Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making a difference

This is a story from an associate of mine from across cyberspace. His name is Unnikrishnan Meladi and he is a consultant in People Management and Learning in India.

Born in 1964 in West Hill, Kerala, Unnikrishnan is a passionate student of human behaviour and people management. He has seen the turbulence of high seas with the Indian Navy as a Chief Petty Officer till 1998. Thereafter, he closely worked with few Governors of Indian States as an Officer till 2005. He voluntarily left government services and joined various market leaders in automotive industry in Karnataka as their HR Head. He recently authored “LEAD” –‘Successful Lessons for People Managers’. The book is the result of his people management thoughts and essentially on human relations and integrates CSR themes. You can contact Unni by email.

Here is his story:
"Somewhere in 2004, my friend Raju Gowda who was running a computer institute asked if I could conduct few English training classes for the teachers in a nearby Kannada medium village school. I was busy working with an automotive industry as their HR manager located near a village bordering Karnataka.

Initially I was hesitant because of my busy work schedule with the industry. But when Mr. Raju told me that these teachers are from a Kannada medium school and their proficiency in English is average, it stirred my social instinct of doing something for the society around our industry. It was rather a brutal execution of my commitment towards the society from where I earn my bread and butter. So, why not spend some time for these teachers from the rural areas of the state? I have always held teachers and doctors in high esteem because to two factors. It is my strong belief that the teachers are the people who shape up the future of our children and the doctors are the life savers after the juggernaut. Even though, these days, we hear a lot about degradation of these values in their noble professions my high regard has not altered.

Somehow, I agreed to conduct a 30 days program with a 45 hours syllabus absolutely free of cost. The sessions were held mostly on Saturday evenings and Sundays. Before I go on with the training sessions, I shall delve in to the benefits I derived from these teachers. I realised, with great pleasure, their social psyche and attitudinal behaviour towards their profession and the English language in particular. One thing common with all of these female teachers was that most of them were from the remote and agricultural belts located near Chickamaglur and Shimoga of Karnataka state.

In my first session, I realised that they never got an opportunity to sharpen their language skills after their formal education. I could see a wide gap between the education and training as in HR parlance. Another reason was most of them were housewives and the bread winners of the family trying to their meet domestic and professional challenges together. They needed a thorough repainting (not brushing) of their grammar and vocabulary as it was quite ‘average’."

Unnikrishnan's contribution has made a great different to the lives of many people. This just goes to show how simple acts of selflessness and volunteering in a work context can be immensely rewarding and also help build communities.

Thank you to Unnikrishnan for sending me his story!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, February 24, 2012

CSR for HR can prevent employees getting a fat ass!

Almost a week after returning from the World HRD Congress and World CSR Day in Mumbai, I am still smiling at the wonderful experience of  three days of great discussion, interaction with fascinating people from all over the world, insights about Human Resources practices and advances in CSR, and, occasionally, the link between the two. This was a congress like no other congress. It was more fun than most other conferences I have attended. Ever. Close to 1,000 visitors each day, it still felt like a family gathering. Global, inspiring speakers shared interesting perspectives and got us drumming with DrumCafe, exercising with Marcel Daane, thinking about trust with the Reinas and leadership with Cy Wakeman, and applauding wildly at the evening Awards sessions. I was presented with the Strategic Leadership Award, and was proud to receive this honor.
Proudly displaying my trophy - yes, it weighs a ton - I had to ask for excess baggage allowance on my flight home!

Conference themes circled around engagement and talent, two of the most acute pressure points on HR leadership in every country these days, and there were also some interesting references to the need for greater workforce diversity and inclusive culture and practice.  I was therefore pleased to present my views on Sustainable HRM: A strategic imperative, and despite winning the lottery for the session immediately after lunch, I found that there were a few people who stayed awake and were interested in this new approach to HR, which fits very well with the challenges facing the function.

I shared my session with Ashanthi Fernando, the Head of Group HR Operations at Brandix Lanka, Sri Lanka's largest apparel exporter, working for companies such as Gap Inc, Victoria's Secret and more. Ashanthi talked about the context of the War for Talent, referencing "Talentism as the new Capitalism" and the "Rise of the Human Age",  an approach presented by Manpower at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2010, and other influences on the job market - recession, employee disengagement, work-life balance issues and research that places non-financial benefits higher than financial benefits for employees,  concluding that each company should ask itself : Why would a talented person want to work in our organization? and that we as employees should ask ourselves: What makes us come to work today?

