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Monday, August 18, 2008

Performance Contracts

Fear of performance contracts: Life is one long evaluation

Words by Francis Kahihu

There has been a lot of hue and cry reported in the media about the signing of performance contracts by the teaching fraternity. The Union representing the thousands of teachers has advised them to shun the idea of signing the performance contracts. Some of the reasons given allude to the fear that many persons have regarding the performance contracts. Most of these fears have been derived from the abuse or possible abuse of the system by persons in authority. As true as this may be, the performance contracts are great tools that have been used the world over the measure the performance of the human resource in both the private and the public sector.

Since our young age, we have been put under performance contracts only that they may not have been referred to as such. Remember the expectations that our parents had on us when we were in school. They set the targets early enough by the time we started a new term and told us to ensure we are at least five places ahead come the following examinations. With this, we worked extra hard to ensure that we met the set target so that we can both satisfy the parents demands and also gain a pre- agreed award which could either be a visit to City Park or Chapati feast specifically prepared for us. The motivation was great.

As alluded from the illustrations above, performance contracts are mainly agreements between the employer and the employee that within the given time frame, the employee is expected to achieve certain agreed targets. In the ideal set up, the employer and the employee sit and agree on the targets to be met. The employee indicates the necessary support that would be helpful in meeting the targets. This is then an understanding of what needs to be done and how it can be achieved.

In performance contracting, the employer seeks to inform all the employees the entire target of the company or institution. The goal is then split into smaller and manageable objectives that the various employees divide among themselves. The management of the institution then organises how each of the players contributes to meeting the bigger goal. Eventually, the aim is to ensure that the entire institution meets targets that would either have been given by a higher body, or would have been self imposed in response to competition defined either internally or externally.

It has been said that failure to plan is planning to fail. It is therefore prudent to consider the goal that you want to achieve every time to set out to work on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Is you work without any specified target, the truth is that you will never realize when you hit the mark. Setting a mark for yourself ensures you strive towards achieving it hence the prospects of performance contracting should be understood from the positive perspective. It helps us know where we are going and by when we want to get there. It is quite possible to be busy undertaking activities every other year with little or no progress. We need a tool to help us know where we are and where we went top be at a certain point in time.

I bear in mind the fact that many employees have fallen victim to the abuse of the performance contracting system. The system presupposes the need for an evaluation at the end of the term specified to check on the level of attainment of the set out goals. Performance appraisals have been set aside in certain institutions as the ideal moments for settling scores incurred during the implementation period. It has been used as a conduit for corruption where employees were threatened with poor grades should they be unwilling to part with certain conditions. Ladies have especially found this tough since it has especially served to entrench the practice of sexual exploitation since they have to part with sexual favors to access favorable performance grades. This experience has made many persons unwilling to accept the concept as good as it may be.

The other challenge with performance contracting is the capacity of the contracting officers to objectively set targets and measure performance. Most of the staff assigned the responsibility of setting and evaluating performance targets are never trained on the aspects of performance monitoring. In this case, they are unable to objectively measure the performance of the staff. They are not competent in understand how to factor in external influences on the performance of the staff, and more importantly, they fail to realize the interconnectedness among the various departments. In a school scenario for instance, failure by the Board and the Management may negatively affect the performance of the classroom teacher yet this interconnectedness is rarely factored in the evaluation.

By and large, performance contracting is a helpful approach to use, not just at the work place but also in other sectors of our lives. Families for instance want to know whether they are making progress in certain areas and so do other social assemblies including religious institutions. Performance contracting is hence not just a corporate concept but would be helpful to us in all aspects of life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pursue peace at work


By Francis Kahihu

The General Elections are eventually over. The announcement of the results brought along a crisis that has affected virtually everyone within Kenya. The effects have also been felt across our borders, especially in Uganda and the Great Lakes states. Lives have been lost and property destroyed. There is so much pain in the hearts of many people. The level of inflation has gone up. There is a problem unites all of us. We are all touched by the tentacles of the conflict hence share the pain, though there are those in our society who have been hurt more than the rest. To them, we say, pole and wish them quick recovery.

