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Putting People At The Heart Of Corporate Strategy

03/06/2016 7:56 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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The accelerated recognition among corporates of the importance of HR is a relatively recent phenomenon. A rapid shift has occurred from the mechanistic, scientific management perspective of Frederick Taylor, whereby productivity enhancement and efficiency, especially in manufacturing industries, were seen as occurring through the elimination of wasteful physical motion.

Over time, Taylorism, as it came to be known, underwent modifications but HR, as a concept, was never given due importance. Until very recently -- and this continues to be the case in many companies -- HR was not seen as directly contributing to revenue and, thus, as a drain on company resources. Vice President HR was possibly the kiss of death, as far as the promotion ladder was concerned!

HR was not seen as directly contributing to revenue and, thus, as a drain on company resources. Vice President HR was possibly the kiss of death...

All this dramatically started to change with the growing recognition of the impact that worker satisfaction has on performance and productivity. Interestingly, many took their cue from a study carried out by scientists at Newcastle University, demonstrating that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual, farmers could increase their annual milk production yield by almost 500 pints. Happy cows produce more milk!

Individuals, companies came to gradually realize, were no different. Consequently, the new approach to HR embraces employee satisfaction as the key to his or her enhanced performance and productivity. Focusing on employee happiness, thus, came to be seen as sound business policy and, in fact, an investment in the future.

On 27 May, at the Mumbai campus of the SP Jain School of Global Management, top HR heads from Amazon, Mahindra and Mahindra, Deloitte, Reliance Industries and several others, gathered to brainstorm about how innovation in the workplace and the workforce will emerge as the key growth driver. Backed by a survey carried out through its campuses in Dubai, Singapore, Sydney and Mumbai, the school demonstrated the need for the HR fraternity to recognize the importance of perceptions and the need to develop a dynamic approach to HR, especially in view of disruptive innovations taking place through transformative shifts in technology and design, coupled with the aspirations of its workforce.

Focusing on employee happiness came to be seen as sound business policy and, in fact, an investment in the future.

The Conclave's focus on the individual as an integral component of corporate strategy drove home the need to recognize that employees are, in fact, the real heroes of company success. HR, it was repeatedly emphasized, can directly impact corporate strategy and performance. For a business school to embed this perspective into its teaching DNA and to regularly interact with practitioners in the corporate world would positively transform the manner in which HR is perceived.

But as corporate strategy, HR needs to regularly reinvent itself. With rapid advances in technology, working and living spaces are constantly changing. HR can no longer restrict itself to talent spotting or retention but rather on talent forecasting. You need to anticipate the future. Similarly, HR that does not engage social media will soon be rendered irrelevant. In other words, the very focus of HR (and the tools it deploys) must shift from hiring and firing to engagement, because an engaged worker performs better.

HR is now being viewed as integral to corporate strategy because employees matter.

This shift in mindset reflects how successful companies have moved from what they do to why they do it. Apple's story sums it up well: the consumer doesn't just buy a computer; rather, he buys into an idea. It is this swing from "what" to "why" that is now redefining the approach to HR. In other words, HR is now being viewed as integral to corporate strategy because employees matter.

[Amit Dasgupta, a former diplomat, heads the Mumbai campus of the SP Jain School of Global Management]

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Photographs by Nemai Ghosh

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