In this VUCA world, it is beneficial for organizations to have an agile workforce

With changing times, people management in Nepali organizations has become a topic of debate for harnessing an organizational culture conducive to business growth and productivity of employees. Organizations nowadays pay attention to proper HR functions and the need for having best practices in people management. 

According to Dipesh Man Shrestha, an HR professional, there is a lot of room for improvement and development in the area of people management in organizations in Nepal. Shrestha has nearly two decades of experience as an HR professional working in companies in different sectors including manufacturing, banking, and telecommunications. In a conversation with the HRM, he talked about the evolution of people management practices in Nepali organizations, the need to adopt and use the best international practices as per the requirements of organizations, and challenges in HR management, among other topics. Excerpts: 

In 19 years of your experience as an HR professional, how have you observed the people practices evolve in Nepal?   
I still remember that day when I started my career straight from college. Back then, people managing responsibilities used to lie with finance or administration functions, and the major responsibilities were limited to payroll, employee file managing, coordinating training programs, and managing industrial relations. Most of the organizations did not have a separate function for people management. I started my professional journey by setting up a separate function for managing people at a multinational company where we set up the HR department from scratch. Slowly other established organizations started forming separate functions for managing people-related activities over the years. However, the responsibilities were limited in many organizations.

Most organizations established HR departments for people management functions in the past 10-15 years, however, with limited responsibilities. In many institutions, the top-level management still did not see the HR department adding value to organizations as the roles and responsibilities are limited to talent sourcing, coordinating training, and managing basic details of employees, etc.

The initiatives of companies like Growth Sellers is noteworthy when talking about the development of the HR fraternity in Nepal. Growth Sellers organized the first HR-related conference in Nepal in 2008 and then a group of HR professionals, particularly from the banking sector, started having a monthly meeting with the help of the Nepal Banking and Training Institute. Slowly, associations were formed for HR professionals to share and learn over the years.

Now the people managing functions have evolved to a great extent, however, there are many improvement opportunities for sure. Professionals in this fraternity must continue to come together and collaboratively learn ensuring the best value to the organizations.

How do you view the role of people and HR management in the company’s success?
There are cases in the Nepali corporate sector that even well-performing companies have declined over the years for not being able to manage and maintain productivity levels as desired by the organization.

All organizations have engaged and disengaged employees. Organizations are bound to perform better if they have higher engagement levels of employees. An engaged workforce means a higher level of ownership and better commitment of employees toward the organizational goals.

You’ve also led the HR department of a reputed commercial bank in the past. How do you think banks could better manage the cultural element in terms of people management in the face of the ongoing merger and acquisition drive in the banking sector?  
It is rightly said by Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” An organization may have the best strategy in place, however, if the culture is not managed well, all strategies will go in vain. Organizational culture has always been taken by organizations in Nepal on a softer side, and not taken seriously at all. It is considered more theoretical aspect than practical by most organizations.

After the merger between two entities, employees of a smaller organization has to work as per the systems and practices of the bigger one. When two different systems, practices, and work environments converge, there must be meaningful interventions to ensure that employees understand the new ways of working. This way of working or belief can also be termed the core values of the organization. It is imperative to align the core values, direction, and brand identity of the organization. Are organizations ensuring the same during a merger is a big question that we have in front of us. Better the alignment, employees will understand the ways of doing things according to the brand identity and goals of the organization. Further, the core values must be integrated into all the people-related systems and practices in the organization which is essential for any institution to perform efficiently and effectively.

Further, after the merger, it is also necessary to keep track of how new employees are living by those core values and what the management is doing to sustainably inculcate the same. There could be a structured process to keep track of employees’ behavior aligning with the core values and also a proper reward and recognition system to motivate employees.

What challenges do you see in people management in organizations in Nepal?  
Many organizations in Nepal do not have HR representation in top management. This is true with some of the major MNCs as well. HR is not seen as a contributor to business and is out of the major business decisions. In such an environment, it will be difficult for an organization to assess decisions from people and culture perspectives. All decisions within the organizations have to be executed by the employees and such decisions from the employee perspective if not taken, there will be some issues in terms of executing the same as people practices or culture may not support. However, if people’s perspectives are taken into consideration, mitigation plans could also be prepared proactively in line with the business direction.

A handful of companies in Nepal practice world class people-related systems. Other companies have been copying best practices from around the world and implementing such practices without aligning with the business. These practices could work to some extent, but may not always give the best business results. So, all HR Professionals in Nepal have to come together and keep sharing best practices and customize according to the organizational needs.

