Larger Purpose of Human Resources Professionals

S.Deenadayalan Promoter – Centre for Excellence in Organization Pvt. Ltd.

Advisory board Member – Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation

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CSR is the buzzword of the day, so when HNS (H. N Shrinivas) requested that I write an article on CSR, it got me introspecting. He wanted me to dwell on how a larger role is emerging for human resources in building bridges with employees, unions, the government and communities?  Impacting Society through holding the role of HR cannot be done only with the knowledge of HR tools and practices but having a conscience of being a human being. There is Human (e) in Human Resources

In the pursuit of these answers, two questions came to my mind.

Why me as a writer on CSR, harmony and social citizenry? Why me, who is seen more as a radical, more as a social worker than as an HR professional, me who has, despite my “radical avatar” taken on HR roles in varied corporate organizations before branching out on my own in the last two decades?

A caveat emptor with apology is this article shamelessly shares thoughts of my half baked experiments, which worked most of the time and failed miserably some time.

HR people fall into the category of the most semi-permanent staff in any organization.  Is there an impacting positive legacy they can leave behind in such semi-permanent roles?

Probably HNS wanted a perspective from the experiential journey of mine

Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) and Social Enterprise – Precursors to Today’s Jargon

Before the nomenclature CSR or Social Marketing was coined, are we creating “Much ado about” the new jargons and flavours on this subject forgetting people like Jamshedji and JRD Tata,  Mahatma Gandhiji  and many others who seeded a stronger legacy that goes beyond the CSR laws. The Tatas sowed the seeds of Social work concepts through Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Thousands of years ago, most temples had choultries, free feeding and planting of trees was just a way of life without any seminars and workshops. In School we studied Raja Raja Chola and King Asoka on varied social impacting initiatives they took including 360 degree feedback of societal grievances through town walks where they disguised themselves. The Dharmic concept was seeded as a culture both by the Kings and their subjects to the extent, most individual houses were designed with space outside for passing travellers to rest.    In the following paragraphs, I would like to outline my journey in HR and about all the mentors, servant leaders and NGO’s who shaped the larger purpose of life.


Late Ms Mary Clubwala Jadhav internalised the thought of “ISR” Leadership:

Late Mary Clubwala Jadhav founded many educational institutions for the less privileged. The Madras School of Social Work founded by her impacted my life in many ways. Not only as a student of her Institute or the scholarship she gave to make me a social worker, but in how as a single individual, she impacted the whole country, which in the corporate parlance we call as stake holder benefit or the triple bottom-line. She lived by the ISR value, impacted polity, the downtrodden, the educated as well as industries and society at large in a sustainable way. The institutions she created are torch bearers of social citizenry even today.

It was at the same time that Dr.Govindappa Venkatasway of Aravind Eye Hospitals was working on the innovative model of “Eliminating Needless Blindness” through Social Enterprise (SE), again, even before the concept of SE was popularized. Maybe those that preceded these greats centuries ago had etched values of caring and sharing in their genes.

Agrarian Strife and the Lessons it taught:

Post my MSSW, my first assignment was with FAO under Professor T.K Nair—and it was on Agrarian relations in Pondicherry and toured remote parts of Karaikal and Pondicherry in 1974. Life turning moments they were, as it was a strife ridden period.44 Agricultural grass-root workers were burnt to death by landlords and revenge, caste divisions, feudalism and its impact triggered me to connect with bottom of the pyramid.

I used to cycle to interior villages and meet the harvesting team who had boycotted harvest and then try to meet the landlords to broker a settlement between them, thinking social work principles will work. But in reality, the landlords did not even allow me inside the house as I had met the so called untouchables! This deep divide, which continues even now, is contradictory to the share and care wisdom indoctrinated into me in MSSW. Has the divide vanished? Sadly not and new disconnection even at higher levels have happened. Such divides also exist in corporations, for example between the IT and Manufacturing professionals. Materialism and greed has created intrinsic pain.

The Corporate Soil that seeded compassion:

After that, I moved on to the corporate sector with Mettur Beardsell, a pride MSSWian – getting a Management trainee role along with IIM greats like Indira Nooyi (then Indira Krishnmurthy), P.Rajagopalan and many others. It is here that I was mentored into compassion by a great Social Worker from Baroda School– Late Mr. P.M Mathew, the first HR Director in India in 1975. Business partnering (the new cliché) with heart started here.  Seeding pucca Labour lines for Workers in Mettur was talk of the town (the project did not take off) but the thought seeding was so powerful and at young age of 24, I became daring of 11 unions.  I learnt the network of meeting politicians, political perspectives in dealing with union and found out that even in confrontation; authenticity triumphs provided one has the patience, perseverance and ethical base.

