Alofe: HR Profession in Nigeria is Evolving

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Busola Alofe

The Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Busola Alofe, in this interview, speaks about the commitment of the institute to improve workers’ welfare as well as other professional issues. Ugo Aliogo brings the excerpts:

As the new Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), what 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 down to the people and the leadership qualities, that will make our economy and the country work or not. Therefore, as the CEO of the CIPM, I have 28 years of 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 Nigeria 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.

Can you give us highlights of CIPM 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 to 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 stakeholder 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.

 

What will you describe as your ideal work environment?

My ideal work environment is one where people appreciates that we are not just in business to drive HR practices, it starts and ends with the business. So, we need to understand the business objectives of each organisation. Then translate those objectives into the right people management strategies that will help achieve the objectives of the organisation.

I will like to work in an organisation where the workers have clarity and understanding of the business objectives and how that translates into the work they themselves to do every day. This will bring out their passion and motivation because they know what is expected of them, they know what they organisation is trying to achieve and they can contribute their own quota to the achievement of those goals.

We are all motivated by achievements. So, having well-educated and knowledgeable workers are important. In addition, where people don’t have the right knowledge and skills, I will like to work in an organisation that develops its people because people are the greatest assets. Whatever it is we are doing, if the people are motivated, developed, they are skilled and they have the opportunity to contribute then they can find meaning in the work they are doing. Beyond that contributing to what is important, to the organisation and the country and themselves. I will like to work in an organisation where that is important and it is the culture. The workplace in which people work is very important. There are certain work environments that actually kill productivity. The resources needed are not available, and the culture is toxic. I like to work in highly competitive cultures where the work environment is aligned with the strategy and enabling of high level of productivity and performance, and that is the type of organisation which my colleagues and other professionals in the CIPM, my team of leaders and the general workforce, will be building in the coming years.

 

What are some of the challenges members of CIPM face?

In terms of the challenges that members of the institute face, let’s go back to the response on our strategic objective. Our members want to see impact from their association with the institute and a big question they often ask is, so what if I’m a member of the CIPM? So what if I possess the CIPM HR professional license, which is actually the CIPM badge of excellence for HR professionals. How does this help me in my own development in career? They want to see the connection between what they get out of CIPM and their development and growth in their respective organisations. This is why the CIPM is currently partnering with the Heads of Service of the federation and states, to strengthen the quality of people management practices in the civil service, with the aim of also seeing that our certificates and diplomas are accepted in the scheme of service. Similarly, to what accountants get with their ICAN certificates and accreditations. Our HR professionals will start to see similar possibilities of progress through associating with the CIPM and through possessing the HR practitioners’ license. There are a number of them and we are well aware of these concerns and needs. If they have the CIPM diploma and the HR practitioners’ license, and if they are going to move outside Nigeria, of what value is it to them because they want to be able to transition seamlessly to other countries. It might surprise you to know that Canada has actually accepted our HR certificates and diploma, and so practitioners that might migrate to Canada can expect a very seamless move and to get jobs relatively easily and career progression in Canadian organisations. We are already accepted in Canada and we will do further work to see similar acceptance in other countries where our professions seek to migrate to. Those are some of the needs of members of the institute. Moreover, our members want to be more involved in the progress of improving the HR experience across Nigeria. So, all the activities of the institute, we actually don’t do them alone by ourselves in the secretariat, we involve different members of the institute through their voluntary participation in committees. We call upon them to help us with visit to various stakeholders as we execute the action plans of the institute. We will call on our members for their ideas, experiences and support as we take the agenda forward.

 

Experts say Nigeria unemployment rate is projected to climb to about 32 per cent in 2020. What are your thoughts and how is CIPM contributing to the reduction of unemployment in Nigeria?

In my last role, before I left Shell I partnered with industrial training fund. I was a member of the committee that was set up there. The committee worked with UNIDO on some research into the skills gap in Nigeria, looking at both the demand and supply sides respectively. The CIPM also conducted a similar study. So, there is opportunity to collaborate, so there is research and it is ongoing. Different institutes and organisations are doing some similar works. 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, so the execution of recommendations from 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 unemployability 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 ongoing 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 time, many of them are getting jobs in these different organisations.

One of the answers to this 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 help 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 drives 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 with unemployability. 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 to instill 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 people managers, HR practitioners and we have similar activities going on with similar education institutions. This shows how passionate we are about changing the unemployability 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.

Regarding the MoU you signed with University of Ibadan, how are you ensuring its implementation?

 

The answer to this question lies in relationship. First, what we have done and what we are doing with these institutions is building an ongoing relationship through partnership channels and processes that ensures that both parties maintain focus on the objectives. When you look at a curriculum, it spells out skills areas that the learning interventions must support. Once that is embedded in the content of what is being taught in the University, then it can be expected that the products of that process, will align with what was specified in the curriculum. Through that ongoing partnership, there would be constant conversation, about the content of what is being taught in those educational institutions, and also by looking at what happens with the graduate from at which these MoUs were put in place, we can also have a perspective on the quality of the output from the processes. Essentially, it is all about relationships and continued collaboration and paying attention to the key performance matrix that must have been defined as part of the MoU arrangements.

How would you rate HR profession in Nigeria?

I will say that the HR profession in Nigeria is evolving from what the CIPM is doing to partnership and support from the civil service, what the private sector organisations are doing, there is a very strong focus on professionalising, professional excellence, on being mentioned when you talk about global best practice. But there is that top focus on top quality and it is not going to be achieved overnight, so that is why I said it is a journey. The other thing I said is that people are our greatest assets indeed and I fully believe in that, but for people to perform, a number of other things must also be in place, so there is the question around the quality of leadership, there are questions around the availability of resources that people need to be able to deliver work. There are questions around what is happening in terms of a future focused world. We are in a knowledge economy where it is all about digital solutions. Technology is driving speed and change across the world. So organisations must be able to develop their people to handle and cope with change. My view is that there is that desire in different sector of the economy and we are all partnering on this journey to excellence. It is a journey we have started and we will continue.

 

How does the CIPM contribute to addressing unfair treatment of workers in some organisations in the country?

 

My response to this question will come from our mandate as the apex regulatory body for the practice of people management in Nigeria. So, we do have a responsibility to state abreast of how things are actually done, when it comes to labour practices. First, there is a perception that it is HR fault actually; however, HR practitioners we 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 oversees 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 labour laws, that we have view into labour laws and how they are being 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 mindset 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, maybe 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 labour?       

In today’s world, the conversation is around the extended workforce. By extended force, we are talking about not just the direct employees of an organisation, but also the contractors that work with the organisation. Contractors are employed indirectly by third party organisations that 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 the perfect staff of an organisation that deliver the value or that problems that affects business performance are only associated with the permanent staff. It is the entire worker 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. I also have a view 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.

What does organisations need to do to improve the landscape of work in line with your strategic objective of 2020?

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. So if leadership that focuses on connecting the strategic objectives of the organisation to the people strategic and make 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, appointing the right leaders and developing them and making sure that they in turn are nurturing the workforce. Secondly, it is digital world so 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 work that needs 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 taken 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 thing I will mention is the importance of having high performance culture. A lot of the impact of the digital technology is the way skills and behaviours needs 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.