Thursday, 29 November 2007

PR Firms in India; Employee Pet Peeves

This week I want to talk about state of the PR Firm business.

Are PR Firms people friendly? What are the latest trends in human resource development that qualify for being people friendly and enable organizations to retain and yet allow employees or consultants to be productive, despite challenges of everyday life like large commuting distances, family emergencies, medical exigencies, Maternity or even something as common as burnout!

The record of PR firms in this regard has been rather poor I must confess. The report card on the other side of the table in buy side roles, whether in marketing or communications has not been exactly inspiring either, though there are instances of evolved organizations that have understood the benefits of such policies in retaining talent and keeping rare skills and IP (Intellectual Property) sticky despite the challenges that cycles of life pose to a typical employee. So what are these things that make everyday life easier, yours and mine too?

Telecommuting: This simple means an ability or facility to be able to work from home in times of exigency after an agreement with the concerned manager. This is the hardest to get approved by the way (sic).

Flexi-timing: This could mean timings that beat the traffic or those that suit an individual because of other family or personal commitments like a study program. Non-oppressive dress codes: Even today, I see some pretty strange dress codes that hark back to colonial mindsets or worse those that pander to cult predilections of individuals. This with the background of most PR firms being mostly individual or partner driven can become quite horrendous and a far tangent to the norm, lending to a perverse value set linked to early upbringing.

Without the embarrassment of the getting into these weird instances and details, it may be safe to say that there is no cultural homogeneity in what is the norm. The Individual should be trusted with this personal responsibility and not be subjected to convent and institutional trauma! While there can be no excuse for being slovenly in personal appearance, especially for those that are client facing, mostly we take things too far, far enough for them to becoming oppressive yokes, to the point of qualifying as professional hazards.

Maternity Benefits: These are completely non-standard today, and more often than not discriminate against women in the family way. Yes, we can find someone here or there that has a policy that makes a few concessions. Are these Industry best-practice standard? I definitely don't think so!

Let's begin with simple technology that enables Telecommuting. The advent of the internet has meant an ability to work remote.

While I don't intend for this to become a rant, most PR Firms are so challenged in terms of growing beyond cities that they are headquartered in; the infrastructure they manage to percolate away to branch offices in other cities is rather abysmal. I am talking about the most basic of facilities today that clearly constitute hygiene but strangely still so tough to come by as facilities.

Consider getting a lap top from the organization or even an Internet connection if you have your won machine at home and how tough it is to get the organization to pay for it, getting help to get one installed is fantasy material. The ability to avoid e-mail stress is a major factor in everyone's life today!

How many companies offer a web interface which enables you see mail on the Internet and sets you free from being glued to your desk? Some idiot in IT will find a zillion myopic reasons to scupper your access.

Take it one further into dreamland, those hand-held delights that you have often lusted after like the Blackberry or Windows Mobile beauties are darlings in making life simple, be it e-mail, calendar, to-do's, besides making you look a part of the corporate jet set so that your customer sees you as someone of an equal and a professional. Let's talk a second about conference calling and enabling infrastructure. It does not cost a lot and unless the call is internal most times you may be able to bill clients.

The fact is most old fogies are deeply suspicious of all working from remote and virtual teams are a non-starter. They want to see you in their face, sat in a bivouac around their desk, breathing their crusty, ironed everyday, breath. Other fancy things include server dial-up access, which enables your machine to access files on the network server. Imagine the scope for collaboration.

The inertia to change and imbibe productivity solutions is immense and it would be incomplete to just direct ire in isolation at the IT Idiot. The other hall-of-famer here and most of you will recognize this persona, he or she is the proverbial loyalist, the holier-than-thou, often a combination of Administration, Finance and HR.

There is one other aspect that I'd like to spend some time on. This concerns on-boarding of fresh or lateral talent. It starts with the missing location map on the website, which in most cases was updated last year. Imagine showing up for work and not having a desk, a computer, an e-mail ID, to add insult to injury, have a form to fill thrust in your face with no help in deciphering the officialise. Things like assistance with a bank account; new cell phone; understanding the best way to get to work and finding a place to stay.

Most good organizations fix this one shot with a Mentor program. This person for the initial journey is your survival guide, your friend, philosopher, your lunch menu guide, and a zillion things that are urgent but not important.

I get this constant chatter at Industry events about how attrition and retaining talent are prime concerns. What no one ever mentions is things like the ones above that really help an organisation make its relationship with the employee sticky and fruitful in the long term.

While it is true that people leave for greener pastures and those positions then need to be filled and that is another kind of stress. What are the chances that you will make it hard for people to leave if you have your act in shape and spend some senior management time on mitigating pet peeves.

I know there are instances here and these where pioneering work has happened but as a business and as an industry in the Indian geography we will have crossed another milestone if we got our ducks-in-row on this one!

Next week; Employer pet peeves, watch this space!

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