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Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you conflict sensitive at work?

Words by Francis Kahihu

The Kenyan National Assembly has on its in-trays a bill seeking to regulate the use of vernacular in public offices. The proponents of the bill indicate that by use of vernacular languages, people who do not understand it at the workplace feel threatened and sidelined in discussions. In brief, they suggest that the use of vernacular at the workplace leads to potential conflicts when people perceive the switching to vernacular as means to back bite others or make plans behind the back of colleagues. It will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.

Conflict sensitivity is the inherent realization that the reactions, actions, words or behaviors of one person could trigger a conflict either with another or a group of people. The workplace is one such a environment where individual differences and perceptions could easily lead to either overt or covert conflicts. It is hence helpful to gauge how sensitive we are to others so that we do not trigger conflicts with our workmates. Rate yourself against the following parameters and score your conflict sensitivity mark.

Use of vernacular: As indicated above on the bill before parliament, are you keen on using your vernacular whenever you are engaged in a chat with a staff with whom you share a mother language? As you engage in the vernacular chat, do you realize that there are other people in the office who do not understand what you are talking about and may feel left out in the conversation? In cases where you were chatting in your mother tongue with a friend and a colleague from another community joins you, do you consider it courteous to change the language to one that all persons can understand or do you proceed regardless of whether the colleague understands what you are saying or not?

Gossip: Are you the kind of person who generously opens up their mouth and utters whatever comes to their mind about other people? Are you always itching to leave the office over tea or lunch break so that you can tell others the’ hot news’ about your other colleague or even your boss? Does it bother you that you rarely first seek to confirm the truth about some of the allegations you level against your colleagues?

Language: Do you usually think twice before uttering certain words to your colleagues? Is it important to you to realize that that people are of different backgrounds with strong convictions on certain issues? Do the differences in religious affiliations, tribal orientations and social backgrounds strike you as important to note when relating with people? Do you make quick accusations of other people without clearly appreciating the reasons as to why they behave the way they do? Are you quick in making generalizations about people and take them as applicable to all in your speech and conduct?

If you have more than 3 positive responses to all the issues raised above, you may then want to consider a mentor’s help in helping you become more conflict sensitive.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Your personality matters during interviews

Words by Francis Kahihu

As the dust eventually settles on the interviews facilitated by the Judicial Service Commission for the positions of Chief Justice and the Deputy, the manner in which the process was carried out has continued to dominate public discourse since the close of the process. It was a rare occasion for the public to be treated to a real job interview show on live TV. Readers who have been sending emails asking about possible interview questions witnessed live sessions that should add value as they prepare for the interviews.

The most interesting observation however was on the role that someone’s personality plays in the determination of the best candidates for a position. During the interviews, you must have realized that after the panel scrutinized the academic credentials of the candidates, they decided to place more value on the past engagements and personalities of the persons being interviewed. One of the candidates was alleged to shout at clients and this seemed to be her undoing. Just why should the panel be concerned about the personality of the candidate?

Interviewers are people seeking to propose people for certain job opportunities. With this in mind, it is clear to appreciate the reasons why the panel tends to be drawn towards people who impress them. A person with a pleasant personality is most likely to be proposed for a certain job as compared to one with a dull personality. This happens even in cases where the ‘dull personality’ person has better qualifications than the one with a pleasant personality. This is understandable since in certain cases, persons with dull personalities are unable to better express themselves to panelists.

I have been part of interview panels where persons with lower grades were able to express themselves with lots of enthusiasm to the extent of convincing the panel that their deficiencies are well within their plans for capacity development. This tends to make the panel look upon them with a certain amount of favor hence a more favorable score.

The second reason why personality matters relate to the fact that panelists in most cases would be interviewing would be work colleagues. It is human to hope to hang around pleasant people. In this case, panelists seem to be driven by an inner desire to recruit a pleasant team member. As the interviews progress, the panelists subconsciously battle with the identification of a person who will be a great team member, a person they will all want to hang around. The way you express yourself hence has a direct relationship with the possibility of being hired.

It is also worth noting that jobs have a way of determining the appropriate personalities for effectiveness. For people expected to work in front office and customer care or community mobilization jobs, pleasant personalities are preferred. This explains why persons are advised to pick on careers that match their personalities since there is a relationship between careers and personalities. On the flip side, there are cases when people with outgoing personalities have been locked out of certain jobs since they have been seen to be less serious in life. It is hence wise to play a balance around your personality so that you do not unnecessarily deny yourself an opportunity for a job.

It is however good to note that is possible for persons to make certain adjustments on their personalities to match certain job requirements. Talk to experts on how to align your personality with your career choices and aspirations.

The Positive Side of Staff Turnovers

Words by Francis Kahihu

This came as a pleasant assertion by the CEO of an NGO in Nairobi last week. During one of the several staff exit parties, he articulately let staff appreciate the fact that staff turnovers are not necessarily a negative thing. This was an attempt to help staff realize that turnovers should not always be demonized since they could be an indicator of something positive.

