The Human Resources (HR) function: Asset or Liability?

In the year 2000 I got a change to attend a series of Pre-Placement-Talks (PPT in our college ‘lingo’) by various organizations during their campus recruitment process. I used to get very excited when the HR person gives this PPT about their organization in a nice and flashy way. After some time I formed an opinion that HR people are the ‘Driving Force’ behind the organization and wanted to become a HR person and be the ‘Face’ of the company. But after a year when I entered the tech industry I got a shock of my life to know that the HR is not having that much amount of ‘high-visibility’ in the organization as I was thinking.

Very recently I got a chance to read the book ‘WINNING’ by Jack Welch (ex-CEO of GE) and he has mentioned that the HR function should be given the importance of a Vice-President (VP) and HR function is next to the Chief-Financial-Officer (CFO) in the company’s priority list. This information confused me even more and the question ‘What exactly is the role of HR in the knowledge industry? ‘After talking to some of my mentors and senior people in the tech industry I got some clarification and sharing my learning’s in this blog.

Basically the concept of ‘HR’ gained more importance during the manufacturing era (During 17th and 18th century) where the objective of the organization is to get maximum amount of work done from the employees by ‘physically’ making them present and make them work them for long hours. The role of ‘Supervisor’ was defined as a person who gets the job done from the ‘shop-floor’ level employees and the ‘people-function’ was not under the charter of the ‘Supervisor’. So organization needed a function which will address people’s concerns and the HR department was created. This function played a very important role during that era as they were interacting with employees directly. This is why Jack Welch gives so much of importance to this function as he belongs more to the ‘Manufacturing’ era.

In the knowledge era (20th century) the idea of ‘Supervisor’ is slightly changed. Even though the objective of supervisors is to get the job done, this needs to be achieved by making the employees ‘Mentally’ work more for the organization. This is one of the most challenging tasks as ‘Convincing’ human brain and ‘Enabling’ it to perform is one of the toughest things in the earth as human brain is totally unpredictable. So the terminology called ‘Supervisor’ is changed to ‘People Managers’ (Or Project Managers) and the people functionality is integrated with the role of the ‘Supervisor’. Along with engineering deliverables these people managers need to work with people, evaluate them and take care of their immediate concerns.

Since the people functionality is integrated with people managers, the role of Human Resources (HR) department has become ‘thin’ in the knowledge industry today. They are mainly involved in defining the ‘Framework’ for the company which includes defining performance evaluation system, components and benefits system, hiring system and organization level ‘people-engagement’ initiatives which are aligned with organization’s vision. Once this ‘Framework’ is in place the role of HR is more of ‘operational’ and fine tune the Framework on a need-basis.

In conclusion I would say the HR is neither an ‘Asset’ nor a ‘Liability’. They are more of a ‘Support Function’ to keep the operations running.

Tamil-Nadu Real Estate: Macro Analysis

When it comes to investing we need to evaluate the ‘Macro’ (Top-down) and ‘Micro’ (Bottom-up) analysis of the instrument and real estate is no exception to that. One of my friends has done the macro analysis of Tamil-Nadu real estate and found that Chennai and Coimbatore are having very good potential as political, economical and industrial factors are looking very positive in these cities. Following are some of the information he has collected in the recent times. Posting here for public usage.

The Coimbatore district has segments like textile, auto ancillary, hospitality, IT and polutry. The textile industry has already grown but the growth would be exponential in the coming years with the textile outsourcing boom starting. Already Coimbatore textile industry is worth 1 billion USD. It also enjoys a good hold in engineering sectors because of the trust in the infrastructure it would have a solid growth in the coming years. The future big bets are in IT and hospitality (Health due to super specialty hospitals) and in south India no other tier 2 city has that potential. Apart from this Coimbatore district has the biggest poultry industry and very soon this segment might catch up in the big way since retail industry is getting organized and also because of its export potential. This time political scenario is also looking good because of the state – central government combination. The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) seems to be marketing Coimbatore. Also in Coimbatore TAJ, GTR and Meridian are planning for star hotels, which again reflect the state of economy.

But Government has stopped loans under TUF (Technology Upgradation Fund) for textiles industry, which was giving 5% subsidy on interest rates. This would impact the Textiles industry which was planning for expansion as CAPEX would be impacted. This could have an impact on Coimbatore. Also some of the recent real-estate magazine reports show that the Bangalore real estate is undergoing correction and saturation. This is not the case with Chennai and Coimbatore. In Chennai IT corridor has sanctioned 80 companies and looks like Chennai is catching up the way Bangalore was three years ago.

