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Executive Focus

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FORD INDIA: Making Every Day Exciting
Vairamani Pandiyan speaks to Divya Arya about how the company is maintaining its HR policy of ‘profitable growth for all’
Mr. Vairamani Pandiyan (Vice President-HR, Ford India Pvt. Ltd.) has been in the field of HR right from the beginning of his career, around 27 years ago. After completing his undergraduation in Psychology, he opted for an MBA “out of curiosity, since the course was not too common at the time”, and then completed his specialisation in HRM and OB because he loved dealing with people, and “you can never fall short on challenges when you are dealing with people.” Having worked with The Tata Group for almost 18 years after that, he has garnered experiences in various streams of HR, including industrial relations, compensation management, and training and development. “It has been a very interesting journey for me. At times, it is important for HR people to explain what they bring to the table,” he says.

Apart from the automobile manufacturing business, Ford has two other business interests in India: Ford Business Service Centre (FBSE - a business process centre for Ford’s global operations) and Ford Information Technology Services (the hub for the company’s IT and engineering initiatives in India and the Asia Pacific region). Mr. Pandiyan joined Ford India (FIPL) in September 2006 and took up the position of Vice President in January 2008. He serves as a member of the Board of the FBSC, and also represents Ford in India in the HR Council of the Conference Board, and Confederation of Indian Industry.

Mr. Pandiyan says that he would want to continue such professional associations after his retirement, but is also keen to continue his education and pursue a Ph.D in Organisational Behaviour, in order to become an “effective HR catalyst”. He explains this, “HR is supposed to be invisible, but not inactive. We have to put other people in the front. HR has to act as a catalyst for making things happen. Ensuring that employees reap maximum benefit from HR is, in fact, the biggest challenge of the function. HR has to make the biggest impact, but quietly. HR has to contribute even when it is not in the limelight. We may be able to assess capacities of cars, engines and equipment, but nobody can do so for humans because they have the ability to exceed expectations.” HR at FIPL indeed must be strong as a result of such thinking, since the company was recently voted amongst the top 25 Best Employers in India in a study done by Hewitt Associates.

FIPL has over 5000 employees, and considering the huge potential in the automobiles segment, Mr. Pandiyan comments on the growth and expansion plans of the company, “There are a lot of expansion activities due to take place. We look forward to increasing our capacity and coming up with new products. With so much being planned, the HR team has its role cut out and we have ensured a ratio of one HR person for every 100 employees.”

This HR team has been working hard to introduce interesting policies for the employees, and the ‘HR Forum’ is one such initiative that goes beyond the supervisors and HR, to involve peers as well. The framework for this forum is provided by Personal Development Committees (PDC), wherein employees across all levels meet regularly to discuss issues related to individual development.

With such intensive forums for employees being implemented at the company, training and development is given special attention at FIPL. Mr. Pandiyan reinforces, “We have allocated for a minimum number of training hours in our beginning-of-the-year budget. The actual training is fairly varied. There are technical-oriented programmes, as well as leadership and managerial programmes, and the appropriate modules are chosen as per individual requirements. While some programmes are relatively short-term (ranging from 3-4 days), the others are on-the-job. We have also inked some tie-ups with colleges for year-long academic courses in order to help employees prepare for higher-end jobs. At the technician level, this is known as ‘Career Development Programme’, while the ‘Career Mentoring Programme’ helps technicians become managers. People are selected for these programmes through a process, and the MBA option is available to engineers and managers as well through our tie-up with Loyola Institute of Business Administration.”

The stringent focus on training has allowed for systematic succession planning at FIPL. This takes place through ‘Individual Development Process’ (IDP) wherein forms are used to record the discussions between the individual and the supervisor. The results are sent to the respective PDC, which allows for better placement of employees across the organisation. The other function of PDC involves communicating customer feedback to the employees through their supervisors. This allows the employees to understand the areas that they need to work on, whether it is through training or specific assignments. The HR team at FIPL maintains an organisational database regarding employees’ aspirations, strengths, and peer as well as supervisory feedback.

The transparency in HR allows for good industrial relations and employees are engaged in a lot of CSR activities too. Explains Mr. Pandiyan, “The time and efforts of employees are converted into socially productive activities, whether it is for a day-long event or an ongoing project. Employees like to get involved with the community and society around them, and examples of their social projects include work on dispensaries, employment counselling for women, and traffic safety. These activities do not require much money, and are very effective in making employees feel motivated. Moreover, many times villagers come up to us to appreciate the work we do, and that is very humbling. As a company, we have successfully been able to combine employee engagement with CSR.”
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