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


Cy Wakeman said...

I love your work on CSR - brilliant stuff! It was great to meet you in India. Thanks for so eloquently summing up my work. I agree that accountability is what will lead to sustainable leadership. Let's keep the dialogue going - worldwide. Regards, Cy Wakeman

elaine said...

Thanks Cy! Watch out for a copy of CSR for HR in your mailbox. It's winging its way to you as we blog. I am very much enjoying Reality-Based Leasdership! elaine

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