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Monday, December 19, 2011

‘Sibling’ Rivalry at Work

While most us will have gone through our early childhood as best of friends with our siblings, many have had to endure the rivalry that exists between children in the same family. The competition for the parents’ attention is high and the pressure to outdo the other is great. Most of the siblings would go to great heights to ensure they emerge as the favorites while their siblings end up in failure. But as much as rivalry among siblings had been considered negative, it also comes with its positive bag of goodies.

There is a replay of the home rivalry at work. While most of the competition among siblings is instigated by the kids who feel either left out or not appreciated, there are times when parents engineer such competition. At work, it is also known that many employers develop mechanisms to pit one department against another. You would have competition among two marketing teams, each with clear targets and objectives. The performance of one team is measured against the performance of the other. This is meant to encourage the teams to be creative, flexible and play ball better as a team.

When companies set you up for competition, there is little you can do since the performance of one team would always be used to explain why you should not have been unable to meet certain targets. There is no way you would say the market was harsh when your competing team is making great sales in the same environment. This is super for enhancing team commitment and play at work.

I recently overheard of a company that would produce two similar products targeted at the same market. The idea was to have the different product teams work out ways of ensuring they make inroads into the same market through different client products. This was tough. Why not produce products for different markets than make teams in the same company compete? The logic is simple. The client would be interested in the product and since clients work best with choices, give them the choice to make between product B and P, although they are not significantly different. How many brands of Yoghurt do we see teams competing to sell from the same company?

Since there is little that an employee would in most cases do to alter the strategy of the employer, it is wise to seek for ways of seeing the beauty in the beast. Seek to consolidate your team and develop strategies to win the clients over to your side. You will want to dialogue as teams to ensure you do not clash at the market place. As much as the clients may not get to know of the clash, there would the possibility of developing bad blood between the teams that could make the noble idea of team competition collapse. 

As a team player, concentrate on the product you are selling and not necessarily talking ill of your team mates’ products. In the long run, remember you are from the same parent and the umbilical cord from whence both of you get their nourishment is the same. Compete at peace.

Changing Jobs in December

Hurray. It is December. The year has been hectic and the end of every year usually brings in relief to many. It is a sort of psychological solace as the year draws to a close since employees and business people see the close of the year as a sign of the end of challenges experienced through the year. There are however those who have had a great time through this year and only look forward to greater experience in the coming year. The feelings are indeed mixed and the motivation as we close the year is as varied.

December is arguably one of the months that also serve as make or break for many. It is the month when workers seek for what they consider as greener pastures since there is usually a feeling that starting a new year on a new job is a sign of good tidings ahead. The persons who could have been jobless throughout this year may then be on the roll sending out applications and praying in all ways that they are called for interviews. On the other end, persons already engaged in various jobs are also seeking for what they consider as a well-deserved change since a change during this season could be considered as a morale booster.

With this motivation and perception, the job market is abuzz with activity. Lots of applications are being sent out against a job absorption capacity that may not accommodate everyone. Tensions rise by the day as the calendar moves on with few or no interview invites. With the level of anxiety rising as we draw closer to the festive season, staff get easily irritable as they realize their long desired opportunities are not forthcoming. 

As much as many persons are willing to leave their current places for better and more rewarding opportunities, it could be that more people are unsettled in their seats but still cling on since they have not found space elsewhere. With this, the scenario is of a workforce that is on its toes to leave yet can’t make a move due to lack of space. This leads to reduced productivity and inadequate planning for next year.

Managing staff transitions over December is a challenge for many HR practitioners. Depending on how the employer has managed the staff through the year, it would in most cases tell the behavior patterns at the close of the year. The advice is usually to ensure that HR managers better work with staff supervisors to ensure staff are treated with dignity throughout the year to be guaranteed of stable workforce in the mind throughout the seasons. 

As we experience the wave, many are normally carried away. Some people seek to change jobs for the sake of changing. They seek to change because it seems fashionable to do so. This can be counterproductive. Any job change should be well advised by positive motivations after a critical evaluation of what the next step holds. Hold on and only move when you should, when it is time to move, not because it is December.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How personal should a boss get?