NTTF – the CSR Skill Varsity:

I shifted gear to skilling in NTTF in 1979, where I learnt real outreach through capability building. From then on Business partnering with compassion became my way of life. I wish to share a few initiatives where I was a learner, participant, instrument and a change agent, away from the corporate buzz, and got the title “Radical “, thanks to Mr. Reguraj, MD of NTTF.

I partnered in seeding bridge courses with help of Canara Bank and Dr B.N Balaji Singh to reach out to people who couldn’t pass entrance exams and offer them free coaching.  Designed schemes, for blue collars to become entrepreneurial or contextually employable by up-skilling them- all in the years 79-85 and the up skilled grew. NTTF was, is and will be the trend setter for SKILL INDIA, NSDC AND PRIME MNISTER.

NTTF laid foundation for Competitive employability in the skill space not only for India, but developed countries like Australia, Germany, US, Singapore and Malaysia. Today, the poor and needy students of yore are ruling the global skill space as leaders and entrepreneurs in these countries, and I am proud to say I was part of their journey and played a very small role, but learnt the importance of strong skill base for any organization.

Also Learnt the art of main-streaming the physically disadvantaged for ability and became an advisory member with the Association of the Physically Handicapped. We facilitated a unique reservation policy for students studying in Municipal Schools, which addressed economic considerations for getting good skill education even for those from remote areas. Caste took a back seat. It was Mr.Reguraj who pioneered diversity and inclusivity for business purpose and preferred neighbourhood status.

Even during periods of strife when we had to terminate 17 hard core union leaders with CITU leaning, we made sure that half of them were converted to entrepreneurs and they became suppliers of components into NTTF, the same company against whom they fought. This was real transformation championed by NTTF and supported by people like Mr. T.S Gopalan a leading advocate and the meaning of Win-Win internalized.

Our organization along with NTTF launched very unique “Earn and Learn programs” and got attuned to customized skill building in any industry.  I continue to support them and take support from them to drive the concept “Called Municipal School to Managers”.

Nearly for six decades many countries partnered with NTTF even before Slogan “Skill India” movement gained momentum. Probably NTTF should become a Central Skill University as Industries partner with them cutting across trades and nature of Industry. Their delivery robustness has groomed technicians to reach greater heights.


Titan A CSR Growth University

Titan is a well-known name today, but a story not known to many is that it is a joint venture of the Tamil Nadu government and the Tatas. In 1985, when mechanical watches were ruling the roost in India, Titan seeded the Quartz movement in the country. Titan was also instrumental in seeding CSR in many ways, and it has brought about many life-changing and which impacted large parts of the society it operated in. It is here that I learnt “LADDER-SHIP” role thanks to the foundation laid by various predecessors and mentors. Sharing experiments between 1985 and 1992 when Titan became Talk of the town then. I am extremely happy that some of my successors like N.E Sridhar have taken CSR (Now CEO of CSR) to a different plane altogether now.

Naxalite Proliferation: The growth of Naxalism was rampant because of unemployment. Not many know that Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu was once a hotbed of the Naxalite movement. The then Industries Minister of the State, R.Venkataraman, who later became the President of India, propagated the concept of developing Industrial Estates in backward areas, and that is how Hosur was chosen. What Titan did in Hosur is now well-documented history. Municipal schools in the District and later in the State became the source for talent –hunting. Adolescents at the ages of 16 and 17 (which many felt was a HR violation) were taken in and groomed, and today, at least 500 out of the 3000 that were developed are leaders in varied fields in and outside India, mostly in developed countries. No doubt there were a few negative consequences, but the greater benefits reaped were “Aspirational Growth”, “Contextual Employability “and “Higher Productivity”, all in an environment and time when there were no technical schools for horology, especially in the Quartz segment. Titan tapped the native intelligence of the locals. Here, it is important to state that the Late Mr. Xerxes Desai did not want to disturb very bright students by pulling them into the work stream; instead, he made us identify such talent, and provided them with scholarships for higher education.  Titan not only made watches but matches and many inter caste and religious marriages took place. Even when Union was formed, the strife dealing was based on ethical principles and no outsider could enter in the last three decades.

