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HR in the Personal Orbit*

Shardul Tiwari watched with envy as his friend of many years, Parthiv Nair, walk
ed into the restaurant
with an almost springlike gait. Greeting him warmly, he said: I am glad you could
make it . How
could I not? asked Parthiv. You sounded anxious last night . Shardul had a lot on hi
s mind. And he
knew talking to Parthiv would help.
Shardul, who had joined Glenn India as its human resources head early in the yea
r, narrated the events of
the previous two days. I have a manager, Kuldeep, whose performance this year has
been abysmal,
said Shardul. He is a wonderful chap, and has an impeccable track record. This ye
ar has been really
bad. I want to know what I should do now, for it appears this is the end of the
road. Kuldeep s boss is
clear he has to go, but I am not willing to let him go. I know what I am looking
for is an enduring, more
sustainable and credible system that will look at a manager in a holistic way. I
need to find that soon.
Explaining Kuldeep s case, Shardul said: I had a long chat with Kuldeep and discove
red he was facing
serious problems in his personal life which was affecting his performance. His s
ister, Sheen, who had a
troubled marriage, had come back home with her kids. There isn t any place for all
of them, said
Shardul. The noise level at home had gone beyond endurance with everyone at war o
ver her marriage.
As Kuldeep says: The logical outcome of that s clear to me, but in the interim, I a
m unable to go back to
that environment or go to work with a clear head.
Have you mentioned this to Kuldeep's boss? asked Parthiv. Surely, he will understan
d what he's going
through. Shardul looked at him hopelessly. Parthiv, don t forget that Glenn India is
a multinational.
You don't take your personal problems to work. Of course, I did speak to all of
them." Shardul had met
Kuldeep's boss and the country head of Glenn and tried to explain the need to ad
opt a more humane
approach to Kuldeep. The boss had been quite clear on the issue. He said: "Frank
ly, I don't see any merit
in doing so. Everyone has his share of problems and the competence of a manager
depends on his ability
to handle different situations. However, you are free to speak to the CEO for an
other viewpoint. As for
me, I won't have this man in my team."
The chief executive had been gentler but equally emphatic. "My sympathies are wi
th Kuldeep, I do wish
him well, but as an organisation how can we grow? You find me a foolproof soluti
on and I am willing to
look at it. Meanwhile, the decision on Kuldeep stands." "As it is, the pressure
on performance is
mounting every day." Said Shardul to Parthiv. "No one is going to discount perfo
rmance just because
you have a personal problem. You are expected to sort them out yourself or learn
to cope."
"Performance pressures exist in every company," said Parthiv, "but it's the mana
gement of the
performance that is the key. Shouldn't organisations extend help so that your pe
rformance is at the level
that is expected of you? To enable that, HR has to work towards improving access
ibility and send the
message across that discussing problems outside the scope of work is not taboo.
There must be a safety
net in the organisation which you can't see but must be able to feel and that me
ssage has to flow from
HR," said Parthiv who himself was the HR head of Peacock Industries, a large Ind
ian business group.
Parthiv felt it wasn't either about MNCs or Indian firms, but the kind of image
that a company willingly
and knowingly built for itself. Maybe, Indian firms feel less apologetic about e
xtending a friendly hand,
but other companies were under pressure to appear different, he said. "As a comp
any, you are trying to
extract the best out of your people because you want to deliver the best year. T
hereafter, it is a
chain of targets that are higher than the one before and with it comes the press
ure to maintain that image.
Then follows a regimen of cracking on the knuckles, and keeping a strict vigil.
This usually results in a
manager ignoring his own self, his life outside the workplace, leading to neglec
t, stress and a chain of
ripple effects which impact his performance", said Parthiv. Shardul could see so
me of that in Kuldeep's
case. But ironically, none of his evaluators in the 360-degree chain had even po
inted out work-related
pressures as a possible cause of his not-so-good performance. If anything, his 3
60-degree appraisal had,
at all levels, diagnosed him as lacking commitment, being inattentive and lackin
g team spirit. Shardul
now said: "Parthiv, whatever it is, how can you get your appraisal system to eve
n recognise that work
pressures can destabilise an individual?" "I will answer that," said Parthiv, "b
ut first, complete what you
wanted to say."
Said Shardul: "As I see it, Kuldeep's declining performance is partly attributab
le to his personal life. But
partly. Rather, I'd say, he is so preoccupied about being able to deliver 100% a
t work that it has taken
away his ability to respond to the demands of his home situation. In fact, I can
see he's trying to escape
from his home so that he can ensure that he performs well and earns rewards at w
ork. Isn't that faulty?
It's in the course of dodging his family life that he has depleted his energy to
work." Parthiv smiled.
"Having said that," he said, "you also have the answer to how your appraisal sys
tem can work better."
Shardul became alert. Before he could say anything, Parthiv said: "Let me tell y
ou how we do it at
Peacock. We too use a 360-degree appraisal system, but there is a world of diffe
rence between how it is
used conventionally and how we use it."
