How and where did you draw the inspiration to write ‘Effective People’? Did something trigger it all of a sudden or was it a well-planned strategy?
My last book, ‘Managers Who Make a Difference’, which was written specifically for IIM Ahmedabad golden jubilee celebrations, gained a lot of popularity. This was in 2012. Post this, the publishers Random House persuaded me to write another book.
However frankly, I felt there is a lot of written matter on management in general, and on HRD and effective managers in particular. Hence, I decided that I should write something on effective people, which goes beyond effective managers.
In 2010, I had started a ‘Centre for Leadership’ and the idea was to document the lives of lesser-known leaders from different professions. We had hired a few associates to help us on this, but somehow it did not work out as they got information or met just the known names. I was on this quest of finding leadership qualities from lesser-known leaders, which has somehow translated into this book. I believe there are leadership qualities across professions, be it a teacher, a student, a lawyer, a CA or even in the police department.
So to answer your question about the source of inspiration for this book, I would say it is partly from within and partly from the fact that very little has been written about other professions.
Your book caters to people from all walks of life. How is this book useful for professionals? Anything specific for HR professionals?
Yes, what is stated in the book applies to all professions.
I believe, irrespective of the profession one is in, it is important to discover one’s inner talent and use it for benefitting others. The best way to nurture and multiply one’s talent is to use it first for helping a few others. Then use it for many to become an effective person.
"Commercialising HR is like commercialising religion." And when one leaves his/her mark by institutionalising the use of one’s talent and builds on it, even after one is gone, he/she becomes a super-effective person.
Similarly, HR professionals should feel proud and lucky to be in human resources as it is a profession of helping people. But if one works for only personal career and self- aggrandisement, one’s effectiveness gets limited.
The book has a message for HR professionals - they should work for the people and not against the people.
One may retire as HR Director but if it has caused human resource depletion or even destruction, it is of no use.
If one uses it to help others and help as many as possible one become a great HR person. When one establishes one’s contributions to be lasting, and institutionalises them, one is a super-effective HR professional. We need such EPs, VEPs and SEPs in HR to uplift HR’s status.
You have been a strong advocate of the philosophy that HR or people management is not just the territory of one function but the entire organisation. What is the core thought behind this philosophy? Is the book an extension of this belief?
I am not sure whether it is an extension; the fact is that the book stands on its own in terms of this belief. It says that each individual is a manager and developer of his/her own resources or talent and the best way to manage talent is to recognise it and multiply it.
This book exemplifies this enormously; for example, a village woman mentioned in chapter 10 embodies this belief. Every single individual cited in the book has done this, be it a civil servant, banker or professor.
HR’s job in my view is to create a platform for people to discover and utilise the inner capabilities of people. Some of the established HR systems started in the past have become constraints for growth and prevent unleashing of potential. The core thought is to shift the responsibility of talent development from a designated department like HR to every individual in the corporation or society.
The book is in tune with this belief and perhaps frees us by shifting the responsibility for our growth from HR Departments to every department and to ourselves. This was also the philosophy when we (Udai Pareek & me) started the first HRD department in mid-seventies at L&T. HR’s success will be when the department dissolves itself after making every one his/her own HR manager.
Why did you choose teaching as your career? Do you think life has been more fulfilling because of that?
Yes, it has been fulfilling and I consider myself lucky to have become a teacher. It is a profession that legitimises dissemination of one’s thoughts.
A series of incidents led me to become a teacher. Professors such as PN Dave at Mysore and EG Parameswaran at Osmania influenced me to take up psychology instead of chemistry.
Finally, Udai Pareek and Ravi Matthai completed the story by asking me to join IIM Ahmedabad as an Assistant Professor in 1973.
In 1978, I was offered the General Manager’s position with highest salary to start HRD. I was only 32. I accepted to work only for a year as an advisor in the GM’s capacity, as I wanted to continue to teach and write.
I believe every profession offers an opportunity to be a teacher. All good leaders are good teachers.
You have had the opportunity to work with Udai Pareek. What are three lessons that you have learnt from him. And how has it changed you as a person and a professional?
