By | Hema Ravichandar | HR Consulting , Advisory Board Member & ex CHRO Infosys
It started with an innocuous-looking email. The attachment was graphic. It contained a complaint made by a young woman against her high-achieving, powerful boss. The CEO immediately initiated an inquiry. And it was then that the cookie started to crumble. Similar complaints kept coming in with unnerving speed against the said boss as well as some of his key team members, from across the globe. Three months on, the CEO was certain that there was a pattern to this behaviour, with a “class action suit” a distinct possibility. Was this his organization’s #MeToo moment? he wondered.
A solitary complaint filed against a powerful executive can be enough to open the floodgates. When a person in power is an abuser, there is often a real worry among victims about how to raise it. But just the knowledge that there has been a complaint and resultant investigation against the perpetrator (and however confidential, such news does tend to travel), gives courage to others who have either experienced abuse, or seen a hostile work environment, to raise their own concerns.
MeToo waves can also be triggered in organizations quite innocuously. I have seen, for example, a flurry of complaints just when an organization completes a proactive and healthy organization-wide training or sensitization programme on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. Empowered with information and made freshly aware of the policy, employees could then take it upon themselves to report a complaint or a suspected hostile work environment. This is actually a healthy wave. Whatever the cause, and there could be many, organizations need to respond effectively.
The first thing is to not panic. Mature organizations recognize that such spurts in complaints do happen, and respond from that space. They acknowledge the problem, and unambiguously state the company’s intent to address it. This is a great time to reinforce the company’s zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment. Zero tolerance is often confused with a target to get to zero harassment. These are not the same. A target of zero cases may be unrealistic in the workplace, and, if set, could end up with managers actually suppressing cases to get to the mythical zero.
On the ground, this will require sensitization training for leaders and first responders—policy custodians, HR, grievance cell members, every first-line manager. Call in the experts. And advise leaders to never be flippant or joke about the issue.
The need for swift, sensitive and fair handling of the investigation is, of course, a given. But it is also an absolute must to put in place strong measures to ensure that the victims and complainants don’t face retaliation, especially when the powerful are the accused.
And prepare for the media—organizations are often caught on the back foot in this regard, even though they may be doing all the right things. So, get your communication ammunition ready. It is better to be proactive and “MeToo Proof” your organization.
Carpet-bomb the anti-harassment policy across the organization. Knowledge itself is a deterrent. Employees must be conversant with how to report perceived harassment. Real-life case studies written by employees and managers are a great way to drive home the message, with senior leaders themselves standing up and delivering training. What better way to build faith among employees and reinforce to them that bona-fide complaints will be addressed.
While doing this, don’t neglect organizational outposts where leadership is delegated to a few. Also, ensure that the policy applies to the least franchised—the temps, the contractors and vendor partners who form part of the larger organizational ecosystem. Training in Indian languages is critical to reach this group. Revisit your whistleblower programme for robustness.
At the same time, the complaint system should not be used for frivolous or mischievous reasons. And to send home that message, the consequences of sending in mala-fide complaints should also be delivered in unequivocal terms.
Train HR and first-line managers to pick up the faintest of cues. The ability to pick up early signals of a “quid pro quo” or a hostile work environment form of sexual harassment is a great way to actually prevent a full-fledged MeToo wave. Not only should they be able to pick up the cues, they should be independent enough to report it or call out the problem. An HR executive who is actually reporting to a purported perpetrator of the crime is more often than not unlikely to “squeal” on his or her boss. So, to ensure independence, organizations should have strong dual-line reporting outside that business or location, and into the head office, for functions like HR.
Finally, impress upon employees that they must always report a complaint. No one does a favour to either the victim or the organization by brushing it under the carpet.
As the MeToo movement gains traction, quality time and mindshare being spent on gearing up their internal response systems may even seem burdensome to organizations and managers.
Jennifer Drobac, professor at the Indiana University School of Law, sums it up nicely when she says:
“People, especially men, may wonder if they even want to work with women now. Executives may hesitate to mentor female subordinates. Men may fear unfounded accusations, or that their own clueless behaviour could prompt a complaint. Are the battle lines being drawn? Yes, but let’s be clear. Those battle lines are between men and women against sexual predators. Co-workers are in this battle together. This #MeToo phenomenon could divide us or bring us together to cure a social evil: sexual predation.”
Organizational maturity lies in recognizing and addressing this.
By | Ganesh Chella | Co-founder and Managing Director – CFI
The song Chingaree Koee bhadake sung by Kishore Kumar for the film Amar Prem raises some philosophical questions. I find one particular verse very significant:
duniya jo pyaasa rakhe to madiraa pyaas bujhaa’e (If the world thirsts, then wine will quench it.)
madiraa jo pyaas lagaa’e use kaun bujhaa’e (But if the wine thirsts, who can satisfy its need? )
If HR professionals are expected to secure the motivation of their workforce, it would be a matter of concern if the HR professionals themselves are not motivated.
Am I implying that HR folks in India are not motivated, you might wonder? The picture is not entirely encouraging, I must confess.
Despite everyone proclaiming that HR is the profession of the day, despite people problems keeping CEOs awake at night, despite HR professionals being paid extremely well, despite media paying significant attention to the people side of Organisations’ stories, I am afraid there is a fair amount of disenchantment among the HR folks.
While attrition and worryingly short tenures is a clear indication of the problem, the greater worry is the negative spiral effect. Less engaged HR folks are less effective and are under greater fire from their internal customers and greater the fire, greater the disengagement process.
While some of the HR professionals seem to be able to adapt to the needs of their organisation, accept the realities, carve an identity for themselves, enjoy their work and make a difference, many others do not seem to be so fortunate. What then are the reasons?
