10th July 2017

Great CEOs apologize when required. In the past CEOs have apologized for ‘inadvertently’ caused mistakes ranging from quality issues, environmental hazards, safety incidents and even financial frauds. However, a rather unique apology was tendered, first by the CEO of a large Indian IT services company followed, by the Chairman of the USD 13 Billion Indian Conglomerate that owns the company.

What was unfortunate about this apology was that it for the manner in which ‘an employee was asked to quit’ and it came from the winner of the ‘Best Transformational Leader Award’ among others. The apologies went viral on social media, drawing rather embarrassing attention to one of the most respected Global Brands.

While the leaders displayed sheer greatness in addressing the faux pas, the embarrassment could have been easily avoided. The question is how the dignity of an outgoing employee is best maintained?

Having worked with the best of the Organizations as Change Management and HR Transformation consultant for over a decade, I know that this is a completely avoidable accident. The accident, unfortunately, did caused a major dent in the employer brand of the conglomerate and leadership brand of the CEO as well as the Chairman.

We must remember that this is not a simple case of an insensitive HR representative communicating in an un-empathic manner. This buildup has 3 Phases:

  1. The events that led to the decision of the head count rationalization for cost cutting
  2. The events during the decision making process
  3. The events during the communication phase and impact thereof

The fundamental problem in this episode, across the above mentioned events, is that of ‘surprises’ and ‘unpreparedness’. The organization was not prepared for the challenges of the external environment; the HR manager was not prepared to deliver the news in the right manner; the employee was not emotionally and strategically prepared for the news of his getting the pink-slip and the society at large was not prepared to accept such an insensitive dismissal.

Downsizing is not an ugly reality anymore. It is an effective strategy to drive businesses outcomes. The ‘Board of Directors’ will have to go beyond their traditional roles while governing businesses when this strategy is to be implemented. They need to advise and enable the CEOs to:

  1. Create a culture that lives the values; or change the values. Expensive consultants like me have spent days in exotic locations with top management teams to articulate vision, mission and values of organizations. Those statements then ‘enhance the beauty of the meeting rooms, websites and executive speeches’. It is high time that boards ensure right investments are being made in creating that culture on ground so that those values can be lived by everyone, everyday. Having a carefully carved out #digitalHRtransformation strategy is the biggest lever of culture building in the current times. And, speaking at the cost of humility, only a few know how to do that.
  2. Review HR ‘surprises’ that can lead to reactive people decisions. In this case, the right kind of ‘real time’ people analytics could have raised flags, much earlier in the game to take corrective actions. An organization wide correction program could have diffused the time bomb that was ticking and eventually exploded on the fateful day. Most of the HR teams are unable to do this because they lack the technology and process enablers to do that in real time.
  3. Ensure employees know where they stand, daily. The fact that an employee was ‘surprised’ that his managers are party of the decision of sacking him, while he believes otherwise about his performance, is a complete failure of the performance management philosophy and system. Employees and managers must be enablement to assess, discuss and enhance the performance on a daily basis. Thereafter, if such genuine efforts still fail, the employee knows what is going to follow. For example advanced predictive HR analytics today can give each and every manager the ability to ‘predict’ employee actions including voluntary attrition or being sacked per the policy. This is a huge enabler for organizations to develop effective managerial and leadership capabilities.
  4. Equip HR to assess the impact of people decisions. While the board was still grappling to contain the damage created by the leaked conversation, an emotionally charged social media fraternity presented numerous ‘what if’ scenarios and root cause analysis. Few such analyses even hit the CEO compensation design directly. This was uncalled for. The organization must have invested in HCM platform that could have helped the ill fated HR Team in the Organization to make a more informed judgment about the problem.
  5. Enable the employees and organization to deliver what is expected from them. It was very clear from the conversation that the poor lady who was given the task to deliver this news was untrained for the job. In the name of ‘corrective action’ probably she lost her job as well. What an irony that will be. The board must have ensured that right investments are made in systems, processes and enablement to ensure the smooth ‘off boarding’ of employees, when such harsh decisions must be made.

In the age of digital, when competitive advantage is going to come from ‘employee experience’, having the right HR strategy including #digitalHR strategy is the most important board room discussion.

This is NOT a leadership failure; it is the cost of not investing in the right HR enablers. It is time CEOs boards wake up to this reality.

#empexp #employeeexperience #leadership #talentretention #downsizing #modernHR #digitalHRtransformation #oracleHCM

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