Words by Francis Kahihu
The author is an Organizational Development Practitioner

When they get too far removed from the staff, they are said to be aloof yet when they get too close, staff express reservations with regard to respecting personal space. Just how personal should a boss get for staff to feel comfortable? What is the generally acceptable space between a staff and the boss so that the relationship progresses professionally with both parties feeling at peace with each other and not affecting the respect that ought to exist between the two offices?

Consider the experience of Katana, a Program Officer at an international organisation. One day, as he reported to work, he found a mail from his boss wishing him a happy birthday. This was a shocker. How had the boss known that he was about to celebrate his birthday that week? He was taken aback since his relationship with the said boss had been flat with the two only exchanging a greeting whenever they met along the corridor. 

On the actual birthday, Katana was surprised to get a card and a flower from the boss wishing him a well-deserved 29th birthday. This tore him apart. What was happening? Was the world falling apart? Something must have been wrong. This closeness made him uncomfortable. As far as Katana was concerned, the boss had no business wishing him a happy birthday. He imagined that the boss ought not to have even known when his birthday was since a birthday is a personal affair that junior staff should celebrate with their fellow juniors. 

As the workplace culture moves from personnel management to people resource management, bosses are getting more and more aware of the need to bring down several of the imaginary walls that exist between them and the staff they supervise. Bosses realise the need to treat staff as people first and then as workers for efficient and effective productivity. With this, supervisors increasingly want to get involved in certain components of the personal lives of their juniors knowing so well that instability at the personal level could well lead to reduced productivity.

The challenge however has been the management of this closing-in by the managers. It seems like the managers are having secret tips by workplace professionals on how to improve the culture at work that make them unleash surprise closeness to the rest of the staff. With this trend, there seems to be some disquiet as the rest of the staff wonder what could be happening. Staff realize that the bosses are getting closer every day and this makes them imagine the bosses are playing some tricks on them.

Some of the managers break the walls as a way of building teams and enhancing closer interactions within their departments. This process should however be well communicated. The staff should know that the management is seeking to improve on workplace relations and wishes to enhance more effective teamwork among the staff, and especially between the staff and managers. With this clarity, staff would feel comfortable when they find their bosses drawing closer and getting more concerned about the staff personal welfare than before. 

This change of culture should however be managed within the limits of professional ethics to mitigate against unexpected consequences. It could be that some of the bosses may want to get too close at the pretext of wanting to be better teammates while some employees may want to get too close to the boss so as to attempt to manipulate. Regardless of the culture change prescription, the workplace must ensure it respects individual personal spaces in line with the acceptable cultures and values of staff and operating environment.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do team building activities build teams?

The season is on and the bells have rung. It is time for team building. Companies and organisations are on the roll, planning for this year’s team building parties. The budgets are set aside and they are huge. The consultants have been procured and the planning is in top gear. The deliverables are clear and the team builders are busy purchasing the paraphernalia for the great team building they are about to facilitate. It truly is all systems go.

But as the craze hits the season, we would want to consider whether this hype adds up to any positive results with regard to team building. Do team building activities actually build teams or do they serve to pacify organisations into imagining that teams are being built even when none of that is being accomplished? 

 Jethro’s example could be a classic indicator of how team building has evolved over the years. He works for one of the leading companies in the country and has just come from a team building activity. While he was on leave, he was reminded by his supervisor that he had not attended the company’s team building activities as part of his performance targets and that he needed to do so before the end of the current month.
Wise as he was, he visited the local branch of his company and coincidentally, the branch had scheduled for a teambuilding activity the following weekend. With this information, he forwarded his name to the branch manager indicating that he would be joining the team for their teambuilding activity. By the end of that day, he had participated in a team building activity and a report way forwarded to his boss and this was included in his file and worked well for him during his performance appraisal.

