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Monday, January 30, 2012

How should we best treat outsourced staff?

As the pressure to improve performance gains momentum, employers are seeking more creative ways of ensuring they remain focused on their core business. Many have realised that by coordinating all functions at the work place can be a daunting task and hence seek to outsource some of the tasks they consider non-core. Depending on the company’s engagements, these could include logistics, security, cleaning and cafeteria management. 

As you evaluate your choices and decisions in outsourcing different components of your operations, you will need to consider the advantages and challenges of outsourcing. When done for the right reasons and in the right manner, outsourcing will actually help your company grow and save resources. There however are concerns that arise with the management of outsourced services.

It is a concern among many workers that companies apparently do not consider the outsourced staff as part of their core teams. With this perception, companies do not involve the outsourced staff in the appreciation of the company’s strategy since it is thought that they have little value to add to it. But is this truly the case? Should outsourced staff be treated to some extent, as part of the company’s team? What information should they be provided with to ensure they better understand what the company is involved in and in what forums should they be included to ensure they feel part of the company’s team agenda?

These are critical concerns that elicit lots of debates (just as I am sure this article will). Should the outsourcing company for instance be concerned about the welfare of the outsourced staff, or should the concern lie only on the performance of the persons. Do the outsourcing companies have any obligation over the outsourced staff or should that be the ‘headache’ of the outsourced institution? If the outsourcing company gets concerned about the outsourced staff, does it imply it is usurping the role of the outsourced agency? We need to strike a balance.

According to Organisational Development Specialists at Act! (, it is critical for the outsourcing company to appreciate that as much as it has outsourced the function from another, it is to its advantage to ensure that the outsourced staff blend well with the rest of the team and appreciate the company’s mission.  The services of the outsourced staff are not isolated from the rest of the staff in the company’s payroll. The outsourced staff should be well briefed about the outsourcing organisation’s strategy and values to better represent the brand.

The challenge however is in the determination of the level of engagement that the outsourcing company should have with the outsourced staff. If they get too involved in the affairs of the outsourced company, it may end up erasing the rationale for outsourcing yet complete withdrawal could affect brand ownership by all who develop with it. 

All staff working in your company should be well motivated regardless of whether they are on your payroll or not. Adequate motivation makes the staff produce desired results. Companies that outsource should realize that the delivery of the expected results is directly implemented by the individual staff who is assigned roles at the company and not by the outsourced company’s head office. The outsourcing company should hence seek ways of motivating the outsourced staff for better and efficient results.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When supervisors fail their teams

When Jonathan took up his new position as the Projects Coordinator, he was sure God had finally smiled at him. It had been long in coming as he had witnessed staff with far less experience and training take up better positions in the company while he continued to mark time. Now that he had been considered for a more ‘responsible’ position, excitement made him walk over the moon.
However, one year into his task, the persons he supervises have raised numerous complaints to the senior management accusing him of failing them in their achievement of results. This, they claim, has negatively affected their chances of progressing and have been unable to develop a case for a salary increase due to their invisible results. But what could be some of the reasons that make supervisors fail their own teams? I sought to explore a few possibilities.

Ill preparedness: Simple sampling of many supervisors at the workplace today indicates that most of them have been given up positions that expect them to supervise other staff yet with little or no preparation. It is common practice to find institutions promote staff on day one and expect them to be aware of what is expected of them especially with regard to people management as supervisors. Supervision is a skill that ought to be learned.

Poor communication: Communication is at the heart of supervision. Facilitating a group or team to work together to deliver results requires clear communication of the results expected and the path the team should pursue to achieve the goals. In most cases, supervisors are directed by senior management and the board of directors on what needs to be pursued by staff and are expected to effectively communicate it to their teams. Depending on how the information is communicated, the teams could either buy in or reject the suggested strategies.

Weak mentorship: It is expected that supervisors should serve as mentors to the persons they supervise. As a supervisor, it is hoped that you have skills, experience and vision to transfer to the persons you supervise to enable them achieve their objectives. This calls for a structured strategy to identify what capacity development issues are within your team and develop a mechanism of supporting the supervised both individually and collectively to achieve the goals. 

Finally, poor representation of staff concerns. By default, it is expected that supervisors should serve as representatives of the persons they supervise especially on instances when there are challenges at the workplace. The supervised expect their supervisors to present their concerns and interests so that all decisions being made in the company consider their concerns. Great supervisors seek to maintain a positive bond with their teams so that should there be concerns, staff feel free to raise them with their supervisors. Aloof supervisors do harm untold to the welfare of their juniors.

Just what are employers looking for?

I spent the last week of 2011 and the initial 2 days of 2012 at a conference that brought together over 2500 university and college students from across the world at the Kabarak University. This was an amazing moment as associates engaged with students on various issues of concern among them entry and growth in the workplace. As I facilitated some seminars on job search, I could not avoid noticing that some of the participants were frustrated with the job market.
One of the participants indicated that she has been on the job search trail over the last two years, has sent out numerous applications and attended several interviews but has not received any job offer. This has made her traverse from disappointment to disillusionment as she wonders whether she would ever get her dream job. Empathy has set in and she is not sure of what the future holds. Amidst all these experiences was a deep seated concern: What might employers be looking for that she has not presented so far?

There are a few considerations that job seekers ought to be alive to as they hit the ground for a job. Employers are people seeking to meet prescribed targets and hence get into the market of people for specific skills, competencies and character that promises to meet their need. A realization that employers can at times get desperate for skilled and appropriate persons should encourage desperate job seekers that they could meet on the way with the prospective employer.

