HomeOpinion & AnalysisRe-imagining the workplace: Transformation should never become trite

Re-imagining the workplace: Transformation should never become trite


In the past weeks we have touched on the very important subject of value formation and the manifestation of value systems in the workplace and other places where individuals become members of groups, teams, and bigger communities. (Grieser, 2017).

We observed that in most cases, our failure to grasp this important subject makes the workplace a huge dismal swamp where connection is difficult leading to conflict and limitations in terms of exploiting the potential of the human capital that the human resource is capable of providing if managed properly.

Do we then fold our arms and do nothing about this condition? By no means, instead we are invited as problem solving beings who spend a good part of our productive time in the workplace to dig in, investigate, find evidence, and apply solutions. This condition invites transformation, a concept that easily gets lost and becomes vogue making it fashionable with very little measurement of impact and efficacy. The condition of the workplace and many other institutions call for transformation.

The institutions we form have human beings who are at different levels of development, coming together for collective effort.

There are many assumptions that get made by leaders who are under pressure to deliver and so pull their human resources in that direction of ‘we need to work and deliver…’ Our proposal is that the human resource is at the centre of success in the workplace, and that it can be deceiving when we seem to be doing well to think that we are fully exploiting the potential of our human resource and therefore just scratch the surface, robbing ourselves of the great heights we could scale if we unleashed the potential of our people.

I have joked about the seriousness most people attach to the need for strict qualifications when they hire personnel to keep their chickens and other animals. No one doing a large-scale poultry project will randomly hire a chancer to look after their chickens and their fragile eggs.

They insist of qualifications and more than ‘five years in a similar environment.’ Why? Because for anyone to take care of the potential and productivity of something, they should understand it fully and lead it in the direction of maximum productivity. My experience in the workplace has been that technical personnel such as engineers who do well in their technical jobs easily climb the ladder of promotions and people management ending up becoming part of the upper echelons of big institutions.

The intention is not to take away anything from these important professionals but to manage talent with the view to exploiting the potential of our resources, and above all the human resource. Organisations, through the training and development department will then organize different types of in house and outsourced training courses to bring these executives up to speed in terms of the dynamics of the human resource and these courses are sometimes disjointed and the uptake at that level is low because the executive is already enjoying the helm.

Some even view this as disrupting production time and so they come to the training room reluctantly wondering why staff doesn’t understand that line has to work and meet targets.

Serious organisations like Google are thorough about getting the best people management and organisation development practitioners who work hard and explore different ways of exploiting human potential. They never stop thinking and trying new ways that are well researched and have a scientific basis. They, for instance, allow their employees to bring their dogs to the workplace, of course being careful that employees don’t overdo the benefit and begin to bring vicious dogs to the space to cause havoc.

This might sound like really pushing it, but the idea is to put the human resource in conditions that make them bring their A game to the space and of course that comes with needing to push the envelope. Does your organisation really commit time, resources, and expertise to drive towards optimum performance or you are on the mode ‘we need to work and deliver…?’ Well, yes all we do need to work and Google employees do not only need to work, but actually do work and are known to deliver not just in the neighbourhood within their vicinities but in the whole world.

Studies in human development, research points at the evidence that humans are not born under perfect conditions, and they are not finished products that need no work to reach levels of goodness and even excellence. (Richard, Settersten Jr, Megan and McClelland, 2018).

There is a lot of dysfunctionality that develops because of our need to survive and hence the need to view the human resource as work in progress and continue to provide conditions that promote transformation. By virtue of the etymology of the word transformation, we just have to consider what happens to us as human beings in our formative years as we seek to make meaning of life. Research has found that the first seven years lead to the growth of many elements of survival in human beings that come with weaknesses and challenges, certain preferences, and prejudices that one has to deal with as an adult later as life challenges them and threatens to rob them of their happiness. (Lipton, 2014) This is transformation’ s knock on our doors and the promise of helping us grow and scale great heights.

A human being then as an adult spends their life transforming or just roaming and wasting their innate potential. Sadly, in most workplaces there is very little that is done to hold the hand of an employee to assist them to fully exploit their potential through transformation in its different offerings.

Transformation (Weeto, 2018) can easily become just a buzz word or vogue, something we mention just to sound learned and expose our pedantry in the process. Some organisations, especially in South Africa even hire transformation practitioners and so you have a transformation manager running a full portfolio with a full salary. I have not gotten close enough to these to check what the mandate of such an incumbent is and I think it would be interesting to connect with one such practitioner to check what they do and if, based on their monitoring and evaluation process results, they really achieve results. I know though of a very big university in South Africa that hires a transformation manager to take care of the diverse nature of their students and staff. The incumbent has to be a lawyer according to the university and it would also be interesting to check what their mandate is and what methods they use to manage and achieve transformation.

The human conditions, since time immemorial has needed a learning, changing and transformation attitude and researchers have done quite some work regarding finding the underlying reasons why, for the human resource to produce at its best, there is need for transformation and change that are achievable by deliberate and informed interventions. Transformation, therefore, has to be given that level of seriousness in terms of attention, budget, and implementation in the workplace. It is an important matter that needs to be protected from losing its identity to trite, vogue cliché and buzz wording. We, indeed, do have a lot of work to do to bring the human resource to its best level of performance.

  • 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 and 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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