The building is on fire, but everyone, including HR, is in a meeting!

 The concept of growth in an advanced heavy industrial production based society in the new millennium has a pronounced leaning towards high-speed automatic machines and robotics. In those societies, even the concept of distribution embraces automation, and in shipping, the discipline of mechatronics has enabled the mega-carriers of cargo to manage over 20,000 TEUs with fewer than 20 (albeit highly paid) crew members.

The days of self-driven vehicles doing mass distribution, moving people and even delivering groceries to people’s automated homes, to be received by domestic robots, no longer sounds like the Jetsons cartoon. The future is here and continues to advance with innovation.

However, in countries that are focused on leisure industries such as tourism and entertainment, human interactions and services, there must be a concern for the development, training, and retention of valuable employees, and that is usually the purview of Human Resources Management (HRM). The strategy and execution of plans and personal service interfaces are more important than ever in this environment. These are even more important when aiming at the high end of these markets.

The profession of HRM is rapidly becoming gender sensitive and the women vastly outweigh the men. But that in itself does not necessarily cause a problem, except when cultural factors prevent the acceptance of women in those roles. The indicative numbers may generally be of background interest to this discussion.

Between 2011 and 2016 at the Mona School of Business and Management a total of 55 persons completed their MBA (HR specialization), and 53 were women.

In a previous comparison in 2004 of a total cohort of 220, 19 persons specialized in HR. Eighteen were women.

The 2014 U.S. Department of labour reported that 76% of all HR Managers were women; and at the top 100 corporations (by number of employees) 49% of HR Officers (HROs) were women.

Regrettably, these remarkable statistics do not always translate into remuneration advantages, and I attribute that to some strategic planning biases that may still exist.  There is still a reluctance to include the chief HR persons in the very top strategic advisory teams. If this is generally perceived then this could be a deterrent to men joining the profession, and their moving to finance and general management to access the high rewards segment of employment.

In other countries, cultural/gender based issues emerging from the work/home balance seem to place greater pressure on women who must now balance these two parts of their lives. This seems to be more in Eastern and Asian populations, and differs among religious doctrines.

In the USA and Canada, there are many more social support systems for families that will empower women and single parents in their job performance. This aspect is poorly developed in Jamaica, especially as nurseries, day care, and schools are concerned.

Here in Jamaica there are also cultural norms that prevent job and home concerns being discussed with relatively young women. This goes beyond male employees to female HROs; and also incorporates older women employees with younger female HROs. In both cases, for example, neither wishes to share spousal abuse although this may be the major element behind lower performance at work. This may lead senior management to doubt the ability of their HROs to produce the harmony required for superior employee performance.

This is only one example, but when expanded to others it presents a serious need for an unemotional analysis. In the two-parent family, most emergency work-related situations can be attended to by the man, knowing full well that the mother will be able to take care of the children. The reverse is not necessarily true, and this is the first layer of the perceived glass ceiling.

The practice of HR in a modern environment, staffed by higher educated practitioners (albeit taught a first world environment that is not relevant to Jamaica), there is a tendency to hide behind impersonal IT systems. Employees fill out their own files, update their information (like completing a degree programme), scan in their own diplomas, hope for a salary increase, but don’t have a soul to talk to. Everyone is in a meeting!

HR personnel are smart enough to realize that they are not in the decision-making loop; the top brass are in meetings, the customer service personnel are in a meeting, the janitors are out for training with maintenance staff; so HR have their own meetings to emulate the important “busy” trappings and are not available to the employees. All segments are unaware that the building is on fire!

Employees are lost; corporate memory retention is lost; old wheels are being invented as if they are new; intellectual capital loses their entire value; and the mission statement says “people are so important to us”. In a country as small and as poor as Jamaica is, it is a recipe for disaster and continued poverty.

Firstly, we have lost an appreciation of international business conditions through an overdependence on electronic media “narrow casting”, meaning that we can select the media information we want, as opposed to what we need. This is a recipe for disaster as the information that is being discussed in meetings is about known results (meaning in the past), and the anticipation of the future of entrepreneurial actions become time bound or expired. This is a job for HR to address.

Secondly, the selection of persons by reviewing their time perspective needs to be balanced. Modern business requires people who deal with past results; current actions; and future plans; they must all feel appreciated and comfortable within the same organization. This is a job for HR to address.

Thirdly, if the business of the corporation is not taught in a university, then there is a need for a real apprenticeship programme that teaches the details of the commodities or services in a global environment. Bulk rice and sardines are not in the curriculum of Princeton or UWI. This is a job for HR to address.

Fourthly, if employees arrive with a university degree and cannot read or write intelligently, or worse express themselves properly, there is a problem. If that person has the potential to grow, then they need to be groomed. That is a job for HR to address.

These few areas of concern are real in Jamaica and will affect performance and competitiveness. Since HR is now dominated by women, it presents an opportunity for them to exercise their considerable skills towards transformation, and by so doing shatter the “glass ceiling” and become a part of the highly respected and well-paid corporate environment.

HR need to transform themselves and strongly and forcefully take charge of the human strategy, and ensure that it is in keeping with the corporation’s direction, as well as determining the value of retaining people and their memories of how past but similar obstacles were overcome. In short, they must plan for, and prevent the brain drain, the blame game, and knowledge loss.

The intellect of the employees and their ability to find the right persons are within HR’s ambit, and they must become an integral part of senior management.

Break out from the gender issue and take a hammer to the glass.

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Thought Leadership
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