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Unleashing the potential of your workforce


How many times have we heard or come across value statements such as “people are our most valuable asset?” The key to growing successful business is not in markets, technology or strategic opportunity, but in the ability to attract, select, develop and retain the right people. Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book Competitive Advantage Through People distilled what he considered to be the 13 best practices of managing people. Let me discuss each of these practices briefly.
Employment security: Winning employers signal through words and deeds that their employees are indispensable. This in turn engenders loyalty, commitment and willingness to partake in the fulfilment of the organisation’s vision, mission and strategy.
Selectivity in recruiting: Rigorous screening of prospective employees is crucial if you are to choose the right people for the right positions. Successful candidates get the feeling that they are joining the “cream of the crop”. High performance expectations are created.
High wages: An employer of choice pays competitively, sending the message that its people matter. An employee who is paid highly is motivated to work more diligently than one who feels he or she is being remunerated unfairly.
Incentive pay: Employees expect a share from the profitability of a business. If top management or shareholders expropriate all the benefits to themselves, employees will feel discouraged and abandon their contributions. Incentive bonus schemes and profit-sharing arrangements should be considered.
Employee ownership: Employee ownership schemes engender in employees a longer-term perspective of the organisation by aligning the interests of the employees with those of the other stakeholders.
Information sharing: If employees are going to be a source of competitive advantage, they must be empowered with information. Most organisations misguidedly keep their employees in the dark ostensibly to prevent information from leaking to competitors. Paradoxically, the same organisations see no problem in having the same information published in the press. Employees become the last ones to know what is happening within their company.
Participation and empowerment: Worker participation in workplace decision-making increases both satisfaction and productivity. An enlightened employer should decentralise decision-making to lower ranks and grant greater autonomy, allowing employees to make changes to products or processes.
Self-managed work teams: There is obvious synergy in effective teamwork. Teams are critical in peer monitoring and co-ordination of work.
Training and skills development: Training enables workers to diagnose problems and to suggest solutions. It demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to employees, which they are likely to reciprocate. Trained workers should be allowed to apply their skills in an environment where mistakes are treated as learning opportunities.
Multi-skilling: Multi-skilling makes work more interesting and provides variety. It is the most preferred alternative to employee layoffs.
“Symbolic egalitarianism”: This refers to comparative equality or inequality between the highest and lowest level worker in an organisation. To promote a sense of oneness, organisations should strive to reduce the number of social categories at the workplace and create an atmosphere that is less formal. Executive canteens, reserved parking lots and plush offices only serve to promote alienation between management and the rest of the workforce.
Wage compression: There is always a perceived or real gap between executive remuneration relative to the lowest worker. Unjustified differences in remuneration and benefits reduce interpersonal co-operation and too much time and energy is spent on ingratiating oneself with one’s boss or trying to influence the criteria for reward allocation. This invariably leads to efficiency losses. Wage compression not only de-mphasises pay but also draws attention to the other non-monetary rewards such as more interesting and meaningful work.
Promotion: Besides binding workers to the organisation, this practice also helps perpetuate the company’s culture and values as well. A sense of fairness and justice will prevail in the workplace. There is an incentive to perform exceptionally well. On the contrary, hiring outsiders diminishes the spirits of existing staff leading to a sense of disaffection towards the organisation.
Pfeffer’s propositions about management best practices may not be the panacea for business success. However, it is axiomatic that a fundamental paradigm shift in our perception of the employment relationship is required sooner rather than later. Leveraging the people factor provides a competitive advantage which rivals cannot easily imitate. Employers who think outside the box understand only too well that it pays to focus on people and their potential first rather than on products and their potential.

Isaac Mazanhi is a member of EMCOZ Labour Committee. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of EMCOZ. The writer may be contacted on 0913063653 or email isaacm@gmail.com

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