Managing people is an ongoing strategic policy option which the board of directors will have to keep on sharpening.
--BY JAGDISH PRASAD AGARWAL
Managing people has many different connotations for different persons depending on their position on the hierarchical ladder in the society. A politician who swears by democracy of the people, by the people and for the people tries to manage them for gaining and retaining power in the government.
A social activist manages the selectively under privileged for their empowerment as well as their own. Likewise, a teacher or a preacher or any other professional shares his or her own views, information and knowledge with him or her followers with a view to convert them as they are or extricate them from a given situation. In a nut shell managing has an objective. In the business scenario it is all the more important because the scenarios are changing very fast and to plan according to changing scenario demands managing people innovatively. After all the objective of managing people in a business enterprise is to get more done by the same people in less time.
There are three kinds of people in the world a) the wills b) the wont’s c) the cant’s. The first accomplish everything, the second oppose everything and the third fail in everything. The irony is that any business environment comprises of the combination of all the three types of people. It is, therefore, becoming complicated for the leader to manage as business scenarios change fast, but people do not change quickly with the same speed. This ever expanding gap and the complication involved in managing people has resulted in automation, mechanization, robotics etc in many of the manufacturing industries where the work is repetitive and executed on assembly lines. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
It is generally observed that today’s human related issues are the result of lack of vision and insight and more focus is on administrative matters. When things are going smooth, managers tend to think “what is HR doing for us, anyway?” This complacency is the seed for tomorrow’s unpreparedness for the changing needs of human resources. Human resource development is a long term mission with many diverse and futuristic vital functions. It is emphatically not an administrative function of recruiting people, their day to day administration and keeping records of them. HR department has to a) project future manpower profiles b) look out and develop talent c) build corporate culture d) outsource e) address moral and ethical issues f) set rules and regulations g) foresee business changing scenarios. These are very vital long term missions which can be adequately and qualitatively addressed only if top management leads it. The type of vision and the leadership the top management provides will determine how effectively the HR department will shape up and be able to manage people for the future.
Today’s business climate is changing not only because of changes in customer aspirations but also due to aggressive government regulations, politicisation of trade unions, low levels of education, corruption etc. Social and political leadership has no appreciation for basic managerial tenets nor they have any governance model based upon balancing the interest of all stakeholders. Under these circumstances managing people becomes very difficult unless unscrupulous means are taken recourse to. But in the long run, these unscrupulous measures do not encourage a healthy work culture, merit-based promotion and rule-based discipline.
Today’s HR has to change these practices and start doing what matters for tomorrow. They have to question what traditionally has been done and craft company specific policies that give recognition to talent and encourage fair execution of rules and regulations without any discrimination. The HR department has to always keep a tab on developing insight into what the emerging needs are. People can be managed more easily if they have basic education and in their personal life they are disciplined. People who have skill and are proficient at their jobs can also be managed easily because their employability level is high. It is upon the HR department of an organisation to ensure that only the right people are appointed to a post. It has been suggested to hire only those who have the potential to advance at least two steps beyond the point they entered the firm within three years: Integrating new ideas in the work culture, employees networking, their involvement in decision making, their feeling of importance in the organisation will definitely be conducive for self disciplining the work force at all levels. Innovation is not an option but a compulsion.
The objective of managing people, as I said earlier, is primarily to get more jobs done within a given time frame i.e. enhancing productivity of a person to do the same work in less time. The productivity at the lower level has to enhance out of his repetitive work whereas at the higher level it has to be flexible and more mental. It is minute to minute limitless struggle for him. The company’s work culture decides whether the workforce has the initiative and the determination to be more productive and for which they need to be incentivised, motivated and given a work environment in which they can flourish into a smarter, faster and better workforce. In this connection, the work culture has to promote experiments in order to find the right mix which suits the unit.
However, it has been observed that in most companies there are distractions which do not allow the people to focus on their work. The most crucial is not knowing time-management i.e. prioritisation and also the top management defining productivity in terms of long hours put in by the employees. These two aspects of managing people result in procrastination, less energy and more distracted work. Sometimes the work itself is so boring, difficult and meaningless that there is no motivation to finish it. The work culture of an enterprise has to first make an analysis of the nature of the job that the workforce is engaged in to do and thereafter has to have a plan which can enrich the job, make it more exciting so that people who are to work on it as a team can own it. There has to be a precise goal setting, a fair measurement and evaluation system, the easy and prompt decision making process and a conducive access to top management which will definitely help people to work in a team better.