At Peacock, the appraisal system was the conventional 360-degree system until th
ree years ago, when
Parthiv took over the HR department. He found through intensive brainstorming se
ssions with managers
drawn from various MNCs and Indian firms, that an appraisal system had to have a
n objective that wasn't
primarily professional excellence. Our managers were emphatic that such a singula
r skew was not
congenial for growing leadership in the organisation. We discovered that there w
ere two givens around
which we decided to build our management development initiatives: a) we must ret
ain the existing
humaneness and b) we must accept that a manager's personal life is a germane par
t of his personality and
total life. So, any appraisal of a manager must consider the wins and losses in
his personal life too. Not
with an intention to judge, but to push the drivers that lend impetus to his org
anisational performance.
Thus, among the various parameters on which we assess our managers for leadershi
p competency, a
critical parameter is the ability to balance work and family life."
Shardul grew keenly attentive. Parthiv continued: "We found that there was the f
amily on one side and
the workplace on the other. You have problems on both fronts. You are delivering
well, the results are
there to see, but what's happening is that you aren't building teams, you aren't
building work relationships,
you aren't mending relationships, you aren't seen as a leader who would be able
to help others to develop
and grow. Yet, you are meeting your targets. There can be two attitudes here: on
e, he is delivering his
targets and that's what I am hiring him for. Two, if you are building an organis
ation which is going to
compete on a sustainable basis over a period of time, you know that this resourc
e is not going to have
unlimited organisational value even if he continues to work for you. Hence, it i
s important to grow
people down the line who can bring that creativity and innovation to the table w
hich will be required,
because it is not just one man who is running the organisation."
And that was where Peacock revamped its 360-degree appraisal system. "Let me sta
te it in brief for
you," said Parthiv. "The manager is evaluated by his subordinates, peers and his
seniors just as your 360dgree
system does. But where we differ is, one, the manager chooses his peers and subo
rdinates who will
evaluate him. Two, the evaluated questionnaire goes to a central agency we have
appointed overseas, for
evaluation, not to HR. Three, the final scores are sent directly by the agency t
o the evaluated manager,
again, not to HR." Thus, at Peacock, both copies of the report were sent to the
manager evaluated, while
the HR head received just an intimation that the copies had been sent to the man
ager. "From the report
you can't glean what the peers have said and what the subordinates have said, fo
r it gives a total score on
the parameters stipulated," explained Parthiv. Only the certified appointed faci
litators or the agency itself
could decode the data and interpret it.
The process itself was very unthreatening, said Parthiv, "because once the repor
t comes to you, you
decide whether you want an interpretation or not. If not, you either file it or
throw it away. The HR head
doesn't need it either, since it is meant for the manager, for his own assimilat
ion. As I said, the 360degree
system is for the manager. If he has built a wall around him, we would like to g
ive him an
opportunity to demolish that wall, rather than start demolishing it through our
intervention." Shardul was
surprised. The typical 360-degree method left little to the imagination, was not
democratic and was much
feared at Glenn. But at Peacock, the system empowered a manager to seek 'help' f
or his own sake.
Typically, the manager would call Parthiv and say: "Can you assign someone to be
facilitator? Parthiv
would then assign a person, who was a facilitator trained by the central agency,
who was not working in
that manager's business, location, or department, someone who had not worked wit
h the manager and also
wasn't too junior in the organisation in relation to the manager. The moment a f
acilitator was assigned,
the manager sent the second copy of his report or evaluation to the facilitator.
"What happens then? asked
"Our facilitators are trained to get deep into the scores. When they see the thr
ee sets of scores and the
final scores from the central agency, they see a picture evolving. That is also
the stage when the manager
divulges information and insights on his self. In 12 weeks, they prepare the dev
elopment plan, which is
then integrated with his work plan," said Parthiv. Shardul who had a 360-degree
system operating at
Glenn had found that the managers evaluated usually felt threatened by its scope
. 'Gosh! What does he
know about me that I do not know myself or disagree with? was the common feeling
. Parthiv agreed:
"Very often we are not good interpreters of who we are." "But the way we use it,
we are helping the
individual as an individual for his own sake, and our facilitators are under oat
h to the central
administrative agency which processes the feedback questionnaires. Balancing wor
k and personal life is
one of the top eight competencies on which a manager is assessed, and these are
key to leadership
building. If we find an issue here, an appropriate development plan is evolved a
nd integrated with the
manager's work."
Parthiv cited the example of one manager "who we shall call Badri". His facilita
tor Sugita came to me
and said: "Based on his score card, I am now finding that his work side is heavi
ly skewed. We need to do
something. Badri, I find, is working on most Saturdays and almost every evening.
Badri, she found both
through observation and conversation, came to work every Saturday to 'think'. He
opened his cabin, put
on the computer, sat around an empty table, and left after four hours. But what
he did was drink tea and
think. "It's comfort, you know," Parthiv said. "The room begins to epitomise som
ething which he can't
get elsewhere. She asked him what kind of work he did on Saturdays and there was
little that appeared
necessary." Said Sugita: "I realised then that what he was doing was making the
week linger on, feeling
the safety of a structured environment; being with his things and hearing the sa
me familiar buzz of the
voltage stabiliser was like a pacifier."
