In a workplace with a bad smell, the energy is low and people are tired and constrained. That is how Sumantra Ghoshal, the genius management strategist, had put forward his illuminating concept on corporate culture.
The conditions, Ghoshal says, that sap energy in such a workplace are driven by “constraint, compliance, control and contract.” Workers feel constrained by their organization and the processes that govern them. They sense they are primarily there to comply with the rules. They feel their boss, management and the system exist primarily to control them, and that their job is just a contractual obligation. These values, obviously, don’t create the right context, or smell, for workers to proactively act or create change.
On the other hand, there are workplaces, where businesses create conditions that prompt workers to aspire for higher goals, and work with high energy and focus. Ghoshal reasoned that the business leaders must endeavor to create a context that values “stretch, discipline, trust and support.” This is a corporate culture where workers are stretched to do more rather than less, are self-disciplined in their engagements, see their leaders as pillars of support, and can operate creatively in a system of trust.
Clearly, creating the right kind of “smell”, the cultural contexts, is not easy. Organizations, through their actions, mission and vision, create them, bit by bit, at their workplaces.
HR leaders can act right and make positive changes in normal times and conditions. While some of their actions could be driven by ingrained corporate ethos, some may be triggered by non-normal circumstances like the pandemic, as new conditions.
Here are how some right contexts, with “right smell” that HR leaders can help create:
Value of Stretch
HR bosses, during the pandemic, have been mitigating the pains in their businesses in a variety of ways. Many are carrying on with lesser employees in physical space and are leveraging digital/web to the hilt. Some have helped cope the challenges of shrinking bottom-line through rationalization of workforce. Reskilling and redeployment of employees are being done to improve productivity. Promoted as a virtue of personal “stretch”, HR initiatives are motivating many corporate honchos, and even employees, to have pay cuts or giving up bonuses.
Value of Discipline
Adherence to discipline on standard procedures and protocols is critical. As employees work remotely in a digital space, monitoring performance and good conduct is a challenge for organizations. However, those companies with robust work ethic, and effective communication and counseling mechanisms in place, are resilient enough to weather these personnel issues.
Virtue of resilience, a byproduct of discipline, is in fact grabbing positive attention. Amid overall low hiring though, many companies are aiming to onboard talent that thrived under pressure. Hiring agencies are looking for candidates who have been through a crisis situation, navigated tough transitions, and have the resilience to bounce back. Thus, professionals from aviation, hospitality, automobile, etc. having experienced severe disruptions are in demand. Going forward, as corporate world would see more consolidation, mergers and alliances of businesses with distress and challenges, such human resources could prove to be assets.
Value of Trust
Economic disruptions have hit the small units, retailers and micro-businesses the most. Not only are they now increasingly dependent on online channels for sales, they are also dependent on big corporates either for business or realization of receivables. Their expectation for fair play in business dealings and transparency in accounting and data practices from big corporates is naturally high. HR heads can build ethical business standards as templates to enhance the value of trust.
Value of Support
Humane actions, responses and initiatives of organizations can create “fragrance”. From extending support to their staff on emotional well-being and flexibility in working, the companies are required to connect to their clients with sensitivity. Further, moved by tales of grief, heroic actions or selfless sacrifice, the businesses are reaching out to the concerned people or organizations, making generous donations. Many are supporting noble causes for health, green and sustainability projects, with funding. The instances of charity, personal or through CSR, by HR honchos, may see more manifestations in the future. In all the noble actions, the role of HR leaders are of paramount importance.
Ram Krishna Sinha is a former General Manager, Learning& Development, and Business Process Reengineering in Bank of India. Author of the book, “X Factor@ Workplace”, he writes on education, learning, HRD and contemporary issues of importance. He is an Opinion Columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. He lives in Mumbai, India, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org