HR has to plan its own development
Jul 28 2014
Interview | Harbhajan Singh, V-P, HR, industrial relations, legal and corporate affairs, HMSI
You started your journey as a casual worker at Tata Steel and were associated with trade unions for a long time. What has been your experience?
Continuous learning and education has been a way of life for me. I started my journey as a trade apprentice in 1976 after finishing high school.
But I continued my studies and did graduation in commerce, completed Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) and post-graduations in labour and social welfare, and business management from Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI) in Jamshedpur.
I have a natural flair to take people along and I enjoy helping others in whichever way I can. Probably this made employees to elect me as executive committee member of the union in 1989.
I continued being with Tata workers’ union and several other unions in various positions till I left Tata Steel in January 2006.
I enjoyed being a union representative. I looked upon myself as a person in whom his fellow employees had reposed the trust to improve the quality of their lives. I have the satisfaction of doing justice to that role.
During this journey, I was associated with the International Labour Organisation and ILO-Danida project, which gave me a global perspective.
What made you take up HR as a career that too after taking part in union activities for so long?
When there was a major industrial relations problem at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India in 2005, I was invited to organise a two-day workshop for union leaders and officials of the company.
The workshop helped in ironing out the differences and smoothening the relationship in the organisation. After that both the management and the union expressed their feelings that I should take forward the process of creating a harmonious industrial environment at the organisation.
I felt that I had an opportunity to make a meaningful difference by accepting a new role as industrial relations manager and that motivated me to take up the responsibilities in management.
I am with Honda since 2006 and I think I have done justice to this role, which I thoroughly enjoy as well.
How did you manage to resolve the labour unrest and set the balance right at the organisation?
When there is a loss of trust, nobody is willing to believe the other. We took the risk of trusting the other side and that paved the way for laying the foundation for a long-term peace and harmonious relationship. First a long-term settlement was signed between the union and the management in 2006. That took care of the financial needs and benefit requirements of employees.
After that union and management signed a pledge in presence of all employees and media to install a culture of ‘working together’.
Since then we have moved forward and followed in true spirit what we had been talking. Two more long-term settlements have been reached and signed between the management and union of employees in 2009 and in 2012.
Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India has grown to capture the number two position in the market and a healthy industrial relation environment prevails in the organisation.
What mistakes human resources (HR) professionals commit while managing workers?
At times HR professionals fail to present the real picture to the management. They just keep on saying what the top management wants to hear. They should provide right inputs and guide the management about short-term gains vs long-term implications.
They need to be closer to the employees and get a proper understanding of their problems and should workout appropriate solutions for that. They should be compassionate while imparting discipline, and must set a right balance while deciding rewards. Highhandedness in dealings may spark disputes and may prove costly to the organisation.
Do HR professionals remain aware of expectations of the chief executive officer when it comes to organisational demands?
HR plays a crucial role in any organisation. In a way it is eyes and ears of to the chief executive officer. The CEOs are always busy focusing on enhancing brand, expanding markets, diversifying and improving product portfolios, mergers and acquisitions, reducing costs and increasing profitability.
The human resources department and professionals have to support with right policies, structure and processes to enable the organisation achieve its goals and objectives.
HR has the responsibility to train and develop employees in an organisation. Who should be responsible for training and development of HR professionals?
In today’s scenario when there is 360 degree assessment in place, even HR department and professionals get the feedback from all sections of the organisation about the areas of improvement. Accordingly, in consultation and direction of the chief executive officer, they plan their own development needs.
What expectations do you have from the government about educating trade unions for maintaining industrial harmony?
The government should push the programmes under the Central Board of Workers Education to educate the workforce on the role and responsibilities of trade unions and also other programmes pertaining to health and sanitation and other areas of concern to them.