In the recent few months, it has been highlighted during various webinars that the role of HR has now become all the more important in apparel manufacturing units. In fact, the HR department should now work as a ‘Human Resilience’ department. At the same time, the majority of Indian factories are under pressure owing to the difficult circumstances and are not in a position to make major changes, be it at the policy level or execution. How can the HR departments play a more meaningful role and become instrumental in the growth of their organisations in these uncertain and challenging times?
It is interesting to see that in some companies, the HR department has now begun working more purposefully as compared to the pre-COVID-19 phase.
Improving core job responsibilities
Everyone Apparel Resources spoke to in this regard highlighted a common point that the HR personnel must perform their core jobs with full integrity. Team motivation, especially, has become a more challenging job now and it needs consistent efforts and long-term strategic planning.
Secondly, in the majority of Indian apparel manufacturing units, the HR departments are also responsible for compliance, CSR and sustainability activities. In this new phase, the first priority for HR professionals is to ensure maximum savings, and they are doing it on various levels with utmost dedication. After all, any saving by them is a kind of earning for the organisation.
As majority of stakeholders are more concerned about following rules and regulations during the current unlocking phase, it should now be a priority for the HR departments to clear all the compliance-related issues in one go, so it can save cost as well as speed up the process.
Manpower planning is another important area for saving a company’s resources, and HR is now going deeper into this. HR teams now have better coordination with production teams, so that they have proper manpower to ensure that it should neither have extra cost nor should impact work. Such savings are also a good contribution by HR departments towards the growth of companies.
For better coordination, good professional relationships between various employees and the overall comfortable work culture, it is essential to have a seamless information flow and no confusion at any level regarding any common information. The role of HR professionals becomes all the more crucial during this pandemic phase, as now they should not only work as a credible source of information about own company/factory, but also about the industry as well as general information and developments regarding coronavirus.
“HR has to play a very meaningful role in inter-department communication. By bringing all the departments together with one goal, HR has to make sure that the learning of factory’s one department should become the assets of other departments also. There is no doubt that HR, in many factories, is currently not very mindful. They have to play a strategic role beyond just labour law and ESI, etc.,” said Dr. Suruchi Mittar, Founding Director, Sanai Changemakers, a Delhi-based HR consulting company.
She also added that once the company owners start treating HR personnel as business partners, the latter will have more power and motivation to contribute towards the growth of companies.
Paramount Products, Delhi, is one of the well-known export houses, and its Executive Director Sumit Mahajan also insists that now the HR department needs to be more efficient while performing its core responsibilities and must build a strong work culture in the company. “HR should change itself and implement required changes across the organisation, be it digitisation, multiskilling or change in attitude, etc.,” he added.
Direct support in business generation and execution
Apart from doing their core jobs, HR professionals are also helping their export houses to grab orders, and the experienced ones boasting of a good network are especially instrumental in this regard.
“Network of an HR person is one of the biggest strengths. I have seen some HR officers those have connected their export houses with their known buying agents and buying houses. And this converted into good business opportunities. Secondly, if an HR professional is fully dedicated to his job and has strong relations with his team and circles, at least a middle-level factory can never face labour shortage,” said KC Biswas from Noida who has been a part of the apparel industry for the last 20 years and has worked with many prestigious companies. Currently, he is offering his services as a consultant.
He further added that from time to time, HR must convince the management about certain policies and initiatives that may be costly, but are crucial for an organisation’s growth.
Agents of change
In the Indian apparel export industry, most of the factories as well as big buying agencies have the work culture based on micromanagement, and a large chunk of the industry strongly feels that HR should seriously work towards it, as micromanagement is not in favour of the industry. “It delays decision making as well as has a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity, including that of the CEOs of various multi-national companies in the textile and apparel sector,” a professional from a leading buying house shared on the request of anonymity.
It is also pertinent to mention here that the majority of HR professionals are happy to share that they were able to change the mindsets of their owners to some extent, and from time to time, managed to convince them to take various initiatives that have yielded good results.
“Just a month back when our factory started production gradually, we faced labour shortage. I insisted to arrange bus facility for workers, but the owner was against this, as it would cost a lot. But after a lot of discussions, I was able to convince our owner and now with bus facilities, we have enough workers. And workers are also happy. So, with such initiatives, HR can work as an agent of change,” said a senior HR manager of an export house on the condition of anonymity.
HR professionals can come forward and change the thinking of the management by proposing various ideas including the use of certain software and technologies across factories and offices, taking services from experts for different issues, and organising training programmes, etc.
“The need of the hour is that HR must take ownership of the organisation, so it should have a real understanding of the organisation. It also includes skill mapping of top-level management, emotional support to the workers or professionals, especially those who are struggling to survive. Now as the industry is passing through major challenges, HR professionals have to understand new requirements regarding skills,” said Dr. Rajesh Bheda, CEO and MD, Rajesh Bheda Consulting.
Taking a proactive stand, HR has to be a role model for all other departments, and apart from the above-mentioned points, there are many more ways for the HR department to be a good support in the growth of companies. HR now has to understand, think, and act accordingly.
HR professionals currently have to deal with a lot of anxiety, emotions, and sentiments of employees and even their family members. Hence, they have to deal with these situations with a lot of courage, inner strength and will power. They have to be really compassionate, but at the same time, cannot break down themselves. They need to become an unbiased, transparent bridge between the employee and employer, as managing situations at both ends can get really tricky in a global pandemic like the current one.
Working exclusively for apparel and textile industry, Neeraj Khanna, CEO, N K Consultants, Bangalore, concludes the topic well, “HR department in garment manufacturing companies was always quite important in the setup, but during COVID-19, it has become one of the most crucial functions. HR personnel, whether in factories or in corporate offices, has a huge role to play with both white and blue collared employees. Since in many organisations, salaries have and are being reduced at all levels, along with job cuts, reduction of manpower, etc., HR teams have to play the role of a calmer, friend, guide, motivator, and must stand by the affected employee at all times.”