Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Managing Diverse Workforce


Managing a team with members from different cultural background and nationality has its own unique dimensions and challenges. Typically organizations have different training modules which train people on cross cultural aspects before they get exposed to the people of various nationality and culture.

Research shows that most of the organizations have few common issues which inhibit the advancement of diverse groups in the workplace : (1) negative attitudes and discomfort toward people who are different, (2) discrimination, (3) prejudice, (4) stereotyping, (5) racism, and (6) bias.

In one of the HBR series discussions, Navi Radjou, VP at Forrester Research shares his insight on why Indians score over their western counterparts.

He asked senior execs at both Western and Indian multinationals with R&D operations across US, Europe, and India what challenges they face in managing their firms’ transnational innovation networks. They pointed out that the biggest hurdle is socio-cultural, as Indian engineers think and act completely differently than their Western colleagues. The former, growing up in a red-hot economy, are animated by a “growth mindset” whereas the latter, operating in mature economies, are stuck in a “settled mindset.” These two opposite approaches clash when they are asked to collaborate on a R&D project. Why? Because Indian and Western engineers completely differ in their:

1) Reasoning. Unlike Western engineers,who reason with a predicate logic (a statement is either true (1) or false (0),Indian engineers solve problems using a fuzzy logic,the degree of truth of a statement can range anywhere between 0 and 1.

2) Problem-solving. Given their average age (mid-20s), Indian engineers belong to the Generation Y, or the Millennials, who learn through hands-on experiments (think video-games) and peer-to-peer interactions (instant messaging anyone?). When solving a problem, these grown-up “kids” harness the multiplicative power of social networking tools to experiment with multiple solutions simultaneously, and select the optimal one based on peer input. You can call this problem-solving approach “Collaborative Darwinism.” By contrast, Western engineers, many in their 30s/40s/50s, theoretically weigh the pros and cons of every single solution before even trying it, and feel too proud to ask for help when stuck solving a problem. It’s the “ostrich-style” problem-solving.

3) Market expectations. It’s hard for Western engineers living in rich economies with advanced infrastructure to design products for use by customers in developing economies with poor roads and unreliable electrical and water supply. But that’s second nature for Indian engineers in Bangalore, with its ever-congested roads and frequent power cuts. As a US tech multinational’s exec eloquently puts it: “Western engineers’ product ideas are shaped by laws of abundance whereas Eastern engineers’ inventions are motivated by the rules of scarcity.
Just to add to this , it’s also interesting to look at the famous Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions when one tries to do a comparative assessment of diverse workforce. His assessment is based on five primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance - PDI, Individualism - IDV, Masculinity - MAS, Uncertainty Avoidance – UAI and Long-Term Orientation – LTO.India scores fairly different when compared to western countries when one looks at all these dimensions, so the differences are expected. When it comes to product designing or any solution perhaps the awareness and better understanding of cultural diversity, language barrier and different socio economic approach towards consumption and consumer behavior drives Indian mindset.So instead of terming it mindset of scarcity versus abundance it would be appropriate to term it as informed and sensitized approach towards ideas and conceptualization.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Salary Compression – A HR Nightmare?

If there's one thing that's tipping the scales for fresh employees and leaving the veterans out in the cold, it's salary compression. There's no room for loyalty to the company when market conditions have to be taken into consideration and new hires have to be paid according to industry standards. With the internal annual rate of increase between 4 and 7 percent and the industry annual rate of increase touching 10 to 15 percent, there's a huge disparity between what more experienced workers earn and what their fresh-faced counterparts just setting foot in the company make.

The situation is compounded year after year, as those with the company for a longer period of time continue to earn comparatively less than those who've come after them. HR professionals and managers have been put in a bind by salary compression – they're forced to pay the going rate for the best of the new talent to hit the market even as they risk the ire and resentment of individuals who have slogged for the company for more than a few years, but who are earning a significantly smaller amount than those coming in, even with the annual hike in their salaries.

