Sunil Ranjhan is Vice President General Affairs at Honda Siel Cars India (HSCI), where he oversees the HR, IR, Admin functions of all the factories and regional offices in India .He is also a member of Honda’s 6 Region Global HR Committee representing the Asia Oceania Region and also supports the Management Development Programmes and leads Quality Circle activities in this region. Out of 23 years of experience, his last 13 years have been with Honda in Japan, India and Thailand. Prior to working at Honda, Sunil has handled HR leadership roles at Thapar Group and Wipro Information Technology Ltd.
An alumnus of Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, he has held various leadership positions in HR in the Manufacturing, Service and Consulting sectors. Last year, he authored his first book No Right Answers, a hands-on guide for creating winning teams, developing junior team members and fostering inspirational leadership capabilities at the workplace. An avid case writer and a regular contributor to business journals, he is fluent in Japanese language. His work has been published extensively in Japan and India. He is currently working on his second book, titled “Kokoro – Heart and Soul of Japanese Management.”
In an interview with SHRM India’s Sanjay Joshi, Sunil talks about talent engagement and development practices, successful IR guidelines, tips for managing anxiety at workplace and his debut book on resolving HR issues. Excerpts:
SHRM India: The quality of relationship between a supervisor and an employee impacts workplace engagement and business results in a big way. What are the various employee engagement practices followed in your company?
Sunil Ranjhan: At HSCI, our people practices are guided by our Honda Philosophy, which amongst other principles also outlines the two basic fundamental beliefs ‘respect for individual’ and ‘creation of three joys.’ The way we do our daily business is always driven by these basic concepts and as a result leads to employee engagement in a very natural way. In effect, our guiding philosophy of respect for individual is rooted in three main pillars of equality, initiative and trust.
As we place a lot of stress on equality, it automatically gets reflected in all our organizational policies, work principles and also our physical infrastructure. We have common canteens, locker rooms, and uniforms, which at an external level give a feeling of oneness. Our office has no cubicles or even partitions. We all sit at one big table as a family sits at a dining table while having dinner. A VP maybe sitting next to a fresher. The seating arrangement is based on work groups and the principle of communication. Such boundaryless work culture itself is a great motivator to youngsters and also goes a long way in transfer of knowledge and skills to them. Such physical systems are the starting point in building engagement of employees. While hierarchies are there for managing work and targets, the working style is contrary to this.
Our practice of Y - GAYA, where associates irrespective of position have free discussions regarding work, projects, budgets, business plan finalization, improvement ideas etc. make all associates feel wanted. Respecting their ideas as an equal builds engagement and also creates ownership to respective jobs.
Many companies emphasize on off-the-job-training and on-the-job-training of its people, while we focus on OCT or On-the-Chance training. We feel that On-the-Chance training is more productive than the other two approaches and also goes a long way in building higher levels of engagement. OCT is a process of giving calculated and pre-planned chances in the way of projects and assignments away from normal work, field or assigning as responsible person with direct reporting to different organization etc. helps in honing skills and uncovering potentials that were previously unknown.
In addition, measures like assigning associates for overseas training, sending them to work on international assignments, technical skill building, and training by expats etc. are important for improving employee engagement.
The decision-making style, too, is bottoms-up. Rather than top management giving directions it is encouraged to ask the next-in-line to come up with various proposals. Employees are encouraged to reach out to the management with various solutions about what they feel will work rather than asking them what needs to be done. This approach gives a lot of empowerment to people down the levels and also helps in building engagement and ownership.
Various other practices like unwinding after work, family days, divisional parties, project- closure-thank-you-parties, newcomers party etc. create that extra bonding at all levels and also help break the perceived positional barriers.
SHRM India: Worker unrest has often hit the Indian automobile industry and in April 2010 Honda Siel had the same problem of work slowdown leading to very low sales. How do you plan to reduce or prevent such production slowdowns and forge a mutually productive relationship with the workers?
Sunil Ranjhan: This information is not correct. We have had a very cordial relationship with our unions since the establishment of our union in 2003. Since then, we have had no unrest and ZERO production loss due to industrial unrest. We have well laid-out systems and procedures to ensure industrial harmony. Our guiding principles for maintaining a cordial relationship are:
- Transparency in our decision making processes and consensus in reaching decisions that impact our associates
- Pursuing ‘equality’ in our dealings, systems and processes that reduce the perceived "divide" between the management and line associates
- Constant communication with union and also associates on the shop floor through daily morning meetings , joint welfare committee meetings [ e.g. canteen, transport, insurance etc.], regular union-management interface, joint participation in CSR activities and community service etc.