What should be the key focus areas in people management to ensure the practices are meaningful?  
Going beyond the traditional people management practices, one of the main focus areas for HR professionals must be to thoroughly under the business they are in. It is said that HR must be a part of the management team or HR must perform strategic activities. However, if HR professionals do not understand business, they won’t be able to contribute to business decisions from the people perspective. All HR professionals need to be a “business manager” to understand business from all perspectives so that they will be able to provide people and culture perspectives while taking any decision. This is often neglected by most HR professionals in Nepal. Further, people managing functions must work in ‘principles’ and all people-related systems, practices, and dealings must be based on such principles.

Another major focus area is the business environment. We are in a VUCA world and we, as HR professionals, must be agile enough to change systems and practices as per the environment to enable organizations to achieve their objectives.

How is learning & development (L&D) prioritized in Nepali organizations?   
L&D practices have evolved a lot over the years in most of the organizations in Nepal. Established organizations have Personal Development Plans (PDP) in place aligned to the requirements of the business, the roles and responsibilities, and individuals’ skill gaps. These are basic requirements for any organization. After PDP is finalized, most of the established organizations in Nepal started various means of development of employees which do not limit to classroom sessions. For classroom sessions too, many such organizations have started using online learning courses and learning platforms/portals for the continuous development of their employees.

There are only a few organizations in Nepal that have structured talent management programs in place. Identifying talents basis the future needs of the organization, developing them, and then providing opportunities for different roles basis business requirements and individual potential. Some organizations have talent management programs for higher level positions only and only a few organizations have programs for high potential employees from other levels.
There are also some areas such as ‘Organizational Leadership Competencies’ that organizations need to consider. All organizations have some objectives or goals to attain and Leadership Competencies are required for employees at all levels to exhibit so that they will be able to help achieve the business objectives. Organizations must also focus on this and start grooming employees in Leadership Competencies.

Further, some organizations in Nepal have adopted many initiatives around reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling of their employees basis their business needs. At last, I would also want to highlight that only a few companies in Nepal are focusing on future skills requirements as well.

How do you observe people management practices in terms of grooming the right talent?  
I have seen some organizations in Nepal that have been taking fresh employees in batches every year and then grooming them in all functions within the organization before deploying them to one specific role. Grooming is structured and planned so that fresh employees get an overview of all functions within the organization so that they will be able to relate the linkages between functions and understand the overall business very well when they are assigned certain specific roles. These kinds of programs are well-known as Management Training Program and the grooming period ranges from 3 months to 1 year.

There are structured developmental programs targeting high potential employees for higher level positions (business critical positions usually) to groom them to be future-ready. Individuals get selected after a rigorous assessment, and developmental reviews happen regularly at certain intervals basis the individual developmental plans. These kinds of programs are being run by a few organizations in Nepal. Further, there are various initiatives being taken by the organization to reskill, upskill, and cross-skill basis business requirements.

During my career, I came across an organization that has its focus on building talents required for the future as well. The organization was expanding its manufacturing base and the management knew that a full set of talents will be required after three years. So, the organization built a parallel talent pool by sourcing fresh talents from the colleges and grooming them over the period of three years in the required verticals of the business.

How do you see practices in organizations in Nepal to ensure that their employees are satisfied and engaged?  
There are a handful of organizations in Nepal that conduct Engagement/Satisfactory Surveys of their employees and that too with the intention of improving the working environment for them. These organizations have annual and semi-annual surveys taking views of the employees on various factors affecting the working environment, and these organizations religiously work on the improvement areas too.

However, most of the organizations in Nepal do not have a structured mechanism to assess the Engagement levels or Satisfaction Surveys of their employees. An organization is assessed based on its relations with its employees and improvement measures are carried out on an ad-hoc basis. Usually, HR professionals are the ones who are assigned this responsibility within the ambit of industrial relations. However, this results in the management of union representatives and less focus on ensuring an engaged workforce in the organization.

The current economic downturn has added to the difficulties of businesses. What do you think should be the right approach to efficient people management to face the challenges?   
Employees exist when the business survives. It is the responsibility of the organization to ensure that the right and sufficient business information is cascaded to employees for them to appreciate and work as per the business conditions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, employees in many organizations even agreed to half-pay or leave without pay considering the impact on the business. Even the Minimum Wages revision was delayed by one year with the help of different stakeholders. This is because the employees and all other stakeholders understood the severity of the problems. Further in this VUCA world, it is beneficial for organizations to have an agile workforce. It is the responsibility of the organizations to inculcate agility in the organization.

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