"HR should work 'for' the people and not 'against' the people." It is difficult to give any lessons. We thought alike and worked together and worked hard. He supported and recognised my hard work and I tried to meet his expectations. He went out of his way to get me appointed as Assistant Professor, within six months of my joining him at NIHAE. And I passed the interview.
However, if I have to mention three lessons, it would be:
(i) Work hard and you will get what you deserve
(ii) Think positive and respect people (Ravi Matthai used to say “All are God’s Children” and Udai practiced as a self-proclaimed atheist)
(iii) Use your talent to develop others and derive satisfaction seeing them grow.
You will see many more such concepts in the forthcoming Udai Pareek memorial book.
You have been one of the pioneers of HRD in India. What, according to you, are issues that plague the industry today?
There are several of them. First, is over commercialisation, which implies that ‘means’ have become ‘ends’. Everything is so profit driven and target oriented that original purposes have been forgotten. People want profits and business at any cost, resulting in declining human values and excessive target orientation with a restricted ability to give freedom for youth.
Lack of commitment of youth to organisations due to excessive career orientation and declining loyalty is another aspect.
And since organisations behave this way, people behave similarly. There are only short-term goals. Declining service orientation is also an issue.
Where do you think the HR function is heading? How will it change in the next 5 years?
I must say there are some success stories but it is very disappointing to see HR being excessively consultant-driven and being commercialised. It is like commercialising religion – as shown in the Hindi movie OMG (Oh My God).
"Employee Engagement Surveys are being used for benchmarking, changing policies and impressing CEOs through business magazines and media." It has to be rejuvenated and be made more spiritual. Systems should continue in their own way but the spirit can’t be sacrificed. Stop excessive categorisation for profits. It kills talent. I can’t say if it will change in the next 5 years. I wish it would. It truly depends on how successful the new leaders in HRD are.
Premier Institutions that prepare HR professionals need to change their course to become more value-driven and spiritual. What I mean is that they should promote the spirit of HR and talent nurturance. However, this is difficult because of student placement. Most students count on the CTC offered for their first job and the race continues thereafter. There are always a few gems that will make the difference. This book is meant to inspire such gems and bring them out.
However I must say that, HR has missed many opportunities and simply renaming stuff does not solve the purpose, instead it pollutes the environment.
Every professional needs a mentor at some point of life, who really helps the person to find a direction and take a quantum leap. Do you think HR really can pay the role of mentor effectively?
HR should build many mentors in organisations. It is difficult to mentor the numerous people in organisations and on a continuous way. HR’s job is to make the organisation a platform to develop a pool of many mentors and make the choice available to every employee to choose from this pool.
Ideally HR should also be a good mentor at least for HR people. Unfortunately it is often perceived as having vested interests (business-driven HR!). It can bring change in the society if it is revolutionised. Good CEOs with HR orientation can do this if not CHROs.
Do you think by being too much dependent on technology and data, the ‘human’ part of human resources is fading away?
Technology in my view is a great support. It can help one become more human if one chooses to. It depends largely on how one uses data. Unfortunately we are not using it properly.
For instance, employee engagement surveys should be used to help every individual to examine self and one’s own engagement scores and enhance own engagement. But instead, we use it for benchmarking, changing policies and impressing CEOs through business magazines and media.
"Teaching is a profession that legitimises dissemination of one’s thoughts." Every individual should be helped to reflect about his/her own engagement score and work out means to enhance engagement. HR can, in limited ways, enhance through change of policies. We cannot have polices that gets every one equally engaged or gets everyone to be high performer. The individual and HR together should create platforms that facilitate reflection and growth, rather than mere policy changes.
What is the advice you have for people who are plunging into HR? What is that a new entrant should expect?
HR is a great profession to be in. Once you succeed there you can go anywhere. HR is about life and discovering one’s own talent and that of others and using it, developing it and multiplying it. Don’t look for CTC or the first salary. Treat one’s institute, organisation, friends, professors, books, Internet and everything one comes across as a learning source. Every day is a learning opportunity. Read, read and reflect. Discover and exploit one’s own talent.