At the turn of the century, as the practicing HR Head for over a decade of the multi-location based very successful premier FMCG company (Britannia), following my earlier role during the seventies & eighties as the Factory Personnel Manager, and thereafter the Employee Relations Manager for the entire Tobacco Division of one of India's largest & foremost industry leader organizations (ITC), I ventured to discuss the growth, history and the changing role of this function in an article "People Management - Old Wine?" - (click to read).

It attempted to depict the development of this function in large Indian manufacturing organizations from the early industrialization days to the post liberalization era, and commented on the then somewhat controversial & debatable "Personnel" vs. "HR" titles in vogue for the function, or for its managers (which still continues)! The historical development of the tasks and responsibilities of this function and the changing demands on the functional managers was the theme of this article - which was published in various professional magazines and resulted subsequently in a fair amount of professional debate and discussion.

Having since retired, but continuing with my professional interest and interaction in various management forums, I clearly perceive the inevitable truth of Alvin Toffler's theory of accelerating speed of change so aptly propagated (read his own 1982 analysis of this great book written in 1970) , so aptly described in "Future Shock" (Richard A Slaughter's summarized Re-assessment of the book may be studied here), in "Future Shock" - especially in this area of management regarding the role and demands of this profession since I wrote the earlier article! From a secondary "service function" being the initial concept for this field of management, this responsibility has now been clearly recognized as an essential primary management pillar for any progressive and successful organization – as was also identified by Toffler "The Third Wave" (read Michael Finlay's summary of a Alvin Toffler's ninety minute talk on the book) in the "post-industrial" era, which he foresaw emerging in 1970. This present review intends to discuss some of these changes that continue to remain vital for organisations for their successes - as a follow-up sequel to my earlier article.

Mr Vineet Nayyar, the then Vice Chairman & MD, Tech Mahindra, speaking about HR stated most provocatively:
"As we move up the value chain, we need managers, not just tech coolies. We need business advisors, a Renaissance engineer who can interact with business, technology, the company, art, music and be an all round personality."

To position, develop and integrate such all round teams in any organisation, and retain them, the HR managers thus need to be masters of the same multi qualities plus to start with! The emphasis on strategic partnership by HR in the business objectives has since become a pivotal issue, and demands new sets of competencies which was used minimally in the past or ignored by the then past professionals managing this area of responsibility, or seen to be needed then for them even by the top management.

Since liberalisation, the variability in continued business success based on past history has substantially changed. The challenges are no longer limited to regions or limited businesses but have become intense amongst larger groups globally that affect all. There is no way that any successful organisation can sit back on past laurels and relax in the highly challenging environment of today, which has global ramifications. Innovative practices and excellence are demanded consistently and continually from each sub-set teams for collective results for any organisation. The HR team is now no longer an indirect group only remotely involved but has moved into the core management function of the organisation for generating the required business results by its people or teams. Earlier HR/Personnel focus was mainly limited to managing Industrial Relations, Administration, Welfare and staffing in a somewhat static environment, with some attention to training and development. From the internal micro management and advisory role, the demands have extended to a highly competitive and expanded macro environment level now encompassing the entire business system in a far more dynamic way. Another major change is the earlier unthinkable outsourcing many aspects of protected traditional HR tasks, besides in other areas today, in order to economise or efficiently concentrate on the core business or competency! Whereas competition was generally limited to larger organisations in the past - or so it seemed, the scenario has changed to managing 'competitive advantage' becoming essential all the time to all – whether small or big.

Let us examine some of the predominating changes being faced by the HR Managers of today, as compared to the past:

  • First and foremost, HR managers had to not just get familiar, but actually get fully involved in the total business process and objectives of the Company, and to understand the implications clearly, in order to contribute to the organisation's strategic plans and objectives. This was the fundamental transformation path essential for HR Heads to be accepted into the top management team, and even now this process remains at varying levels in different organisations.
  • The use and dependence on proven manpower, financial or other data and system technology tools, consultancy services or specialist methodologies, including surveys & feedbacks, studies or opinion polls and suggestion schemes have increased dramatically. They provide superior means for analysis & decision-making, instead of hunches and gut feelings that were more often relied upon by past managers. Knowledge and understanding of such tools or methodologies for use or contact with their accredited practitioners have become very important for the HR Managers.
  • From mostly manual and clerical records and data storage or handling to computer-based software, which has made info storage far more economic, reliable and accessible having ease of communication, with the capability of quicker updating and analysis - having almost unlimited usage possibilities. It has cut down the various levels of interaction or control in the structure or hierarchy, or the time needed in the past to do so. The need to create a virtual office or flexible tasks may be an outcome to be managed by HR. IT proficiency has, therefore, become a must for HR.
  • Outsourcing not only HR tasks and jobs, but in all spheres of organisational activity, depending on a constant review of the strategic orientation, value-chain, and competitive advantage has often become inevitable. If not, then surely major identified changes, to gain an edge over the competition. This necessitates regular structural readjustments in the organisation and creating new competencies for the existing or new staff, besides understanding the business process clearly, that HR have to initiate and manage well.
  • Business uncertainties of today demand quicker and more flexible responses from the organisations, which often require HR quality inputs for survival. Managing mergers and acquisitions is a new task for some, where HR has a large role in culture or value integration or in harmonising morale issues and balancing compensation differentials, besides managing the legal and environmental issues.
  • Retention strategies for scarce talent and specialists have become vital for many organisations, as well as meeting the staffing needs in needed time frame. Newer talent pools have to be found or developed. Often, struggling or failing company's need turnaround strategies in which HR need to contribute very substantially for it to become successful. From earlier 'strict confidentiality' of salaries and management terms (when jobs or job changes were scarce), now a more open Compensation and reward management system surely play a vital role in this area, in addition to a good work environment and organisational culture, as had been highlighted earlier. HR must continually review the differing aspirations of the changing generations in order to effectively develop appropriate strategies to attract, retain & satisfy the high performing managers.
  • Environmental and social issues now demand far greater attention that HR has to devote today in comparison to the past when these were minimal or infrequent.
  • Obviously, the earlier basic demands on HR (especially working with Unions and managing IR) have not disappeared into thin air, which still has to be managed well and efficiently. In fact, many of them now require a higher level of integration with the organisation's mission, vision, plans and objectives in the more competitive world of today!

To summarise, the changing demands will continue to expand into newer areas and will require all the ingenuity from this now well-recognized vital function in any organisation for success. HR Manager of today has to consequently become an innovative business partner, researcher, strategist, system integrator & an OD specialist for the organisation rolled into one! The prediction made well over ten years ago in the earlier article was:

"The people management process does not, and cannot, remain static, and will continue in future to demand the changing management style, philosophy, actions and solutions, which are best suited and needed to meet the differing & changing organisational challenges of each.
One thing is sure; this function is certainly no old wine in a new bottle - whether one calls it Personnel, or Human Resource Management!"

The earlier quoted summary has therefore been amply justified, and today’s HR Managers have to be continually prepared to deal with and manage the challenge of changes effectively!

You may go through a related article on
This will amplify HR's role and connect with the above.


by: Ashit K. Sarkar
3E Palmtree Place, 23 Palmgrove Road,
Bangalore 560 047 (Ph: 080-4112-8153)
E-Mail: [email protected]