“Succession planning is absolutely important for sustainability of organisations”

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“Succession planning is absolutely important for sustainability of organisations”

Having worked in the area of human resource management for 44 years, Aquil Busrai is presently the CEO of Aquil Busrai Consulting which he founded in 2010. He has worked at various MNCs including Unilever in Kenya and India, Shell Malaysia, Motorola and IBM India in leading positions related to HR. Busrai was also the President of Delhi Management Association and Vice-chairman for All India Management Association's Northern Region. In 2016, he was named among the "Most Powerful HR professional in India" at the Asia-Pacific HRM Summit in Singapore.  An avid wildlife enthusiast, he usually dedicates his free time to follow his passion for wildlife photography. Busrai loves coming to Nepal and is interested in upgrading the Nepali HR community by providing skill enhancement trainings. He was recently in Nepal to participate in the Human Capital Conference organised by the Nepal Banking Institute (NBI) as a keynote speaker. Nikeeta Gautam of New Business Age talked with Bursai on emerging trends in human resource management along with the challenges in the area of HR and ways to deal with them and the activities Aquail Busrai Consulting in Nepal. Excerpts:

What trends are emerging in human capital and human resource management?
Automation, data analytics and big data are the major global trends in human capital at present.  There has been a lot of emphasis in collecting and analysing data at present maybe for current or predictive analyses. Collecting existing data and forecasting individual behaviour is a new trend in human resource management. With predictive analysis, for instance, institutions can analyse and record the behaviour of their staff such as unannounced leaves, incomplete projects, absenteeism, declining performance and coming late to work. This helps institutions to assess whether or not such staff are interested in their work or want to leave the organisation and helps the management take preventive measures so that the operations do not get affected. 

Similarly, there are new trends in employee engagement. In today’s world, new people joining the workforce have few but specific demands. They look for instant gratification and respect at the workplace. They expect regular increment in salaries. They are not interested in working in the same organisation for a long time if such expectations are not met. Similarly, they are also concerned about their professional growth and are afraid of becoming obsolete. Another thing is knowledge which they do not necessarily get from a college or formal training. They prefer being trained online rather than face-to-face and want it in customised ways. The advent of newer technologies has changed human resource management in the last 15 years.

It is important for the management of institutions to handle employees in such a way that makes them feel more independent in today’s world. Rather than pointing out processes for work, they want proper guidelines from the management. The new generation of employees wants the management to become their mentor. They want coaching, but not supervision. For example, they appreciate communicating online and don’t want to attend face-to-face meetings all the time. Many managers who were born in the 50s or 60s are finding it difficult to manage the employees of new generation.

Meanwhile, flexibility should be another factor of consideration for the modern day HR departments as a new generation employees want it to become a part of their routine. They generally don't want to follow the daily routine of 9-5. We can see that in most of the families that husbands and wives are both working and they don’t want to sacrifice the career of one spouse for the sake of another’s.

What are some of the lessons in your own practices relevant to Nepal?
There are several challenges in the business sector in terms of human resource management at present. In the banking industry, for instance, poaching of employees has become common. However, this is not healthy and only increases the cost of hiring. A dilution of skills is happening because of a lack of resources to produce skilled workforce.

Businesses in Nepal are looking for professionals in middle management. So, effective training and executive coaching must be done within the organisations. This will help organisations to retain their professionals. In the meantime, there is also a need to engage low-skilled, semi-skilled and fresh graduates in skill development programmes. The major challenge for Nepal is the lack of talent due to reasons such as the brain drain. So, creating opportunities through skill-oriented activities will create a talent base in the country. 

Upgrading the HR community is seen as another challenge in the management scenario of Nepal. Administrative jobs are done by HR departments in most organisations here. The management should comprehend that the departments in HR and administration have different sets of responsibilities and hence work differently. It is also important to provide HR skills to the respective departments of the organisation for acquisition and retention of talent.

 CEOs in Nepal mostly complain about the lack of a working culture here. Higher salary and benefits do not seem to help organisations retain people. What do you think are the effective ways to retain people?
There is a gap in the understanding between CEOs and the staff. Due to this, CEOs get frustrated thinking that people are not working hard. If HR executives are skilled, they can work to improve the working environment and retain employees in the organisation. They will act as a bridge between CEOs and staff thereby making interaction between the different level executives positive which will ultimately impact the overall productivity of the organisation. 

Some people become indispensable over time for institutions. How should organisations handle this? 
It is risky for the organisation if anybody becomes indispensible. Therefore, succession planning must be an area of focus for organisations. In the absence of succession planning, an individual occupying a critical position will become indispensable and the organisation will fear losing that person. This will create an environment where the person is treated in a more special way which is unhealthy. However, with good succession planning, the organisation won't fear losing a person in that position as there will be a pipeline of people who are trained to fit in that position. 