Whereas the above are basic tenets of a work culture for any enterprise to be more productive they do not provide the cutting edge advantage to it as most of them follow the same principle of work culture universally. Managing people for cutting edge advantage is a strategy option available to small, medium and large enterprises alike but the challenges inherent in this option are so formidable that only a few big corporations have a monopoly over them. Small and medium companies normally shy away. It is this exclusiveness that makes it attractive for everyone to at least have a look at it.
Peter Drucker once said, “most people think that they know what they are good at but they are usually wrong”. Hence he emphasizes very highly on feed back. A leader to be able to manage people has to institute an effective feedback system not only from his subordinates but also from peers, seniors and all those with whom he connects. He must take feedback very seriously and should be positive about it so as to learn about his own strengths and weaknesses periodically. A leader who is conscious about himself will have empathy for others, a trait which will bind and connect him all around, earn their trust and loyalty. Right product at the right place at the right time for the right price is the ultimate motto of business enterprises which can be best delivered by the team of people which has been humanly managed.
There is a Japanese proverb which says “if the only tool you have is a hammer you treat everything like a nail”. This culture of treating everybody like a nail does not inculcate a work-climate of giving the best. Managing people is fraught with challenges. What really motivates people, how do you deal with problem employees, how do you build a team that works holistically, does the tools of managing people vary from person to person etc, etc, these are innumerable issues that relate to the challenges of managing people in an organisation. Fair rules and regulations, a conducive work environment and a self-disciplined leader, a combination of these can definitely set in motion a process of not only finding the right people but also to keep on scaling them up for the future.
Managing people is not just administering the existing work force but it is a bigger task of keeping ready the people who will be required at a later date when the enterprise will have evolved vertically as well as horizontally. It is a task to prepare when the enterprises will require talent and innovation. It is a task to be ready when the company will have to shed too many bureaucratic rules and regulations and needs to come out of it by turning it around. Different situations will require different approaches. Managing people is an ongoing strategic policy option which the board of directors will have to keep on sharpening in parallel with the developmental strategies of the business. It is an absolute necessity that the future contour of work culture in any business organization, big or small, be built on direct relationship with employees, their quality rather than numbers, accommodating their compensation needs with their talent, focused on facilitating their workplace development and shifting their loyalty and trust from confrontation. These goals will be easier for small and medium scale enterprises to achieve sooner than the larger corporations which are always mired in their bureaucratic set-up.
So far we have dwelt upon the role of the enterprises in managing people but after all an employee is an individual with his own whims and fancies, success and failures, likes and dislikes. He is not merely a physical being but possesses intellect, emotions, ego and a personality of his own. He has his own intelligence, and knowledge of today’s economy. Skilled employees are the asset that drives organisational success. Why they stay, why they leave and why the organisation needs to change are some of the insights that the answer to these question will reveal. People like to be engaged and appreciated. They want to be listened to by their seniors. Salaries, promotion, and termination are three important issues on which an employee expects an organisation to be progressive, fair and cohesive on. They demand respect and not domination.
It cannot be denied that there always will be discontent at the ground level, disputes between employees and office politics, but there always has to be a sincere concerted effort to periodically survey such discontent and an attempt made to set them right through the system. An informal code of conduct for settling disputes with everybody’s consent may usher in a climate of respect, trust and friendship. Mismanagement of people leads to attrition and encourages exits. Hence for managing people, management of an enterprise has to evolve as a scientific discipline.
A management guru defines “leadership as not a position that someone occupies for a certain number of hours a day, leadership is rather a disposition a habit, a way of living in the world. One of the unfailing traits of leadership is humanity, an ability to be in a learning mode all the time.” A great leader can only manage people. For managing people, he/she has to have the deep understanding of the issues, resources availability and courage to take unpalatable decisions but above all, an empathy for all. It is all a game of relationships. Only good relationships will keep the flock together even in the most trying times. This relationship to build a leader has to be simple, honest and natural.
Agarwal is Chairman of Nimbus Group.