This experience raises significant issues with regard to team building activities. Do they actually build teams or are they just part of a company’s policies and targets that must be met every so often. How much of team building happens when staff go out of the offices to a retreat center to play and sweat the whole day, accompanied with lots of eating and drinking. Just how much of teams are developed when staff are encouraged to ‘feel’ part of a team with their bosses and supervisors with whom they never see eye to eye during normal office engagements and are expected to put on a happy ‘team’ face during the field activities?

Team building should be taken as a process and not a one-time activity. Employers should be keen on what strategies they put in place to enhance natural and organic team building instead of spending too many resources on ‘teambuilding’ sessions that add no value to the company. Team building does not necessarily happen in the field when staff are involved in a ‘trust fall’ or when staff have to get into ‘teams’ to pull each other during a ‘tug of war’ event. With the joys and ululations that accompany such sessions, little of team building is accomplished since the engagements are short-lived.

It is necessary for the companies to realize the need for concerted effort throughout the year and note that trust within a team is earned through various engagements over time and not through an event. Companies should analyse their team challenges and consult professionals on a long term strategy to achieve their required goals with regard to forming and building teams instead of spending resources on activities that don’t necessarily add up. But in the meantime, let the celebration retreats go on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What if you lose your job today?

Losing a job is one of the subjects many people would rather not talk about. It is a taboo topic just like death and we would rather live on as though it will happen only to other people. With the rising inflation, the rise in interest rates and the loss of value of the local currency, many employers have initiated several institutional restructuring processes that have included job cuts. Several others have factored possible job cuts in their medium term strategies.

It is hence a reality that you could just be a victim of the changes in the air and with the stroke of a pen, you could just be rendered jobless. This is a hard reality yet when it strikes, we all wish we were better prepared for it. Since it is a possibility that the axe can fall on any person, it is wise to consider how well prepared we are for such an eventuality. Companies have different strategies in laying off staff. They could either target the lower cadre, the middle level management like what the KCB Group did a couple of months ago, or even consider laying off the senior management in a bid to manage both costs and productivity.

Knowing that we could just be the next in line after the forthcoming board discussions, how well could we then prepare for a job loss? There are several factors that we need to consider in this process. It is necessary to compare our current monthly income with the total monthly expenditure. This will help us appreciate the amount of surplus we have every month. The comparison will also help us acknowledge the most important costs that must be catered for in the event of a job loss.

Experts in financial management advise that every employed staff should ensure they have some savings that would comfortably take them through 3 months expenses in the event they lose their job. This is critical since you will be able to plan for all the important costs and will help your life not to stall. The sad fact is that many of us live on the edge, spending all we earn and have little or nothing to take us across the lake should the boat fuel get finished mid stream.

Most persons who are self-employed would imagine this piece would only apply to those who are employed by others. The reality however is that even self-employed people can suddenly find themselves without a source of livelihood. Consider the events of the post-election violence in 2008 or the fires that have razed businesses in the recent past. We can all be victims of joblessness hence the need to be equally on the ready.

Having an extra source of income is a great idea for risk mitigation. It is never wise to rely on your employment as the only source of your family livelihood. Since there is no written guarantee that you can never lose the job or business, it is always a great idea to diversify your income sources. Have a business here and some consultancy engagements there as you spread your income net wider. Should your main source of income be interrupted, you should find safety on the other running opportunities.

Finally, as much as the current penetration level of insurance in Kenya ranks at below 5%, it is always a wise idea to ensure we insure our businesses and ourselves so that should fire gut down our premises or we are involved in accidents that leave us totally disabled, hence out of work, such systems could come to our rescue. Since we never can tell what the future holds, it is better to be prepared all ways.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Use your networks for job search

Searching for jobs seem to be getting more and more challenging for many people. With the cost of living rising every other day, no one would afford to stay unemployed if they are to meet their rising costs. This tends to exert pressure on the unemployed since they realize that as much as they need the jobs, the jobs don’t seem to be coming their way. Many try to access job opportunities through the traditional newspaper adverts, while others rely on the company website for job related information.

