Management Talk: Harnessing the human capital

I remember the summer training I underwent as part my engineering curriculum. It was in a tractor-testing institute in a remote village named Budni, some 70 km away from Bhopal (the capital of Madhya Pradesh). All tractors in India have to be tested, and certified by this institute before being sold commercially. The place is unbelievably hot in summer - peak temperature goes as high as 47 degrees Celsius during the course of the day., Business

25 Apr 2016 | By Suresh Ramakrishnan

The first day instructions are clear - Khaki pants and cotton shirts, which should be comfortable to wear and likely to get several coating of mud and grease by the end of the training. The canteen food will be just about palatable and you earn a plain iron bed to sleep on (it takes well past 3 am in the night for it to attain a room temperature of 29 degrees).

The two months entail intense practical experience that helps you learn mechanised farming. Yes, you are taught to drive a tractor (the idea is to learn slow and steady speed driving in a straight line. This gives you more stability in an undulating field and maximum torque as well) and use of different types of ploughs to till the soil. The patterns, depth of furrows and uniformity earn you some brownie points. The idea was to get a firsthand experience of the fundamentals of farming and understand the difficulties that a farmer would face while translating some theories into practical deployment.

One of the best experiences, and I still remember every bit of what I learnt there, was to dismantle a tractor engine right up to the last nut and bolt and re-assemble it. You have to make it run with the necessary parameters of efficiency that would be given to you at the beginning of the exercise. The trainer / instructor, an older gentleman, was patient enough to explain the theories first - some of the finest lectures I have attended in my life, and then allow you to get your hands dirty... real dirty to learn the concepts through practical rigour.

The training was so exciting that I (along with a friend of mine) used to land up well on time and be ahead of the group for all exercises - the heat and related sunburn notwithstanding.

They administer a tough test at the end of the course before awarding a certificate. There is absolutely no way to beat the system there. My friend topped the exam and I came just a mark below him.

So, coming back to the main title and picking up some lessons from the above, how do you harness human capital?

While we very often hire people with expertise and expect them to produce results, we have to ask ourselves how much time have we given to someone to adapt, unlearn a few lessons and realign to the current organisation goals, mission and values? Some points we have to ponder over as leaders are

  • Soil your hands first before you ask someone else to do so: In order to understand the difficulty you can encounter in a task, it is advisable to try them yourself first. You will be able to relate to roadblocks faced by colleagues and get ideas to mitigate problems when they arise. The fact that you have been through the grind motivates others to follow suit
  • Difficulty is transient; experience is permanent: It is good to condition the mind that nothing of use is accomplished unless there are difficulties faced and the more complex they are, the better.
  • Haste is waste, patience is key: Nothing of substance is learnt in a hurry. It takes immense toil through trial and error and not giving up getting to a goal
  • It isn’t only about what to, it’s much more about how to: Walk the talk and more will follow. This is prime formula for investment in human capital

I realise there are many, many fields and related organisations which follow these principles. No wonder some of them are brands to be reckoned with.

This was an attempt to broach the topic that may be seemingly simple and presumed to be happening, but in reality is a far cry in many organisations.