Enabling the Differently-Abled: When the then government, announced that housekeeping jobs cannot be outsourced, Titan took lead in hiring on permanent rolls the hearing challenged in the age group of 40, keeping job monotony and growth limitations in such rolls .. This decision proved to be life changing start.  Later on, the qualifying age was reduced, Supervisors were trained in sign language and other sensitive aspects concerning differently abled and manufacturing leadership team main streamed visually, orthopedically and hearing challenged in certain unique roles with better productivity in areas like

  • Watch packing by the visually challenged
  • Noisy press shop handled by hearing challenged
  • Stores – some roles for Dwarves
  • SEZ Facility in Dehradun had 80{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af} hearing challenged
  • Orthopedically challenged people were employed in production floors
  • My first secretary was a visually challenged person (since we did not have much to do with computers back then) and later, it was a 12th passed person who grew into a senior HR leadership role
  • It is not that there were no challenges and like normal employees they had their own aspiration and one even committed suicide creating a problem for the plant manager later.
  • Needless to say Titan got President of India Award year after year.

Foster parenting: Diversity is much talked about now but Titan was a pioneer in including women already then. 1000 young girls were employed in the state of the art shop floor. These rural girls were housed in dormitories with “foster parents” to take care of their needs. They were also trained to adapt to city life and were given courses in time management, personal hygiene, finances etc. Girls were encouraged to be involved with orphanages and old age homes to build empathy.

Adolescent transitions are not an easy affair even for parents but things went smoothly because of the excellent support systems in place. Even boys were housed in transit houses and taught community living

The bunk beds they slept were fabricated by differently abled employees of WORTH trust and a 24/7 care with micro and macro planning where touch mattered.

Community Outreach: In partnership with Action Aid, IRDT and Myrada, we created women and men entrepreneurs for varied auxiliary activities like strap making and uniform washing. This helped in creating economic empowerment to the locals who lived in and around the Titan facilities. One of the local ladies, who had only studied up to the 8thstandard, is today a Managing Director of the auxiliary activity with an annual turnover of 7 to 8 crores.

Titan also encouraged co-operative purchase of fireworks directly from Sivakasi, at a marginal profit to support Deepavali celebrations in local orphanages. Titan HR team Supported Government in eradication of Parathenium Weed and Worked with Police on Road Safety and positioned Safety umbrellas in peak accident prone areas.

A changed Community after two decades .Today many of those kids educates their children in the state of the art Titan School. Some of them have become IAS officers, or senior executives and most of them own houses

Hobby Club: One of the most unique inclusion processes was to tap the passion of employees by understanding their hobbies and forming cluster clubs around their hobbies. This included debating clubs, orchestra teams, sports teams, Tata products club, Wall Paper, Rotating editorial board, Plant panchyat or Employee forum, Housing Co-operative society (which later became a part of Titan). Many employees became state and national best in their hobbies and performed shows in the media and in on public stages.

Industry-Institute Partnership: When the late JRD Tata visited and interacted with the adolescents employed by Titan, he could not believe that they were the products of government schools of Tamil Nadu, and wrote that Titan was an outstanding model of empowerment through Industry–Institute partnership, a buzz word of today. He found that most of the workers had aptitudes better than engineers and was surprised by their articulation skills in English within a year of joining Titan.

Businesses created few challenges, unions played a tough and constructive role and the balance sheet of Titan is proof of its pudding. Critiques talk of too much pampered  youths but Unions have demonstrated far better maturity in terms of crisis.

The spirit of volunteering: How the humble background of people who joined the company from remote parts of TN, true to Tata’s philosophy decided to give back to society in their own way by volunteering for many social causes, supporting education, planting trees, organizing health / eye camps etc and all this seeded late 80’s is a front runner role model for  varied corporate houses – who call it “Above and beyond”.

World of Possibility: The success of Titan’s strategies at the time is best captured by the life story of Vijaylakshmi and Murali.  Both challenged with speech and hearing, gained livelihood in Titan, Welded happily in Wedding, and positively parented three kids and all in sign language.  Their life story merits a conference on communication and parenting! One of their daughters is now a Russia educated doctor practicing in Bangalore.  She dreams of Education the parents of hearing challenged to fight social stigma and groom children for greater careers. Again not a reel world, but real world and every differently abled employee can share such success stories.

This was not an era when there was jargon or buzz words like Employee Engagement. Several books and research papers have been written about the successes and failures of Titan Experiments. Titan is no doubt a University with a difference and the   Ex Employee Alumni get together takes place irregularly with a purpose. The resigned and retired meet with nostalgia and yet another unique phenomenon

Today NE Sridhar as CEO has taken this to a far greater length, encouraging Crafts, protecting national monuments, water conservation and many such initiatives.  Titan in Tata spirit gives space and triggers one’s conscience of human being which is beyond the reach of knowledge and tools.

