In this interview, the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), Busola Alofe, spoke on the need to leverage digital solution to change the landscape of work. She highlights the institute’s strategic objectives for 2020, which focuses on work, the worker and the workplace, and its partnership with organisations like the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), to bridge the unemployment gap, among other critical issues to create a viable workplace.Excerpts:
What do organisations need to do in order to improve the landscape of work?
There are a number of things. First is the role of leadership. Leadership is a thread that holds everybody together in an organisation. Leadership has the power to mandate things to happen. There is need for leadership that focuses on connecting the strategic objectives of the organisation to the people, and making sure that the people have everything that they need, then I am certain that such organisations will better achieve their business objectives. So, focus on leadership, appoint the right leaders and develop them and make sure that they in turn are nurturing the workforce. Secondly, it is digital world because digitalisation has taken over everything that we do.
We cannot run away from the power and impact of technology to radically enable the achievement of business objectives. So, if organisations are going to succeed both in terms of the work that is being done, the people that need to do the work and the environment in which work is done, we must leverage digital solutions to achieve that, so employees will need to be trained, retrained, skilled, up skilled and multi-skilled.
Certain skills are disappearing and more skills will disappear. In this world, artificial intelligence is the order of the day, where robotics is taking over previously administrative and intensive task and free up time and space for workers to step up in terms of higher value in activities to deliver impacts. So, we need to develop our people to understand, deliver and take advantage and deploy digital solutions in achieving the objectives of the organisation. Technology is very important.
The third point is the importance of having high performance culture. A lot of the impact of the digital technology is the way skills and behaviours need to change, so it necessitates a cultural transformation in organisations if they are actually to remain alive to strive and survive. So, companies that wish to exceed expectations going forward, will have to really look at the different elements of their culture and make sure culture is aligned with strategy. Culture is what leadership allows. So leveraging technology and developing people to take advantage of digital solutions, and addressing cultural transformation to ensure all of these things align with the strategic objectives of the organisation are very critical.
There seem to be prevalent cases of unfair treatment and unjust termination of employment in several sectors for instance banking and manufacturing among others. What is the institute doing to prevent unfair termination of appointments that are carried out mostly by HR?
First, there is a perception that it is HR fault actually. However, as HR practitioners, we often end up having to clean the mess, after certain things have gone wrong. I actually believe that there is a big responsibility as well on the business managers, who oversee the workers directly. There is a saying that people actually join their managers/leaders, they don’t join the company. My experience of an organisation whether positive or negative is going to be largely my experience with my boss and because of the culture of the organisation. If there are unfair practices, we have to go back and find out the people leading in these organisations. There is a huge responsibility for us to look into the area of leadership and development. Secondly, our regulatory accountability also means that how are labour laws complied with and through our members who are leaders of HR in all these organisations, and members of HR departments in all these organisations.
We also have that accountability to pay attention to how people are being treated, whether it is in accordance with the laws or not. Whether the practices, and processes are in compliance or not and where they are not, there is need to step up and do something to change it. We are tending towards an area where increasingly we step in to regulate and enforce. For instance, we have a mediation and resolution committee in the CIPM and we sit on cases that are brought to our attention particularly with the mind set of arbitration. But there are very serious cases we have had to bring to the attention of the National Industrial Court with a view to say that these things are happening, may be in a particular sector, prevalently with certain type of organisations and the things are not in line with labour laws and something needs to be done. So that space is increasingly where we are going to step in.
What is the focus of the new administration on the issue of contract employees?
In today’s world, the conversation is around the extended workforce. By extended force, I am not just talking about the direct employees of an organisation, but also the contractors that work with the organisation. Contractors are employed indirectly by third party organisations to deliver a service to the organisation in question. The fact is that we have to look at the entire space, because we cannot say that it is only a particular staff of an organisation that deliver the value or that problems that affect business performance are only associated with the permanent staff. It is the entire ecosystem. I believe that in our respective organisations, in line with global best practices thinking today to really think about the extended workforce in everything we do. In my view, I think that an organisation that employs or contracts service providers may not necessarily have the totality of the responsibility.
The third party services provider itself should have human resource management practitioners that understand the labour laws, and establishes the right processes for managing people. As part of its services, the contracting organisation might help educate and develop the HR team and even the business leaders of the contractor company because many contractor companies are actually small, some are very large. But different companies have various maturity levels in terms of their HR practices. So, that is where I see the connection between the organisation that owes the permanent staff and how it treats the contractor workforce that supports its business objective. The fact is that it is both groupings of staff that will achieve the objectives and if objectives are not achieved, we will be able to trace it to both. So totality of workforce is what is important here.
Nigeria’s unemployment rate is projected to move close around 32% in 2020. What are your thoughts and how is the institute contributing to the reduction of unemployment in Nigeria?
We will partner as much as it is visible when it comes to research. We have research and we have studies, and this needs to dovetail into action and to the execution of recommendations of these studies. There is another opportunity for partnership with other organisations such as the Industrial Training Fund and others, when it comes to the execution to close the gaps and address the so called unemployment issue.
