Managing HR in a Recession


Like a Disc jockey struggling to play his music at the right pitch crescendo with bad speakers, managing people issues during economic downturns could be nightmarish. However loud the music may sound, people will be left standing still on their feet or glued to their chairs. It will require some bit of ingenuity from the DJ to getting people return to the dance floor. This form of ingenuity is what is required of HR professionals during challenging economic times.

The main role of HR to achieving competitive advantage for organisations through effective people management strategies is threatened during recession. Productivity being a major macroeconomic indicator is at an all time low resulting into many businesses folding up and job losses as immediate consequences. For companies that are able to stay afloat, they struggle to keep their employees engaged. The brunt of waning purchasing power due to inflation and the attendant depletion of savings of the working class is transferred to the workplace.

Some of the HR challenges associated with recession include performance issues, agitations for pay raise, pressures from organised labour, tax and other compliance matters. When the well-being of people is threatened as it is often the case during recession, it negatively affects all activities of human existence including their work. This often puts pressure on HR as agitations for pay raise will be on the increase in the face of dwindling sales and revenue. Governments policies in reaction to unpleasant economic climate could involve raising taxes and clamping down on companies defaulting on tax and other statutory remittances.

Rather than adopting knee-jerk approaches to deal with the situation, companies should build a resilient workplace. While I admit I do not have the answers but companies that espouse shared vision and purpose are able to weather the storm during difficult times. No any other department does this better than the HR. While most leaders have ideas of the type of future they envision for the business, only few are able to communicate this in clear terms to the workforce. These few are also bad at listening to the aspirations of the people they lead. The result is a future of a company being built on a foundation which is not in sync with what really matters to employees.

How well companies weather turbulent times will also depend on their adaptability. Building institutions on tenets and values that are long lasting. Enshrining strong corporate governance and ethical values can help during unfavourable climes. As aptly put by the CIPDorganisations will need to redefine success, to question values which underpin their actions and to accept new frameworks” in order to be enduring. This is the hallmark of organisation design and development which is HR’s call.This will surely test our competence and values.

We need to stand up and be counted amongst those who could institutionalize sustainable culture change by leading our companies through recession. Remember the popular saying “tough times don’t last only tougher men do”.

Bashir Mudi Baba can be engaged on Twitter @El_De_Bash. Photo courtesy:


Moving On

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Part of my job in HR is to fill in vacancies by hiring people and see them through the onboarding process. A sharp contrast to this function which my HR job also avail me is to manage an exit process. Regularly, employees change jobs and move on in their careers. I honestly do not like to see people leave the organisation even though I know it is inevitable.

When I receive resignation letter from an employee, I see it like I have failed in my role as a HR person. For businesses to achieve sustainable growth and performance, a high employee retention level is required. Consequently, one of my performance indicators is labour turnover rate which demands I need to come up with robust retention strategies.

However attributing reasons to why people leave an organisation only to a failure of say your wellness programme or compensation package might be too simplistic. The fact is people will have to change jobs or move on to other things in their lives or even set up their own companies. So many possible reasons are abound and fixating it only to HR policies may sound rather too weak an argument.

If it worries me to see our employees leave, what then would be my reaction when I am the the one leaving. I mentioned above that I do not like to see people exit the company but the same me has just handed in my resignation letter. I would agree it is a fact of life for people to move on which best explains the reason for my leaving. Agreed, I have been a key player towards charting a new course for the company at a strategic level yet I wont be around to guide the change direction.

All I would say is that the inevitability of ‘moving-on’ has caught up with me. The high point for me is being part of the team who laid a new foundation for the company. I have no doubt in my mind if the laid out plans are followed,a rejuvenated company shall herald.Most importantly also is my colleagues and the camaraderie that exists amongst us. I’ll try to stay in touch.

Bashir Mudi Baba is joining eHealth Africa and can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash_HR

Loyalty to Former Employer

In the days of yore, people hardly change jobs. They start from scratch and grow to the pinnacle of their career with one organisation until retirement. This is the meaning people ascribe loyalty to. They breathe and live a particular organisation that they become ambassadors of the brand.

However, ascribing loyalty to longevity in an organisation has often been faulted. The fast paced world we currently live in where skills and knowledge are prized currency has given rise to a war of talent among organisations not only in similar industry but also those with different business orientations. The argument is that all the people changing jobs from one employer cannot be said to be disloyal.

While I do acknowledge that your loyalty should switch to your current employer, some bad-mouth their former employers. Whatever the reason of your changing job is, since you have decided to move on there shouldn’t be any need to disparage your former employer. This to me is being loyal.

A better example of loyalty to me is the ‘no-goal-celebration’ being exhibited by footballers. An unwritten rule where players who score against their former team refuse to celebrate. I saw Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid’s shirt refusing to celebrate against Manchester United in a Champions League match. Another example is Van Persie respecting his former club, Arsenal when he scored for Manchester United. There are so many players that have displayed this true sense of what I call ‘loyalty’.

Coming back to the business world, I know of people who have helped their former employers in one way or another. Sometimes, the help could be financially rewarding for the former employer. A friend of mine once went to help his former employer on an IT application he had developed while working for them. This was even after the company had given a work reference on him. It was just a way of showing appreciation for being given the opportunity to experiment with his programming skills.

