Nov 21, 2012

The paradox of HR in a people dependant business

I just finished reading Anant Rangaswami's free ebook "Elephants in the Room" on the future of the Indian advertising industry. You can download the book for free here.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a copywriter in the advertising industry. Then I sat for XAT and got into XLRI and discovered HR. But the fascination with the (what I thought) glamourous world of advertising never went away. When I was at 2020 Social my colleague went to the "Cannes of the Indian ad family" Goafest, and I so wanted to go for it too.

So when Anant's book was free for download, I was amongst the first people to download it. He talks about the big challenges facing the advertising industry (the "elephants in the room") and how the industry can meet it.

There were two big "elephants" that stood out for me when I had put on my HR hat. One was, clients were dependent on "people brands" like Piyush Pandey, R. Balki, Prasoon Joshi in the ad industry. Anant says that the clients want great creative people to work on them, so creating a second line of "people brands" is critical once the older folks retire. And yet, no one seems to be doing anything about it.

The other interesting part of the book, is where Anant draws out the HR challenges of the advertising firms, starting with the fact that many of them to do not have full fledged HR managers or follow HR systems and processes.

That triggered this thought in my mind, "why does an industry which is so dependent on people, not invest in HR"

Thinking about it, I have come to the same sorry conclusion as in the past - great HR happens when work is commoditised. When work/people are a differentiator to bring in revenues as in a case of an ad agency or a professional services firm, HR is seen as expendable, without people realising then that it's the most critical.

Even tellingly, better HR professionals don't think of joining as HR managers/heads in industries like media and advertising adding to the vicious cycle of mediocre HR practices and people decisions being taking whimsically by business heads.