As his brief talk went on, he narrated an experience of a head of a project who was castigated by an evaluation panel since from the start of the three year project, no single staff had left the organisation. This was interpreted to imply that the head had been ineffective in promoting staff development. With the results of the midterm exercise, the manager went back and in consultation with the HR officer and staff developed a professional development policy and strategy for the staff for the remaining project period.

It is true that staff turnovers lead to the disruption of processes and relationships at the work place. The employer has to incur extra costs in the process of recruiting the replacements, inducting the new teammates and have to contend with the speed at which the new staff pick up the tasks. All this slows down the general procedures leading to delayed or non realization of the set targets. Relationships are also interfered with as the remaining staff are left ‘mourning’ the departure of their colleagues.

The turnover of staff can however be a positive indicator of positive happenings within the organisation. It could also be what the organisation really requires for improved performance. It has been said that market leaders provide human resources capacities to those behind them. At a CEO’s forum held recently, one of the leading CEOs indicated that leaders should not always blame themselves wondering how to stem the transition of staff. He said that as a market leader, you will always prepare human capacity for other players hence is an unstoppable result. He then encouraged them to appreciate turnover especially when they are sure they have put in place adequate measures to ensure that staff are not necessarily leaving the organisation for lack of growth opportunities but for greater challenges.

The turnover of staff can be a great blessing to the organisation. After years of engaging the same staff, people get into the ‘normal’ gear where no much energy is expensed. Staff slacken in their service delivery as the challenge of the work diminishes. Since familiarity begets contempt, the quality of services is compromised and the level of internal skills transfer reduce. Habituation creeps in. This is the experience when staff get used to certain stimuli that they no longer appreciate the gaps in the system. This is detrimental to the growth of the organisation. The turnover of staff hence ensures a natural flow of fresh energy and ideas into the system. How many times have you heard new staff raise issues at the workplace that make others wonder ‘and we have been here yet haven’t seen it in that way’?.

Finally, staff turnovers have a tendency to revitalize an organisation’s culture. People with different personalities join the organisation and influences the culture either for the better or worse. When well managed, the organisation can harness impressive character traits to empower the rest of the team with a valuable culture.

When a job takes away your life

Words by Francis Kahihu (the author is an Organisational Development Practitioner)

When Paul requested Andrew for a coffee date, it was clear in Andrew’s mind that Paul must have been going through some kind of psychosocial challenges. The tone with which he talked on phone was indicative of a friend experiencing difficult times. Andrew scheduled for the meeting the following week to the delight of his friend. True to his expectations, Paul was a man under pressure. ‘My job has taken away my life’ he told Andrew. The rest of the story is left to my narration.

Since Andrew got employed at the company, he had come to love his job. With great diligence and commitment, he served the clients and this led to his quick upward mobility. He moved from an officer position to a senior manager’s position within a period of 2 years. The promotions however came with their bit of challenges. Due to the tight deadlines and the ever increasing portfolios, Paul would work till late in the night. Leaving the office past 9pm was the norm rather than the exception. Severally, he had to report to work over the weekends and on public holidays as he had to keep the processes in motion.

By the time he called his friend Andrew for a chat, he had for sure endured the pressure to the brim. At this point, he realized that with all certainty, his job had taken away his life. He rarely had time to interact with his wife and children as he left for work long before they woke up and returned home a fatigued man unable to engage in any active activities with his family. He was for sure giving the rest of the world his best time and energies and providing his family and friends with his life’s crumbs. This was a cause for worry for him.

And Paul is not alone in this experience. I have interacted with many workers who are going through the motions of work with a biting feeling that their lives have been hijacked by the jobs they liked at first. The demands at work always push people beyond their initially imagined limits hence robbing the workers of their time and space. With higher targets being set every year and the expansion of both geographical coverage and types of products, employees are being pushed to the wall as they have to deliver the expected results failure to which they risk losing their jobs.

The challenge however has been on what to do when an employee finds himself in such a state, a state where he likes the job yet the job seems to be taking his own life away from him. These are the moments when an employee needs to re-engage with his values and motivation for work. Whoever had developed the criteria that had a day divided into three 8-hour blocks, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for work and 8 hours for socialization had considered the best balance for life. Whenever someone’s job eats into the sleep and socialization territories, there is need for an evaluation of whether the job is either building or destroying the staff’s life.

Successful individuals are those persons who manage to excel in all the three key spheres. They do well at work, are good with their social lives and find adequate time to relax and reenergize their systems.

Q and A: I completed form 4 last year and had performed well in my subjects of interest. My parents however have informed me that they have consulted and are planning to have me enrolled for a course that least interests me. Should I keep quiet and let the ball roll or should I confront them and tell them point blank that I am not interested in ‘their’ course?

A: This remains as one of the key challenges that young people and their parents face with regard to career choice. Parents tend to suggest what they consider the best choice for their children with little or no consultation with their sons and daughters. Many young people have kept quiet when confronted with similar situations and have lived to regret their silence. I would advise that you consider a chat with your parents for an appreciation of their reasons for their choice. It could actually turn out to be your best bet in life especially if you are not fully convinced as to why you want to pursue the course you consider appropriate.