Compiled by Yamini Sequeira 


Darshi Talpahewa underscores the vital role of human resource management

Q: What are the main challenges in steering an organisation’s human resource (HR) strategy?
A: Its HR strategy should be align­ed with the organisation’s business goals. However, business leaders must fully appreciate the strategic role that HR can play in an organisation. The CEO needs to utilise HR to obtain the maximum benefit for the organisation and senior management must provide the necessary support.

Q: So how does one use the HR tool strategically?
A: At the recruitment stage, one must ensure that proper screening using psychometric, IQ and skill tests, and so on are conducted. Yes, it may prove more costly but in the long run, you would have chosen the right candidate for the job and eliminated multiple hiring costs for one position.

Training and development is yet another important aspect: you may think that having invested in training, the investment would be in vain if the person were to leave. The flip side is if you don’t develop the person and he or she remains in the company as an unproductive resource!

It is also the responsibility of HR to keep staff motivated, ensure they receive competitive remuneration and establish engagement strategies to retain staff – for example, fair and transparent succession planning.

If you don’t do any of the above, the danger is that the good people will gravitate to companies that invest in their people. What would be the plight of a company that’s left with all the bad people simply because it didn’t use the HR tool strategically?

Q: Do only large companies place an emphasis on HR?
A: I don’t think so. HR has been understood in a more scientific manner by most business leaders as there’s much emphasis and awareness about the valuable role that strategic HR can play. If organisations do not recognise this, they’re sure to lose the race.

Q: How do you view the calibre of HR personnel in Sri Lanka?
A: Today, it is sad to see education becoming a moneymaking exercise in the main without maintaining the quality of qualifications.

Therefore, it is important to adopt a sound screening mechanism at the point of recruitment – independent of what the academic credentials reflect – to ensure that candidates possess the intelligence, capabilities and skills to perform.

Nevertheless, we do have well-qualified and outstanding HR professional leaders who have excelled in their field, and added immense value to the discipline.

Q: Are there adequate policies and recourse to action against sexual harassment or discrimination?
A: Organisations that don’t have such policies should take this seriously – they should institute policies and frameworks to combat sexual harassment and discrimination.

The culture and ethos should be such that employees are automatically protected against such malpractices. There should be a grievance process – preferably with an independent ombudsman – to ensure a fair and comfortable process to address complainants. The arbitrator must play a fair and balanced role. It is ultimately the responsibility of management if sexual harassment in the workplace is ignored.

Q: How would you define a truly evolved HR role?
A: This would comprise the head of HR being part of the main management team or board of the company, reporting directly to the CEO. In such an instance, the head of HR is positioned to be involved in the decision-making process and facilitate the alignment of the company’s HR strategy with its business goals.

Q: What are the latest global trends in HR?
A: First, it is important to understand that all global trends may not be healthy for local workplaces.

But I’d like to touch on the aspect of digitisation. An HRIS (human resource information system) will greatly support organisations in making the right business decisions – ‘people analytics’ is of high value to predict trends and situations. Other trends include flexible working hours and flat organisational structures – i.e. not concerned with a ‘please the boss’ attitude but more along the lines of ‘pleasing the employee’ or what has been termed EI – ‘employee intimacy.’

In terms of performance management, the trend is towards real-time feedback compared to annual or biannual appraisals. Again, in the context of HRIS solutions, mobile apps are increasingly having a greater role to play.

There are other trends too including more fluidity in job descriptions and greater emphasis on work-life balance.

Q: So what is your message to organisations about valuing HR?
A: My message to CEOs is that if you haven’t fully understood the role that HR can play in your organisation in the context of helping your business to improve productivity and increase profits, take a minute to speak to an expert or learn more about human resource management.

The positive impact of utilising HR strategies on your company’s bottom line will be much more than what you would gain through cost cutting measures such as reducing paper usage, saving energy, cutting training costs or introducing welfare budgets!

Ultimately, the CEO is the head of HR with every manager in the organisation following suit – as responsible human resource managers.

The interviewee is the Head – Group Human Resources (Corporate Communications/ Sustainability Group Security) and Head – Group Legal of Hayleys