I attended an interesting two-day workshop on Human Resource Capability last week (hence no blog post). It was conducted by the Singapore National Employers Federation, or SNEF, and I found it to be enjoyable and of great practical value. So from me, “Well done and thanks, SNEF!” The workshop was insightful in that the course materials and activities, discussions with my fun course mates, inputs from our very experienced trainer, and talking-shop during lunch and tea breaks led me to discover some falsehoods and a truth about HRM.


Human Resource Management is strategic. HRM is so much more than the administrative role it’s often confined to. It’s a function that belongs in the arena of top management, knights of the round table stuff. It’s driven by serious research, multi-approach staff surveys to capture data and identify areas of critical value, charts that project all sorts of numbers vital to building a company’s road map, and myriad rules and principles applying to all kinds of operational and business scenarios.


So, when manpower is often represented to top management as statistics, it’s easy for HR managers and executives to be regarded by colleagues as aloof, devoid of compassion, even inhuman. That’s not only a big falsehood, but a grossly unfair one at that. I once knew a HR manager who found out on a Friday that he had to conduct lay-off interviews the following Monday after a company restructuring exercise. Thing was, only he and his boss knew who were on the list, so it would be a last usual weekend for his unsuspecting soon-to-be-former colleagues. The poor man wasn’t able to eat or sleep the entire weekend, as awful as he felt with the twin burdens of knowledge and task laid upon him.


Another false perception of the HR department is that it’s Judge Dredd: all-in-one judge, jury and executioner issuing warning letters, dismissal letters, stern reminders to comply with employment handbook rules or else, and so on… while disciplinary actions are a necessary function of HRM when called for, it’s always happier to never need to. Who enjoys having to discipline an adult and co-worker? No HR practitioner I know! Disciplinary actions drain emotions, and deplete energy and time, which are otherwise better spent in strategic above-line roles.


Yet another incorrect belief is that the HR department works only for the company, and from the staff’s viewpoint it’s “us-versus-them”. In reality HRM does indeed work for the company, but it does so while concerned with the professional development of a company’s workforce and the nurturing of talent from its given pool of staff. Undoubtedly the company benefits, but so too must the worker benefit first. It’s basic causality. Smart workers partner their HR department in this area to create a win-win for themselves and their company. Many such employees move on to managerial positions, and through proper HRM some may even be identified and prepared as successors to take over from top bosses or even the founders.


Ultimately, I think the one big truth that cuts through all the HR-hula-bula is that it remains about people. “People” is both a basic and complex principle at the same time, regardless “people” must always guide the hand of any HR principle or practice. And not just HRM, but business decision-making on the whole.


We recently had our Sofresh company dinner where all of us enjoyed an evening of good food and drink together, bonding and letting our hair down. There was much chatting with each other – and so refreshing that it was not work-talk – poking fun at each other, and almost non-stop laughter. The roof really came down when someone realised we had a karaoke machine in our private dining room. I was super impressed with my colleagues. Not only could they sing in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien, they also hit all the right notes! None of that amateurish off-key nonsense, the Sofresh staff are pretty talented crooners!


As I sat back in my chair to take it all in, I realised that our staff at Sofresh represent five countries. For a small company, we’re really quite diverse. More meaningful than that, these people who have been brought together to be co-workers at Sofresh, really are “together”. That evening in that restaurant’s private dining room, I witnessed a heartwarming harmony across nationalities and ethnicities, bonding and unity as colleagues, and I dare say even friendship between people, no matter that they aren’t able to fluently speak each others’ original language.


I don’t think this is perculiar to Sofresh. I believe such scenes are played out in many companies in Singapore. The difference might be that in small companies similar to us such expressions and reactions from staff are spontaneous, whereas in the big MNCs their HR department or staff welfare committee may have to work harder at drawing it out from their people.


But regardless, for me therein lies that one deep truth that binds all HR theories, principles and practices, while striking the balance for the company – it always has to be for and about your people.


We have really good people here at Sofresh. They work really hard to ensure all the fresh, good foodstuff we supply make it to the correct cruise ships and commercial vessels. It sounds simple enough a job. But we supply A LOT of foodstuff, and we deliver to A LOT of cruise ships and vessels, and we usually have to do it within very tight deadlines. It’s tough work, and if you step off the ball for just a moment it’s easy to get it wrong, and that’s disaster for a cruise ship with a couple of thousand people onboard to feed. Honestly, it sometimes feels thankless, but we fall back on our own sense of satisfaction once we’ve loaded a ship knowing the passengers and crew onboard will be fed well.


On behalf of all our people here at Sofresh, a big “Thank You” to all our clients who have supported us and keep supporting us – without you, HRM wouldn’t matter. We work hard and try our best to be better each time, that’s what we can do in return. Till the next one!


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