psychiatrist to talk about how he dealt with it. “The issue was not their careers per se. We said, ‘We don’t have a magic wand but the angst can be reduced. Let’s look at that’,” says Parag.

In another organisation, employees were looking for resources commensurate with the work they were doing. The subtext was clear early on. Employees limit themselves by giving in to the temptation to complain about constraints, and get weighed down by expectations.

The Pandeys turned to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) for inspiration, and called in the leader to speak about how they made progress despite severe constraints. They also searched the internet and found an exemplary disabled achiever to address the employees about the kind of progress she makes despite being paralysed from the neck down. The Pandeys said they were bringing in a guest, whose expenses the organisation would need to take care of. “We said we are nowhere in the picture, though the theme is designed by us,” says Parag.

The couple has a name for these instances: ‘good collisions’. “Do you really need to talk to adults who manage teams? Instead, we said we could change the conversation to make it more aspirational; something that dignifies even the participants,” says Parag.

One huge grey area the couple comes across is diversity and inclusion. “It’s almost like the tables have turned. I keep having these conversations with people, asking them not to do things that are women-only -- anything that is for, of and by women,” says Poornima. Besides, any discussion on the topic typically ends in a gun battle.

Since women constitute half the world, there is an opinion that companies should have 50 per cent women. But only 30 per cent of graduates in India’s workforce are women. Poornima and Parag feel the goals need to be reasonable and desirable, and advocate a 10-20-30 formula -- 10 per cent women in leadership, 20 per cent at middle management, and 30 per cent at junior levels.

At one company, they roped in the children and spouses of the management team to drive the point home. They got the child of a management team member to recite the tables of 10. “Because their families were involved, it reduced apathy and raised happiness and energy with the topic,” says Poornima.

In many ways like this, the Pandeys work in a counter-intuitive way. For client proposals, they have ditched PowerPoints in favour of videos shot in their living room or society garden, an approach paper supplemented with caricatures sketched by a septuagenarian artist, or even animation films and other presentation formats using online applications. “An organisation even thought we were ‘telestration’ professionals and asked us to make employee education material. In all honesty, we pointed them in the direction of a good telestration agency”, says Poornima.

A lot of consulting is about asking the customer what she wants and fitting solutions or deliverables into that. The Pandeys, however, encourage clients to try things for themselves. “Our proposals are not regular; we have not signed a single contract. We work from home so have minimal overheads,” says Parag. Most of their work comes from references, so opportunity costs are low. “We ask them to treat us as if we were their employees. A lot of people have given us this tag of ‘unconsulting’,” adds Poornima.

Going forward, they would like to promote the cause of a work and pay future for the greying workforce in India. “There is a lot of talk about the demographic dividend, but rather than see the young replacing the old, we would like to see them work together. In any case, when the demographic dividend ends, there will be an unmanageable surge of old people in the population. What happens then?”, says Parag.

They believe that within the grey solutions of today, lie the seeds of grey problems of the future. “Things come back a full circle, and we should make our peace with that”, he adds.

Don’t they come up against the cynicism that greets most HR interventions? “Some cynicism goes away when they see a non-professional relationship. Respectability has got attached to us by virtue of the fact that we are husband and wife,” says Poornima. Parag adds, with a grin, “We appear like we can do more than we can.”

Perhaps it is their unstructured approach that leads them to the grey. And so far, it’s worked. “We have more work that we can handle between the two of us. A little more, a little better and a little ‘us’ keeps us going,” says Parag.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 6:15:30 PM |

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