Apr 29, 2009

HR's new role- Chief Firing Officer

Dr. Madhukar Shukla has an interesting conversation with a HR head of an organization:
"...and how has the current recession affected you?" This was a curiosity for me: what would the HR professionals be doing with people when there is not enough market demand to keep the employees productively employed.
"Not much, really!! We have managed it well," he said. "In fact, we just concluded an Employee Alignment and Optimization initiative last week."
"Employee Alignment and Optimization" seemed such a sexy term. It conjoured up images of a happy bunch of people being helped by my friend and his HR team to bring their interest and capabilities in-synch with their work and performance.
"That’s really nice! You mean, you assessed and re-allocated them so that they get to do what they are really capable of doing, and enjoy doing?”
He looked aghast and uncomfortable. “No! no!,” he said. “This was actually an initiative to disengage about 200 of them from the organization.”
“You mean, you fired them?!!” I was startled, not being sure how can one “optimize” and “align” people by firing them.
“No, actually, we didn’t have to fire them, at all,” he beamed, happily. “ In fact, as we had planned, it was a voluntary separation. It was really a very smooth process.”
I was thoroughly impressed. “That’s really remarkable!,” I said with awe. “ It says so much about the level of commitment you must have fostered among the people, that they could make such a sacrifice for the larger good of the organization. Imagine!... you send out a mail saying that we need 200 volunteers to leave the organization – and people actually volunteer.”
My friend looked at me as if I had lost my beans. “Of course, Not! It was not like that at all!!” he almost choked. “This was a very systematic and thorough exercise; we planned it with precision, and with full confidentiality; and we trained our HR and line executives to communicate the choice to the 200 of our employees who had be separated.”

Read on to find out the rest of the conversation and what really happened.