A Movement Called Titan


Feudal Atrocities and Lesson in Dealing with Inclusivity:

I had a short stint in the Agribusiness of ITC. It was not easy operating in interior areas of Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh where feudalism was and is the order of the day. Village Factional leaders had a say in all business operations, employee relations, contract management, material movements inward and outward, renting a house, buying a property  and community decisions.

How this is related to CSR is a very difficult question to answer? Share options given to blue collar employees’ shares were pledged to the landlord without protection. To practice discipline management, deal with theft or CSR or social citizenry without their blessing was a challenge.   We had to be very creative, tactical and innovative in dealing with such feudalism and factional divide to create harmonious industrial relations as well as ensure benefits reached the employees. Union negotiations will happen with gun men around to protect the life of the leaders from each other and we need to be realistic this trend which is still a factor to reckon.

This stint also enabled me to understand the intrinsic macho culture of local landlords built over 400 years – I later did a study on this with the help of TISS. Even now Landlords control their communities using power, and sometimes violence.  To practice CSR or social citizenry without appeasing them is nightmarish.

This district of Andhra has natural wealth because of open cast mining and most cement Industries are located here. Even now business leaders have learnt the art of dealing with the land lords of different factions – and HR professional knowledge takes a back seat when it comes to managing them.  Few youths who have migrated abroad, have reduced the DNA trait of “Genetic Revenge” divide on the positive side. However the poor here remain eternally poor unless they migrate. Ram Gopal Varma’s Rakstha Charitra on Rayalaseema factions is the real and not reel reflection of the Rayalseema realities and may be true in many other parts of India.

The unlearning Journey of HR and ISR

It is in DuPont that I realized the power of preferred neighbourhood and internalized the concept of “Front Line produces the bottom line”. To ensure consent to operate amidst an apparent environmental threat, community inclusion and credibility became the greatest challenge.

  • Locals were sponsored for high-end technical education to NTTF with an option to join on volition;
  • The Learners Program seeded in DuPont resulted in “Municipal School students learning, earning and growing as Managers and Community Ambassadors”,
  • Ground water protection around a 25-Km radius;
  • Community watchdog committee and introduced to “Social impact assessment studied.

The greatest unlearning was belief in Gurukula and DuPont taught me the dictum – there is        “NO BLUE COLLARS OR WHITE COLLARS BUT ONLY CAREER COLLARS”. In a matter of two decades almost all the 12th STD Kids of Govt Schools have become graduates of their choice, grew as entrepreneurs or general managers and some chose careers outside- a dream they could not imagine when they started their blue collar employment

Customers Employees Owners – Birth of CEO:

This experience resulted in the birth of a completely different enterprise – the Centre for Excellence in Organization (CEO). Today CEO is seen as a NGO working in the grass root space, and it is only incidental that it is also a business consultancy organization.

From 1999, my ISR role had a new dimension. Between 1999 and 2005, a pro bono network supported by DRF (Dr. Reddy’s Foundation), earlier known as SKBS (Street Kids’ Business School), under the dynamic leadership of  Nalini Gangadharan resulted in many innovative programs  new livelihood programs  like Home Care Nursing, Automobile service Technicians, Hospitality  retail management  and DAD (Dial a Driver)

These were all targeted at school dropouts. Nalini brought in the concept of road shows, and informed these dropouts of the various career options, resulting in meaningful careers for more than 50,000 people below the poverty line. My role was that of network connect and support in mentoring.

Nalini became an icon among the youth in India in enabling empowerment. She was instrumental in partnering with the Police to eliminate child labor and to mainstream children into education. She later parted from DRF to start Community and Progress or CAP Foundation.  This networking stint gave me various insights into creating alternative livelihoods based on passion. Both DRF and CAP are today role models in enabling organizations in the Social Responsibility space. The power of   individuals making a difference is what Nalini demonstrated.

Self Directed Teams: My consulting organization predominantly works on the cultural construct space of “High Performance work systems”.  In the last 18 years, we have worked with several organizations like Dr. Reddy’s, Pepsi, GE, CEAT, Raychem RPG, KEC Electric, Strides Pharma, Saint Gobain, and outside India with Indo Rama, Jabil and Kobe. We found that enabling the grass root helps in business profitability, societal empowerment in multiple ways and   reinforces the belief of Egalitarianism and contextual knowledge development. Thus tapping native intelligence has resulted in more than 5000 municipal school kids have become high value adding Executives, technicians, managers and entrepreneurs in a matter of 10 to 15 years – and minimised contractual employment. Seeing believes and visits the two videos below to get better insights on the power of Empowerment

  1. Learn Earn Grow CEO –
  1. SMT at DRL CTOs sep 2014


CSIM and Social Entrepreneurship Connect with P.N Deverajan and Pani Uncle- Servant leaders of India.

