How you love to hate the HR Manager?

How you love to hate the HR Manager?

I KNOW AN HR Manager who used one word to stump all queries: “Depends”.

“Rustomji (not his real name), when will we be able to hire for this position?”

“Depends,” Rustomji would mumble.

“Do you think we should promote Ashok Batlibal?”


Gradually, it began to dawn on other executives that Rustomji was not indecisive. He was a smart Alex good at evading difficult questions and shirking responsibility. His ‘Depends’ was not a vague in-the-air reply. On the contrary, he had plenty of questions to ask when he occupied the opposite end of the interview desk. He was always thought provoking. He could bring out all shades of perspectives and facets of understanding related to any aspect of business or key HR policies and was well-armed to take a ‘strategic decision’ in the end.

However, despite the fact that Rustomji was extremely knowledgeable about his domain, he never got along well with most CEOs or his colleagues.

“I demand a crisp answer to my Rustomji,” a Jack Welch-type of CEO would yell at him. “Put all the facts and figures on the table, not counter me with ten more questions,” he would scream, while Rustomji would quickly bring in his deputy Veer Vijay who was as quantitative in his approach, as Rustomji was qualitative!

To those of you who have guessed a connect; let me introduce the concept of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain. The left is supposed to be analytical and logical; the right is more exploratory and imaginative. And the left-right theory says that each one of us predominantly favours one side of the brain over the other, which is why some of us are more influenced by emotions and others by reason. By itself this wisdom-nugget may mean nothing, but when we have a left-brained-oriented boss (Jack Welch was one) paired with a right-brain-led subordinate (Someone like Rustomji) or a slightly different combination (Rustomji vs. Veer Vijay for instance) sparks are bound to fly when the twain meet, as they would be speaking different languages to each other!

Have you ever come across this frustrating exchange of conversation?

“When will you be able to give me this report?”
“It won’t take me long, sir”
“Yes, but by when?”
“Sir, I will start on it right now”
“I want to know when will you give me the report?”
“I will collect all the information, sir and that may take some time”
“Tell me when will you give me the report?”
“Sir, give me two to three weeks”
“I want a date and time when I can have the report”
“Yes sir, that is what I am saying. You can have it at any time of the day on any date. Just give me two to three weeks to finish it.”

At which point, things begin to explode. The left-brained boss blows a fuse and the right-brained executive cannot understand where he went wrong, or why the boss kept throwing the same question at him over and over again!

If you look at the evolution of HR as a function, it is only in the last decade or so (although Jack Fitz-enz has been advocating HR Analytics for some time now) that it has become more quantitative. Earlier it was overwhelmingly qualitative.

Alas, the purpose of this article is not to discuss how to make an HR manager crunch numbers instead of excuses, but the more important one of figuring out whether a right-brained HR manager (the qualitative manager) can at all be inspired to at times, employ part of his left brain?

And by that stretch of imagination, can we calculate the cost of this transition to the company, the benefits thereof, and the effort and resources required, but eventually, I reckon this would make a whole lot of CEOs and functional managers very, very happy in their respective jobs…

However before we discuss what can be done to turn a qualitative manager think in terms of numbers and deadlines it might be useful to look at the reverse scenario as well. What if a quantitative HR manager has nothing but numbers as solution to all the weightier work-life related questions?

This kind of an office scenario might make way for the following bit of conversation:
“Do you think we should promote Ashok?”
“I would say he is 70 per cent ready, Rustomji”
“So we should kick him up, Veer?”
He excels in three out of the 5 leadership competencies, Rustomji”
“That means we should promote him, right?”
“Yes, but the other two competencies carry 50 per cent weightage”
“In that case I suppose we have to hold on to his promotion!”
“It has been 2.2 years since his last promotion; the average for that level is 2.4 years, Sir”
“Will he be ready in the next three months, when we do the next review?”
“We can appoint him for two training programs in the interim. Each could be of three days duration, covering those two competencies”
“Veer, I find you 20 per cent informative, 30 per cent frustrating, 40 per cent irritating and 60 per cent irrelevant”
“But Rustomji, that does not add up to 100 per cent….”
Oh well, you’d forgive the mathematics since it’s not an actual conversation.

Let’s not forget that the operative word here is balance. In my view, and I will give you a reason why, there can never be a 50:50 balance in every situation in life. Even if conditions were ideal, I would prefer my HR manager to be 70 per cent qualitative and 30 per cent quantitative.

I like the unpredictability in human behaviour. When God put emotions into humans, She (I insist the entity is a woman) ensured that no two stimulus could produce the same response. Therefore, no matter how much data or analytics you may work into a project, ultimately, the qualitative judgment prevails, especially when you are dealing with members of the same species. That is why some people make better leaders than others.

If you study what a typical leader does, it will not be too different from what you do. Yet they are different!
However, going back to our discussion of how to build some amount of quantitative thinking into a qualitative mind, the first ingredient that you need to work with is the mindset. An HR manager who is scared and shy of statistics will never use them, and miss out on a whole lot of opportunity. He/she must be inspired to look at the science of quantitative techniques as an important tool for furthering his goals.

The second important aspect is to ensure that that you learn to arrange data to make it information. For example a statistic on attrition by itself may mean nothing. But when attrition is studied as a trend, it could imply a lot of things. Therefore convert data into meaningful tables, graphs and sound bytes.

If you are an HR manager, the third and obvious step is to ensure that you are able to interpret all these trends and tables in an intelligent manner. For example if your attrition or your retention has peaked during a particular quarter, what events would you associate that with? It’s hugely possible that there was some kind of leadership crisis, or disruptive changes in office that led to a spate of exits.

Take it from me that once you are able to do this kind of cause and effect analysis you are halfway home!
Fact is that each one of us has the capacity to think differently. She who is able to harness this trait to the fullest makes for the best HR manager in the crowd!

But does the best exist? Only in imagination.

The author is director, executive education and consulting at the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) and is also the chair for Academic Affairs there. He is a master facilitator with The Society for Human Resource Management on Human Capital Analytics.

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Original Author : Arunav Banerjee
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