In search of strategic HRM in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

In search of strategic HRM in Sri Lanka

We consciously included the term Conducive Climate in our HRM definition. This means a supportive environment within the organisation. HR has a critical role to play in creating such a climate
We consciously included the term Conducive Climate in our HRM definition. This means a supportive environment within the organisation. HR has a critical role to play in creating such a climate

Sri Lanka has entered a challenging era with the spread of COVID-19. With the confidence gathered in ending the thirty-year war against terrorism, we need to have a sense of optimism in facing the acute threat with maturity and responsibility.  Individuals and institutions, having a holistic perspective with long term well-being in mind is the way forward.

 Being strategic is of utmost importance in this context. It essentially shows how ‘smart’ you are in ‘playing the game’. The roots are from the Greek word strategos, which means the art of the general. Obviously, it has a military connotation. How a general orders the troops to attack, or to withdraw or to surround the enemy, with the aim of winning the war in mind. A battlefront and a business front have a lot in common, particularly with the sky-rocketing competition, globally as well as locally.

A game plan cannot be conceived or commissioned without people.  That is exactly why people, to be precise the ‘right’ people are the most precious asset to any In any organisation, we have physical, financial and information resources. These three resources are not of any use if you do not have the most precious resource, the people.forward-looking organisation. How to acquire, retain, develop, and engage them has become increasingly challenging with the growing complexity associated with doing business in a globalised world. Hence, human resource management (HRM) has become a critical factor for organisational success.

 Defining HRM

What is HRM? There are hundreds of ways to describe it. I prefer how Garry Dessler puts it across in a rather simple manner: ‘The policies and practices involved in carrying out the ‘people’ or human resource aspect of a management position’.

It does not talk about a particular department, section or a division, but it does talk about any management position. The good news coming from that is the fact that every manager has a ‘people’ role to play. Let’s take a simple example. You may be the best accountant in town. Yet, you cannot achieve results unless you master the art and science of getting the best out of your team. That is human resource management.

 What could be the best way to approach HRM in defining it related to local needs? A think tank from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) took the initiative of developing a suitable definition of HRM for Sri Lanka.  This move is very significant as CIPM being the pioneering and premier HR institute in Sri Lanka with its coveted charter status.

 Our approach was specific and straightforward. We looked at what is available in terms of HRM definitions, identified key salient points and listed them and brainstormed their relevance to Sri Lanka. That was one aspect. On the other hand, we also brainstormed how to accommodate the socio-cultural and religio-political dimensions influencing management practices in Sri Lanka. Our aim was to find the best fit.

 Based on the brainstorming sessions and feedback obtained from professionals and professors, the following definition emerged.

A strategic and integrated approach in acquisition, development and engagement of talent, using relevant tools, with proper policies, practices and processes in creating a conducive climate towards achieving organisational excellence and  societal well-being (CIPM, 2014).

 What we meant by strategic is working towards achieving overall goals and specific objectives of the organisation. It is essentially aligning with the broad organisational priorities. It highlights the strategic significance of HRM and the holistic role it should play.


Talent refers to the three Cs going in line with Prof. Dave Ulrich (2009), competence, commitment  and contribution. He in fact puts it as an equation.

Talent = Competence x Commitment x Contribution.

 The multiplication sign in the equation symbolises the collaborator and combined nature of the three vital aspects. Competence essentially refers to the knowledge (head), commitment refers to action (hands) and contribution is related values (heart).

 What we do with talent occupy a significant segment of our definition. Acquisition refers to hiring (recruitment, selection and placement). Engagement means a range of aspects such as involvement, attachment and extra effort.

 There is a reference to the term, relevant tools in our definition. What we meant was to incorporate testing methods and assessment techniques which should be linked to the organisational needs.

 We consciously included the term Conducive Climate in our HRM definition. This means a supportive environment within the organisation. HR has a critical role to play in creating such a climate.  Climate refers to those aspects of the environment that are consciously perceived by organisational members. Perception is essentially an understanding based on the information obtained by senses such as eyes and ears. Hence, climate is something people see, hear and feel. That is why we see a difference when we enter a hospital, police station or a restaurant. In summary, climate is what we see and feel when we enter an organisation, whereas, culture is something much deeper as bedrock.

 Twin results

The end result of all HR endeavours has twin aspects, Organisational Excellence and Societal Well-being. What we mean by organisational excellence is its overall performance with continuous improvement. It obviously includes financial results, customer satisfaction, process efficiency and people development, the four perspectives of a typical balanced scorecard.

 HR professionals cannot function in isolation ignoring social realities. This is more relevant to a developing country like ours, where issues such as poverty, unemployment and ethnic tensions cannot be ignored. That’s why we included Societal Well-being as a key outcome of HRM. It highlights the need to support people outside the organisation and protect the environment as well.

 Digesting what HRM is all about was one key step towards delivering sustained results. Now we need to put the acts together, in ensuring the awareness, appreciation and application among all professionals. The COVID-19 challenge could be a good testing ground.