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Employees are our capital

and our job is to grow that


As a part of its vision for
transformation, Tata Motors
has articulated a human capital
strategy that sets a five-year
road map for the companys
HR agenda. Speaking
with Sangeeta Menon, the
companys chief human
resources officer, Prabir Jha,
looks back at the companys
HR journey thus far and spells
out the challenges of the future.
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April 2013

How does the HR agenda unfold


at Tata Motors and what are its
priorities?
Tata Motors has aspirations for a future that will
be more global and more competitive, where
customer expectations will be quite different
from what we have seen all these years. It is a
future where our employee demographics will
be much altered from what it is now. Our HR
agenda is a product of all this.
In late 2010 we articulated a five-year
human capital strategy for our company. It is
not an HR function strategy but a human capital
strategy, and it has been co-created and coowned by the leadership.
There are near- and long-term agendas.
The past 12 months have not been a particularly

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easy period for the company. So, how we manage


costs, productivity and talent is going to be the
near-term HR challenge. The long-term agenda
will be different, given the context of the new
culture that we have envisioned.
We have reframed the vision and mission
for Tata Motors and defined the kind of culture
we need to create given the new challenges.
Building that culture is easier said than done
because it means that all HR sub-systems must
be reoriented to be in line with the new culture.
Culture reinvention along the Aces path
(accountability, customer, excellence and speed)
is going to be an HR priority and it will have a
huge change management component.
Another focus area is managing talent
and leadership. A companys success eventually
depends on talent across all levels, with the
right skills, the right engagement and the right
kind of diversity.

About Tata Motors


Tata Motors is the worlds fourth-largest bus
and truck manufacturer and Indias largest
automobile company. It has manufacturing sites
in Europe, Africa and Asia.
The companys portfolio extends from heavy
commercial vehicles to sub-tonne carriers,
buses, SUVs and passenger cars.
Consolidated revenues of `1,656.55 billion in the
financial year 2011-12.
Number of employees: 55,000 plus.

How is the human capital approach


different from the traditional human
resources approach?
Employees are our capital and our job is to grow
that capital. The term human capital signifies
that it is not just the HR functions job to manage
this resource, but it is the leaderships job as
well. For very long people in many companies
have erroneously believed that human asset
management is part of the HR functions agenda.
But the truth is that while human capital strategy
is enabled and facilitated by the HR function, it
is actually owned by leadership and management
across levels.
HR is no doubt the functional expert, but
the deployment ultimately lies in the hands of
line managers. The so-called gap between line
managers and HR must end. One cannot be a
great line manager unless one is a great people
manager. Thats why the shift from an HR
function strategy to a human capital strategy.

people to see a clear link between what they are


doing and what the company aims to achieve.
Within that mission is an inclusive vision that
gives everyone meaning in their work, beyond
obvious reasons such as increments or job
security. A lot of our HR processes and systems
are being revisited towards this end. Building
positive recognition for our Aces culture rests on
our belief in positive psychology.
Our Pact (performance and coaching
tool) initiative is anchored in the philosophy
that managers must move away from thinking of
themselves as bosses to thinking of themselves
as coaches. We have workshops and simulations
to make sure that line managers start embracing
this approach.
The new individualised compensation policy
puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of line
managers. A significant part of our performance
measurement, talent management and assessment
criteria today are about using hardwired HR
processes to support what is really a soft cultural
transition. Finally, we have built high-level
branding around various HR interventions to
ensure excitement, passion and ownership.

How are you managing this change in


approach and attitude?
Tata Motors is going through a comprehensive
organisational transformation. It started with the
new vision and mission document, which allows

Halfway into the transformation


journey, how satisfied are you with
the way it has progressed?
I am very happy with the journey. Our new
HR policies are benchmarked with the best in
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the world. We have brought in unprecedented


outside in thinking to HR in Tata Motors. We
have revamped our compensation philosophy
so people can see their rewards linked to
company performance. Historically, a variety of
practices were deployed at various Tata Motors
locations; we are now creating a single Tata
Motors way. We have harmonised and upscaled
HR in the company.
Through all this, we are trying to create a
more contemporary organisation that appeals to
employees from any country, culture or
industry; a world-class destination for best-inclass talent. When we look back to when we
started the change programme, we see what a
long way we have come. I would give us 8 out of
10 on the scorecard.
What role does learning and
development (L&D) play in talent
management at Tata Motors?
We have some path-breaking branded initiatives
in the L&D space. For example, ITeach is an
innovative practice of getting line managers
to take ownership when it comes to sharing
their knowledge and experience. This ensures
tacit knowledge transfer, breaks silos, develops
leadership, reduces cost of third-party training
and earns reward points for people sharing their
knowledge with colleagues.
The concept of learning advisory councils
[LACs] has been acknowledged as a worldclass practice. Through LACs the business or
the functions identify their learning priorities,
which they own, review and reinforce. Today
the business leads the learning, unlike in the
past, when HR would drive the process. We have
switched to e-enabled learning to appeal to young,
tech-savvy employees of tomorrow; almost 90
percent of our learning programmes are online.
The HR strategy has to respond to the
changing needs of not just employees but the
entire ecosystem. For instance, we have created
a small team from our in-house group of HR
professionals to work on the HR agenda of
our dealerships, to look at the entire HR life
cycle of the people who actually touch the
end customer. We adopted the build, operate,