As we get back to our workplaces, we are nursing hurts. Some people are yet to report to work since they have been unable to travel back to their duty stations. Hundreds of others have also been killed hence workplaces are mourning, not just their own, but also relatives and friends of their workmates. There is a cry at work and this needs some urgent attention. Regardless of the side workers are on the political divide, there is a level of tension that is clearly manifested on the workplaces. The feelings borne by our relatives and friends, especially those undergoing difficult situations, are transferred to us at work. This seems to be shaping up attitudes at work leading to counter accusations.

This is sincerely not the time to settle scores at work based on how persons’ political inclinations. It is not the time to accuse each other of betray, nor is it the time to mock others with celebratory remarks. It is a time to seek peace and pursue avenues to heal our great land. One may ask, “What impact would a single person like me make in salvaging such a huge crisis?” Individuals make up groups. An individual utters words that propel reconciliation among communities and persons. We all have been presented with small worlds that we can positively influence.

The workplace is one such an opportunity. We spend our most active person-hours at work, hence have time to influence and to be influenced. As we gather back at work in the wake of the a national calamity, we have a duty towards society to seek peace among ourselves and hope that the multiplier effect will bring forth desired positive changes. If we were to embrace each other in the spirit of brotherhood (and sisterhood), we will set a precedent that would be replicated throughout the country. The fact is that we all have a world around us and these small worlds by far rely on certain things that we say and do. If we embrace one another and make requests to our kins to embrace other persons, we in a small bring desired change to the situation.

Late last year, I had published an article on how politics severe workplace relationships. Prior to the elections, we all had varied political inclinations. We now have to get back to work, forgetting the past and seek to pursue peace with one another. As it has been said in various quarters, the elections were a loss to the entire Kenyan people. We have not emerged with any winners in the poll as we all bleed. Emphasis now should be on the rebuilding the broken relationships.

It is likely that after the elections, the cliques that had formed before the elections will continue meeting discussing the results and the impact. Unfortunately, these cliques seem to add insult to the already painful injury. The cliques are exclusive clubs that fail to incorporate persons with divergent views. They hence only perpetuate division and suspicion and do little to reconcile the situation. A way forward would then be to break the cliques and where they cannot be broken, break the walls of the group and have a goal to propagate open discussions on the peace.

As much as political talk rules the air in most social conversations, it will be helpful to gauge the tone and attitude of our discussions to ensure that we are conciliatory in our speaking. Let us not be seen to revenge against our perceived adversaries by inflicting psychological harm through our language. It is our time to behave differently from the politicians who seek for every opportunity to divide and rule. We can serve as the glue to promote cohesion in our society by showing appreciation for one another and seeking to advocate for the respect of every member working with us.

Employers have the duty to play in ensuring that tribal inclinations are discouraged at all costs at work. This could be done by a demonstration of conscious employment policies that encourage integration of persons from varying communities.

Sending unsolicited resumes

Sending unsolicited resumes

Francis Kahihu

During times when jobs have become scarce by the day, many people are opting to disperse resumes to all and sundry. This is with the hope that one of those numerous resumes will land on the right soil for germination. It also goes out with the assumption that someone will find an interest to read this document that lands on their table without their request.

Sending out an unsolicited resume is a gamble, yet serves as the only option when we realise that advertised opportunities are getting hard to come by. Even in cases where vacancies are advertised, the level of competition is stiff hence, the probability of clinching the position is generally quite low. It then calls for risk-taking in getting your marketing tool, the resume and cover letter, out there to whomever you wish to consider your relevance for service.

The cost involved in sending out such resumes is high, with no guarantee of a positive return. This however should not dull your efforts from sending the resumes as even solicited for resumes do not all make positive rewards. The aspect of sacrifice comes in. The Bible indicates that when you plant seeds in the morning, in the evening, do not fold your hands, for you do not know which one will sprout. Whether this, or that or whether both will equally do well.

Let us consider an analogy of a farmer who disperses seeds. The dispersion, as much as it may seem haphazard is usually targeted. The farmer has to prepare the ground and possesses some level of knowledge of the ground that will receive the seed. The seed is also prepared so that the farmer minimizes on the risk of failure. The same principle applies to us when we consider sending out resumes that have not been solicited for. We need to do our homework well, and send out resumes that are targeted as much no one would have asked for them. They should be seen to be directed at a particular office or department, and not labeled as ‘to whom it may concern’. Remember the proverb that a goat owned in common dies out of hunger since each person thinks the other will feed it.

