Wednesday, October 1, 2008

From Gandhigiri to HRgiri

From Gandhigiri to HRgiri
Viren Naidu

What is the common factor that binds the HR manager of a MNC struggling to retain talent and Gandhi who was aiming for Poorna Swaraj by unleashing the strength of ordinary people? They both knew that the goals they had set to achieve were not easily attainable. But they, both, had a clear vision and had reinvented tried and tested strategies to tackle the situation. While Gandhi knew that he couldn’t fight the British with violence, the HR manager realised that offering a bigger salary wasn’t enough to retain a talented employee.

Gandhi, the change manager

Gandhi is still considered to be the common man’s leader. Any successful HR leader has to tactfully handle and provide right solutions to different people in different ways, at various levels. Punkaj Shankar, Global Head HR and RMG, Infogain who believes that the above qualities can be emulated in today’s workplace by the HR manager adds, “An HR leader should lead by example. A true HR leader would practice ethics and beliefs with great conviction before expecting others in the organisation to follow. Gandhi was an excellent example of a leader who led from the front and practiced what he preached diligently. A seasoned HR leader does not wait for people to come to him/her with their problems but proactively works at the grassroots level with them to understand their concerns.”

When Gandhi returned from South Africa and was thinking of getting into the Indian political scene, he travelled across the length and breath of the country. His objective was to first connect with the masses, know them better and then launch into action. He worked to exhibit that he was a part of the masses and not an outsider. This ensured that he could easily influence and galvanise the people and teams into action around a rallying point of independence. Priya Ranjan, Director, HR, Bharti AXA Life who strongly believes in the above analogy feels that a “Gandhigiri Award” that will seek to recognise employees who clearly demonstrate the principles of integrity, commitment, passion and respect for all should be instituted, says, “Leaders of today, both in the corporate world and outside, should not just pay lip service. Just like a great HR leader, he understood the pulse of the people and had his ears to the ground.”

Shankar suggests a few ways through which our HR leaders can emulate Gandhian principles at the workplace: 1) Adopt Gandhi’s style of making even the lowest person in the organisation feel and believe in the importance of his/her contribution towards the ultimate goal, 2) Use the right leadership style. For example, Gandhi advocated having leadership styles that were dependent on the circumstances. When Gandhi was in South Africa, he launched his protests in a suit and a tie and when in India, he used khadi and 3) Understand the human psychology and usage of it along with public relation skills to make a right impact.

For instance, during Dandi march, Gandhi had to make a bigger impact to address issues and hence, didn’t choose to march alone.

Gandhi, the HR manager

Persuasion and perseverance are the two Gandhian principles that can be used effectively to manage people in this changing environment, according to Ajit Menon, President Organisational Development, Mudra Group. “Humans, per say, are resistant to change and as an organisation, if you believe in a philosophy, then you need to have the perseverance to see it through the organisation and persuade people to adopt it, by showing them the benefit. He believed in the philosophy of ahimsa and it was through sheer persuasion and perseverance that made the entire nation adopt it,” adds Menon who says that they follow Gandhigiri at the workplace by carrying out innovative initiatives through LLC (Leadership, Learning and Change), their HR department. Being the change agents in the organisation, the HR at Mudra has to follow the principle of persuasion and perseverance as it takes months to change the mindsets of people, he says, adding, “The advertising industry, by and large, has no concept of HR. It has taken the LLC team time to demonstrate (hands on style) that HR is an integral part of the business.”

Experts believe that the Dandi Yatra epitomises the flawless people management skills of Gandhi. The Dandi Yatra was the first of its kind when Gandhi took a hundred mile walk to protest. In those days, walking for a political protest was totally unheard of. The innovation clicked with the Indian masses. First time, a leader reached the villages and involved them in a greater mission. People used to walk for getting firewood, for getting water and for daily chores and now they were walking for freedom. While narrating the above instance, Chetan Shah, MD, Synygy India adds, “Gandhi was not a theoretician; he was a man of action. Gandhi made no distinction in man and woman; both were equal in his eyes. He favoured decentralisation and his idea of trusteeship was based on the humanitarian ground of “bread for all before cakes for some”. “This salt satyagraha movement reflects Gandhi’s power in convincing and motivating people towards following unconventional and practical ways of achieving the goal,” adds Mohan Sekhar, President and COO, Collabera.

Abhay Valsangkar, Senior Director – HR, Symantec Corporation says that HR can address the rising discontent amongst employees and check attrition in today’s enterprises by emulating some of Gandhi’s attributes: 1) Be a good team leader: His ability to drive home the cause of the nation and develop a sense of belonging in one and all, for the nation, acted as a cementing force in the masses. A team leader in any enterprise intends to achieve exactly the same, wherein, the project goals can be achieved by a disciplined methodology, as laid down by him and 2) Be a good listener: The leader in him never lost the humility and he always listened attentively to all what people had to say. Similarly, a senior manager should always connect with everyone below his/her hierarchical level and listen to any concerns that they might have and duly address them.

Gandhi, the risk taker

Though most principles of the Mahatma can be translated into effective people management practices, the one that is inspiring, according to Rajkumar D, Head HR, Microland is his ‘people development focus’. Gandhi often said, ‘No society, state or any other institution has any worth or importance apart from its part in contributing to the growth of the individuals of which it is composed’. “Translation of this would mean organisations should focus more on the growth of its people, which in turn will result in the growth of the organisation,” says Rajkumar. “The ability to set an appealing vision and strategy and to be able to communicate it effectively, together with a good grounding of knowledge, seems to make up our perfect leader. These qualities were core to Gandhi’s personality,” says Bhavin Turakhia, Founder and CEO Directi.

Gandhi’s life was a chain of experiments with truth. And it’s these homegrown truths that not only HR but also each member of India Inc. can refer to as learnings to be emulated and applied in today’s Indian corporate scenario.