Why should I work for you?

June 18, 2011 1 comment

The evolution of HR’s role within organisations from purely administrative to strategic is to a large extent still very much a work in progress. To add to pressures on HR managers to keep up, more and more “new” concepts are appearing all the time. More often than not these concepts are not so new – they are just existing practices which have been named, defined and put in context. Employer Branding is a good example and is worth understanding and exploring.

The best way to approach understanding employer branding is to begin by asking the questions “What do we offer that makes us attractive to the right people?” and “Do people know we offer this?” For the purposes of this exercise, leave CTC out of your answer!

Many companies complain about a shortage of talent but do little to attract the right people other than offering competitive packages and this is clearly not enough. If you can’t answer the first question at all you have a problem and probably struggle to make good hires. Whichever path you choose to identify candidates: classifieds, database searches, recruitment consultants, etc, talent has to want to join your organisation and cannot simply be bought.

What attracts the right people? The specific answer of course varies from sector to sector and depends on the kind of employee you want, but here are some ideas which apply across the board and help create your brand as an employer.

Company image and reputation in the market, as opposed to reputation as an employer – by extension this will
influence candidates’ decision.

Company culture – specifically the atmosphere in the workplace and management style. Companies need to consider what atmosphere is most likely to attract the talent they want to attract. There is a reason the atmosphere in internet companies is different to that at an accountancy firm.

Offering training and skills development programmes. I find it amazing how many companies do not offer these because they think employees will leave as soon as they have developed their skills! I can assure you, they don’t leave because they have a few training programmes under their belt, they leave because someone values their new skills more or because other companies are perceived to be better to work for, ie back to employer branding.

The list can go on and on: incentive schemes; tools provided to do job; safety at work; clear scope for growth and career development plans; perceived job stability and so on all affect a candidate’s decision whether or not to apply for a job at a particular company.

Finally, whilst a competitive CTC alone will not help much, it is of course vital. If CTCs are not competitive there is nothing one can do to get the right people. By the way, simply calling a CTC competitive does not make it so!

An employer brand is a combination of many things and creating one from scratch can be a long process,
but the best bit is that almost any policy and practice introduced as part of the brand building process will have a positive impact on the company in their own right as stand-alone solutions!

Final thought: if you want to attract the best talent, ask not what your employees can do for your
company, ask what you can do for them.



First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on June 18th, 2011

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Would companies be better off without the HR function?

At the end of the day, any function in an organisation must make a positive contribution in some way, shape or form to the company’s bottom line, or their existence cannot be justified.

Most functions’ contribution is obvious – Sales sell products thereby increasing revenue; Manufacturing makes the products to be sold. But how can HR contribute? Or put differently, how can HR create value?

For starters, HR strategy must be aligned with a company’s overall strategy. Once HR understands a company’s strategic goals, it must decide what employee competencies need to be delivered to enable the company’s goals to be achieved. Policies and practices must then be put in place to produce these employee competencies.

HR must create and foster an environment which can attract and retain the right talent. Whilst it’s easy to say “hire the best”, in reality “the best” are quite choosy about where they work. Also, once the right people have been hired, significant efforts must be made to retain them, starting on day one with an onboarding process, regular skills training, ongoing performance management with appropriate reward schemes and moving on to internal promotions.

Needless to say it is not enough to pay lip service to this: each policy and practice must be thoroughly thought through, structured and geared towards ensuring that in addition to retaining people, they do indeed help a company achieve its strategic goals.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge HR faces is to do all this without appearing to get in the way and alienating other functions! It must be remembered that an employee’s primary responsibility is to do his or her job – they should not be tied up in HR related activities. For example if an appraisal system is in place, any self-appraisal forms should be simple and quick to fill and efforts should be made to ensure that department heads don’t spend the best part of a week handling their staff’s appraisals.

Unfortunately HR departments do tend to fall into one of two extreme camps: the purely administrative camp that merely checks in new employees and checks out those who are leaving; and the “paint balling” camp who come across as constantly hampering productivity by tying employees up in innumerable team building, training and appraisal events. Whilst this might sound a bit extreme, many HR departments do fall into one of the two camps to a lesser or larger extent, simply because it is so difficult to strike the right balance.

To come back to the original question: “Would companies be better off without the HR function?” the answer is a resounding NO. If HR manages to align itself to a company’s overall strategy in an effective, unobtrusive manner, it will add value to a company’s bottom line.



First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on June 11th, 2011

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How do team building events help in the real world?

If there was ever anything being done just for the sake of doing something, it has to be corporate team building events. I am not referring to incentive schemes, when employees of a company are taken on a trip as a reward for great performance. I’m talking about the cheesy, pointless days out which most of the time would be much more appropriate for kindergarten children than adults.

I guess the theory behind these events is to achieve certain objectives like improve leadership skills, communication, problem solving skills, etc. But do they work, and how would one measure success? These events cost money, so presumably companies who pay for them expect some return on their investment.

Let’s take paint balling for example. This has become a symbol of a corporate team building event. How does getting geared up in combat fatigues and shooting paint balls at colleagues result in a stronger bottom line? It doesn’t! Whilst most events purport to be a metaphor for real life situations, I struggle to see that a transition from the metaphorical world to the real world is at all probable.

I am sure many of my readers will disagree with my opinion and probably have many positive things to say about team building events, but I challenge any one to show me how a team building event had a concrete positive impact on company.



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Stay (just a little bit longer?)

“People generally don’t leave their jobs through lack of pay – they leave because they aren’t valued.”

I recently posted this Richard Branson quote as an update on my LinkedIn page. Presumably because the quote touches on attrition which is a massive issue in India today, the update kicked off quite a big online discussion.