One highly underutilized mechanism for job search is the network of friends. Each of us has several networks that can be utilized for job hunting. The friends you had in college might be holding great positions in both companies and organizations. They could just be the source of information about available job opportunities that you could take advantage of in your job search. The truth is that many of us only need the information about available job opportunities to prove ourselves through the systems.

Some of us would however rather stay jobless than let our college mates know that we are still tarmacking. This is a ‘wise’ way of sustaining our self-esteem. It could be that you were among the high flying students, always topping the class performance but have had to do without a job since graduation while those who were not very good in class seem to have got jobs immediately after campus.

I am not sure what self-esteem someone would be fighting for even when they have been unable to secure a job. As much as it is great to hold onto to what really matters to one’s esteem, it is foolhardy to hold onto that which does not value to your life. Swallowing our pride and approaching our former college mates could just be what we require to land that dream job. The fact that they know and trust us might work well for us since the job market today seems to be driven more by trust, and not just the capacity to deliver results.

If you are a member of a religious assembly, seek to utilize that facility for your job search efforts. Realize that most of the persons who attend those gatherings every weekend are the same persons who occupy high offices during the week. They are the employers who might be struggling to fill certain vacancies. Unless you have a sticker on your face indicating you are seeking for a job, no one will know unless you talk. Share your career objectives and current status with them after the service and give them a neatly done copy of your resume.

Finally, just scroll down your phone book and you will be amazed at the number of potential persons who could link you up with potential employers. The people whose phone numbers we share could be of other support other than just communication for social events. They could have important contacts with potential employers that could greatly help us.

Monday, October 10, 2011

When a supervisor is not a supervisor

The author is an Organizational Development Practitioner

Are all supervisors, supervisors? Could it be that many people are supervisors by title and not by function? Maybe not. In case you bear the title supervisor at work, I suggest you read through to tell whether you truly are a supervisor or whether you are just one by title. If you have a supervisor, read on to decipher whether yours is a supervisor or just a boss who happens to bear the title supervisor.

Supervision is one of the most critical skills at the workplace yet the most over looked. Many employers have designated certain staff as supervisors yet are not able to tell the extent to which supervision is facilitated. Could it be that many people are regarded as supervisors just because they have staff working under them? In most cases, this seems to be the case.

A supervisor is primarily expected to play the role of a mentor at the workplace. It is hoped that the supervisor will help the members of his or her team to better appreciate the expectations of their roles. To this end, the supervisor should find time and space to clearly explain the job description to the staff and walk with them in appreciating the nitty gritties of the job. However, in certain cases, the ‘supervisors’ expect the staff to read, understand and perform. In several cases, the ‘supervisors’ have been totally unaware of the job descriptions of the staff under them. They get surprised when they learn of what the staff are doing out of office.

As a coach or mentor, the supervisor is expected to walk the path of performance with the staff they supervise. He should be involved in supporting the staff go through the work related challenges and provide advice. In these instances, the supervisor should provide guidance on the way forward and not sit and expect the staff to falter so that they can use the case as the basis for poor performance appraisal. The supervisor should ideally seek to grow the staff under them and not necessarily look for weak points to blow up during the regular appraisals.

It is expected of a supervisor to enhance team work at the workplace. The supervisor hence seeks to support the team in the development of team plans and their execution. Building a team should be at the core of the supervisor’s performance appraisal. It is then given that the supervisor should remain impartial while working with the team. He should not be seen to be favoring certain staff while reprimanding others with no good reason.

Bearing in mind all the expectations of the supervisor, you would then realize how many of ‘supervisors’ are really supervisors. Many people bask in the glory of being referred to as supervisors even when they barely scratch the surface with regard to playing out their roles effectively. The challenge however is not with the persons as it were but with the systems within which they operate. Many employers rarely induct and orient supervisors on their expected roles and only expect them to do all that appertains to supervision with little or no preparation. This highly contributes to the lackluster performance by many of our supervisors.