Older employees are forced to change jobs then, since they are likely to be paid the higher market rates by new employers, which means that more new employees have to be hired at current market rates, and more money has to be spent on recruitment and training costs and on higher salaries. This leads us to the questions - Isn't it more rational to increase the salaries of older employees on par or at slightly higher rates than those of their newer colleagues? Is it worth the low morale, frustration and reduced productivity that older employees exhibit when faced with the news that their juniors, people they have to take under their wings and train, are taking home more money than they are? Does this make for a workplace conducive to harmony and cooperation?

Employers are struggling to address these issues without emptying the company's coffers on salary alone. In an attempt to retain valued and experienced employees, they are offering perks like the use of company transport, phone bills at the company's expense, access to health clubs and paid vacations. Some companies are restructuring their pay levels in a new attempt termed broad banding where employers assume more flexibility in defining job descriptions and adjusting pay scales accordingly. Others offer bonuses and incentives on a performance-based model.

A job market with a limited amount of skilled labor and a large number of jobs that require highly skilled professionals gives employees the upper hand – they are able to dictate terms and threaten to quit if they're not paid what they think they're worth. But then, too much of job hopping is seen as a sign of instability in industry circles, unless the employee has something really special to offer in terms of skill and ability. At the end of the day, it's up to organizations to affect the trade off between retaining experienced employees at a higher pay or spending more to bring in new ones and train them well.

This article is contributed by Heather Johnson, who regularly writes on HR manager. She invites your questions and writing job opportunities at her personal email address: heatherjohnson2323 @ gmail.com

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

On ROI, HR Skills & Perception about HR Function

ROI on Training and Leadership programs

Training evaluation usually takes into account the following factors.

• Reaction-How the participants reacts to the program

• Learning-Depending upon the nature of the program ways to measure the learning has to be worked out.

• On Job behavior -To access the effective changes for the desired result on the team and the individual.

• Business result-how the change in behavior has positively impacted business result.

• Calculating the return on investment (ROI).

Most of the organizations focus only till stage 4 of the evaluation process. Typically there are 3 aspects which are considered to be looked at under ROI.

Desired Impact- has the training program been effective it facilitating change as it was desired. Training is one of the many tools available; it must justify its effectiveness as a viable business solution to remain relevant and viable.

Cost –to substantiate that the cost incurred leads to positive impact of profitability.

• Improve the design and content of future training programs on the basis of feedback received.

The best way to evaluate the ROI on training is to do a control group experiment and evaluate the performance of both the teams on the basis of pre identified hard and soft data points like absenteeism, productivity, morale, enthusiasm etc. Only if the pre determined targets are achieved for the group which has undergone training is evident it would be viable to have effective ROI assessment. However ROI assessment has its own challenges since the effectiveness also depends on individual willingness and openness to change behavior through structured intervention.

In my personal experience the best training programs are run by people who have demonstrated exceptional leadership ability and have proven track record of being a performer and great achiever in any field of life. Only those who are exceptional achievers can inspire others raise the bar and achieve new heights.

New Skills for HR Professionals

HR function in itself is the core of any entrepreneur activity. For any organization to be effective it needs great managers and great managers must be great team leaders having exceptional people capabilities. However Marketing (Business development and Sales) and finance are two functions which HR professionals must have to become quite essential entrepreneurs. In one of my earlier post on my blog I had opined on “selling skills for HR professionals”. Cross functional expertise is a core competency for HR professional as it is involved in Hiring, training, mentoring, developing career path and designing robust performance management system and policies for all functions in the organizations. Unless it has the necessary know how of business, functional, operational and strategic goals of teams it will never succeed in performing its role effectively.

Perceptions about HR department

Depends on what we are trying to achieve, we keep reading lot of surveys and findings on the role of HR in organizations and what is expected from HR teams .Perception of employees will change only if the expectations are aligned to the common goal. As long as HR leadership in your teams are able to differentiate and successfully execute the employee value proposition and integrate the same with organizations people’s philosophy ,in my view it would have done its core function.

HR must re-define and change the way it sees itself, it ought to articulate its business value proposition and strategic contribution more effectively. It should become a viable change agent in driving the strategic goal of organizations. Only when these goals are achieved we can expect changes in the way HR function is perceived.

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