Great questions. Truly relevant to the CSHR discussion. Ashanthi went on to describe the entire "ecosystem" that Brandix tries to create for its people, referencing the Google culture as the Gold Standard, and the fact that even in large companies, maintaining that small-company feel is all important. The Brandix culture is based on creating a "journey in learning for life", strong team working, entrepreneurial spirit, humility and transparency. Line Managers are the pivot in making the connection between employees and the company. Importance is placed on engagement at a personal level with family celebrations and a treasure hunt on Fun Fridays. The Brandix People Agenda is designed to support this approach.

Another fascinating and entertaining talk was given by Marcel Daane - a fitness freak who has made the connection between employee vitality and productivity in the workplace. His explanation of the neuroscience of performance was not too technical - even I was able to understand the role of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in impacting our ability to perform (!) - and Marcel introduced some great data around why HR Managers should understand this as well. Absenteeism costs the economy $120 billion per year, Presenteeism costs $180 billion per year,  Obesity $120 million, Stress, $300 million and Sleep Deprivation has a price tag of $1,967 in productivity loss per employee per year.  By improving employees' understanding  and practice of good health habits, organizations can reap massive benefits. Marcel showed some MRI shots of a fat person and a thin person. Fat accumulation in the brain, for example, causes the brain to shrink. As Marcel put it: "Obesity does more than give you a fat ass" (Note to self: Get back on that diet). HR Managers would do well to consider the whole body and mind health of employees and develop programs to assist improved wellbeing. This is not about being nice to employees. It's about making a real economic return on investment. And being nice to employees :).

Marcel finished up with this highly inspirational video showing the power of determination and stamina, supported by good diet, exercise, drinking water and the right amount of sleep. Just think what your employees could do with even half the amount of that which is demonstrated by Dick Hoyt in this video. Watch it. It is truly inspiring!

The other outstanding speaker I want to highlight (I attended both of her sessions) is Cy Wakeman. Cy is a trainer of people in organizations, and helps them achieve great results and build leaders and teams. She has developed both a language and an approach to leading people that is all her own, pulled together in her recent book, Reality-Based Leadership (watch out for a review coming soon on CSR-Books).

The key to Cy's proposition is that "holding people accountable is the best process for producing sustainable outcomes." Now, this may not sound all that revolutionary, but the insight I gained while listening to Cy Wakeman (twice!) is that the ability to hold people accountable, truly hold people accountable, is lacking in so many organizations. Cy maintains that, in the U.S., people in organizations spend more time managing than leading, and many leaders seek to sympathize rather than empathize, which leads to the assumption that buy-in is optional. Leaders should pay less attention to trying to be liked and more attention to building teamwork, because it is through effective teams that loyalty is created. Instead of letting people drive their BMW's to work (which in Cy jargon means: belly-aching, moaning and whining), leaders should seek to stop the drama, focus on results, favor employees who are flexible, adaptable and have a can-do attitude, and deal promptly with those who don't. Engagement without accountability creates entitlement. Research about engagement, says Cy, is that it has not delivered results. It has created entitlement.  

Actually, Cy says, helping human beings to get to healthy independence in organizations was actually the opposite of what she was asked to do by the HR Function as a leader in organizations she worked for. Cy believes in turning up the volume of the more highly accountable people in the organization and helping them see that reality is not the stories they tell themselves about what they are entitled to or otherwise, but the facts as they stand. By facing reality, people can eliminate the excuses and entitlement-based attitudes and become truly accountable for their own performance in organizations. Leaders who build the capabilities of their teams are the ones who create sustainable organizations. Like all great theories, this sounds a lot like common sense - but think about it - think about the organizations you know and the people who lead and are led. Couldn't they do with a little more accountability? And a lot more reality? Cy Wakeman articulates this skillfully and I am enjoying reading Reality-Based Leadership, the book. This is CSR for HR at its crux.

There were many more wonderful presentations at the World HRD Congress but this is probably enough for one post. However, I cannot finish up without a major vote of thanks and expression of my admiration for the mastermind behind it all, Dr. R. L. Bhatia. Leading an organization called "Fun and Joy at Work" probably gives you an insight into this guy's mindset. We certainly saw evidence of fun and joy in the way he artfully directed this 20th Anniversary World HRD Congress and brought the entire place to life for a full three days. Kudos in buckets is what he deserves for a memorable event.

And now, time for ice cream (which, by the way, in Mumbai, tasted delicious!).

