The Human element in Managing

Human Beings are both rational and emotional beings. We use our head and our heart in arriving at decisions. We use other analogies such as left brain and right brain to bring out this distinction. In Chinese philosophy, it’s the Yin and Yang. They are defined as complementary forces (rather than opposing) that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts.

Organizations also need to have a head and heart. And the heart should play a leading role in human interactions. Traditional Management theories have focused a bit too much on the head part. In his classic HBR article, “The Human Side of Management”, author Thomas Teal starts by saying that great management is about character, not technique. I quote “…the only people who become great managers are the ones who understand in their guts that managing is not merely a series of mechanical tasks but a set of human interactions.”

The other day I was chatting with friends and the topic was about the recent TCS layoffs. The discussions became quite animated. Most thought that letting go off the bottom performers is business-as- usual and that the media is responsible for the publicity which is unwarranted. There have been reports of some moving court against TCS. Having been in IT most of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with several geographies and as a people manager, have had  direct reportees in other regions. Because of this, I know how difficult it is to simply fire people in general. In Europe, it’s virtually impossible (though it’s changing now). In the US which is the considered the mecca of capitalism, one would assume it’s simple hire and fire with no questions asked.

Well, it’s not that simple. If the matter goes to court, it would evaluate the reasons for termination. If its underperformance, is there sufficient evidence to support it? Were there performance evaluations done which provide evidence of underperformance. If there is, has the employee been given sufficient time to improve? During that time, has the performance been monitored through a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to correct the situation? The decision to fire the employee is about the head, but a genuine attempt of improving that person’s performance is about the heart. Finally, if separation is the only option, is that done with compassion which gives the employee a softer landing zone. There are many ways of doing that and I will not get into those reasons in this article.

Globally, the reasons why so many checks and balances are put into place is to ensure that no wrongful terminations are done. After all, we are talking people’s livelihoods and careers here. And in our country where the state generally does not provide support for loss of pay or livelihood, it is all the more necessary for organizations to act responsibly. Coming back to TCS, we don’t have all the details to comment on the grounds of termination and whether they were justified. It is to the courts to decide. What is important to remember is that for any organization, firing people needs to have a grounding which goes beyond “it’s a business requirement” and done humanely if there is no other way out.