“The main focus of HRM should be to keep employees happy, and nurturing an environment for them to prosper while implementing safeguards for proper discipline, continuously tending to their future security”, says Deputy General Manager – Human Resources of Bank of Ceylon, K.E.D. Sumanasiri.
Drawing on his extensive experience and insight into the area of organisational human resource (HR), Sumanasiri captures the essence of HR management in the brief statement above. In a career extending 30-plus years, he has risen through the ranks of the bank through hard work, continuous skill plus knowledge building, and a knack for understanding people and their problems closely.
His expertise in leveraging the all-important human resource to uplift individuals, the organisation and the economy itself, is invaluable and serves as a highly relevant lesson in place-appropriate HR management.
“I owe a great deal to my start at BOC, which I feel set a platform to ensure lifelong success while evolving. After a stint at the head office including on-the-job training at various branches, I received my first appointment which was to the Amapara branch. Transport was limited and there were numerous challenges at the branch as it was very much rural then. Although it was the height of the war and many hardships were faced, I remember these experiences fondly as they moulded me gradually into who I’m today.
“My promotion to DGM took place in 2013, first in Recoveries and later in the HR Department. In my role heading HR, I was able to put to practice my philosophy that HR and HRM differ widely based on the organisation to which they apply. Staying true to the fundamentals, I felt it was important to tailor HR practices that catered specifically to BOC, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all model.”
The impact of COVID-19 on HR management is significant, and continues to force many changes in the delivery of HR services. The increased need to work from home has changed the work-life balance considerably and also has impacted how the senior managers/ company shows appreciation to its employees without having to meet in person.
“Remote hiring and recruitment processes have gained prominence, with individuals being interviewed through video platforms to save time and ensure safety. Similarly, across the world, time-off policies and leave have had to be changed to reflect government provided guidelines on the same along with restrictions brought on by lockdowns and other issues.
“Despite these undeniable impacts of COVID-19, we were sincerely able to demonstrate to employees that the bank cares for their safety and wellbeing, which led to many of them volunteering to work at their respective branches and offices, towards the bank and country’s development.”
Being the Head of HR at BOC, it is the role of Sumanasiri to manage a staff of over 8,000 even during these challenging times. He successfully managed the large staff by giving trust and confidence to all the employees, from top to bottom.
“We adopted a system of delegation by empowering employees, where we permitted managers and other employees to take decisions at their respective levels, using their discretion to act and delegate as necessary.
“We informed all employees to closely adhere to and lead following all Health Department enforced regulations and orders. Our main objective was to protect all employees, and secondly to ensure business would go on as normal despite the restrictions.
“We bore all costs for quarantine procedures and PCR tests to be performed by our employees, and paid huge sums in claims to our foreign contingent of employees stationed in numerous parts of the globe. Apart from PPE for all employees, we adopted a roster system plus provided free transport, to ensure our 8,000 strong staff were able to progressively resume work.”
On the topic of digitalisation, Sumanasiri, citing an example, stated that digitalisation has transformed the workplace and HR, and that it is a necessity, however, needs to be complemented with a human touch. “For example, HR trips that would previously take days and involve huge costs, can now be conveniently facilitated online in several hours. However, I am a firm believer that the human touch is of essence to HR. Because it continues a culture and history of the importance of the human touch in societies and families, where stories and their transference is what keeps us going.”
Speaking of barriers to HR growth in Sri Lanka, the industry veteran mentioned three key points:
This is a huge issue. Certain HR practices that we’ve continued for a period of time, if we attempt to adapt or alter for improved outcomes, there can be a lot of resistance to change. This needs to be addressed I feel.
We need to build a culture that promotes a change of attitude, where guidance and reinforcement are provided to help inculcate positive attitudes that benefit individuals and the organization.
Being circular oriented
This hinders thinking out of the box, and I feel we need to promote a culture where employees go above and beyond and innovate, without restricting themselves always to the method of operation outlined in circulars.
On the future of the HR profession, Sumanasiri affirmed, “I envision many changes in the local HR sphere, however, including adoption of virtual maintenance of company culture and employee engagement, and more remote work arrangements, moving away from the traditional emphasis in Sri Lankan HR on 9 to 5 roles with continuous physical presence.”
In conclusion the Deputy General Manager – Human Resources divulged that HR contributions to an organisation’s success isn’t highlighted or spoken about although HR plays an important role.
“It is important to note that world-class organizations have been built by world-class people. It is humans who do all the work. So there is potential for people to both destroy and develop organizations. In local industries, HR should therefore try to inculcate positive attitudes in people and develop business while catering to employee welfare parallelly. Towards this end, the HR practice of 6 aspects of health can be adopted, where there is focus on tending to and improving employees’ physical health, mental health, social health, emotional health, spiritual health, and economical health.
“When an organization does well, we attribute it to marketing, good products, or a sound financial foundation. The work done by people behind the success is rarely reflected in the balance sheet, as it only speaks about capital, liabilities, etc., but nothing about human capital. This is being addressed now worldwide, and a new trend is emerging in trying to analyze the return from human capital, and to quantify it, as HR contributions to organizational success are immense.”