Recent web links for reference:

http://www.hindu.com/2006/07/21/stories/2006072110990100.htm

http://www.indiantelevision.com/interviews/y2k6/executive/atul_g.htm

http://www.kovaionline.com/cbe/live/news/review.asp

http://in.rediff.com/money/2006/jul/07job.htm

So if you have a big bag of money and ready to eat sambar, it’s time to go to Chennai or Coimbatore 🙂

Poka-Yoke : The Japanese way of ‘Mistake-Proofing’

When it comes to quality nobody can deny the contributions made by Japanese. Especially in the automobile and electronic industries they literally re-wrote the meaning of ‘Competition’ by innovating ‘Low-cost-high-quality’ products and consistently demonstrating their leadership in those businesses. Today Hondas and Toyotas are the best example of ‘Build-inside-sell-outside’ concept and making General Motors (GM) and Ford Motors to struggle for their business in their own country and I always believe Indian software firms should adapt this concept and build products for global markets. When I was thinking in these lines recently came across the quality ‘Poka Yoke’ invented by Japanese.

Poka Yoke is a quality management concept developed by a Matsushita manufacturing engineer named Shigeo Shingo to prevent human errors from occurring in the production line. Poka yoke (pronounced ‘poh-kah yoh-kay’) comes from two Japanese words – ‘yokeru’ which means ‘to avoid’, and ‘poka’ which means ‘inadvertent errors’. Thus, poka yoke more or less translates to “avoiding inadvertent errors”. Poka yoke is sometimes referred to in English by some people as ‘fool-proofing’. However, this doesn’t sound politically correct if applied to employees, so the English equivalent used by Shingo was ‘error avoidance’. Other variants like ‘mistake proofing’ or ‘fail-safe operation’ have likewise become popular.

The main objective of poke yoke is to achieve zero defects. In fact, it is just one of the many components of Shingo’s Zero Quality Control (ZQC) system, the goal of which is to eliminate defective products. Poka Yoke is more of a concept than a procedure. Thus, its implementation is governed by what people think they can do to prevent errors in their workplace, and not by a set of step-by-step instructions on how they should do their job. Poka yoke is implemented by using simple objects like fixtures, jigs, gadgets, warning devices, paper systems, and the like to prevent people from committing mistakes, even if they try to! These objects, known as poka yoke devices, are usually used to stop the machine and alert the operator if something is about to go wrong.

Five years before one of my friend attended a training in TVS Lucas in Chennai and he gave me a very interesting example. In order to cut the metal parts (Which are used to prepare auto-ancillary parts) the production engineers need to place the metal inside the cutting machine (Don’t remember the exact mechanical engineering name for the machine) with both their hands and then switch ON the ‘Cutting’ button. The main risk is if by mistake the engineer has one hand inside the machine the switches on the machine using another hand the hand inside the machine will get cut completely (Which is very high risk). In order to avoid this they had two ‘Cutting’ buttons one on the left and another on the right side. Unless both buttons are pressed concurrently the cutting operation will not be started. So the risk of cutting his hand is completely avoided. This is ‘Poka-Yoke’ demonstrated at its best and we all understand the value of human hands 🙂

I always feel the Knowledge Industry can learn loads and loads of lessons from the Manufacturing Industry especially from the Japanese. Even though the businesses and the way they operate are totally different we can learn a lot from the Manufacturing Industry (Like Poka-Yoke) and try to implement it in Knowledge Industry. SAYONARA SAYONARA 🙂

Moms and Mega serials

My 55 year old mother watches 3 mega-serials every day in TV and feels very uncomfortable if she misses a single episode of any of those three. Apart from watching, frequent discussions on these mega serials happen with neighborhood aunties. I am sure people who are reading this blog would also feel either their mom or wife or aunties are also addicted to this ‘Megaserialobia’. According to me this Megaserialobia is cultivating huge amount of ‘Negative’ and ‘Depressive’ thoughts among people.