The 3 Cs of Motivation
I see three factors influencing the motivation of HR professionals. I see these three factors arranged in a hierarchy as depicted in the diagram above.
At the entry level, most of the demotivation is clearly a result of lack of competence. An HR professional without the competence to handle the demands of the job ends up either being ridiculed or ignored. Lack of competence forces such professionals to lead a life of isolation, low connect with internal customers and a tendency over time to get engrossed in transaction.
Part of competence is the faith that one can reinvent oneself in the face of restructuring, automation, outsourcing and other disruptive changes.
HR Leaders who are supposed to develop organisational talent quite often ignore the talent development needs right under their nose.
On the other hand, competent and passionate HR professionals know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. They innovate, take ownership and influence the brief. Their competence gives them the courage to deal with employees assertively but also empathetically.
At slightly higher levels, the culture of the organisation begins to act as a source of motivation or demotivation for the HR professional. While culture affects everyone, it affects HR’s work most directly.
Organisations that operate based on well articulated values give the HR professional great clarity on the “hows” that will govern people management.
On the other hand, when the organisation adopts an exigency based approach, changing its stance in response to market needs unmindful of the people impact, it ends up creating a bundle of contradictions that the best of HR professionals find hard to deal with.
Organisations which accord HR a high centrality and involve and include HR in all important decisions end up creating the right culture for HR to feel involved and valued. In such organisations, the HR practitioners are willing to take a clear stance, confront the inevitable contradictions, seek resolution and progress and therefore remain motivated.
At the HR leadership level, it is the chemistry between the HR leader and his function and the CEO that determines everything.
This is perhaps the most significant determinant of HR motivation since it has a spiraling effect on the other two determinants. This is also the area that needs most attention.
If they are able to see eye to eye on key issues, influence each other, inspire each other and respect each other, motivation is high.
Where the CEO is unclear about his expectations from HR or worse has only transactional expectations, the HR leader feels stifled.
Many CEOs are unable to give their HR leaders a clear brief about their expectations because their own familiarity about HR is quite limited. Some tend to be so transactional in their expectations that the HR leader’s daily experience of the CEO is uninspiring and demotivating.
The last verse of the same song best explains this:
ma.njhdhaar me.n naiya Dole to maa.njhii paar lagaa’e (If in midstream a boat rocks, then the sailor can cast it ashore.)
maa.njhii jo naav Duboye use kaun bachaa’e (But if the sailor sinks it midstream, who can save it?)
If HR is most central to the organisations of today, it is time we paid attention to the motivation of HR folks!
In a career spanning over three decades, Ganesh has come to be respected and acknowledged for his contributions as a practitioner, consultant, coach and thought leader in the field of Organisation Development, Human Resources Management and Executive Coaching. After a successful corporate career in Human Resources for 16 years (in organisations like Cadburys, TVS, Citibank and RPG), Ganesh Chella founded totus consulting in June 2000. He is the author of two books and over a 100 published articles. His book “Creating a Helping Organisation – 5 engaging ways to promote employee performance growth and well – being” provides path breaking insights into the helping needs of Indian employees and the place of various helping relationships to address these needs. He has also co-authored “Are you ready for the corner office” the first attempt in the country to document and publish coaching cases and through that demystify Executive Coaching. Ganesh is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur. He is a professional member of ISABS and served on its Board as Dean–Publications for 6 years. He is a Master Coach trained by Dr. Skiffington, Australia as well as a certified Coach from Coaching Foundation India.
Anuj Kapoor, a former employee on a CVS project in Rhode Island, filed the suit against Infosys in June, alleging the company made him work more than 1,000 hours of overtime without pay. The company responded in August, stating that the employee was an ‘hourly’ worker on an H1-B visa even though Infosys had listed him as a salaried employee in an application with the Department of Labor, a potential reason for its Wage and Hour Division to look into the case.
Kapoor said in the court filings that he was required to work 11-hour days at times and was paid for eight hours or fewer as CVS ‘refused to be billed for overtime wages.’
Kapoor’s manager allegedly told him that overtime would not be paid and employees who refused to work more than 40 hours a week would be sent back to India. The suit claims the manager said that extra work would be provided without billing because Infosys was looking to replace a competing company as CVS’ primary software service vendor.
A few months back my colleague and friend, Dave Livermore, wrote an excellent article on cultural fit, which is the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. He provided some great insights on identifying culturally intelligent ways to balance adapting to the organizational culture and being yourself. I’d like to further explore this conversation from a slightly different perspective.
So here’s the question: What if “culture fit” really is code for “If you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.
Every organization has a core set of values that guide how they operate and employees should be expected to share those values. But what are the consequences when those values leave no room for the values, identities, and perspectives of those outside of the dominant culture?
Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, has done fascinating research and work on the benefits of helping employees become rebels (in a good way!) inside their organizations. In her study of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform. These organizations unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. When this happens both the employee and organization pay a price—which is manifested through decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation. To the contrary, employees who said they could express their authentic selves at work were more committed to their organizations, thus demonstrating higher levels of engagement, productivity, and innovation.
How To Tell The Difference
How do we know when our judgments and decisions genuinely support organizational values that benefit everyone versus those decisions and actions (conscious or unconscious) that favor the dominant culture? In most organizations, Affinity Bias shows up in one of three places: hiring, promoting or day-to-day interactions. The consequences can include missing out on hiring a diverse and highly qualified candidate, promoting the most qualified person into a leadership position, or missing out on difference perspectives and innovative ideas in team meeting or on key projects.
Examples of what someone might think, hear, or say…
“That first interviewee did a fantastic job! He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
“I’m not sure she’s ready for a leadership position, she just doesn’t quite have the executive presence that I’m looking for and I’m not sure she’ll fit in with the other leaders.”
“We think so much alike, I want you working on this big project with me.”