HR Must Be Customised For A Country And Industry

Updated: Jan 25 2003, 05:30am hrs
Joseph Wayne Brockbank, the clinical professor of business at the University of Michigan Business School is no stranger to India. Having been associated with Indian companies in the past, his recent trip to India saw him kickstart a human resource (HR) transformation process in the Tata group. An acknowledged expert on HR concepts and its application, Professor Brockbank explains to Namrata Singh and Maithreyi Seetharaman how HR can be an effective competitive advantage for companies.

Is customisation important for human resource (HR) practices
HR must be customised for a country and industry, though the industry has more impact, than the country. If you take consumer goods in Europe and those in Mexicoboth have to be fast moving; but how you create a fast moving organisation in Mexico, will be different from how you create it in Europehow you hire, train and recruit people will be different in Mexico and Europe. But the outcome will still remain the same.

How do you identify the changes required in an organisation and the best replacement for them

Essentially it is a four step process. First, you have to understand what is going on in the market place for the companies to which you are applying this logic along with prioritised business trends that confront the company. Second, to win within the trends that confront business, identify the sources of competitive advantage and leverage them in order to compete. Third, identify the organisational capabilities that are required of people to create those sources of competitive advantage. Fourth, design and deliver HR practices that will create the capabilities that you need and reduce the capabilities not needed, so that you have that competitive advantage.

What are the primary avenues through which HR practices will impact the behaviour of individual managers or employees
First, have leaders trained in the understanding and skills to know what needs to be done and then encourage and inspire people to do it. Second, have a variety of traditional HR practices to encourage people by what you measure, reward, their training programme and communication with them. Thirdly, the structure of the organisation, information flow and work processes. With their smooth functioning, the three have enormous influences on the behaviour of people. Because the ultimate goal of an HR strategy is to get people to behave differently in the future than they have in the past, using these three mechanisms, to have better success in the future than theyve had in the past. So the assumption is you cant have people continue to behave in the same way and expect to get different results and you cant expect people to behave differently unless the leadership, the structure and HR practices are encouraging them to behave differently.

Do you face cynicism while restructuring businesses through the HR way
HR practices need to credibly focus on performance not political favouritism to individuals or large blocks of individuals who are uncomfortable with where the new world of high performance is going. Life is too short to spend your time worrying about cynics. You just go around, under, over and past them and let the cynics decide whether they want to be part of the problem or the solution.

Can you force behavioural changes to achieve corporate goals
The worst thing a company can do is to stick its head in the sand and pretend the world around them is not changing until its too late and then you have disaster. Any company in the world that has gone bankrupt in the last 20 years, has probably stuck its head in the sand and did not expect its people to either change or create change.

Would you advocate harsh measures to bring about change
One of the most interesting and fundamental questions that any firm must confront is the extent to which it will allow the high performers to carry on their shoulders people who are not high performers. What is not fair in most companies, is to expect those who work extra hard, who have studied harder in school, who have got smarter, who work longer hours to carry on their shoulders those that are not willing to do that.

Is pay linked to performance and growth
Our research shows that more important than the reward system for impacting performance, is the measurement system. People get paid for a whole variety of reasonsfor how long theyve been employed, their level, for the number of people reporting to them. Too many things distort the linkages between compensation and performance. But nothing, or relatively nothing distorts the relationship between the measurement system and performance.

When you look at corporate India, how many companies do you see actually doing that
I am looking forward to the day, which is now emerging, when Indian companies recognise their inherent strengths and are able to create distribution channels outside of India. India is already a leader in the high technology sector, and will soon emerge with world class standards in personal care, automotive and banking. But the country has got to raise its aspirations, because there are stunning regional competitors like China that are not going to stand back and allow India to move along at its own pace. China is moving very quickly and Indian companies need to become more aggressive, more quickly on all fronts.