The pattern and the objective of these mega-serials are very simple: Tap people’s emotions and make a huge business out of it. The mega-serial work starts with hiring 35+ year old cine actresses who lost almost all her opportunities acting in cinemas and make a ‘Heroine’ centric story around her. Then this 35+ year old ‘So-Called-Heroine’ gets married and moves into her in-law’s place. There she faces all sorts of problems ranging from humiliation to criminal case thanks to her ‘In-laws-and-co’ and some more ‘External villans’. This story moves on and on for years and shows how this ‘So-called-heroine’ fights against all her odds and finally wins her ‘War’ called ‘Life’. Even though some of the problems the ‘So-called-Heroine’ faces is true in real time, most of the other problems are well packaged to ‘emotionally blackmail’ people. This serial lasts for about 500 episodes in which about 450 episodes are focused on the ‘Negative’ and ‘Depressive’ areas of life and the remaining 50 is attributed to the end of this serial. To put in simple term the whole serial focuses on the ‘Negative’ aspects of life.

Nowadays these serials are becoming big hit by tapping the negative emotions of people which according to me not a healthy sign at all. On the other end people who make these mega serials make huge money out of this venture. To give simple statistics, a 10 second ad during these mega serials costs up to to 35,000 INR. Assuming seven minutes advertisement time per episode the producer makes about 75 crores by the end of one mega serial which is really a huge number by any standard. I am not concerned about producers making money (After all they are here for doing business) but they make it by showing negative things like humiliation, joint-family problems, deceiving and molestation.

Apart from mega serials I have also observed most of our TV channels show ‘Negative’ things happening around us rather than ‘Positive’. If we can have series of polls and debates on recent Mumbai bomb blasts why there not much TV programs on India’s booming economy, Raising middle class, Budding Entrepreneurs or even for that matter more comedy programs? I remembered one of the excellent speeches given by our President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalaam’s and an excerpt from the speech is given below:

I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert land into an orchid and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news. In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE?

To conclude I also do have the same question Dr.Kalaam has: WHY ARE WE SO NEGATIVE?

BOOK REVIEW : Five point someone

Title: Five point someone
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Price: 90 INR

This book is written by Chetan Bhagat about life in IITs. Three friends (Alok, Ryan and Hari) get into IIT and start thinking in wrong direction and get into all sorts of ‘funny’ things instead of focusing on studies. Finally they somehow land up in some or the other kind of jobs and starts their real lives. I normally read the non-fiction types of books and this is one of the fiction books I have read after a long long time. But I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because it took back to my college days, which is really the best four years in my life. Anyone who read this book would get the same experience of the movie ‘Dil-chahtha-hai’.

The most important point about this book is the author has maintained the IIT ‘Lingo’ throughout the book. Every college has its own set of ‘lingo’ which is spoken only inside the college and only people who have gone through this can enjoy the ‘College-specific’ lingo. Words like insti-roof (College main building roof), Seenu (Parata server), Fatso (College slang) which is very similar to a set of terminologies like ‘Out’ (A person who had boozed and gone out of control), ‘Kela’ (Which means you are screwed or deceived), Seenu, Maamu (Set of chai-walas inside the college), ‘Koops’ (College co-operative society) which was used during my college days. Another interesting point about this book is about the description of the three main characters. I can very well relate those characters to myself and some of my college friends which makes the book more interesting one to read.

It’s been five years since I finished my college and this book has really made me think and feel those wonderful days we had in college 🙂

Economy and Governance

The World Bank has declared India as the 12th richest country in the world during the year 2005 based on its GDP numbers. According to the Times of India article India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has touched 785.47 Billion dollars in the year 2005 and India is the only south Asian country in the list. This is really good news indeed. We are harnessing the results for the golden economic reforms that we have made in the year 1991. Today India is one among the hot-spot destinations as far as Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) are concerned and I am able to witness the raise of educated Indian middle class in front of my eyes.

Having said that the economic growth alone cannot be called as ‘real’ growth because we are still fighting against fundamental problems like poverty, illiteracy, health-care and infrastructure in almost all parts of the country. The vibrant economy is helping me to buy a Honda City car but my poor governance is making me drive in the worst roads. So the need of the hour is good Governance which should make this economic growth to remove the poverty and improve the ‘Quality-of-life’ for everybody. We should learn from south-east Asian countries that got independence at the same time (Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan) and implement good governance.

Providing good governance in India is a real challenging task because of its ‘Diversified’ nature. Even though ‘Diversity’ is considered as strength in the Corporate as well as in the Investment world, in case of our country it is acting as a weakness because we are ‘Too-much-diversified’. We cannot talk to the whole country in a single language or bind the whole country under a single ideology. This makes the ‘Coalition’ government inevitable and makes the ruling party left with very less power to implement anything drastically. The recent ‘Hold-on-Disinvestment’ shows how difficult it is for any government to make any bold decisions.

