Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The keys to managing and leading people and firms in the new age

Story by: Monique Senekal
Editing by: Francis Mdlongwa

Consultative and empathetic leadership, forging alliances to create economies of scale and of scope, embracing innovation, being communicative and balancing value creation for customers are emerging as key success factors of effective management in the digital age.

Modern management theory concurs with the new role of a human resources manager: to be proactive in managing change in an organisation. More and more, these managers need to act as strategists and contribute to the financial bottom line.

In the digital age, the modern HR manager needs to understand that the people of an organisation could be a key source of competitive advantage. As such, he/she needs to recruit, retain and retrain only the most talented people to ensure strategic management.

However, many top managers of companies who still follow traditionalist business models, even in change management, still prefer to maintain their control over subordinates and often dumb down any form of creativity. In addition, many executives supervising HR managers don’t see the need for drastic change either.

This is where the approach to media leadership training run by Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) differs: we integrate cutting-edge management theory into our practical training programmes and promote the need to embrace change management in all our learning and teaching.

The Essentials of People Management (EOPM), which took place at the SPI from 31st May to 4 June this year, focused specifically on the challenges of leading and managing diverse groups of people in a rapidly changing industry.

By the end of the week, participants agreed that great weight should be given to HR Orientation, and effective Change and Performance management in the workplace.

Thandisizwe Mgudlwa, a freelancer who contributes to Independent Newspapers Limited, explains why he now appreciates the importance of investing in staff orientation:

“When I came here, I thought I knew much about people management, but I knew nothing. I am taking back the shared experiences, education and skills learnt, in particular the importance and processes of HR orientation. In my ten years working in the media industry, I’ve never really been given that opportunity to understand the philosophy, culture and the history of the organisations I have worked for. Now I understand that it is my right, as an employee, to demand that the HR department and other relevant departments explain these until I understand.”

Jimmy Dhlamini, Station Manager at Thetha Fm, echoes these views:

“Orientation is key; employers need to ensure that the process of orientation is taken forward. There is much that media practitioners need to learn in terms of properly orientating people.”

Many young talented people today prefer to work for start-ups; promising undertakings rather than an established company because they like the entrepreneurial challenge and tremendous career opportunities. Two of our EOPM short course delegates, both relatively young, have left the SABC because they say they were fed up with top management who relentlessly “crushed” their creative spirit. They explain that top management often exclude subordinates in the decision-making process because they (management) want to maintain the status quo.

Nobathembu Kani, a former SABC radio producer, explains what the role of HR in change management should be:

“The greatest insight I have gained is that the vision and mission (of the organisation) should be clearly communicated with your staff, especially when change is taking place. We cannot only be told to do things, blind-folded. We need to understand and share the vision and mission; I speak from experience! Transparency should be in place. HR should take a more active role in the management of staff rather than simply playing a consultant role to the other departments. Motivation is very important as well; remuneration is not only monetary.”

Kani says doing this course has encouraged her to pursue her ideals in any organisation:

“Now, not only am I fully aware of how I fit into the organisation but I also see how I can be an element of change. I feel empowered.”

These EOPM delegates may occupy different positions in their respective organisations, they may be managing one or more people and have varying powers of authority, but they all agreed that the sharing of experiences and problem-solving techniques was one of the most rewarding aspects of the just-ended EOPM.

Bultcha Teguest Yilma, co-owner, Managing Director and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Ethiopian-based Capital weekly newspaper, provides further insight:

“I now realise, very importantly, that each department needs a customised Performance Management form; I cannot expect that every department fill out the standardised form because each department has a different role to play, with staff that have different job descriptions, goals and needs.”

Another key learning area for delegates is the importance of effective communication in order to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Yilma notes:

“I now know that effective and continuous communication is crucial; you may think you have agreed on a common goal, but people forget or get side-tracked; so time and time again you need to set up follow-up mechanisms – reiterate, revise and re-evaluate those goals to make sure everyone is on the same path.

“Also, I don’t have a management background, I have an economics background. So in taking part in this course, I now understand why I fight with my Finance Manager who is also my HR manager. Now I understand it may not be because of a competence problem, but rather an ability problem. Now I know I really need to hire an HR person.”

For Besizizwe (Bheki) Mdhluli, Communications Officer at Naledi Municipality, the most important lesson on the course was retaining and refitting experienced staff:

“I’ve come to realise that in the changing media landscape what is important is that you don’t just retrench staff members, but seek alternative positions for them in the workplace so that you can retain (seasoned) workers.”

Often delegates who come on our short courses feel inspired to transfer the lessons they have learnt from SPI to their organisation. Mdhluli plans on organising a formal presentation:

“When I am back at my organisation, I will speak to my manager, try to organise a sort of conference to teach what I have learnt on this course to the handful of people I manage, and to the rest of my organisation.”

Some delegates simply feel inspired to be better relationship builders.

Denise Mhlanga, Editorial Assistant/Journalist at LiveOutLoud Magazine, explains:

“You definitely need to know yourself as a manager; your strengths and weaknesses. Also, don’t assume you know the needs and wants of your employee; talk to them, ask questions.”

SPI believes in the importance of continuous management training to achieve strategic awareness and to link strategic thinking with implementation. It is a requirement for all large companies as employees cope with new ways of doing business.