The exasperation of the hapless employee was evident in the email. The issue was of an inexplicable deduction in his payslip. The employee did what most employees do. Raised it to HR. He was promptly told to record his complaint online, which he did. He was informed electronically that the matter had been forwarded to finance. And then the stonewalling started. He was tossed around from department to department…as each started blaming the other. No one took the initiative to resolve the issue.
The faucet in the ladies cloakroom was leaky. The complaint was raised at an employee meet, duly recorded by HR and sent on its way—this time to facilities. The leaks, however, continued. So did the ping-pong…and the employees continued to skirt gingerly around one really wet cloakroom.
The issue is generic and the malady usually affects all stakeholders. Not just employees, but vendors and even customers bear the brunt. But since this is the HR Matters column and since employees make for great case studies, let’s stick with them.
At the heart of it is the question, who will really resolve employee issues when problems or concerns cross traditional departmental boundaries? For the employee, his “Go To” is HR. But HR bristles that they have no authority or power over the departments responsible for making the service actually happen. And for the service provider department, the employee stakeholder unfortunately may rank quite low in the pecking order.
But truth be told, these are employee issues; those nit-picking hygiene issues which sap the all-important Employee Satisfaction Index. And in the final analysis it is HR that is answerable to employees. Yes, yes, I hear the loud HR protests from far and near—“No it is not us, but Line itself who is the employees’ HR manager and first port of call. Why blame poor us?” Port of call, yes—but the conscience keeper for employee interests must ultimately be HR.
Unfortunately, while hard-working HR folks may make a living out of forwarding employee concerns to the concerned, activity in itself does not a job complete! The proof of the pudding is in the final closure. And this “passing the buck” phenomenon is a curse against proactive employee response. As one harried employee told me, “The way they pass the buck in my company, HR should just be called IR—Inhuman Relations.”
So how does HR straddle the murky no-man’s land of interdepartmental problems and get the issue resolved—when it has no direct authority but yet is seen as being responsible? Successful HR honchos have some secret mantras.
Understand the issue
Many a problem resolution has floundered by going up the garden path. And many wrong paths have their genesis in a wrong understanding of the problem. Understanding what the root cause of the problem is will take you to the right fixer department. Keep an unflinching eye on them.
Find an anchor
Each issue needs an unambiguous HR champion so that it doesn’t drift, forwarded here, forwarded there. The anchor is the lodestar; the one constant in the continuous whirl of email and stakeholder chatter. He or she keeps the issue on the radar, never giving up till it is resolved.
Follow up until, just to get you off their back, the service provider gets the job done. Chasing is not infra dig. And is a vital necessity in many geographies, including this one. In fact one company I know formalized it, chasing that is, by defining the role of a progress chaser. Every morning, said progress chasers would start their long trek from staff offices to the manufacturing plant to chase—read, nudge—work-in-progress components and drawings from one bay to the next. Modern techniques and technologies may have done away with this physical march, but you get my drift!
The consequence of not doing something needs to be understood and enshrined in every organization. If you let them get away with it, they will. Name and shame is not the best of management philosophies but it is an effective one. So is the reverse sign-off technique. Simply put it states—if I don’t hear from you by so and so I will assume you are okay with this line of approach and go ahead with it. Of course, it does not always mean that things will get done. But folks will ignore their mail at their own peril.
So HR, the next time you blithely design programmes on result focus, include customer responsiveness as a critical success competency and dole out awards for employee champion of the year, look in the mirror and assess if all of these are integral to your own team make-up. Else employees would be well justified in turning around and smirking, Physician, heal thyself.
See yourself as an orchestra conductor. Different departments know their roles and are expected to perform, but HR needs to pull it together through all the necessary “contortions” to make for fabulous music.
Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations. She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.
Write to Hema at email@example.com.