What department or program do you want to work in, and why? What do you intend to contribute? These are some of the probing issues you need to raise within yourself as you set to send out the resume. You should consider the relevance of your skills and training to the requirements of the position. This then implies that you need a lot of knowledge before sending out that resume. You need to have interacted with either the staff or clients of the potential employer to understand their mission and if possible, challenges being faced, that you may support in addressing.

As companies continue to expand and diversify, there are always plans to raise the human resource base. Through interactions with companies’ strategic plans, you are able to tell the direction a company plans to take and the implication of the human resource needs. Seek to network with staff at your desired employer so that you get hints of impending recruitments. Look at the company organograms to be sure your area of interest exists within the company so that you do not apply for positions that do not exist.

Recruitment is one of the most expensive exercises for any employer hence many do all they can to minimize on this necessary cost. One main strategy has been the development of a databank of potential employees. Sending a targeted though unsolicited resume drives its way into the databank so that though you do not receive prompt feedback, your details are stored for future reference. Talking to people around you, you will often hear someone say, ‘I applied for this job many months ago, forgot about it, and have just been surprised with a call for an interview’.

One main challenge in sending out unsolicited resumes is the fact that you are not sure what information to include since the requirements for the position are not clear. In this case, it is advisable to include as much information as possible. This is your insurance against mismatch of your skills and the requirements of the job. This however does not imply including anything you can ever think of. Your knowledge of the organization helps you draft a resume that is largely relevant, though still general.

Finally, be cautioned against sending a resume without an accompanying cover letter. As indicated in a recent article on the role of a cover letter, the resume without a cover will be considered more-strayed, as compared to an unsolicited resume but with a covering letter. The cover letter indicates that although the resume is not solicited for, you feel you have skills that could be useful to the employer. This then helps make your case for having considered the employer for engagement, either in employment or for an internship.

Who needs the probation period?

Who needs the probation period?

Words by Francis Kahihu

At the beginning of every employment contract, employers put their new employees on probation. The timeframe for the probation varies from one employer to another. There are employers who insist on periods not less than 3 months, while others would be comfortable with a week or two. This depends on the nature of the duties the candidate is taking up. Some employers, though, have a flat set period that every employee regardless of position will have to serve under probation.

Probation periods are designed to serve a variety of functions. The fact that you are still on probation means you are not yet fully absorbed into the staff roll, but you are under observation. This is an opportunity for the organisation to observe the new employee undertake duties as indicated on the job description. In this case, the probation period is used to assess the performance of the individual, especially with regard to settling in and having their hands down to work.

The probation period can be viewed, if used correctly, as one long audition for a job. In revealing an individual’s true skills and attitudes, it far surpasses any interviewing technique, new or old. There is no substitute for viewing an individual on the job in real work situations. Documentation should be kept, during the probation period, of the employee’s progress in relation to the agreed-upon criteria. The employer should be pro-active in counseling the employer on the shortcomings. Specific instructions should be provided on achieving the desired standards and the employer should provide its assistance. These are important elements in demonstrating the employee has been given a reasonable opportunity to meet the employer’s standards of conduct and performance.

In most cases, the recruitment process is deceived by various factors. With the challenge many people face in getting a job, there is bound to be the temptation to doctor someone’s resume to reflect a face of a person who is qualified in a particular area even when the only interaction with that field is quite remote. Cases abound of persons who manage to go through the entire recruitment process only to be found incapable of undertaking certain tasks the moment they get to the workplace. The probation period hence serves as an extension of the recruitment process. In fact, as much as you have been recruited and given an offer does not mean you are fully absorbed. The nature of the contract that you get will obviously indicate you are on probation for a particular number of months, after which you will be confirmed.

The probation period is not only helpful to the employer. The employees ought to also appreciate an opportunity when they are provided to assess their suitability for the particular job. An employee should realise that some jobs will be different from the indications they may have gotten at the interview table. Some of the items on the job descriptions are summaries of the real thing. When reality strikes, many employees are bound to feel cheated. The probation period is hence meant to help the employee assess whether or not the job is what they expected, and hence advise themselves on whether they like the working environment they operate in.

As much you may be an experienced player in the industry, the fact that you have joined a new employer means you are as new as any other person who may not have worked before. Take your time to learn the kind of workmates you will be working with and make positive impressions about people.

