What keeps the HR folks motivated?

What keeps the HR folks motivated?

The song Chingaree Koee bhadake sung by Kishore Kumar for the film Amar Prem raises some philosophical questions.  I find one particular verse very significant:

duniya jo pyaasa rakhe to madiraa pyaas bujhaa’e (If the world thirsts, then wine will quench it.)

madiraa jo pyaas lagaa’e use kaun bujhaa’e (But if the wine thirsts, who can satisfy its need? )

If HR professionals are expected to secure the motivation of their workforce, it would be a matter of concern if the HR professionals themselves are not motivated.

Am I implying that HR folks in India are not motivated, you might wonder? The picture is not entirely encouraging, I must confess.

Despite everyone proclaiming that HR is the profession of the day, despite people problems keeping CEOs awake at night, despite HR professionals being paid extremely well, despite media paying significant attention to the people side of Organisations’ stories, I am afraid there is a fair amount of disenchantment among the HR folks.

While attrition and worryingly short tenures is a clear indication of the problem, the greater worry is the negative spiral effect. Less engaged HR folks are less effective and are under greater fire from their internal customers and greater the fire, greater the disengagement process.

While some of the HR professionals seem to be able to adapt to the needs of their organisation, accept the realities, carve an identity for themselves, enjoy their work and make a difference, many others do not seem to be so fortunate. What then are the reasons?

The 3 Cs of Motivation

I see three factors influencing the motivation of HR professionals. I see these three factors arranged in a hierarchy as depicted in the diagram above.


At the entry level, most of the demotivation is clearly a result of lack of competence. An HR professional without the competence to handle the demands of the job ends up either being ridiculed or ignored. Lack of competence forces such professionals to lead a life of isolation, low connect with internal customers and a tendency over time to get engrossed in transaction.

Part of competence is the faith that one can reinvent oneself in the face of restructuring, automation, outsourcing and other disruptive changes.

HR Leaders who are supposed to develop organisational talent quite often ignore the talent development needs right under their nose.

On the other hand, competent and passionate HR professionals know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. They innovate, take ownership and influence the brief. Their competence gives them the courage to deal with employees assertively but also empathetically.


At slightly higher levels, the culture of the organisation begins to act as a source of motivation or demotivation for the HR professional. While culture affects everyone, it affects HR’s work most directly.

Organisations that operate based on well articulated values give the HR professional great clarity on the “hows” that will govern people management. 

On the other hand, when the organisation adopts an exigency based approach, changing its stance in response to market needs unmindful of the people impact, it ends up creating a bundle of contradictions that the best of HR professionals find hard to deal with.

Organisations which accord HR a high centrality and involve and include HR in all important decisions end up creating the right culture for HR to feel involved and valued. In such organisations, the HR practitioners are willing to take a clear stance, confront the inevitable contradictions, seek resolution and progress and therefore remain motivated.


At the HR leadership level, it is the chemistry between the HR leader and his function and the CEO that determines everything.

This is perhaps the most significant determinant of HR motivation since it has a spiraling effect on the other two determinants. This is also the area that needs most attention.

If they are able to see eye to eye on key issues, influence each other, inspire each other and respect each other, motivation is high.

Where the CEO is unclear about his expectations from HR or worse has only transactional expectations, the HR leader feels stifled.

Many CEOs are unable to give their HR leaders a clear brief about their expectations because their own familiarity about HR is quite limited. Some tend to be so transactional in their expectations that the HR leader’s daily experience of the CEO is uninspiring and demotivating.

 The last verse of the same song best explains this:

ma.njhdhaar me.n naiya Dole to maa.njhii paar lagaa’e  (If in midstream a boat rocks, then the sailor can cast it ashore.)

maa.njhii jo naav Duboye use kaun bachaa’e (But if the sailor sinks it midstream, who can save it?)  

If HR is most central to the organisations of today, it is time we paid attention to the motivation of HR folks!