Updated: Aug 5, 2019
(Taken from the Keynote Address of President Gerry Plana and his conversation with Achal Khanna of SHRM – India during the 56th PMAP Annual Conference last July 17, 2019 at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino)
Ladies and gentlemen, PMAPers. Our theme is Excellerate HR.PH. You know for me, this word simply means one thing – there’s a need for us to be able to continue to develop ourselves to achieve HR excellence.
What I would like to do in my brief time is to be able to share with you my own HR journey and see what we can learn from this. When I started my HR career, one of the first passions or obsessions I had was what you would call now as compliance orientation. This was the time when I started to become engrossed with rule making and discipline. I wanted to fulfil the requirements of the legal HR because of this objective – I wanted to stay out of trouble. I realized that if you did not do that, you could get into real trouble. But after a few years of doing that, I realized that there was something bigger in HR that was beyond compliance and this is what I would call now commitment to orientation or to build capabilities. This is where I must confess that I spent a lot more time because this is where you do things like leadership development, engagement programs, visioning and all that stuff.
If you combine the two and take a look at compliance and commitment, these are probably two sides of the HR coin. Both are different but very important. They complement each other. Probably one is only defense while the other is on the offensive. But as we take a look at my continuing journey in HR, one of the things that you can probably share with me is when all of a sudden, we got into this stage where we started talking about business partnering. I call that stage in my life a business-first HR stage.
Now what happens in the business-first HR stage? The objective is very clear – it is to win. It’s the application of HR business solutions whether it is compliance or commitment to the business issues and challenges so that the business wins in the marketplace.
You know one of the things that we keep on discussing is the word resource and there are some critiques saying that HR should not put the word resource because resource is a demeaning word. As a matter of fact, Peter Senge, in one of his visits here in the Philippines, even commented and said that “You know what the meaning of resource is? The meaning of resource is something that is standing on standby, and we do not want to refer to people like that. That is very dehumanizing.” But in our desire to be business partners, we did all sorts of things. I did all sorts of things, from multitasking, productivity programs, to that slogan more for less, and as a result, we squeezed, we overstretched and we overstressed our people. The effect of that was creating a toxic environment. I wanted to refirm myself as not just Vice President for Human Resources, but I wanted to call myself Vice President for Human Remains because of the toxicity that I produced.
Now, the big question then during this stage is “Where is the H of HR?” and this is where the next stage really came in and we call this “People First HR.” When I travelled all over the Philippines and I found Zumba classes all over, I knew we were in the new era and that era is now reaching the H of HR. Now, we are talking wellness, wellbeing and things like that because we now want to put people first.
I don’t know if you know Douglas McGregor, one of my favorite authors who wrote a book in the 1960s and he’s a visionary. He was the one who popularized the terms Theory X and Theory Y and he had a simple explanation for this. These are assumptions that if you are moving from a Theory X wherein you assume that people are lazy, they will avoid work and that’s why they need to be controlled. On the other hand, Theory Y says people are responsible and want to contribute to the organization. As I reflect on AI and Robotics these days, probably the reason why Theory X is so popular is because a lot of our workforce are stuck with repetitive jobs and that’s probably the reason why they want to quit. They want to get out of it and they need to be controlled to be able to produce things. But as AI and robotics come in, the good news for that is that people would be liberated from their repetitive work and they would be able to free themselves to do more truly human work, fit for human beings. That I think is the positive side and that’s the reason why as we reflect on the People First HR philoshophy, I’d like to say that Theory Y says that people are not problems to be solved – they are potential waiting to unfold.
As we take a look at the goal of People First HR and sustainability, we did a research very recently and just to give you some idea, about 69 respondents answered our survey. They came from large organizations, Filipino organizations. Most of them are managers and so on and so forth and this is what we found out using this framework. Using the People First framework are usually large organizations in Metro Manila and mostly managers. But when I went around provinces, the figures were different. A big chunk are still in the compliance aspect and second big chunk is in the commitment area. Some small portion on the business first and very little on the people first category.
A few more things about the People First category. I don’t know if you are familiar with this term Genius of the “And.” I picked this line from one of my favorite authors Jim Collins and it is a celebrated book Good to Great, Built to Last. The only reason and the only meaning of this “and” is contrasted to the “Either-Or Theory.” This is the “And-Or” and talks about paradox. What is a paradox? A paradox is a statement that is seemingly conflicting and yet underneath it lies a truth. It is, if we say, “Can we see unity in opposites?”, that kind of mindset requires higher level thinking. But I think that’s the kind of mindset that we need as we move into the future and as we become People First organizations and HR.
I’d like to show you this picture of an example of a paradox of the way to go fast is to go slow. Let’s take a look at this picture and I don’t know if you know him but he is Mr. Vineet Nayar. I met him recently in the SHRM conference and what’s interesting about this man is that he took the helm of an IT services company way back in 2005 and when he took over it was a struggling company but 5 years later, it became one of the fastest growing companies in the world. It was because of his radical management approach. He says, and this is an extension of the People First philosophy, “Employees first, Customers second.” He was talking about a value zone where employees interact with customers and employees are the ones delivering the service. All people in the management should be supporting the employee rather than the other way around. To him, the paradox is that we serve customers the best when we put our employees first.
The other thing that we are probably taking a look at in People First HR is the word “Purpose Driven.” This is a big word these days. People just like to get associated with purpose and meaning. When we talk about that, I see a lot of organizations now even trying to rewrite their mission statements to make it more purposeful. But I think the real essence of purpose is when corporations incorporate giving in the business model because we see more and more organizations doing that or coming out ahead of the game because customers want to get associated with organizations like that because their purchases mean something and employees are attracted to work in organizations like that because they are part of something bigger than themselves.
I’d like to make reference to another person who I also recently met. His name is Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms shoes. In 2006, he went to Argentina and met a lady who talked about the plight of shoe-less children and she was asking for donations for shoes for these children. This lady told Blake that she has been a witness to the shoe-less and when you have a shoe-less child, you see all the sores, blisters and infection that are coming out of the young feet of these children. Because of this experience, Blake said he wanted to do something about it. But he wanted to do something that could be done in a continuous way. If charity was not the path, it had to be entrepreneurial. He decided to establish a shoe company. In 2006, he sold a 106 pairs and gave 106 pairs to children in need because the whole concept of the business was that for every pair of shoes sold, a new pair of shoes would be given to a child in need. Today, this company is selling over 90 million shoes and giving away 90 million shoes as well. This person has redefined the definition of success. It’s not just about status or money but about contributing something to the world.
Organizations like Toms shoes are trailblazers to the future. These are the companies that are shaping the future of organizations that will thrive, survive and succeed in a highly volatile environment. So as we reflect on these, the challenge upon us is to do something about our current workplaces. I think the challenge can simply be put as this - “How do we create better workplaces.” How can we make the workplace more human and that is able to capitalize on the deepest humanity of people? How can we create workplaces that is more open, safe and exciting? This is the kind of challenge we face as HR professionals and the conversation we need to make is if we are up for it.