Job seekers should be aware that employers are looking for people to employ. They are keen on an individual who possesses certain character traits that meets their need. Every workplace and task requires certain traits in terms of character and hence employers get out seeking for the missing or requisite character from among the job seekers. 

The challenge with the market however is that most of the job seekers only present their certificates to the employer and fail to appreciate that the employer may not at that moment be interested in the papers but in the person. When searching for a job, consider marketing who you are alongside what you can do for the employer. Always remember that people employ people.

The second important consideration by employers is the relevance of the skills and experience. As much as job seekers vilify employers for asking for high qualifications in terms of work experience, I would suggest that you position yourself in the role of the employer. If you have a task that has to be accomplished within a limited timeframe and budget, would you rather go for someone with some level of experience or one with no experience at all? That is the dilemma. Employers seek for relevant experience since that is what is expected to deliver results. Job seekers should hence seek to value their experience and package it to reflect relevance to the employer.

Finally, presenting yourself as a complete package is helpful. In addition to the degree or diploma you studied on campus, what else do you have to show to complement the degree? Relevant certificates are a great resource when presented for a relevant opportunity. It is never wise to disclose all the certificate courses you have undertaken especially if you are convinced some may not add value to your job bid.

So, as you work out your job search strategy for 2012, consider your character, your experience and skills and seek for jobs that require your package.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Embracing Excellence at Work

The calendar days have started counting and sooner than later, we will start the countdown to the end of the year. As we reflect on how the last year ran, we might be considering resolutions moving forward into 2012. In addition to the resolutions you could be contemplating, I would suggest an extra one. Seek to embrace excellence in whatever you do this year. 

Excellence is a state of mind that involves seeking to be the best we can be. We get to appreciate our inner capacities and the requirements of certain jobs and tasks and commit to be the best we can be at them. We draw energies and motivation from within to produce results that amaze both ourselves and those around us. The pursuit of excellence is one known means of reflecting intrinsic motivation at work. We determine our own goals and means of achieving them and get down to doing what we desired to do.

The passion to be excellent at work pulls us from cocoons of self-pity and disillusionment when we realize we can produce results that make our work environment a satisfying place. There are however two main reasons why many workers today struggle with the pursuit of excellence.

Dislike for what one does

 A study undertaken among Kenyan university students a couple of years ago indicated that more than 50% of the sampled students did not like the courses they were pursuing. Many felt like they had been coerced either by the Joint Admissions Board or by their parents and guardians to pursue the programs. With this experience, many did not appreciate what they were doing for the 4 years they were on campus. Unless a miracle happens to such persons, they carry over the dislike to the jobs they eventually land.

I have heard many staff indicate that they are just holding on to what they are currently pursuing as they have no other option. This can be a time wasting season and denies the staff passion for what they do. Excellence is never a concern since they feel misplaced and mismatched. These staff hence just work to earn the pay cheque with no motivation to do more than what is barely expected of them.

Dislike for where one works 

Do you like where you work? Do you feel motivated to produce better results for your employer? Assuming there are no performance targets, would you do half of what you do at your workplace? There are many workers who love their field of work but have no attraction for their employer. Due to this psychological removal from their employer, the staff never think out of the box and never work to produce better results than what is on the job description.
Regardless of the motivation for the lackluster performance, the worker denies herself the opportunity to grow and shine and fails to become what she should. You lose the chance to learn and impede your chances for career progression. Failure to pursue excellence also robs you of the satisfaction that is drawn from excellent performance, whether appreciated by your employer or not.

Career Growth yet not Upwards

How has the year been? Would you say there has been any progress along your career path? What are marks of progress? Might you be closer to where you wanted to be than you were at the start of the year? A look back at the year that is ending raises critical questions in the minds of many. Career progression has always been equated with vertical growth up on the organisational structure. Moving up from being an assistant to becoming an officer, or from being an accountant to becoming the chief accountant. That is great and clearly motivates many employees.
There is however a cohort of employees that has gotten content with lateral career growth. This is growth that is horizontal. Such employees would not die fighting for a promotion up the company hierarchy. They have found satisfaction in growth that is horizontal. The fight for the upper echelons at the company has been substituted with the desire to seek for challenging tasks, seeking for innovations to perform task and running with the task. These staff have realized that career growth can be as rewarding horizontally as it is vertically.

This trend has been necessitated by various reasons. In many companies, most of the high level positions are already filled by the baby boomers who are permanent and pensionable, aka P & P. It is therefore not wise to sit and wait until the bosses vacate the seats since it could just be they are with the employer till death or ill health or retirement do them part.

The upcoming young generation realizes it requires seeking for satisfaction not in vertical growth but in actual tasks accomplished. This has produced a high flying workforce that is running after tasks, seeking for challenges as they are easily and quickly bored by routine. They actually abhor most of the available vertical promotions since they realize that the vertical growth comes with more responsibilities and less time for innovation and fun at work. They hence seek to remain ‘down here’ where they can make all manner of trials and errors since they know they have the space and time to be creative.

Due to the fact that many employers will normally make salary adjustments every year, the lateral career ladder enthusiasts will bask in ever rising salaries at their levels yet with more time on their hands to remain true to their inner desires. At this level, they have fewer or no staff to supervise on a top bottom approach hence have better opportunities to mentor on the job. They hand-hold their mentees since they work on the same level on the same tasks, and not necessarily sending tasks downstream for the lower cadre to implement.