Going by theories Economic reforms should change the needs of people and that need will drive the country towards good governance. For the past 1200 years India as a country is able to survive in spite of the foreign invasions is mainly because of its strong culture. Now it is time for us to take pride in our country and its strong culture and March towards improving ‘Quality-of-life’ and transforming ourselves into a ‘Developed’ nation.

BOOK REVIEW : Vandharghal Vendrargal

Title: Vandharghal Vendrargal (Tamizh) – They came they conquered
Author: Madhan
Price: 90 INR

This is one of the well written history books that I have read till now. Basically this book talks about the Mughal history and their invasion in India. Starting from Gajini (9 AD) to Bahadoor shah (Last mughal king) Muslims ruled India for close to 800 years. Author Madhan is a cartoonist and author and been writing in the ‘Anandha Vikatan’ (Famous tamizh weekly magazine) for long time. His sense of humor shows up in every chapter and it is the main reason that makes this history book more interesting.

Basically the Mughals belong to Afghanistan and Gajini was one of the first people to come to India and take away huge amount of wealth. This is followed by various sultans and then Mughal kings. He has explained the jahangir-noorjahan, shajahan-mumthaj love stories wonderfully. Inspite of hardcore fighters it is really interesting to know about the ‘Romantic’ side of these mughal kings. Apart from explaining Babar, Humayoon, Akbar, Jhahangir, Shajahaan, Aurangazeeb he also talks about brave Rajput kings like Pritviraj. In the later part he also had written about Shivaji and his ‘Gorilla’ wars against Aurangazeeb. The author explains how Indian kings were not united because of which these attacks happened and also tries to explain the reasons behind the same. But the sad part is about the amount of people and wealth that India lost during these years. If we would have retained that wealth we would have been far wealthy and better country in the World today.

The ‘Manager’ mania

Some time back I wrote a blog titled ‘Ji Huzur to Whatsup dude?’ in which I wrote about various types of work cultures that is prevailing in India at the same point of time which I don’t think we will get to see in any other part of the world. Going some more deep into this topic I found some more interesting patterns emerging in the Knowledge industry as of today. The pattern says ‘Everyone wants to become a manager’. For all I know and experienced people curse their managers when they were non-managers and hated the managers to the core by telling all sorts of reasons. But still everyone wants to be come manager. But why? Before getting into the answer let us take a point from leadership as well as from history.

At first the word ‘Leadership’ can be broadly classified into ‘Power Leadership’ and ‘Inspirational Leadership’. The former is best explained with the Industrial era where the manager or the leader is given some amount of power using which he will get the job done from their subordinates. This can be called as ‘Top-down’ approach where using the ‘power’ the task got done. Ranging from Ancient kings to Hitler we can see various examples of power based leadership. The later type of leadership (Inspirational) can be explained with the type of leadership that is required in the Knowledge era. Here the leader needs to inspire others and enable others to achieve great things. This can be done mainly by ‘Leading-by-example’ rather than giving FUTTAs or ordering. This is totally different from the ‘Power leadership’. This can also be called as ‘Bottom-up’ approach.

Second going back to Indian history our country is been invaded and exploited for the past two thousand years by various foreigners. We have been suppressed and became victims of ‘Power Leadership’. So in spite demonstration of excellent Inspirational Leadership by people like Gandhi most of us are still in the power based world. We derive pleasure and gain social respect when we demonstrate the power leadership than the inspirational leadership.

Coming back to the knowledge industry, the position of ‘Manager’ offers more amount of power than other positions say for example a software technical specialist. And also our society which mainly consists of ‘Coffee-drinking-Hindu-paper-reading’ middle class uncles and aunts who attach more value when their son or daughter manages a dozen engineers rather than design a software product from the scratch. For power based people the number of direct reports is important than amount of innovation or product ideas that the team generates. Also I have seen numerous managers feel extremely uncomfortable when the number of direct reports reduces because of organizational restructuring. This also explains why our software companies are performing exceptionally well when comes to ‘Services’ based model which requires more and more managers rather than ‘Product’ based model.

But According to Stephen Covey (The 7 habits author) the whole world is changing from ‘Independent’ to ‘Interdependent’ mode and which suits to the knowledge industry very well. No individual or organization can control the business by the use of power. Individuals in the knowledge age need to work with others in a ‘Synergistic’ way because knowledge is in abundance and it is impossible for any individual to possess the whole knowledge. This indirectly means there will be more need for ‘inspirational’ people rather than ‘power’ based people.

