Unravelling HR

When three reflective practitioners get together to write a book, and by their own definition, see themselves as providing ‘expert comments’ rather than a ‘ball by ball commentary’ of a cricket match, the readers are guaranteed a veritable bouquet of lessons that only life experience allows. In the opening chapter, the authors credit the HR function for reinventing itself to meet the demands of rapid growth that India has witnessed in the last two-and-a-half decades. The book has to be read in the context of this rapid growth.

The book is organised into seven modules with 26 themes that cover different aspects of the HR function. Here are seven unique insights from the book that I felt were particularly useful: Firstly, the centrality of the HR function and the capability of human resource professionals together determine the perception of the impact and relevance of the function within the organisation.

Secondly, HR professionals have been found to rate themselves significantly higher on several dimensions surveyed compared to the business managers’ assessment. However, using the service quality framework, the authors demonstrate how HR professionals need to examine gaps in human resource service delivery and review their strategic contribution. Thirdly, the people-portfolio matrix with business imperatives on one axis and task demands on the other axis raises some fundamental questions pertaining to whether people are a cost to the company or are they value-generating assets.

Fourthly, the authors call out the disparity in compensation across different levels in the organisation and use Michael Young’s arguments on Meritocracy to challenge this dominant belief. Fifthly, the authors emphasise understanding of Organisational Design and Development as a key capability for HR professionals. Sixthly, the authors emphasise the role of organisational culture in VUCA times and call out to both business leaders and HR professionals to not lose sight of the strategic advantage of human capital.

Finally, redefining social, legal, governance, and power boundaries results in increased tensions and conflicts between employees and employers. While the authors raise the topic of redefinition of boundaries, how the question of employee relations will change in the future is still unclear. The case studies at the end of each chapter help to illustrate the key messages covered in a simple and succinct manner. This is a must-read for early and mid-career HR professionals to reflect on their understanding of the profession.

One of the shortcomings of the book is in the first module, where the authors cite the centrality of the HR function and the helpfulness of the HR professional as key ingredients for both functional and professional success. However, this section does not contain any positive examples of transformation.
Emerging trends in neuro-science and digital technologies signal fundamental disruptions in HRM as a profession. While the authors acknowledge this in the Epilogue, readers could have benefited from a peek into the imminent future.

A reader, who is looking for insights and pithy ideas to encourage self-awareness, will not be disappointed. The book is written in an easy to read engaging style. The book is a must-have in your library. Like any good reflective book, it will grow on you.

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