A detailed account by Ms. Khushboo Awasthi, Co-Founder – Mantra4Change on Planning and Prioritization amidst a pandemic.
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
– Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter Series).
In any management study, there is a course called Human Resource Management. I too had one, during my time at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) – a premier institute that also boasts of an impeccable reputation for study on development studies and social work.
I have always felt and expressed my discomfort about this phrase – “Human Resource Management”. I feel it de-humanises, justifies, and compels one to see the team members as a sheer means to an end; as a proverbial ‘cog in the wheel’ who is expected to deliver planned & promised outputs against 40 hours every week so that the organisation meets its goals. As one sharpens the axe so that it cuts better, one invests in skill-building of its HR so that goals are achieved sooner than later. As one discards a chair that gets broken, one lets go of its non-performing ‘human’ resources. Fair?
Why am I talking about this today?
In an unprecedented crisis today due to COVID-19, this ‘HR’ perspective rubs salt into the wound and hence, is an important topic to discuss for anyone in a leadership & management role.
Statistics of COVID-19 cases are making new records everyday. Obviously these are people who are getting affected. These could be our team members and / or their loved ones in their family and friend circle. Rarely is there someone in the country who doesn’t know a symptomatic COVID patient. The morale is low. There is sadness and confusion because of the situation around, so there’s poor focus at work. Health is at risk, and there is uncertainty around who and for how many days will someone be missing from action.
This situation is a nightmare for any leader. There are strategies, there are plans, there are goals, there could be external commitments. Have you found yourself in a similar situation recently? So how does one handle it? There may not be an easy right answer.
To me, going back to the fundamental human values, under these circumstances, has helped make decisions.
Seeing the team member in the context of their family at home and being empathetic helps in situations such as these. If I fall sick, I would wish for my spouse to be available for me. When my parents get unwell, I would like to be around them. So as this second wave started rising, in our organization, we decided two things:
1. Put leave policy aside:
If a team member or their family members tested positive, we gave the person an unconditional choice, rather encouraged to take days off, as much as needed – for days and sometimes for weeks.
This provision demonstrates a core value – “Trust” – and trust nurtures camaraderie. People voluntarily fill in for others in their team.
Camaraderie builds a sense of responsibility, which further fuels trust.
Our team members call each other just to check if the other person is feeling alright. Team members in the same city are ensuring that medicines and food are reaching the ill person on time. Isn’t this sense of community, the foundation of our society?
2. Revisit the short-term goals with agility to suit the current reality:
Organisations aren’t ephemeral. Our vision is always long term. If the end goal is clear, short term goals can always be readjusted and new pathways will emerge. We came together as a team, built a consensus and chose to make this year’s curve less steep because there is faith that we will find alternate effective pathways to still meet our long term goals.
People make organisations. So, I believe that caring for them should be the number one priority for any person in a leadership role.