What is the best model for succession planning? Succession planning costs more because you need two people in each position. Is the cost worth it?
Organisations need to have plans for critical positions as these are the places which should never be kept vacant. Any company should identify 50-60 critical organisational positions and have a plan in place where trained people can immediately take the position if needed.  Succession planning is a factor of absolute importance for the sustainability of any organisation. There must be successors who will immediately fill in the critical positions and there should be plans for bringing other people as well who can come to the position in the next two to three years. So, this is a process of continuous training for institutions to have skilled and qualified professionals. This is definitely not costly. It saves time and expenses instead. It also benefits the staff as their promotion within the company is assured.

Organisations now-a-days are facing problems from white collar unions as most of the people are more educated and can read the balance sheets. What types of management skills do you think are required to handle them?
We have been ignoring the threat of white collar unions as people earlier used to think that unionisation only happens with blue collar employees or workers coming from lower economic levels. White collar employees are the people who don’t go to demonstrations or industrial strikes. They are educated, informed and know what they want. As a result, conventional dealings such as negotiations are not much effective in this regard. Dealing with blue collar unions is generally in the form of collective bargaining but the demands of the white collar unions are not just confined to monetary issues. Such groups raise specific issues related to governance, work ethics, fair treatment, employee engagement etc. So, the management needs to maintain a higher level of transparency while dealing with them. However, many present day managers are trained to deal appropriately with new generation employees. 

White collar unions will pose a big challenge to the management. They understand what they and their companies are doing and demand to become proactive in order to move faster in the market. New generation employees are fearless and they rely on technology and social media frequently. Due to this, they form opinions in a fast manner and can circulate information quickly. Such situations can be challenging for the HR departments. Proper skills are required to handle the challenges diplomatically created by the white collar unions.   

What are the most important things to look into when companies interview someone?
Employers need to be vigilant about certain things while hiring someone. They should assess if the individual will adapt with the work environment or not. Likewise, the willingness of the applicant to learn and meet the expectations of the organisation are other important things to look at. It is important for the HR departments to evaluate the overall attitude of the individuals who want to join the organisation. 

Some companies tend to hire people with more skills and qualifications.  This creates a problem as such people usually don’t fit into the company’s culture. People should be selected so as to fit into the company’s culture and later they can enhance their skills. It is because polishing their skills will be easy if the staff are interested in learning. But the skills won't create any positive impact if the staff are not interested in learning. Though the process of selecting the right person for the right job can be complicated, organisations will do well if they are more careful and put more effort into hiring.   

Also, the emotional quotient or intelligence is becoming an important factor at present. Most of the work is getting routine due to the advancements in technology. However, interaction with people is still important.  Dealing with people with empathy and good communication skills has a special place in the organisational behaviour. 

People nowadays want to feel comfortable in workplaces within a short period of time after they join. Nonetheless, unless people have emotional maturity, they can't communicate with others effectively. Unfortunately, companies generally don’t train people in terms of emotional intelligence. However, many good organisations that have been investing in emotional maturity are contributing to such awareness. 

Once a company hires an individual, it wants immediate results because an organisation spends large amounts of money in the hiring process and salaries.  New people joining a company may deliver but can also create damage sometimes if the emotional maturity is low. So, organisations cannot underplay the importance of emotional maturity in employees.  

What tools should current/future CEOs need to be mindful of as they look at leading, not being an administrative robot working at the behest of greedy ‘share traders’ who own the bank (with this being the case in most of the banks in Nepal)?
There is a difference between being popular and being effective.  If you want to be popular and you compromise on certain principals, it is not professional.  What is achieved is important. But more important is how it is achieved.  The leaders of the institutions know the cost of achieving. But they should also know that the cost of not achieving in right ways will be very expensive for the organisation in the long run. So, unethical practices, shortcuts, non-compliance, violation of laws to accomplish organisational goals won’t be beneficial for the companies in the future. Certainly, there will be pressure from the top to do certain things in certain ways. This is where the professionalism of mangers is tested. Succumbing to the pressures that are illegal, wrong, unethical do not adhere to the true spirit of professionalism. Speaking up and disagreeing with wrong practices is very important. Even after that, if the pressure still continues, then the CEOs need to think that they are in the wrong place.  Many companies have whistleblowers to prevent such types of activities. Anonymously pointing out the wrong practices can help to avert such problems.

Finally, are there any plans for Aquil Busrai Consulting to work in Nepal?
We are planning to work with National Banking Institute (NBI) for the skill enhancement of HR executives who work in banks and other institutions.  We have already developed a module for the purpose. We will have a two-day workshop for a small group of executives comprising of 25-30 professionals. We will start by providing them with training on modern HR processes including recruitment, selection along with compensation and performance appraisal of employees. I will also come here in August to meet some CEOs. However, before offering our services, we want to engage with CEOs to see if the programme makes any sense or not. Once we think it is good and impactful, we will roll it out and work for the bigger picture. 

Zoeb A. Calcuttawala

Must read. Very informative and helpful for a person running an organisation

Taher faizullabhoy

Informative article to an employer in MSme sector each employee shud be encouraged to rise n create space for his juniors rather than clinging to his chair or post