The Heroism In HR

The Heroism In HR

It is important to have unsung heroes because whenever an organisation fails to address fundamental issues, they will always ensure that the customers are insulated from the gaps in the system.

A 70-year-old lady went to a bank to withdraw money. The Security Guard told her to stand in a queue. The bank clerk who witnessed this offered a seat to the old lady, withdrew the cash and handed it over to her. Overwhelmed with the gesture, the old lady told the bank clerk, ‘You are a hero.’


There are unsung heroes like this lady employee in every organisation. It is important to have such heroes because whenever an organisation fails to address fundamental issues, these heroes will always ensure that the customers are insulated from the gaps in the system.


A. Heroism


Heroism originates from a Greek word that means protector or defender. Modern heroism is defined as a selfless act for the collective good. This ‘good’ could be helping people in need or defending a moral/ an ethical cause.


Sacrifice is another aspect to heroism. Heroes are often known to put themselves at risk or sacrifice something for the greater good. Heroism is not a new word in the HR dictionary. HR people are themselves supposed to be role models, champions of the organisation and heroes for the employees. In the same manner in which the medical profession attracts people to become doctors, the motto to help others motivates people to join the HR profession.


B. Why Heroism works


Heroism works both for individuals and businesses but for different reasons


1. Heroism for Individuals


Early in my career, one of my mentors told me that each person in this world wants to be a hero. Make them heroes and then watch them use their full potential. In a nutshell, there are two psychological needs (desires).


i. Desire to be a hero: Most of us have heard a lot of hero stories in our childhood. That larger-than-life aura of a hero is hardwired in our aspirations. All of us have a latent need and desire to be a hero. That is why the concept of heroism works.


ii. Desire to do something good: Another reason for heroism to work is that human beings keep looking for purpose in their lives. The thirst for finding purpose at times gets quenched by doing acts of kindness.


On 26th July 2005, Mumbai was flooded like never before. People were stuck in the water for hours. At that moment, store employees of a big retail chain approached the management and expressed their intent to help. They took the initiative of distributing biscuits to the people stranded because of the floods. This act of kindness created a huge brand value for the store and a feeling of satisfaction in the hearts of employees. The above needs are the top two needs on Maslow hierarchy- Esteem and Self Actualisation.


2. Heroism for Businesses


Businesses often embrace heroism because of four tangible benefits. 


i. Enhances Productivity: When people try to become heroes, they accomplish more. When people accomplish more, there is an increase in productivity. You would have seen people spending long hours at work. Most of them have a deep desire to prove themselves to fight their insecurities and become heroes.


ii. Strengthens brand: When people step up and act like heroes they create a positive image in the minds of internal or external customers. They get the impression that they are in the company of good people. That strengthens the brand image leading to customer/employee loyalty.


iii. Reduces attrition: When you feel that you are in the company of good people, you generally do not want to part ways. I live in Meridian society. I found a good flat in a better building at lesser rent. I told my wife about this but she refused to move. She stated that she wanted to stay in Meridian even if it costed a little more. She said that she has friends in the building, the people in the society are good, everyone knows her, and she feels comfortable in the space.


iv. Enhances capability: Heroism demands people to stretch their limits and move out of their comfort zone. When people stretch their limits, they start realising their capabilities and their true potential. Businesses love this not only because of the short term productivity gain, but also because it enhances the capability of the entire organisation and creates a leadership pipeline.


C. How to breed heroes


The breeding method is simple. You just need to appreciate people. If you appreciate people without reason, they do not often value it. You need to give them a reason. Here are the basics of the appreciation framework:


a. Challenge: Create a challenge. Challenge must require extra effort. The challenge should be tough yet achievable.


b. Reward: The reward for the challenge motivates more people to participate.


c. Recognition: Recognition is the heart of the framework. Winners of a challenge must be recognised. If it is done in front of family and colleagues, it creates the desired impact.


The important part is how you bind the recognition with a business outcome. Organisations have experimented with various parameters. The two parameters which are prominently used by organisations are:


1. Customer Focus: The way the employees at Taj reacted during the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, saving the lives of the customers instead of saving themselves, without any instruction or incentive, shows the effectiveness of customer focus. Most service organisations use this method of displaying the star of the week or month on their display boards.


2. Performance: The philosophy is “If you do your job well, you will be recognised”. People play video games without any reward to gain virtual appreciation. Recognition backed sales incentive plans and performance management programmes are a good example to this.


Customer Focus and Performance concepts do not compete with each other. Uber uses incentive plans to motivate drivers to complete a minimum number of trips in a week. At the same time, it shows customer feedback to the drivers to keep customer focus. Best drivers are recognised publicly.


D. Design for Heroism


After Robin Hood came to power, he wanted to run away. He realised that a kingdom cannot be run on heroics. Similarly, a stable organisation requires a well-defined mechanism to run the operations.


I saw a traffic policeman managing heavy traffic through his heroics. I appreciated him, but at the same time, a question popped in my mind – ‘if they put a traffic signal here, will these heroics be required?’ An organisation must be designed in such a manner that it does not require heroics.


The problem is that even when an organisation is designed perfectly, the perfect becomes imperfect with time as the external environment keeps changing. This is when you need heroes to temporarily plug those gaps till the time those gaps are not taken care of through design interventions.


This Heroism is a crucial “H in HR” because it defines what Humans are all about.





Harjeet Khanduja is an international speaker, author, poet, influencer, inventor and HR leader. He is an alumnus of IIT Roorkee and INSEAD. He is currently working as the Vice President HR at Reliance Jio. He has 2 published patents and his book "Nothing About Business" is an Amazon bestseller. Harjeet has been a LinkedIn Power Profile, TEDx speaker, Guest Faculty at IIM Ahmedabad, Board Member of the Federation of World Academics and a Global Digital Ambassador. Harjeet features in Top 100 Global thought Leaders 2021.


0/3000 Free Article Left >Subscribe