Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thought leadership in HR in India

I have been doing some sort of an informal survey. It involved getting in touch with some people (most of them with more than 10 years of experience in HR) and asking them the following question: "In your opinion, who are the thought leaders in HR in India?".

Most of them came up with a list of 3 or 4 names. One interesting thing that came out of this was that there were not too many overlaps between these lists. Apparently, the people surveyed had very different opinions on who are the thought leaders in HR in India. This prompted me to prob a bit deeper by asking them "why did you name these particular individuals?", and that in turn led to discussions on "what is your definition of thought leadership in HR".

From these discussions it emerged that there is a wide variation in the definition of 'thought leadership in HR' among the people surveyed. Many of the names in the lists have contributed in more than one role in HR. Broadly speaking, their primary roles included those of consultants, management professors, OD professionals, senior managers etc. The underlying definitions of thought leadership that influenced the choice of HR thought leaders (depending on the primary roles of the individuals named as thought leaders - to some extent) included one or more of the the following aspects

  • Creating and/or popularising new HR practices/interventions
  • Understanding/predicting trends (sensing trends before they become common knowledge)
  • Possessing insight and vision beyond knowledge/subject matter expertise
  • Conducting research and publishing books/articles on a regular basis
  • Converting insights to a solutions and getting them accepted/ implemented
  • Receiving extensive media coverage (i.e. their comments are widely sought by the media on key HR related issues)
  • Possessing great process facilitation and change management skills
  • Having an extensive knowledge about the HR related research, HR practices and their applicability in particular organization/industry contexts
  • Coming up with new/innovative solutions to key issues/complex problems
  • Enjoying a great amount of influence in the HR community
  • Encouraging others to think about/implement new ideas/solutions
Another interesting aspect here is the primary purpose for which one tries to develop 'thought leadership'. One purpose could be to make a significant contribution to enhancing organization effectiveness and employee engagement by designing and popularising/implementing new and innovative solutions to the key people related issues in organizations. Another could be to bring in new dimensions to the field of HR, enhancing/shaping the field. Depending on the current primary role of the 'thought leader' there could be other possibilities. For example, in the case of a consultant, 'thought leadership' is very useful for obtaining new assignments and for supporting higher charge out rates/fees. For a senior HR manager within an organization, a reputation for thought leadership could provide greater opportunities to try out new things and to take up initiatives that involve large amount of change/resource investment. Of course, for some people thought leadership could just be a spontaneous act of generosity - giving one's ideas, time/effort and wisdom to help fellow professionals.

Now let us come back to the definition of thought leadership in HR. As we have seen, there are a wide range of definitions of thought leadership. It seems that there is room for many types of 'thought leadership' and for may types of thought leaders in HR' ! This also gives many of us a chance to become some type/sort of 'thought leaders' (or at least to 'call ourselves thought leaders' !) in some HR related domain, in some industry, at some point in our careers. This in turn raises interesting philosophical questions like 'Can leadership (including thought leadership) exist without followers?'.

Any comments/thoughts?


quizlab said...

This is rivetting! A penny for who these guys would be...
i would say there are very few in India who would even be accepted as thought leaders.

Prasad Kurian said...

Thanks for the comments. I have avoided mentioning the names of the 'thought leaders' for mainly three reasons.
1. There was not much agreement regarding the names among the group surveyed.
2. It would have been misleading, as the list of names was limited by the experience of the people I spoke with. Most people came up with names of 'thought leaders' they know/ they have interacted with in some way. While the sample was probably good enough to make a rough estimate of the 'characteristics of the population' (i.e. what constitutes thought leadership in HR in India), it would have been grossly inaccurate to derive the population per se (i.e. the names of thought leaders in HR in India) from the sample.
3. I don't want to create enemies.

Astha said...

You should have been a statistician Prasad :)

No, I don't think leaders can exist without followers. I also think the conception of leadership as the whole 'walking ahead' phenomenon needs to change a bit