For many people, the probation period is a season of great uncertainty. The one big challenge with this period is the feeling that you are being spied on. The employer should let the employee know the reason why it is helpful to have a probation period. The aim of the period should be well understood by both parties. This makes the period productive as you both seek the support of each other during this time. As much as new employees should be keen how they behave during the probation period, it is helpful to note that you should also seek to be real. Be yourself so that so are not seen to behave artificially.

As you start on your new position, you will realise there are lots of new things that you are expected to do. Learn to be patient and seek for guidance. You would rather be accused of seeking for so much support than be suspended for messing up systems in your attempt to prove to all that you are an expert. What many employers seek for during the probation is the attitude and drive, and not necessarily your competence. It is common knowledge that you are new to the systems at the workplace and hence need time to learn them. However, seek to show desire and commitment to learn.

Do men need paternity leave?

Do men need paternity leave?

Words by Francis Kahihu

The new labour laws passed last year elicited a lot of debate from both employers and employees. At the heart of the controversy was the Employment Act 2007 that provided for women employees to have three months maternity leave, in addition to their annual leave. This has been met with resistance from the employers who feel that four months is a very long time for an employee to be away from their duty station. This is said to increase the cost of production since employers have to keep providing orientation to new staff covering for the ladies away on maternity. Female employees on their part feel this is a God sent opportunity to enable them take care of their babies for a little longer period before resuming office duties.

Apparently, there is rarely a mention of an equally drastic rule that was passed alongside the expanded maternity leave. The introduction of a two week paternity leave has passed unnoticed. We are barely hearing any debate on the implications of the leave. Why is our society so quiet about this? Is it an indicator of the lack of interest we have on the need for paternity leave? If so, who were the proponents of paternity leave? Might it have been made as a suggestion that went through the readings and was later divorced after birth? Was it a mistake made by our legislators? Are there men out there who can make a case on the need for paternity leave, or could an amendment comfortably pass through parliament to abolish the paternity leave without resistance from the male dominated tenth parliament.

Generally, men are not associated with taking care of babies immediately after birth. The period after a lady is delivered of a baby is often perceived by our society as a season for the mother to bond and interact, not only with her baby but also with her women folk. Men hence have been shoved off, or have they pushed themselves off? In our culture, men find little to do around the home when their spouse (or mother of their baby) is on maternity leave. Society has taught the man that his place is out-there seeking for a livelihood for the newborn. Women fill the home from dawn to dusk hence leaving the men with no space to operate from should they desire to be at home with the nursing mother.

The other day, I overheard a group of ladies talking and one quipped ‘having men on paternity leave will be such a bother for a nursing woman. We would rather have them away…out there with the other men.’ This was echoed by a number of men who also felt the need to let the nursing woman and her womenfolk have their space. One man told me that paternity leave will be a great opportunity to follow up after business prospects. It is hence a chance to make an extra coin, not anything near the intended purpose of supporting the nursing mother take care of the baby. ‘I need to get the coin to support the expanded expenditure’ said one man who insisted that paternity leave should have been provided for a month to enable him do more business out of conventional employment.

Despite the lack of excitement related to the provision of paternity leave, I have met several gentlemen who made some sense out of the proposed leave. The current breakdown of social ties has led to families leading rather isolated lifestyles, especially in the urban areas. We rarely know our next door neighbour. This implies the lack of adequate support that a lady would get from other women in the neighbourhood at childbirth. The man is then expected to offer the much needed support to the nursing mother.

For whatever reason, an increasing number of ladies are being delivered of babies through the caesarean section. This tends to lengthen the period of time within which the mother is fully recovered and strong to tend for herself and the baby. For a couple of weeks, the mother is bedridden, and in need of help as much as the baby. She then critically needs support around the clock. It is then expected that only the father of the baby should be available for that long. This is a duty the man of the home ought not to delegate to other women.

At times, there is the need to accompany the nursing lady for medical checkups after delivery. This may be required as a matter of urgency after birth hence the need to have the man available on call. The man would also be expected to run several errands around the home including shopping or picking guests from the nearby bus stage as child birth is known to assemble persons who would have been apart for several months. It serves as an opportunity to link up with long-not-seen friends hence many guests plan to visit nursing friends they have not met for long.