Is the HRD Professional a Frog in the Well

a reflection on HRD professionals role
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   1 IS THE HRD PROFESSIONAL A FROG IN THE WELL?: Arguing For A Strategic Role For HRD In Society Rosemary Viswanath, Learning Network Abstract This paper attempts to challenge the prevailing idea of Human Resources Development as primarily applicable to corporates and to business. It argues for a re-visioning or revisiting of the core values and philosophy of the HRD movement in order to make the profession more broad based and inclusive thus enabling it to play a more strategic and influential role in business and in society at large. The author addresses the often unquestioned impacts of globalization, such as increased informalisation of work, increased violence & reduced rights pointing to an urgent need to go beyond the economic and address political, cultural, and social, diversity and freedoms. She also draws attention to the importance and challenges of application of HRD to non-corporate systems particularly the government and non-profit sectors. Asking the question which human resources  and whose development  the author appeals to HRD professionals to recommit themselves to the vision of creating more humane organisations , to take the risks and responsibility of transformative leadership roles rather than be content with increasing micro innovation. Introduction : HRD for whom ? This conference focusing on the Asian transformation in the context of globalization is indeed a welcome opportunity to reflect on the role of Human Resource Development professionals, their world view and, the role they believe they should play. It is illuminating that while its title and theme Emerging Asia - An HR Agenda , focusing on the human side of the transformation, is broad and potentially inclusive; the conference 1  focuses almost exclusively on the corporate sector and in particular on the large corporates. Is the underlying belief then that corporates and corporate employees are the sole actors in transformation and globalization of the Asian region? While examining the economic, business and cultural trends in the Asian region, is it not important that accompanying social and political trends are also taken into account? There is another assumption here too - albeit implicit– that economic globalization is a good thing - and has benefited all. Therefore the HRD professional must back it unquestioningly and do everything in her or his power to ensure that globalization in its current form is strengthened and pursued 2 . A third assumption also lurks that the “other” (non corporate world) has no links and does not affect and is not affected by “our” (corporate) world. While inviting a debate on these assumptions, this paper takes the position that an increasing and massive share of the transformation (even industrial) comes from the efforts and labour of a vast and ever growing unorganized sector , from the shaping and advocacy efforts of a vigilant civil society 3  (often in the organized form of nonprofit organisations and networks), as well as efforts (both positive and negative) of governments. There are strong links and dependencies between the large unorganized informal sector and organized work; between social and political and economic aspirations of wider civil society and the accountability and practices of corporates; between issues of environmental sustainability / social justice and the bottom line of world class organisations. Are these issues of concern to the HRD professional and the HRD profession – does it become his or her or its business at all? Is there room for doubt? Globalization through the opening up of economies, removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies, has the potential to enrich. East Asia’s success (notwithstanding the crisis) is certainly attributable in part to globalization bringing in opportunities for trade, increased access to markets and technology. Globalization has brought better health, communication, as well as shaped an active civil society around the world fighting for greater democracy and greater social justice.   2 There is no question again, within the boundaries of the corporation, that globalization has brought in its wake exciting challenges for the HR professional - the impact of increased competition, the challenge of leveraging technology with strategy, the need to inspire a workforce that is competent but often cynical about organisations. This has resulted in HRD professionals addressing performance management competencies, workplace facilities, training and capacity building, participation and rewards in varied and innovative ways. However it is clear that globalization is not working for the world’s poor. It is not working for much of the environment. Economic (read corporate) globalization has in no uncertain terms expanded the reach of corporate power – capital, labour, technology and other resources are increasingly directed toward or away from investment destinations based mainly on economic factors. Economically powerful actors may dramatically influence policy whether for good or for ill and thereby impact on the human rights, livelihood and lives of millions of people 4 . Apart from the successes of transformation which need to be celebrated, the human resources landscape in the last 10 years in Asia has also seen undeniable negative trends Increased distress migration – across state and national borders and from rural to urban areas A decided shift in employment even in case of the Asian Tigers – from the formal to informal sector. Informal sector growing rapidly, but is even more insecure Temporary and ephemeral nature of employment: Multiple jobs, part time jobs, contract based and dispatch jobs Feminization of the labor force ( more women into the labour force , but also moving women into low paid low security jobs) Privatization of social services ( health , education) and public goods ( water , power, common property) making them out of reach of the poor Retreat of the government from social services Increased militarization With greater civil society protest, increased intolerance of the state to dissent and dissident voices Rising unemployment Sexual harassment in the workplace Dismantling of labor laws and the rights of labour including the rights to organize Trend towards special economic zones which by law restricts the rights of labour Increase in trafficking and slavery of women and children Drugs, armed conflict, HIV Aids Communal clashes and hatred The latest UN Human Development Report 2004 5  focuses as its theme, Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, and points to the myths, the challenges, and the dilemmas we as a society are faced with in understanding these trends and responding to them. Human Development, as this well respected annual report has argued over the years, is as much a question of politics as it is of economics. It argues strongly that unless citizens think feel and act in ways that genuinely accommodate the needs and aspirations of others real change will not happen. When as HRD professionals we speak of the “people” side or the human side of the asian transformation and the role of HR “which human resources” and “whose development” is the question. Do issues like democracy, participation, development of human capacity, dignity, quality of life, equity, justice, and strong social institutions, the building of social capital, good governance and peace not touch and concern HRD as a profession? The argument here is not that all HR professionals quit corporate jobs and work with the development sector, but for HRD as a profession to widen its circle of interest and therefore its circle of influence and circle of responsibility. It will only stagnate and   3 become dysfunctional if it