From 1999 till today, I spend 30 percent of my time beyond my business, thanks to two great servant leaders – P.N Deverajan (Former MD of IDBL, Director in Reliance, has held varied senior positions across India, leading Chemical Engineering Consultant in the world) and Mr. Sarangapani – popularly called Pani uncle (Former IDBI Director). The Centre for Social Initiative and Management, popularly known as CSIM, was set up to create new avenues for passionate people in the Social Entrepreneurship (SE) space.   In the SE space, one may not get fair wages, but satisfied wages. CSIM started working on Capacity and Capability building for NGOs and passionate individuals wanting to make a difference in the social citizenry space. It found strong roots in Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Bombay and Coimbatore, and I was one of the founding members of the Bangalore Chapter. These two servant leaders did not want infrastructure – they only focused on models that were based on Felt Need – to incubate business skills and drive sustainability. Each of these chapters is unique under a common umbilical cord, driving programs tailored to their jurisdiction. They sensitize NGOs, Corporate and well-meaning individuals, who, with humility can volunteer to trigger a new journey for the less privileged.

The Bangalore Chapter has done wonders in building volunteer support, so much so that many high net worth salaried IT employees who attended 4-month part time programs left their jobs to start their own NGOs.

Connecting the Dots:   The Power of One and the network of HR can do far better in ISR than CSR. Thought budget needs less money and corporate dependency and only authenticity is critical. Recent visit to the tribal people in the Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu, taught a new lesson on connecting the dots. The farmers here grow good quality Organic Coffee and Pepper but the produce is procured by middleman at rock bottom price.  A mail  to the head of ITC Agri Business Mr Sivakumar,  the guru of  E Choupel, resulted in his sending a team, evaluating the farmers and the quality of produce , and they are now bulk procuring. Middleman disappeared and Farmers are getting higher price. “Dot Connection” was not distanced. While I might have left ITC 22 years ago

In Swayam Krushi, a home in Hyderabad for the mentally-challenged, the core skill taught was tailoring, but the products they made were bags and some artifacts which remained as unsold inventory. Through our networks, we connected them to the reputable school Gitanjali, and today, the children’s uniforms are stitched at this home.  This NGO failed and failed till an MBA student whom we had deployed to the  project brought in his management sense, or rather Common Sense Quotient, and spoke to the principal about the order being distributed over 12 months, restricting new admission uniform orders to May and June, and distributing the rest on a class-wise basis from January to December. Ms. Manjula Kalyan, the founder  added another innovation – she took uniform measurements at the school but asked the parents to collect the finished uniforms at the Home, thus sensitizing the children to the challenges of the mentally-challenged, and generating more orders in the process. This NGO is now taking care of three schools and in self sustaining mode- and simple solution made it happen.

Connecting net works to NGOs like Youth for jobs, Enable India, we have created more employability for the differently abled and ISR comes from Persuasive Power rather than Position Power. HR fraternity has more ISR power.

Don’t each of us have such networks that we can tap from time to time to do little things to help those less fortunate than us? We don’t need to think big, even little drops like collecting old newspapers in the complex one lives in will be enough to take care of the living costs of one orphan child in a complex where 50 families live.  Through such small drops, systems, net works, social media and crowd funding, NGO Connect, building bridges with Government we can impact an ocean of positive help connect. Zero to Hero stories like Dayakar Reddy of Pragati Nagar or Rengaswamy Ilango of Koothampakkam and meeting them makes me more inspired and have written several articles on such great souls for NHRD newsletters to spread positivity and thanks to Chairman Emeritus KSN Garu for that trigger

It is just that Business partnering does not mean, resources are to be treated as billable and the touch part to be ignored, in the name of flexibility.  HR fraternity should have the thrust of Trust in People for best in business and wake up before the hidden volcano explodes

It is not rhetoric – Customized and Aspirational skill nurturing can lead both to business partnering and individual growth. Both are not in conflict but collaborative. Through ISR – HR can “LET LEAD “and build a “LADDERSHIP “model for larger good.

(Thanks to NE Sridhar of Titan, Ms Yamini, Ms Puspavalli and Ms Chitra for the editing and input support)