What HR can learn about Talent Management from the Indian Army

Every year on December 16, India celebrates the biggest wins of her nation's army. This day, that year, the mighty Indian Army not just won the biggest military surrender in world history but also established our faith in democracy and human rights by aiding the birth of a sovereign nation, Bangladesh. For those who are unable to connect the dots, here’s a small video about the history of Pakistan’s surrender in Dhaka.

The Indian Army is known for its tradition of ‘Wisdom and Valour’ and has set an example of discipline, dedication, and daring in the face of adversity. Whenever the nation calls, they are ready. A lot goes into managing and motivating the few good men they have. Live a life less ordinary as they say, leaves us with many fundamental lessons especially for professionals dealing in Human Capital. The Indian Army is one of the biggest recruiters in the world and not a single soldier is left behind be it during the training for excellence or on the battlefield. They are one of the most diverse workforces with men and women belonging to all states, religions, castes, creeds, and strata of the country. The Indian Army not just unites them but also teaches them tolerance and solidarity, In fact, there are no colleagues—there are only brother-soldiers.

Here are a few lessons for the HR professionals from the third largest army in the world,

1] Treat all equally but differently

While working on the diversity and inclusion initiatives, one of the biggest challenges an HR faces is to draw the line between exceptions and uniformity for their employees. The Indian Army brings brilliant examples of “uniforming” their men, yet giving them the freedom to practice their faith. For example, the Indian Army has strict rules against tattoos but has exceptions for soldiers coming from tribes which have traditions of tattooing. Sikh soldiers are exempted from trimming their hair and are allowed to wear turbans and grow beards.

What HR can learn from the Indian Army is about finding out what matters the most to their team. Humans are deeply connected to their religion; respect it and all traditions that come with it. For example, introducing exceptions for employees fasting on Navratri or  Ramzan or allowing a few days of extra holidays for Christian employees on Christmas are a great way to show support and acceptance of diversity. Besides this, while introducing dress codes, HR can always consider the ethnicity of their staff.

2] Train managers to be officer-like

While accessing candidates for the officer positions, the Indian Army puts them through the toughest psychological and physical tests. Candidates are not just tested on their mental strength but also on their leadership qualities. They are trained to show compassion towards their men and their faith. An officer, irrespective of his background or religion, follows the faith of his men whenever needed. It’s very common to see a non-Hindu officer performing ‘Aarti’ with his jawans or observing a ‘Roza’ during Ramzan. Acts like these instill a deep faith in the ‘jawans’ so much so that they are ready to be led into war and fight for their officers.

As an HR person, it’s very important for you to train the managers in organizations. While you offer a promotion to a candidate, make them go through training sessions which help them learn the important tenets of leadership. It’s not necessary that a candidate who has performed very well in his projects will be a great manager. Because successfully completing projects does not necessarily translate into good managerial skills. Compassion, cooperation, perseverance, quick decision making, and higher technical competence are just a few of the must-have skills in a good candidate.

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3] Catch them young and train them hard

The Indian Army recruits boys and girls as young as 17-21 and trains them to become the finest people and the greatest warriors. Candidates in the armed forces spend their formative years pick up the best qualities that define the ‘defence.’ Indian Armed Forces focus on the all-round development of their cadets, even teaching them sophisticated skills from dining etiquette to survival tactics in the wild. Cadets are encouraged to work hard and party harder. They learn life skills such as time management, zeal for life, and a lot more as they grow up in this environment. They are made to believe that they are soldiers first and then engineers/doctors or any specialization they may choose later.  

What talent leaders can learn is to engage with their prospective candidates at a very young age. Brands reaching out to students through their campus programs and initiatives tend to attract a better, younger workforce than those who don’t. Organizing Hackathons and Campus Ambassador programs or offering industrial training programmes are great ways to acquaint young talent with your work culture and win their trust.

4] Make them all-rounders

Like we said earlier, Indian Armed Forces train their cadets in every possible manner. They are made to take the toughest outdoor camps and at the same time are taught ballroom dancing. There’s even a code of conduct for a cadet’s behavior towards the ladies. A diverse training program like this leaves them with key life skills and also much-needed leadership qualities. Even after commissioning, the senior officers keep a strict watch on the performance of young officers and keep grooming them to make perfect leaders out of them.

This is a big lesson for the HR personnel. Most of the time the organization’s onboarding processes are too weak to influence the candidates and instill a deep sense of belonging towards the organization. It is important for HR to focus on not only the technical aptitude but also on personality development. Move beyond the classroom and whiteboard, and help your candidates develop public-speaking skills or teamwork and a lot more—things which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Most of the time, HR policies are very unidimensional, where candidates hardly have any flexibility. An engineer has the caliber to be a great manager if nurtured well, and organizations that offer such flexible moves for candidates can enjoy higher loyalty.

5] Take care of families

One of the biggest kinds of support which the Armed Forces offer to their employees is the support for their families. A soldier, no matter where he’s posted, knows that his family is safe in the cantonment and his kids have a decent school to study in even in the remotest part of the country. Basic amenities like food, medicine, and help will always be available for his family even in his absence. This confidence helps the men in uniform to take the risk their job expects them to. It’s very important for the governments across the world to build a support system like this for their soldiers and they do exist in most part.

What HR can learn is the art of respecting the emotions of their employees and being considerate. Creating childcare facilities for working parents in the workplace or ensuring leaves or work from home for employees with other family duties should be a part of the policy. How about a volunteer programme for the staff to support their colleagues who are sick or are hospitalized or simply have a family member who is unwell?. No amount of financial compensation or good wishes can replace that.

Summing up, we can only say that there are a million lessons which the Indian Armed Forces teach us, Here are just five of them which you can incorporate.

Well, wishing you all a Happy Vijay Diwas and thanking the Bravehearts of the nation!

About the Author

Arpit Mishra
Avid book reading advocate. Hardcore travel nerd. Technology freak. Follow me on LinkedIn to get more Insights on Tech Recruitment.