Effective HRM: Lessons from Seeling Smith

There are dramatically new techniques in Human Resources Management. Most of these ideas have come through advanced research. The practices are so powerful and when the practices are put into action, the results are there for all to see. Seeling Smith has some good ideas to offer in this regard. Certain salient features of her ideas are discussed in some detail in this article.


Seeling Smith is one of the world's best trainer and coach on career management and employee retention. Her practical experience in the recruitment of global manpower makes her a good authority to offer fresh perspectives. In a superb article on "The post-Industrial Revolution" published in an article published in the Smart Manager, July-August 2011, pages 86 -89.

We will take the main points as given in the text, and then anchor the ideas in the practical context in Corporate India to explain the ideas. Seeling Smith talks about the five Cs of a post-Industrial Revolution, workplace. The five Cs are a) Hire Correctly b) Classify and manage appropriately c) Compensate fairly d) Use currencies of Choice to structure a commercially autonomous work environment and e) Communicate with focus.

Hire Correctly

"The key to hiring the right people is to base your decisions 80% on cultural fit and 20% on skills fit.". This is indeed an important thing. In the TVS group, for example, there is a pronounced tendency to recruit only the persons for their attitudes and not technical skills. This is very much in the public domain. In the entire group, the 'just do it" philosophy is widely seen. The group does not want people who talk jargons. They want people who can do things and get their hands dirty. This is exactly why the engineers can never boss around, but get totally involved in all aspects of operations. Even a small lapse in responsibility is taken seriously. Another major group called the Rane Group also has a similar culture. This is also a Chennai-based company.

Classify and manage appropriately

"The first step to managing your 'Critical people", is to determine who they are: Critical People can be obvious -- the real superstars who consistently under-promise and over-deliver. They can also be not-so-obvious -- those 'sleepers', that you just can't do
without: quite achievers, or the ones who hold a great deal of corporate knowledge."

Traditional Indian organizations that have superb technological prowess such as Madras Cements and JK Tyres have such people. This author has met them in many conferences. They are down to earth people, whose core knowledge of the industry, within their global context, was superb. They could rattle figures of how their competitors would grow or not grow, based on their corporate intelligence inputs. Such conferences were great opportunities to know such "Critical People". That is, people who were so confident of themselves and had consistently delivered results for their companies. In particular, the emphasis on radial tyres at JK Tyres was a significant innovation. This was reportedly driven by a group of technocrats.

Similarly, the well-documented experience of the high performers of the team that working day in and day out and came out with the stunning product called Scorpio, at an investment of Rs.600 crores, is a remarkable case in point.

Compensate fairly

When the late Dhirubhai Ambani was alive, his legendary practices at recruiting the Senior-most talent at the Vice-president level, was often quoted as examples of what it meant to give good compensation for results. It was reported that over dinner, the great Dhirubhai would simply offer an empty cheque, and ask the executive, who already had a good record, to specify what compensation he or she wanted. When the CTC was mentioned, Dhirubhai would turn around and ask " why so little?', simply flooring the individual. He would then rewrite the compensation himself on another cheque and close the deal.

Everything else would be taken care of. The employee had to just join. An entire team would take care of the family worries. The Ambani way of selecting senior people was shared in so many HR conferences. Of course, the IIMA products and the ISB products today work for fairly competitive wages at the start-ups and do not join the big companies. Quizz them and they would immediately reply that their freedom to do things differently is so obvious and clear in most start-ups operating from Bangalore.

Use currencies of Choice to structure a commercially autonomous work environment

"Once someone feels they are being paid adequately, companies can then use the currencies of choice most valued by the workforce. Daniel Pink, researcher and author of Drive, says these include the following:

* Autonomy -- the ability to direct your own work
* Mastery -- the ability to master what you are good at, and
*Purpose -- the opportunity to do meaningful work"

"These currencies of choice can be used to move the organization from a "command and control" environment where every task is laid down in detail and the prescribed methodology for completing these tasks must be followed to a "commercially autonomous" work environment. " ( page 88).

There are several organizations where all the aforesaid currencies of choice are positively present if one goes by the real-world experiences of HR executives in many a big Conference. For instance, in the Tata group of hotels, the above currencies of choice of autonomy, mastery, and purpose are reportedly at work. The executives are given the freedom to get work done. Similarly, in L&T, the currencies of choice are always there for the asking.

At Aditya Birla Capital, there is total freedom to execute and as long as the results come, no questions are ever asked. ICICI Bank is another example of a large financial supermarket. The executives develop competencies over a period of time and are highly competent. At Asian Paints, the concept of "intrapreneurship" is very much in place. Total freedom to execute is also present, as already mentioned in the previous point discussion, at the various start-ups mentioned above. Even smaller companies like the Chennai based Cavinkare, are positively having such work environments.

Effective HRM, in practice, in a big holistic package. It has several elements and if some of the elements are missing, the entire charm is lost. It is not that the aforesaid organizations have milk and honey flowing in all directions. Yet, in the particular domains of their business contexts, each of the organizations is either a market leader or one of the formidable players. L&T, for example, is a large conglomerate and its project management skills are simply world-class. Its multi-tasking workforce adds spice to its superb HRM practices.

Communicate with focus

The learned expert advocates more interaction between the Manager and subordinate. She is of the opinion that the communication should happen at least once a month and not yearly, as is the current practice in most companies.

Similarly, she emphasizes that a lot more communication ought to happen on job objectives, career development, underlying motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose and strengths which she calls "those innate abilities that make them unique and make them good at what they do".

Some examples will be very fine here too. The doctors who work at the legendary Arvind Eye Hospital at Madurai and several other branches are motivated by the larger purpose of serving the society. Yes, they are paid well, but the kind of altruistic Vision that the hospital has, even today, has drawn in the best of doctors, worldwide. Similar is the story with Sankara Nethralaya, a major eye hospital, headquartered at Chennai. The ability of the master cooks to turn out the best of food contributes to the quality of food and service at the famous MTR group of restaurants, at Bangalore, even today. None of these is possible without the kind of communication advocated by the expert.


The great deal of knowledge available for effective HRM is increasing day after day. Some dimensions of the same have been discussed above.


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