Innovative Practices in Industrial Relations Part 2

[This write up was prepared for my speech on Nov 4, 2014 at the HR Meet of Hindalco. It is in four parts. The third Part will be published on Nov 6, 2014. The fourth part carries summing up.]

Part 2: Why are we comfortable dealing with an individual and uncomfortable with a group?

Another interesting aspect I noticed is that we are comfortable talking to an individual, a single person. But when we are talking to a group of people, we are more restrained, we are on our guard. There is something in groups that ignites fear in our mind. My understanding is that we have low fear of evaluation in a one-on-one meeting; and we have more pronounced fear of evaluation when facing a group.

There is another factor which might be at work – we know and we have experienced that people behave differently as individuals and when they are in a group. Groups seem to wield power and use power often to influence the other side.

Add to that the complexity brought in by people’s exit and entry in a group. Each entry and exit changes the character of the group, however small impact it may be. Members of the other group are very alive and sensitive to those changes. So when the CEO changes or a new HR Manager arrives, the union raises its guard. And when the employees choose a new leader, external or internal, the managers do the same.

Let us look at relationship from an employee’s angle. They know that they are dealing with a hierarchy. And a hierarchy has a unity of command and certain discipline. In a sense it is like a military organisation. And an employee’s organisation or a union is diametrically opposite. It is a loosely knit organisation which is held together by the sheer strength of emotions.

So what is the problem? The problem is one of continuity of approach. And hidden in it is the issue of accountability for continuing policies of approach towards building relations. Is there a solution? Policies as we know guide managers on acting in various situations.

In my opinion the solution lies in declaring the IR policy. Before I discuss policies of various organisations, I would like to ask how many Indian companies have a declared policy on Industrial Relations. Very few. Why? Many good Indian organisations have continuity at the top level, so it perhaps ensures continuity of policies. But times have changed and change at the top is becoming the rule.

What issues should an IR Policy cover? In my opinion three aspects are important. Firstly, who is accountable for IR, secondly, what is the organisation’s stance on union, and thirdly what is sought to be promoted through the policy statement and how.

Apply these criteria and examine ER policies. Some of the best policy statements are made by SKF, Nestle, Volkswagen, Toyota, Southwest Airlines and BP. Does Aditya Birla Group have a declared IR policy? They have declared a global compact which covers most of the issues of policy. What about ITC? Yes they have a detailed policy. Worth a good look. Take a look at M&M. You do not find an ER policy of Tatas on their website. Marico? Godrej? Asian Paints?

BP in Singapore had travelled the farthest distance. They have signed a joint statement of Industrial Relations vision and policy. This is a very detailed one and could serve as a guideline for many others.

And I also feel that the time has come for Indian industries to make a statement of policy as many are becoming MNCs. They will have to stand a different test on international arena. They will be well advised to follow ILO guidance.

Why are they not declaring policies? In my opinion there are three prime reasons: Firstly the unions are weak in most industries, and secondly, the declaration will require organisations to take stance on very sensitive issue of contract labour the use of whom is indiscriminate, and   thirdly, declaration means holding yourself accountable – who wants to do that suo moto? The question of managerial competence and confidence comes out here in the open!

The point I wish to make is that if we wish to strike consistently good industrial relations then declaration of IR policy is imperative.

I am not talking about how and why we should make policies. It is all about how we can march towards industrial democracy systematically and innovatively.

Relationship is a mirror, it mirrors our persona. It tells people what we stand for and what we do not stand for. It tells people whether we are timid or strong. It tells people whether we are men of conviction and beliefs. And it tells people whether we are sincere in building relationship – with groups and with individuals.

Vivek S Patwardhan
"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."