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CSR for HR: not yet at the tipping point

Jonathon Porritt, CBE,  is an impressive figure. Some of you may know him as the co-founder of  the not-for-profit Forum for the Future which has been at the forefront of the sustainability debate, working on such game-changing programs as the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and Marks and Spencer's Plan A and many others. Others may know him as the Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, until last year when the commission ceased its activity. Others may know him as a proliferate speaker and writer and may even have read the powerful Capitalism as if the World Matters.  

I had the opportunity to meet Jonathon and hear him deliver an opening keynote at the CIPD CR for HR Professionals Conference which I chaired in London last week. Being familiar with much of Jonathon's work, I was looking forward to hear him talk. What was interesting for me was how in tune Jonathon is regarding the need for embedding of corporate responsibility practices at all levels of the workforce and the importance of the CR-HR partnership in making this happen. Although he has not yet read CSR for HR :)), he promised he would!

Johathon Porritt's keynote opened with a review of global sustainability and some of the key themes that many of us are familiar with. He reminded us that the planet will have to hold (and feed) nine billion people in 2050, and that the "hedonic treadmill" we are all trapped in is unlikely to stop driving consumer aspirations and consumption levels. But, Jonathon said, "We are not going to achieve a better world by keeping half of the global population in poverty". Instead, we have to continue to create wealth and value by remaining within certain defined ecological boundaries which determine the sustainability of our future. Apparently, we have until the year 2016 to achieve this transformation. After then, the damage to the global ecosystem will be irreversible and .. well... as Jonathon says... "we are facing some unbelievable horror stories!".

But all is not doom and gloom. Jonathon gave examples of some companies which are starting to change the game in decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts and incorporate sustainable practice into everything they do. But he also said that of all the companies he and Forum for the Future have been working with over the past few years, it is noticeable that the aspect of employee engagement in sustainability and sustainable Human Resources practices are not really moving forward. "There are not really that many brilliant examples of HR advancing sustainability". He said that HR has a critical strategic role because HR owns organizational culture and people management functions and HR works horizontally across any company. He said that CSR for HR, or Sustainable Human Resources Management (HRM), which we agree is a more appropriate term, is both a strategic challenge and a strategic opportunity for the function. And of course, we agree, don't we ?!

After Jonathon's both scary and moderately optimistic opening, we heard a fascinating collection of presentations from a range of companies who gave examples of how they are engaging employees in sustainability, community programs, sustainability communications and a whole lot more... far too much for one blog post, though I will be picking up on some of the key messages in future posts.

In the meantime, I was highly pleased to learn about encouraging work being done in a range of leading companies, and to welcome an interested audience, seeking to learn more.

You can also read a nice summary of the conference posted in People Management dot com.

Are we at the tipping point ? ahem.... not quite... but let's keep plugging away.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, February 3, 2012

What keeps Paul Polman up at night ?

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, recently gave a very interesting interview reported in the Washington Post about the state of the Unilever business and outlooks for growth, the Euro, consumer spending and many other not-so-rosy aspects of doing business in 2012. Fortunately, despite the fact that all I thought I might hear about was growth, with Paul describing how every category of Unilever's business has grown despite facing issues including climate change (Japan earthquake, Thailand floods ) and the "Arab Spring" which stopped production etc, this was an interesting interview and I decided to invest 7.57 minutes in listening to the end. I am glad I did because at 7.04 minutes, the interviewer asks this question:

"If there is one thing that keeps you up at night, what would that be? Is is Europe, is it the potential slowdown in China? Is there any one big concern that keeps you up at night?
Paul Polman's response was: 

"Well, I always sleep fairly well - I think you have to in these type of jobs - but the one thing I keep thinking about is how can we attract the best talent. In most places, with results that we have seen growing from 38 billion Euros back to now 46 billion Euros, we are also becoming more and more  a desired employer in most of the places. Our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, the model that we have put out there to actually contribute to the world versus continuing to take from the world, is incredibly energizing. What keeps me up at night is to be sure that everywhere we go, we are the desired employer for the best talent. If we get the best talent in the company, now and for years to come, I am very confident for the future, knowing that the best talent will figure out whatever challenges we will face. That's my priority."

So, HR Managers everywhere, there are three take-outs for you:
  • The top CEO priority is attracting and retaining the best talent.
  • Attracting and retaining the best talent is linked to sustainability vision and practice.
  • It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

If you want to learn more about how to advance CSR for HR, join me at the CR for HR Professionals conference which I will be chairing next week in London (Feb 7th).

Hear the enlightened Paul Polman in this interview below:



elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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