Passage To India: Michigans Other Guru

Updated: Jan 25 2003, 05:30am hrs
If Professor CK Prahalad of the University of Michigan is well known with Indian corporates particularly with the concept of core competence that he expounded, then another management guru from the same University, Professor Joseph Wayne Brockbank, is now making quiet waves in the corridors of Indian corporates. Dr Brockbank is the clinical professor of business at the University of Michigan Business School, and focuses a lot of his consulting and teaching on strategic human resource (HR) issues. While one of his early corporate assignments in India was initially with Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) a few years back, in recent times, he has also been trying to usher in a people-led change in companies and groups like the Tatas, ICICI Bank and Marico Industries.

At the core of Prof Brockbanks work is the need for forging a greater strategic alliance between human resources and business and financial strategy. Not something terribly new, but the difference that Prof Brockbank has been able to make is possibly in the conceptualisation and the ability to deliver actual results for corporates. In the past, across the world, he has been able to do this in companies like General Electric, Unilever, Motorola, Ford and Hewelett Packard. His articles in leading global publications like the Harvard Business Review and Human Resource Management Journal have been well received. No wonder then that Indian companies are now looking to him. Says Prof Brockbank excitedly, Its been a wonderful opportunity to be involved in India. The reason is that nowhere in the planet is HR undergoing such a critical examination and transformation than it is, in India. Im finding that Im increasingly using best practice examples from Marico, Godrej, ICICI Bank and HLL. They are simply doing some very innovative and powerful things in their HR practices.

Adds Marico Industries chief human resources officer, Rakesh Pandey: Wayne worked with the top line managers and the HR group to help align our HR strategies to business and enable winning in the market place. This process also helped the key managers of the organisation identify our sources of competitive advantage and in that context brought in new thinking on the role they would want HR to play in enhancing business performance. Concurs Ms Kalpana Morparia, executive director, ICICI Bank, He emphatically stated that people can make change happen and we need to hire people with right kind of mind-set. He also helped us identify the desired attributes that made up the mind-set for ICICI group.

In doing some of the work in India, he has taken lessons from global corporates particularly from the US examples. Between 1985 and 1992, the US economy was in big trouble. The earning capacity per person had dropped 8 per cent during that time. National productivity was on a steep decline and many people, throughout the world said that the US model of capitalism was doomed to failure. Faced with what appeared to be a very bleak and negative future, a very small number of companies had the courage to ask themselves, how do we radically rethink through our organisational systems that will result in greater productivity per person. Among those were GE, Allied Signal, Hewellet Packard, among others, says Dr Brockbank. Each one of those companies, driven by necessity, re-invented their HR practices and a lot of US companies, looking at their success started down the same path, much more aggressively applying HR practices to creating high performance. The last few years have seen tight linkages between HR practices and business performances in America. It is in this background that Prof Brockbank has done some pioneering work with Indian companies. India Inc. looks at the plans and experiences of three business groups.

The Tata Challenge
Dr Brockbank has just started the exercise with the Rs 40,000 crore Tata group. He says that what makes the transformation at Tata so exciting is that besides GE and some Japanese companies, there is no more complex portfolio of companies that makes up a group anywhere in the world. And to develop a systemically comprehensive HR strategy that is at the same time very customised to the local businesses and leverages strengths throughout the group is something that has seldom been undertaken anywhere in the world.

The research for Tatas would be built upon the HR study on competencies by refining the work done prior to this. Still in the nascent stage, it remains to be seen exactly which practices at Tatas will be changed. Tatas have already done work on performance management in the application in Malcolm Baldridge approaches in HR and management processes which will be redefined with a slightly different perspective to lead the diversified conglomerate to receive better financial numbers and market share numbers in the future than they have in the past. The best way to do that is to make sure that the HR practices are specifically driving the cultural and technical capabilities that the different Tata businesses need to achieve better financial results, says Dr Brockbank. Though the Tatas have arrived late in the day to align HR with business strategy, they will have the benefit of implementing an improved model. Currently, Dr Brockbank is busy meeting the business unit level HR managers and some of Tata group presidents, to arrive at practices and capabilities than may be shared and leveraged across the group. He is dealing with 11 of the largest companies in the group.

Tata companies have been regularly sending people to the global programme of management at the University of Michigan with faculty of University of Michigan such as C K Prahalad, Dr Brockbank, among others.

But no task is complete without the challenges it poses. The Tatas have a culture which is highly entrenched in the employees. The most important challenge that any company faces is one of aspiration-the desire to do more -and have the fundamental passion within to have greater performance than theyve had in the past. Based upon the meetings that Ive had so far with the group, I think the aspirations are there and now Im hoping that the process will provide the mechanism and logic that will help them achieve those aspirations through their people more strongly, says Dr Brockbank.

Dr Brockbank hopes that in the next forty five days, the Tatas will have a full line of strategies and action plans in place, which is anticipated to be implemented over the next 6 months.

ICICI: Banking On Brockbank
As for ICICI Banks interaction with the HR guru, it goes back more than five years and has created a high impact mind-set change in the ICICI group. The association with Prof Brockbank started with a workshop for senior staff about five years ago and has continued over the years. Prof Brockbank helped us believe in the inevitable link between business strategies and HR strategies very effectively. In fact, he was the first HR person who said that HR strategies are determined by business strategies and therefore HR strategies have to be in total alliance with business strategies, says ICICI Banks Kalpana Morparia.

Prof Brockbank conducted his environment scanning exercise, helping ICICI Bank to recognise that for a business to be successful, it is necessary to be high on strategic decisiveness and implementation of the strategies to overcome environmental turbulence.

ICICI Bank worked with him to identify desired mind-set in all the strategic business units (SBUs) of the group. For instance, the recruitment process was modified suitably and included a profiling tool to ascertain the suitability of the candidate in different SBUs based on the already identified mind-sets for that business. Thereafter we used induction and training interventions to talk of mind-set requirement across the bank. It helped us making people aware of the desired mind-sets and try imbibing these in them. We also attempted to align HR practices around these mind-sets such that demonstrated mind-set behaviours got rewarded, says Ms Morparia. The strategic HR initiatives taken at ICICI group under Prof Brockbanks guidance have helped it in building a strong pool of talented human resources, which is today clearly a source of competitive advantage for the group.

Maricos Makeover
The key shift at Marico was that HR needed to play a strategic partner role in addition to maintaining the operational role. One of the key outcomes of that session has been the creation of Maricos rewards mechanism and a revision of its performance management system. The revision of the performance management system has helped bring in greater focus to the goals. The new rewards system is based on bringing in a higher component of variable pay through performance linked incentive. This has also helped in increasing the performance focus and helped surface issues that were hitherto swept under the carpet, says Mr Pandey.

The second important shift that occurred is that it reinforced the companys belief in increasing the focus on innovation in the organisation. This has enhanced HRs role by taking it into the domain of strategic facilitation for creating the culture of Innovation. For example, the changes brought about in Maricos flagship brand Parachutes cap, to make it tamper-proof, was one such critical innovation.

Wayne has partnered us by critiquing the shifts that we have been making. The HR Competency Survey conducted by University of Michigan served as another point of linkage with Wayne. Our participation in that and a subsequent interaction with him on the results has helped us further focus our energies in the strategic areas of HR delivery, says Mr Pandey.

The track record of the companies that Prof Brockbank has already done substantial work like ICICI and Marico show that some of these new changes have clearly made their impact. But now with the Tata group, the challenge will be even complex. Clearly, it will be a test case for the Brockbank prescription.