Grease Hands HRD


By

K. Ramakrishnan
BE, PGDM IIMA
Director
Asian School of Business
Trivandrum
 


We keep talking about Grassroots Democracy, Grassroots Development, and many such grassroots phenomenon.  We mean  by  the use of that  expression  'Grassroots'  that the bottom  most  sections  of  a stratified  society  ought to be involved in   and  benefited  by whatever grassroots phenomenon we are talking about. In a similar way I thought, half in seriousness and half in jest, "why not talk about "Grease Hands HRD"? I was  tempted  to suggest so, because by the term Grease Hands HRD, I wanted to convey that those  at  the bottom  of  the  hierarchy in industry, those  with  their  hands soiled by grease, viz. the workers must also become the focus for HRD profession.

I  am  aware,  that  I  am  being    provocative   in choosing  a title  like  that.  Many of you may like to point out that the profession of personnel management – H R M is a later invention - is after all doing just that : focusing on the welfare of the workers. And you are right; but only to some extent. I would like to suggest that many personnel managers or H R professionals, perceive "workers welfare" largely in terms of what are called the lower order needs in the hierarchy of needs suggested by Maslow. Very little attention, if at all any, is paid to  the worker's higher level needs - sense of belonging, opportunity for development  and growth, self esteem etc.. I would also like to suggest that HRD profession should extend its horizon and look at the worker not only as a resource at the work place but as an individual in the society.

Well, I don't deny that in several organisations employees are given   opportunities for self-development   through   training programmes. But which group of employees get what training is the question we should be posing. Largely the supervisors and managers get the benefits of non-technical training programmes.  The   training programmes the workers get to attend will mostly be for the development of a particular technical skill, not for personality development - the development of the individual as a whole. Sometimes, I feel like arguing that the term Human 'Resource' Development indicates our bias. We treat  humans,   and particularly in the case of  lower level workers,  only  as just another  resource  like  land  or machinery  to  be  "developed" for the organisation's benefit.  I  would  have preferred  the  term  Human Development which  implies  that  the development of the human beings is an end in itself rather than a means to some other objective - the organisation's profitability.

That may sound idealistic. You will scoff at the idea for forgetting that the primary purpose of an organisation must be to make profits. But, I would like to stick to my position. For,  I do  believe that profitability (to ensure sustained growth)  must be  perceived as a 'constraint' within which the enterprise  should strive  primarily to achieve  the ultimate 'objective'  of  social development. That view is significantly different from the business philosophy of maximizing profitability within the 'constraint'   of worker 'appeasement' (not development mind you!).

If you feel that it is unrealistic to expect business philosophy to change   so radically, let us only look at what has happened since the dawn of industrialisation. Don't  we  see that  the business and industry have become increasingly sensitive to,  and concerned  with   the  life  of the employee  not   only  at  the workplace but  his/her life in general ?  It is such an awareness that  has  led  to  the  emergence  of  techniques  such  as  job enlargement  and job enrichment as well as concepts such  as  HRD and  organisation development. The personnel manager's role as been expanded. He is no more a mere administrator of set of rules and procedures but an innovative entrepreneur of  attracting  the right people to the organisation and ensuring that they stay  on. So what is wrong in expecting that the HRD profession should be striving towards the complete development of the workers as individuals?  Moreover the development of the worker as an individual will ultimately lead to his becoming a better worker, a better team-mate, a better spokesperson of the organisation and thus benefit the organisation.

Maybe  I  should, at  this stage, indicate what  I  have  in  mind towards  the development of the  worker as an individual. We all know that most conflicts arise as a result of communication breakdown.   People are not fully aware of the dimensions of the communication process.  Effective communication is very often normally understood as effective speaking. People often ignore the responsibilities of the sender, in any communication process, to be aware of the listener's needs, attitudes and current frame of   mind. The importance of effective listening   and   the responsibilities of the listener are not consciously understood. As a consequence in very many negotiations a lot of talking and very little listening occurs. And as the cliché points out more heat is generated than light being thrown on the issues of dispute. There does not seem to be sufficient recognition of the fact that the results of ineffective communication can, at times, be very expensive. Hence, you would agree that the workers  also must  be  trained  to become  effective  communicators,  both  as senders  and  receivers. There are numerous  interesting  way  by which  individuals  can be  helped to become effective  in  their inter-personal  communications. Regular programmes incorporating such methods must be on the agenda of any enterprise which has a full time personnel manager

When a worker becomes better at inter-personal communication, he not only becomes a better team worker, but also   copes   better with conflict situations outside the workplace too. This capability in turn facilitates the worker's constructive attitude and behaviour at the workplace. Hence the suggestion that training for ineter-personal skills should be considered important. Another major aspect of personality development   is   the constructive participation in group activities. Individuals become better at group work when they learn to share information, respect others' capabilities and accept the need for coordinated effort. All these traits can be inculcated not by lectures but by interesting games and role plays. Workers must  be  exposed  to training  programmes which are based on such activities  so  that the  attitudes  of  cooperation,  constructive  competition   and leadership are fostered.

