HomeBusinessRe-imagining the workplace: Exploring people management methods to avoid imploding

Re-imagining the workplace: Exploring people management methods to avoid imploding

Scientific research, project management and any other serious venture to create knowledge or find solutions for critical life issues requires that one establishes what problem they are dealing with. They need to describe the problem fully and show how, without a solution this problem would affect life or whatever element of life in a big way that cannot be ignored. The one proposing will then take the opportunity to proffer solutions and show how they will arrive at that solution. If they are not careful and do not come up with a working method of addressing the problem, they risk being ignored by, for example, someone listening and wanting to sponsor their project or buy their idea. They also must be careful not to come up with a wishy-washy presentation. I am doing this to justify yet another episode of fully breaking down the problem we face in the workplace and explicating it enough so that when we get to the point of exploring what can be done to arrest the problem, we know fully what we are dealing with.

It is easy to simply shift blame and point fingers when it comes to the workplace. Some innocent heads have rolled in the past and continue to do so as scapegoats, but we do get to a point where scapegoating ceases to be a solution and we need, instead, to forget about who is to blame and focus on describing our problem and fully understanding it for purposes of the now and posterity. We have to come to a point where we all sit down and say, what exactly is our problem and how does it manifest?

My debut article last week provoked a response from a businessman network that challenged me to answer some questions. He said he liked the name of the column; re-imagining the workplace and observed much to his delight that even government was now trying to re-imagine the workplace based on the recently announced performance contracts for ministers and heads of government agencies for 2022. He then went on to say; “I ask though that in one of your coming editions you lean away from the employees and favour the employer.” He went on to say that “the default settings are that the employee needs to be trained plus many other responsibilities… It’s as if the workforce is an endangered species and employers are draconian, yet both are born of a woman. At what point in their human development is one human being expected to take more responsibility than another?”

I decided to immediately honour the question because it forms part of the problem. We are still at problem description level and it’s important that we are thorough in exhausting the issue and laying bare its essential or risk being hazy and cryptic.

I think the strategic responsibility of any entity, to build it, set structures for performance, activities and provide resources lies on the employer’s shoulder. He sees a problem, seeks to understand it, and decides that it’s a big problem that needs a solution. If he concludes that he has a solution for it and the solution will require that he forms a company and employs people as one of the resources to address the problem, that is still him or her at that level. No one has ever gone to the company registration office and was asked to declare how many employees they had and if they said nil, were not allowed to register a company or buy a shelf one. It is their responsibility, to the extent that even someone who buys a going concern might decide to change certain things, of course within specific labour legislation provisions to ensure fairness to the existing employees who have come to the new owner as part of the package.

The employer is the visionary who invites a management team as well as a workforce to work with him to make the vision a reality. A good employer or business owner knows that when he invites and admits other people into his vision or business, he has opened doors not just for them to bring their hands, but to bring their heads also. Her wish is not for the invited personnel to bury their heads in the sand and think nothing. The employer has the responsibility to educate the employee who has joined through a contract of employment, and in educating him, he does not consider him to be a tabula rasa and a total clean slate.

Participation and buy-in are the two important elements of the relationship the employer is proposing to the employee. It is dangerous to assume that because they are human beings they will just come in and hit the ground running. Well, all employers wish that could be the case but our nature as human beings and the human resource in the workplace is in such a manner that we come with backgrounds, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and the need to fit into spaces with informed guidance. This initial stage of contracting, inducting, and educating in order to integrate is a must for anyone who wishes to build lasting and productive industrial relations. This article wants to argue that the engagement and management of people is a scientific phenomenon that needs expertise and not just being nice and time will allow us as we continue to engage issues of the workplace, to show with evidence that people engagement and management is a scientific endeavour because human beings are by their nature, scientific animals.

Having done the engagement and integration part of the employment relationship the company can then work but of course aware of the dynamics of people working together. This is where an employer who really means business in people management might want to demystify strategic planning and bring in everyone to participate, of course with clear systems, checks and balances and boundaries to ensure order and productivity, and there is a lot to harness from indigenous knowledge systems regarding this. Anyone who has a village background will know that herd boys refer to their fathers’ herd as theirs and that when they lose them and search for them in the paddocks they do not say they are looking for their fathers’ cattle, but their own. They have ownership neatly inculcated in them at a tender age and they learn to belong.

The day-to-day management of the relationship and productivity has those challenges but in Zimbabwe, our culture has been that when we mess up, the first thing we think of is a person called a “turnaround strategist” and usually it’s an operations or finance specialist who comes in and rides roughshod on the whole system, fixing every other system except the people system. This always fails because principles of sustainability will try the organisation again and it will be found wanting. We have a problem in the workplace and that is what we are currently talking about.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organization as a Learning & Development Specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for a number of blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on bhekilizweb.bn@gmail.com

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