Sugita probed and Badri gradually revealed what the problem was on his mind he had
an autistic child.
"I am travelling 18-20 days a month and I don't get to spend enough time with hi
m. As a result, when I
meet him, I find I am completely out of touch with his development, the new init
iatives made by his
teachers, the new responses they got from him. and then I felt rushed, inadequat
e and totally incapable.
Through the week I am mentally hastening to reach him, watch him. Travel interru
pts all that. And when
the weekend arrives, I almost dread being with him because he has covered so muc
h ground while I was
away." "As you see," said Sugita, "Badri needs Saturdays to escape encountering
his perceived
incapability." Badri had said: "Saturdays give me time and space to feel about m
y son, away from him
and coherently. When I am with him I see my incapability as a parent, my lack of
being in touch, and I
also see lot of work stockpiling at the workplace and then my system breaks down
. Coming into office
gives me clarity without the rush of daily routine."
Sugita heard him patiently. "I need to cut travel days to 14, but I can't tell m
y boss about this, what will
he think? Asked Badri. "No problem," said Sugita. "This development planning wor
ksheet is going to be
discussed. If the company has spent close to $500 on this process for you, it is
only because it is willing
to invest more on you. Otherwise, it wouldn't put you through it." Shardul was m
oved. "It is not Badri's
personal situation but the satisfying negotiation that such a system enables," h
e said to Parthiv. He now
recalled what Kuldeep had said to him. His boss had told him: "You do not commun
icate well, and we
see that your relations with your staff, you do not take customer calls, you don
t... we think you should do
the following." Judgements, not diagnosis. Shardul recalled the agony that Kulde
ep went through,
playing back his boss' observations over and over again in his mind. He told Sha
rdul: "It was not the
truth or falseness of what my boss said to me, but the sheer threat underlying t
he words that bothers me.
The whole thing is like a verdict with no recourse. I feel very threatened and c
oncerned. I actually felt
assaulted. I did recognise that I had some corns warts, but someone in a positio
n of strength was sitting
before me and saying, we have noticed these things about you. It was demeaning, I
felt like a school
The peacock process, felt Shardul, was empowering and democratic. A 360-degree a
ppraisal was done,
but no one would have access to it. The organisation did not want to look at it;
it was being done to
enable the manager to help himself. And even there it was left to the manager to
decide if he wanted the
report interpreted. Thereafter, there was complete secrecy and confidentiality.
Even the god of all gods,
the HR head, could not access it. That is what Kuldeep needed, he thought. "Of c
ourse, we have had
managers who have declined an interpretation," said Parthiv. "And what I tell th
em is: "That's really your
score board, and it is up to you to use it or not. Both copies are with you, the
agency will not send a third
copy to anyone unless you authorise it. So you can rest assured that it will not
be known to anyone but
you. It's yours, not ours."
Parthiv cited the example of another top-level manager, a highly-rated performer
, who contributed greatly
on his job. "But his balancing scores were very low," he said. "Worse, in his ow
n self-appraisal, he had
rated himself very poorly, and that astonished us, for at that level, managers a
re known to sing their own
praises. "On being questioned, he revealed that he felt very distressed by the f
act that his children hadn't
got admissions to the best schools. That they were studying in an average school
bothered him. The
manager perceived that he was unable to balance work and home," said Parthiv. "I
am ignoring my
family at the expense of my work. I am a senior manager here and I have not been
able to get admissions
for my children in the best school simply because there is a tremendous amount o
f networking and there
is nobody to provide any support. How do you expect me to feel good about myself
?" he asked.
At Peacock, they believe that if you want to hire top-notch professionals you mu
st provide them with
peripheral support. "And that is what our administration department did," said P
arthiv. "They went to the
school, got the information required, fixed the test dates and ensured the child
ren were trained and taken
for the test. The children performed exceedingly well, they have a good track re
cord and were admitted
in due course," said Parthiv. "Performance is sacrosanct and that has to be deli
vered," said Parthiv, "but
you must also accept that the environment must help deliver that performance. Th
e HR department must
bring about a culture that, in turn, enables people and aids performance. After
all, you are working on
organisational growth and individual growth. How do you marry the two? People ha
ve aspirations and
so does the organisation. And you have to match the two, and that can happen onl
y through developing
the right culture. The instances Parthiv had talked about at length were so smal
l in nature, but for the
organisation, felt Shardul, they were critical enough to create the time and spa
ce to handle them. Yet, he
couldn't help wondering if Peacock Industries' method was far too democratic. If
HR had to stay at arm's
length, wouldn't organisational development be impaired, he wondered.
1. Discuss the key HR issues that are the hallmark of this case.
2. Analyse the approach of the two HRM managers to human resource/performance ma
nagement issues.
3. Formulate other connected issues that you consider important in this case and
discuss them fully.