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transfer framework and have just handed over


the responsibility to line operations, satisfied that
we have put the HR systems in place.
On the manufacturing side we have a
programme called Autonova, where we have
worked on six of the most mission-critical
issues of the manufacturing operations of our
commercial vehicles business, to build a worldclass standard of competence across levels
in these identified areas. These are just a few
examples of how the HR functions partnership
with business is increasingly becoming strategic.
What do you see as the major HR
challenges for the automotive
industry today?
There are some obvious challenges such as the
availability of skills, be it a blue-collar operator
or an employee with niche skills. Therefore, the
war for the right talent will intensify. Also, we
will have to compete as an industry to attract
talent. The auto industry is not necessarily the
first choice of many potential employees; how
we position ourselves as a sector of choice is a
challenge. The old image of the auto sector as a
manufacturing business has to change; it must
promote itself as a consumer sector at par with
new-age industries.
How is Tata Motors preparing itself to
become an employer of choice?
We have been working on this for some time
now and the efforts are beginning to pay off:
we were recently named in one survey as the
best company to work for in the auto and
manufacturing segment. The challenge is how to
keep this alive.
Over the last few years we have been
visible on the campuses with Mindrover, a
successful case-study contest for students across
Indian B-schools. We took this idea forward by
introducing a similar engagement with students
from top engineering campuses this year,
where we invited them to provide solutions to
technical problems.
We also engage with many of these campuses
through clearly differentiated internship
programmes, where we pair students with

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mentors or guides. The feedback from our


summer interns has been positive and 80 percent
of all our hiring is now through pre-placement
offers to such summer interns. This summer,
for the first time in Tata Motors, we will start
internships for IIT engineers.
Diversity is another important agenda for
us. We want to see more women employees
at Tata Motors. In fact, our internal employee
referral programme, Friend ++, earns an
employee a bonus over their referral award if
they refer a woman. We have arguably the most
women-friendly policies in the sector, be it on
maternity, adoption or a sabbatical. All of these
initiatives add to the story of Tata Motors being a
great employer.
Is attrition a concern for Tata
Motors? How do you retain talent?
Quantitatively, we have single-digit attrition,
which is good. Most of the attrition happens in
the first five years, when employees are keen to
switch jobs and try out new things. Once they
have completed five years, they settle in more
comfortably and thats where we need to engage
and retain them with different learning options,
a career architecture that allows them to move
across jobs, and leadership mentoring.
Younger employees are uncomfortable
with hierarchies, so we need to create a flatter
organisation. Even our new offices are designed
to reflect this.
What is the Tata Motors experience
with leadership development?
Leadership development continues to be a
challenge because our aspirations are high. The
next crop of leaders at Tata Motors will have
to be qualitatively superior. So we concentrate
on offering different assignments, behavioural
training, taking people out of their comfort
zone and so on. The leadership development
project is going to be about identifying potential
leaders at every level, screening, some amount of
education support, and a great deal of coaching
and mentoring. We are actively evaluating
360-degree feedback as a mandatory input,
starting with senior leadership.

For very long people in many companies


have erroneously believed that human asset
management is part of the HR functions
agenda. But the truth is that ... it is actually
owned by leadership and management...
As the Tata group becomes more
global, what sort of HR imperatives
are you having to cope with? How
difficult is it to deal with diversity
and cultural differences?
HR can influence business decisions on whether
the company should enter a new geography, by
advising if the right kind of talent is available in
that market or within the company. This is in
addition to enabling all compliances to a variety
of local labour legislations. HR can also help by
training employees to work effectively in a new
cultural and business environment.
Most overseas moves fail not because
of hard issues, but often the softer and often
taken-for-granted ones. Indeed, no good merger
or acquisition exercise today happens without
active HR ownership from the word go.
As part of a large group, there
must be plenty of opportunities to
compare HR practices with other
Tata companies. Which are the Tata
companies that impress most with
their HR approach?
The chief HR officers (CHROs) of leading Tata
companies meet every quarter to discuss HR
practices and issues. We can also pick up the
phone and talk to any Tata company CHRO
when we feel the need.
We all learn from one another. For
example, we can learn from Tata Consultancy
Services about how it utilises technology in
HR to manage scale, or discover why Titan has
virtually no attrition, or learn from Tata Steels
great industrial relations legacy. Not every
company will have every experience; smart
learning and sharing, I believe, is the way to go
about it.
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