One comment in particular, by a gentleman called Kishor with a background in finance really struck me with its insight. The phrase “Human Capital”, ie a company’s employees, indicates that companies could / should consider their employees to be a type of capital.

So you end up with 3 different types of capital: fixed capital, working capital and human capital. Kishor argued that whilst fixed capital will generally depreciate over time, human capital generally appreciates because of the experience gained over years of working and possibly training. Why, therefore, do many companies simply accept human capital to be mobile and not make more of an effort to keep them “fixed”? This is of course a metaphor, but an interesting one.

Most companies I have dealt with have some form of a so called appraisal system. In India, the word “appraisal” is almost synonymous with “pay rise”. These are actually two very distinct things. The Oxford Dictionary defines appraisal as “a formal assessment, typically in an interview, of the performance of an employee over a particular period”. In other words it is a formal conversation or forum to let the employee know how he is performing: what he or she has done well and which areas require more attention. Please note the word “annual” doesn’t appear anywhere in the above definition. In fact I would argue that appraisals should be held, at a minimum, quarterly, thereby allowing employees to correct their actions faster, but I’m digressing. So the commonly used system of a brief annual conversation ending with the words “therefore we are pleased to give you an X% pay rise” is only going to retain good staff until they receive their new, larger pay slip which they can then use as the basis of negotiation with other companies (very often competitors!) This is akin to saying “Stay… just a little bit longer!

Let’s look at this at the macro level: most companies in India have a form of appraisal (read annual pay rise) system, very loosely based (if at all) on merit. Nevertheless most Indian companies would list staff attrition as one of their biggest problems. This would indicate that Richard Branson’s quote is very true – people generally don’t leave for lack of pay alone.

So what else can companies do to retain their staff? How can they make their human capital more fixed? How exactly does one show their people that they are valued?

There are many ways, but one simple example would be to stop micro-managing everything your staff does. If this is a necessity because they are not capable of doing their job otherwise, then the company has hired the wrong people – simple as that. Unfortunately though, more often than not micro-management occurs because the manager / department head is afraid of his juniors outshining him. So without being given the freedom to work independently, people do not feel that their company trusts them and therefore they do not feel valued.

So a simple formula to retaining your good people is:

Hire the right people in the first place AND reward them appropriately, with pay structure and pay rises based to a large extent on merit AND make the staff feel valued THEN let them get on with their jobs.



First appeared in Vasi Times Jobs & Career on May 28th, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Time to shine!

“Why on Earth did they ask me that?!”

OK, so you’ve done your research on the target company, written a solid cover letter and CV and now you’re invited to an interview! Finally, your chance to shine and “sell” yourself to the company has arrived, but what types of questions can you expect and what do they mean?

Open-ended questions. These are questions to which the interviewer is expecting you to give a substantial answer as opposed to a one line reply. For example “What skills do you have that make you the right person for this job?” and “Why did you apply for this position?

Incidentally, the second question or a variant of it is very likely to pop up in almost every interview you attend. Try not to make the answer about you: “for career growth”, “better pay”, “time for a change”. Instead use information found when researching the company and industry. As this question is almost guaranteed to crop up, you should prepare an answer in advance.

Closed-ended questions.  A short factual answer is all that is required here. Eg “How long did you head the sales function at ABC Company?” – Just tell the interviewer how many years you did this for and leave it at that. Do not go on and on about how you got to head the sales function and your success in that role.

Technical / role specific. These questions are designed to see how qualified you are for the role. Example for a sales role: “Can you tell me the duties and taxes that are levied on our net price and how these are calculated?” These questions can either be open or closed-ended in nature and you should answer accordingly.

Behavioural. Here interviewers are trying to assess your suitability for the various characteristics of the job. So for a team leader role they might ask something like “Can you give me an example of a time where you had to motivate your team to complete an assignment on time and how you handled this?” Your answer will give the interviewer insight into your leadership skills.

Offbeat. These questions are designed to throw you off your guard and see how you react and think. There is almost no limit to what can be asked, eg. “If you could choose to be any Bollywood actor, who would you choose to be and why?” The trick here is not to panic and to remember that there is no right or wrong answer, except “I don’t know”. The interviewer is interested in how you answer rather than what you answer. Just try to keep your answer as logical and thought-through, or humorous as possible.

General tips: always be clear in your answers; remember some answers are expected to be short; be honest; do not be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if it wasn’t clear.

Listen to questions very carefully and answer appropriately: eg. if the question is “Tell me something about yourself which is not mentioned in your CV”, then do not proceed to list your academic achievements and all positions held. Immediately the interviewer will notice that you prepared and rehearsed an answer and didn’t know when to use it. 

Find out as much as possible about the company before you attend the interview. This will always work in your favour – the effort you took to research the company alone will impress your future employers. However, for maximum effect, the jobseeker should try to work nuggets of information into their answers over the course of the interview.

Interviews are also an opportunity for you to find out more about the role and the company, so be prepared to ask some questions towards the end. Once again, you should avoid making the questions all about you at this stage (what CTC? 5 or 6 day week?)

Finally, remember that first impressions count for a lot: always be on time for your interview, dress smartly, shake hands confidently and look the interviewer in the eye when listening to and answering questions.



First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on May 21st, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Your company is the sum of all your choices…

If clothes make the man, then men (and women) make the company.

When you have to make a good hiring choice and you don’t make it, that in itself is a choice.

And your company is the sum of all your choices.

Who did you choose today?

 (Liberally misquoting Albert Camus and William James)



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Manchester United: the right team with the right leadership

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