In 2018, for the CIPM particularly, we launched an internship programme known as ‘ready to market’. This is a six intensive industrial scheme that was designed following the observations of a huge gap in the skills and readiness of graduates of tertiary institutions and freshly certified CIPM members who may not have prior work experience. Participants in this ‘ready to market’ programme are deployed to various organisations for six months of internship after on-going three weeks of intensive experiential learning sessions with HR thought leaders. What we found in the various badges we have done since is that after these participants have gone through the programme, completed their internship, many of them are getting jobs in different organisations.
One of the answers to unemployment challenge is the CIPM understanding where the root causes of the issues lay, which lead to gaps in skills, knowledge, experience and expertise and whether we do it for ourselves through our ‘ready to market’ programme or we choose to collaborate with other institutions to create programme and deploy programme that helps to close the gap in the knowledge and skills of these graduates. Those are some actions we can engage in. Another area that often comes up when it comes to employability is the ability to connect what you have learnt from university or polytechnic to entrepreneurship and make sure that businesses actually work and deliver value. I know that the industrial training fund have programmes that drive entrepreneurship. I know that several organisations have their internal programmes that strengthen the skills sets of post school participants. These are all different areas that the CIPM can partner and collaborate to help to address the concern. In addition, in bridging the gap between what we call the ‘town and the gown’, CIPM recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University of Ibadan. The main aim of that MoU is instilling a high standard of practice and output by ensuring that the relevant department curriculum aligns with best practice and that way we are certain of the quality of individuals who are the future managers, HR practitioners and we have similar activities going on with similar education institutions. This shows how passionate we are about changing the unemployment narrative, as regards the HR profession. As I mentioned, a number of other professional bodies are taking up responsibility for their respective areas and we look forward to partnering with them where appropriately and with immense support from the government, I am sure we will move in leaps and bounds.
Can you give us highlights of the institute’s strategic objectives for 2020?
I believe that the strategic objectives of CIPM for 2020 will be continually reiterated by the current leadership team led by the President/Chairman of Council, Mr. Olawale Adediran. Our long-term goal is to build the CIPM of our dream. We will achieve this by driving a number of priority areas, and I am certain that implementing the initiative in our current strategic plans will move us in leaps and bounds towards achieving those objectives.
So our strategic objectives are derived from our current three-year plan, which we updated in 2019 and it will take us to 2021. I was part of a team that developed it as a member of council. Key area of focus is stakeholders’ satisfaction.Our stakeholders cut across different areas of our economy, even into Africa as I have mentioned previously, they need to be satisfied with our value proposition and how we contribute to meeting their needs and objectives. We want to understand what is important to them and through that create and tailor our services offering, so that they get what they need, when they need it and translate that into impacts in their organisations. Secondly, operational excellence is very important. We will not be able to achieve stakeholders’ satisfaction or deliver prime experience if our own ways of working are not excellent. We need efficient and effective processes.
We need top quality people that will do the work of the institute. So we will be focusing on the work, the worker and the workplace and ensure that everything we do in delivering our operational activities creates and deliver prime experience. In addition, we have to focus on our brand presence; what is the CIPM? What do we do? What is the value preposition to our different stakeholders groups? That has to be properly articulated, but importantly communicated so that they understand what is in it for them, by either becoming members of the CIPM or collaborating with us.
We are present in several States of Nigeria, not just in Lagos. Everywhere, we go the stamp of professional quality and excellence should be what is associated with the CIPM brand. So we are working on brand presence. We are the apex regulatory institute for people management practices in Nigeria and Africa. So the effectiveness of our regulatory oversight duties are important, we hear stories from time to time of unsavoury practices in certain companies where workers are not treated well.
We need to help organisations understand their responsibilities towards their workers, what the laws allows and make sure that erring organisations and people are made to face the consequences of those actions. Where it is due to ignorance, we have a mandate to ensure that people understand, so we will not just communicate these things, but also monitor to ensure that the overall people’s experience is positive.
We will also look at growth; Africa is the world we look at and from there to the international space. So we will also be looking at opportunities to partner with organisations outside Nigeria to strengthen the Africa story, when it comes to people management and make sure that Nigeria and Africa is on the map of best practices in human resources management with time.
As the new Chief Executive Officer of CIPM, what are the values you are bringing to the table?
Nigeria has a number of challenges and there are things we are not quite happy about. But at the same time, we are a country of tremendous opportunity and talent, and that is something you will see in the way the CIPM is positioned going forward. I want to continue being part of our change journey as a country. As a country, we have rich and diverse culture. We have abundant resources and we can truly be a world leader. Fundamentally, the challenges we have as a country, boils to people and the leadership qualities, that will make our economy and the country work or not. Therefore as the CEO of CIPM, I have 28 years of extensive experience in the area of human resource management tied very strongly to the achievements of business objectives. As the CIPM forges ahead with our mission of being the foremost organisation of development and people management institute in Africa and the world; the expertise and knowledge of global best practices, and having worked in a number of Nigerian organisations, and being able to localise the practices that will help in achieving competitive advantage as a country in respective organisations in public and private sectors, and different industries across the country. We will see impact in those areas.