It  is  increasingly being recognised  that  workers  involvement with,  and  loyalty  to the organisation and  its  goals  can  be enhanced through active participation by their representatives in the  corporate  planning  process. The worker  in  the  board  of directors  should  not be allowed to be a mere  token  of  worker representation  or  an  intransigent filibuster.   He  should  be converted  to  an  active and constructive  collaborator  in  the policy  making  process.  That may become possible only if the workers   are   equipped, through   appropriate   training   and orientation programmes, to understand and appreciate  corporate philosophy,  objectives and strategies. Willing workers must  be trained  to read and understand company financial statements  and periodical review reports on company performance.

Do we know the literacy status of workers  in  business  and industry? How  many managements will be prepared  to  use  their clout  to  influence workers – theirs or their contractors' - to improve  their  literacy  status? Isn't it in the long term interests of the industrial sector to invest in literacy not only of their own workers but also of the potential workers?

While these are some of the avenues the HRD professionals  should explore   towards  the  objective  of  making  workers   identify themselves  as  responsible  and willing  stake  holders  of  the enterprise, there are a few other measures to achieve the broader objective of  helping  every worker  become  a  responsible  and constructive member of the society in which he lives.

Every worker has several other roles to play too: a dutiful son, a loving husband; an affectionate father; conscious consumer or any one of umpteen other roles you can think of.  It is not uncommon that a worker carries the triumphs and tribulations experienced in his other roles to the work place.  Is personnel function currently equipped to detect in the worker's behaviour early warning signals of stress outside the workplace and arrange for helpful counseling?  In a society where awareness about  the concept  of mental-health is almost absent, HRD professionals  in the  organised  sector  must probably be  the  pioneers  to  help people develop a sound mind and maintain it so.

Alcoholism among industrial workers is a problem all over the world. Some sociologists even argue that the mechanical machine-like  life of an industrial worker (so admirably and  humorously depicted by Charlie Chaplin  in the movie Modern Times) makes  the worker alienated from himself and the rest of the world and  that alienation  is  an  important cause for  alcoholism.  If such a premise is even partly true, it is all the more appropriate that the alcoholic is helped out of his problem by the organisation. Most  firms  of  the  West have a  well  articulated  policy  and effective   procedures  for  detecting  alcoholism  among   their employees  and provide counseling as well as medical services  to get  the  worker  out  of the malady. It is time that the HRD profession in our country also convince the business and industry to   pay  sufficient  attention  to  this  social  evil   through organisational  efforts  rather  than take the easy  way  out  of getting rid of the worker.

We have looked at what can be done at the enterprise level if HRD is  to  show  real concern for the workers. I  believe   the  HRD profession  should also reach out to the environment so that  the 'workers'   status  in the society is enhanced and  thereby  each worker's  self-esteem  is enhanced. When that happens, you will agree, several   enterprise   objectives   such   as   improved productivity will be facilitated too.  What is the common perception about a `worker', today?  Is he considered to be an intelligent, creative, proud individual whose work is essential to the community or the society? I am afraid the response will be "NO". 

Children never get to learn from text books what a day in the worker's life, is like. They never learn the value of the collective work by the millions of workers who have built the dams and factories. Newspaper stories about the inauguration of a new  factory  or  railway  line never highlights  a  story  of  a worker's  courage or presence of mind  or tenacity at work  which is an example of dedication and commitment. Not that there are no such  instances;  it is just the society's attitude  towards  the status  of  the  worker  that  influences  the  media's  way   of reporting. 

HRD  profession can, and should, I  feel,  work  with media,  educationists  and general public to bring about  a  more positive attitude towards a worker and his/her work. These,   friends, I consider are some directions in which HRD professionals should explore if workers really matter to them. And  you  will agree that in a modern industrial  nation  workers matter  not only  as workers in the shop floor but  as  important members of the society who can influence the overall  development  of the society. Hence an enlightened HRD philosophy warrants that we accept the need for developing workers not merely as resources but because development of each and every individual is the ultimate aim of all societal activities. Let us, then, work towards that objective.
 


K. Ramakrishnan
BE, PGDM IIMA
Director
Asian School of Business
Trivandrum
 

Source: E-mail March 24, 2009

          

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