- Speed in resolving grievances and personal related issues
- Beyond normal trainings, organizing spirituality workshops through Brahmakumaris Institute and other institutes for developing a good moral outlook
- One-on-one interactions of selected Vice President level staff with the unions for sharing business outlook, challenges, priorities, cost data etc. and also hearing the concerns and priorities of the shop floor associates
- Giving a clear career path to our line associates to graduate on to supervisory and managerial positions within the company. Today, we have more than 70 people who have graduated on to positions of Team Leaders and above. While it may seem like a very simple concept, but before such transitions, we also take them through a well-structured program that includes exposure to relevant skills, training in personality grooming, English, Computer skills, data analysis etc.
SHRM India: Indian automotive industry is facing severe shortage of skilled manpower at technical and managerial levels. What are the high points of your talent development strategy?
Sunil Ranjhan: Yes, it is a fact that there is a shortage of certain skill sets at various levels and functional areas in India. As a strategy for hiring, more than 80 percent of our hiring is of freshers or people with less than five years of experience. These associates are hired and taken through a series of on-the-job training experiences for grooming them for the desired skills required for working with us. Specifically starting with a well-structured GET program, we have progressively evolved systems and programs to groom them for higher assignments within the organization. A few of these initiatives are as under:
- Structured job rotation program for multi-skilling
- Training at our overseas facilities for technical skills transfer
- Assignments with expats for know-how learning
- Assigning expats as Project members or leaders for important company wide projects
- Sending our people to work in overseas factories for two to three years to develop managerial skills, cross cultural experiences and developing leadership skills besides regular skill enhancement
SHRM India:In the wake of recent fiscal changes and hike in petrol prices, almost all the players in the Indian automotive industry have reported unsold auto inventories and are aiming to cut the production to contain losses. Such developments are likely to generate worker anxieties and negatively impact their morale. Please share some of the tips for navigating change in such situations?
Sunil Ranjhan: In my opinion every industry should be ready to face the cyclic changes that are here to stay. Today it may be petrol price hike or the adverse exchange rate impact, tomorrow it may be some other business environmental change that may impact our businesses. The way the business environment is panning out with economic growth drivers showing a clear sign of slowdown, it is very important that corporations build internal constitutions that are more resilient to wide fluctuations in their business fortunes, are agile, and more predictive than being reactive and have lean operations.
Japanese companies including Honda Siel, by design have these ingrained in their constitutional DNA. Moreover, I feel that regular communication with your stakeholders, including employees is the key to managing anxieties during lean phases of business cycle, undue expectations during good times and fear and rumors during bad times. Being honest and upright with clear sharing of information at all times by the management goes a long way in soothing such anxieties. We have structured forums at all levels where information is shared and visual boards where market information is displayed, etc. Actually, the current generation is electronically wired with the external world and is very aware about the external influencing factors. Their awareness coupled with our internal communication goes a long way in suitable expectation and anxiety management.
SHRM India: Your debut book, No Right Answers, offers a refreshingly different angle on managing people and processes. Could you share some of your insights on gray areas of human resources management that you have discussed in the book?
Sunil Ranjhan: I have written this book after my 25 years of ‘hansei.’ Hansei is a Japanese word that roughly translates into reflection in the English language. This book deals with what I call the gray areas in HR for which there can be no right answers or one standard approach for dealing with them. The topics covered relate to hiring, motivation, policy deployment, ethics, union management relationships, leadership development, culture building, managing high performers etc.
I have structured this book in three sections. The first section called ‘insight’ discusses various people related processes, practices and systems, which according to me are being practiced in a very routinemanner and may lead to non-value added, ritualized working in companies and also occasional ’pain & strain’ to people functions. It deals with certain ‘obsessions" & "beliefs’ that many HR practitioners have, which according to my personal assessment are baseless. For example, let me take a very basic process in organizations – say, hiring and onboarding. If we see, the hiring decisions in many organizations are based on standardized frameworks of age, length of experience and formal education besides certain other specifications. So are these frameworks always right? Do we fail to leave out some of the best people who don’t even make to our consideration sets because they get "rejected" by first level recruiters because on paper they don't satisfy the shortlisting guidelines. When do we discard length of service in favor of breadth of experience? When do we reject formal education in favor of informal educational experiences that a person may have gained by, say, doing volunteer work in the Jungles of Africa working for the upliftment of tribals there? How do we account for experiences that a person has gained while working part-time during his summer holidays?
Similarly, in another chapter, I deal with obsession that organizations have for "high fliers." While having high fliers on your team may be good but they may also come with certain“unwanted drawbacks" which organizations tend to ignore. Is this approach fine? While such people drive results, give top-line growth, they may also be causing certain damage that may become detrimental to the organization in the long run.
The second section "reflections" deals with certain anxieties or beliefs that professionals have regarding what is right and wrong. It deals with self-development challenges, personality issues and leadership development. This section deals with our fears, assumptions & beliefs that many of us fail to admit in public or routinely justify as a basic requirement of getting work done in organizations.
The third section has case studies relating to the above topics that have been inspired by true incidences that have happened around me or have been narrated by friends from the HR fraternity.
Sanjay Joshi is an Editor at SHRM. Republished with permission. Copyright ©2012 SHRM India All rights reserved.