remains cloistered within the walls of corporate offices paying no heed to the trends and realities of wider society and refusing to seeing the connections between these and the more micro issues that it deals with. A leadership role Perhaps an area of possible and productive interface is the area of Corporate Social Accountability (or Corporate Social Responsibility – as many corporates prefer to call it). For instance the way that the CSR initiative of the HRD network 6  is defined is certainly well intentioned – it goes beyond philanthropy and tries to engage individual with wider social issues and attempts to build capacity of NGO’s. This is indeed laudable, but it does not seem to address a very core issue – is CSR a feel good initiative? Are HR managers able to see that corporate accountability is an imperative that corporations need to address, not just as part of their strategy but as an integral way of doing business ? If accountability implies a reduced bottom line, would the HR professional be arguing in favor of increased social accountability? One hopes so. As an example, let us take a current issue in debate in India - reservations for SC/ST in the private sector 7 . A Group of Ministers has been constituted by the government to address this – where is the HRD movement in terms of its response, or serious engagement with the issue? Surely it has implications for each of us in our role as HRD managers, our policy for recruitment and capacity building, best practices, but also as HRD professionals and as citizens. In August 2003, the UN sub commission on the promotion and protection of Human rights approved the UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights 8  .The UN Human Rights Norms for Business set forth basic minimal business obligations regarding human rights. These cover areas such as non-discrimination, protection of civilians and laws of war, use of security forces, workers rights, corruption, consumer protection, economic social and cultural rights, rights of indigenous people as well as human rights and the environment. These are just the broad areas, and the commentary on each of these is indeed educative and worth the effort of using it to challenge mental models and status quo within progressive corporations. HR professionals have an important role in bringing such issues and developments to the centre stage of corporate strategy, values and governance. Who learns from whom? There is also perhaps the underlying assumption about corporates being leading edge and sophisticated forms of “organisation” and non profits and other sectors having to learn from them. This warrants a re-look. Non-profits have basically built on the spirit of service and participation, and privileged civil society’s role in building just and sustainable societies. It is true that many small non profits operate with structures and systems that are basic and capacity that is limited. But many don’t. With globalization, the landscape of non-profits has also changed and while they may grapple with local issues, they recognize that the impacts are often because of changes in global spaces. Many have been forced to or chosen to shift from the traditional geographically bounded project or implementation mode to engage with and create new forms of organizations – networks, campaigns, clusters, and alignments – oftentimes trans-regional, transcontinental, and mostly virtual. Managing these new forms of organization itself is a significant challenge in terms of leadership, managerial and organizational skills. The management of finances becomes a new challenge as well, because many of the earlier assumptions about inflows and outflows and sharing of resources simply do not hold. Added to this is managing the increasing number of hurdles in the legal, statutory, political and policy space ( as a means to discourage dissent and critique) as well as increasingly tight donor requirements.   4 In order to survive and remain effective, non-profits are increasingly focusing on the inside-outside simultaneously. This implies serious and concerted work on HRD and OD 9  in areas of: l The organization’s vision (and its percolation to the rest of the organization) & practiced values as well as consistent and focused work on aligning strategies, work culture , structures, processes and systems to the vision & values l Ability & skill to operate in a truly public space l Financial management , accountability & transparency l Efficiency and deliverables in a complex macro-environment l Leadership – not just at the top , but a building a culture of leadership at all levels in the organisation. l Professional and management skills in a resource deficit space Max DePree 10  Chairman of Herman Miller one of the most admired US companies says -  “One of the great problems of the capitalist system during its first couple of hundred years is that it has been primarily an exclusive system. It has been built primarily around contractual relationships and it has excluded too many people from both its process and a generally equitable distribution of results. The issue here is much more than financial reward: Most people never get the opportunity to be meaningfully involved in the working of the system.” Participatory processes and participatory management as a basic value emerged in the nonprofit sector. It is now fast gaining currency in the corporate world both for strategic reasons (a key tool for enrolling people into the mission of the organisation) and even in terms of being a desirable value. Advocacy and lobby networks 11  have effectively used synergy and collaboration as effective strategic weapons to meet their goals. Interestingly, it is the for profits that are now turning to population ecology and game theory concepts to understand why cooperation is an important corollary to competition in understanding industry dynamics. Non profits and development organisations have also worked far more seriously on the issue of gender, diversity and representational power than most corporates. It is quite demoralizing for instance, so see the rather dismal ratio of women to men in the composition of advisory council members, executive committee members and invited speakers to this conference – does HRD not concern itself with the development of women’s leadership within the profession and in corporations? Peter Drucker talking of American Nonprofit organisations believes that in two areas - strategy and effectiveness of the Board, non-profits practice what most American businesses only preach 12 . We must also not forget that NGO’s are the largest employer of a volunteer work force 13 . Given the huge challenge that most HRD professionals in corporate systems face about motivating and retaining people who are paid considerably more – there is much to learn and think about. But before we begin to romanticize non profits , let us recognize that while many are opposed to the capitalist model and assumptions, they struggle with the same dilemmas - how to make their working and systems more inclusive yet effective. Should their OD efforts focus more on techniques and skills and less on the spirit? The willingness to include normal human problems into the system may not go along with increased pressures on efficiency. Being committed to the diversity of human gifts, being hospitable to the unusual person, being covenantal as against contractual in relationships, incessant almost obsessive communication, and believing that leadership is a condition of indebtedness are goals that are easier talked about but take a lifetime to achieve . Given that the non-profits are extremely resource short (people, skills, money, and time) these are not easy tasks and there are no easy answers. A challenge indeed for the HRD professional.
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