In Indian tech industry the perception of the word ‘manager’ should change. The manager position should be seen as a way to enable others and adding value to the business rather than power-centric thinking. Apart from that the dire need of today’s knowledge industry in India is to proceed towards product innovations with a sense of urgency where more ‘hard-code’ contributors with ‘inspirational’ mindset is required. We should think in these terms and make the paradigm shift to the inspirational way if at all we want to make a difference in the knowledge Industry.

BOOK REVIEW : Savarkar and Hindutva

Title: Savarkar and Hidhutva
Author: A.G.Noorani
ISBN: 8187496282

This book is about one of the controversial leaders in Indian history, Vinayak Damodhar Savarkar who is popularly known as ‘Veer Savarkar’ and the ‘Hidhutva’ ideology which was coined by him. This book also talks about Gandhiji’s assassination and Savarkar’s involvement with that. This book is written by A.G.Noorani who is a famous columnist in ‘Frontline’ magazine. Since the book contains very serious stuff the terminologies also pretty complex to understand.

In the year 1928 Savarkar coined the term ‘Hindutva’ which according to him the perfect political ideology for governing India. This ‘Hindutva’ is totally different from ‘Hinduism’. The Hinduism is all about the religious aspects which explains the principles, philosophies which is been existing for thousands of years. This has to do with what has mentioned in Vedas, Upanishads and various Hindu holy books. But ‘Hindutva’ is all about political ideology and Savarkar is the person who conceptualized this terminology. The Rastriya Swam Sevak Sangh (RSS) or popularly known as ‘Sangh parivar’ is created based on this ideology and Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) is the political face of the Sangh.

According to Savarkar the political ideology of any country should be based on the ‘Religious’ basis and the Hindu religion is the only way to unite the whole India as a single country. He puts forth ‘Hindustan’ is for Hindus and all other religions should be given next priority as 80% of Indians are Hindus. To put in another way Hidutva is all about ‘Religious Nationalism’. This is totally different and opposite to what Congress party’s ideology which is mainly based on ‘Geographic Nationalism’. According to Geographical Nationalism India is a country with certain geographical boundaries and whoever lives in the country should be treated in the same way irrespective of the religion they follow. In fact the whole Indian constitution is based on this ‘Secularism’ concept.

For each and every ideology in the world there is an opposite one (Example: Capitalism Vs Communism) and it is up to individuals to follow the ideology which suites to them. By reading this book I was able to understand more about the ‘Hindutva’ ideology and formed my own perceptions on Hidutva as well as Secularism.

Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen

A month back I wrote a blog about Small-And-Medium Businesses (SMB) in India and the importance of technology in enabling these businesses to scale and perform better. After writing the blog I got to know that KPN travels (https://www.kpntravels.in/) have launched their website and bus tickets can be booked online. For people who don’t know KPN travels, it is one of the biggest privately operated bus services covering almost all parts of southern India. I have been traveling in their buses for the past give years and I can bet that their business will grow in multiples because of their online system as most of the people travel in their buses are ‘Bangalore-techies’ for visiting their native places over the weekend. This is a perfect example for the ‘SMB + Technology’ combination which I am sure is a ‘Killer combination’ in Indian context.

Also compared to other businesses, travel business in India seems to be the leader as far as adapting technology is concerned. According to ‘Digital Summit 2006’ statistics Indian railways (http://irctc.co.in/) is selling tickets worth Rs.30 crore every month which is having about 200,000 online transactions. The low-cost airline Air Deccan (http://www.airdeccan.net/) is making user of their online reservation system for all sorts of customers (Retail, travel agents, corporate bulk booking) and their run rate is Rs.1000 crore per year. Couple of days back Prathap Kalra CEO of ‘Makemytrip’ (http://www.makemytrip.com/) appeared in NDTV’s ‘Boss-day-out’ program and he was explaining about the travel and internet usage in India. Even though I don’t remember the exact numbers the growth potential offered by the online travel is simply amazing.

The benefit and ease of online travel has not yet reached average non-urban Indians. It is mainly because of the less PC and Internet penetration. The idea of Rs.10, 000 PC is looking good but its success is not yet proven. Here is where the ‘Affordable access devices (AAD)’ come into picture and I cannot think of a better AAD than mobile phones in Indian context. By bringing Internet into the mobile phone and developing applications especially for online ticketing is an area which is yet to be tapped.

The initial momentum for online travel is looking good from the service providers as well as from the consumer’s end. This should ultimately remove the long queues in reservation counters by make ticketing very easy and make the consumer sing the song ‘suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen’ 🙂