Some would argue otherwise if the circumstances leading to exiting a company were not pleasant. May be that could explain Danny Welbeck’s celebration of a gifted goal against Manchester United last night. Danny is a local lad who rose through the Youth team only to be sold to Arsenal. May be it was a way of making Van Gaal to rue his decision to sell him. I might be wrong though!

Diversity and Social Businesses

Businesses are mostly set up to satisfy customers’ needs, make returns on investment, create employment and generate wealth for all stakeholders and the society. Globalization has opened up the migration space and given rise to internationalization of business. In order to further cement their business objectives, organisations are embracing diversity as a means of reaching out to the growing purchasing power of the middle class across the Asian and African continents. This has led to the evolution of diversity management as an outshoot of equal opportunity and diversity studies.

Diversity management is aimed at achieving a double target of profit making as well as reducing inequality in the workplace. The latter which is often neglected at the expense of the profit  making motive. Organisations that however are socially oriented might experience what I call ‘clash of interests’ as the main objective could be overshadowed in the struggle for survival in a murky business environment.

Social businesses for examples those created to give succour to immigrants or those to help return aged people back to work are also required to publish their books and post impressive results for their investors. Some of these organisations do rely on charities and donations; and even enjoy tax cuts. However, it is also plausible to argue that the donations and cuts might not just be enough to keep the business going which may necessitate jettisoning the social objective for a more business-like approach.

This lays credence to the seeming ‘capitulation’ of the social justice theory to the business case theoretical underpinning of diversity management in the academic circles. The real life business scenario tend to give direction of what is taught in our Business schools. If things remain as they are, social business might just be a mere nomenclature of a somewhat for-profit entity based on its mode of operations and management.

It is exemplified by the way we are fast at displaying our equal opportunity and diversity policies but slow at implementing the content from the HR perspective. Another testament to the disturbing trend is the diminishing presence of the Third Sector organisations. They are socially driven entities and different from the conventional business outfits with a focus on filling the space created by the failure of governments and alleviate the pains caused by profit-oriented organisations.

With the ever widening inequality in wealth distribution and the strain in meeting everyday needs, where do people with special needs and those that are ‘disadvantaged’ turn to for respite?




The Money Question at Interviews

It has become a rule of thumb for employers to ask prospective employees salary expectations at interviews amongst other questions. The information is sought to probably clarify a number of issues. First is affordability; whether a company can afford to pay for the value a potential candidate might bring on board. I must say that professionals with track record of high performance are highly sought which tend to tilt pay negotiation in their favour. This is why it is imperative for employers to have an idea of salary expectation from the word go to enable them decide whether to even proceed to the next level of a recruitment exercise. It saves everybody’s time!

A second reason for wanting to know salary expectation of a potential hire is to gauge the industry pay for a vacant position. It allows organisations to know how they are faring in terms of employees’ compensation. If it needs to be jerked up to attract exceptional talent or demand better performance from employees for a company that is way up the ladder in terms of pay.

A recruitment exercise is a bargaining process and it is quite possible for an employer to make a very good deal for a highly sought after professional. Yes it can happen! A lot of reasons might necessitate a professional to change job. Qualified people could take a pay cut for jobs located in the big cities which would launch them onto the big stage. It could also be for a company’s brand and so many other reasons. If I can save money for my organisation and still be able to land a top hire, why not?

On the other side of the divide however, most candidates don’t do well in the bargaining process. Some tend to shy away from the question by opting to go for industry pay of the vacant position. While some would ‘innocently’ succumb to whatever is on the table. Remember an interview is an avenue to prove your worth, why prize yourself low? If you think you are good enough for the job, demonstrate it by asking for a good fat pay!


HR Issues for 2015

It is that time of the year when Santa’s red hat is worn by many of us and a beckoning sign of another year. As we prepare for the yuletide and clear our desks, it is not out of place to remind ourselves of issues that will be in the front burner for 2015.

Tim Sackett has set the ball rolling when he noted that retention will be a major issue for HR in 2015. He went further to describe it as the ‘biggest issue no one is talking about”. I’ll add that there are other issues that will form part of our baggage in the coming year.

As unemployment figures across many countries are readily available, shortage of employability skills does not receive much attention. This is one thing HR professionals and recruiters alike will contend with in 2015. It is one thing to have a pool of applicants and outrightly another to have a pool of employable applicants. Filling up vacancies with candidates who have requisite qualifications and skill-sets wont be a walk through the park in the new year.

If skill-sets are important assets for job applicants, it should also extend to HR people. HR Analytics is sometimes seen as another buzzword and mistaken to be a fad; while financial proficiency is seen as not important to HR. My message to proponents of this school of thought is that Analytics has come to stay. For HR to achieve its strategic importance in the boardroom, our understanding of cash-flow and financial statements need improvement.

I do admit that the issues raised in this blog are by no means exhaustive and might stimulate contrary opinions. I must say that it is for the good of HR profession when we have diverse perspectives to issues. As we countdown to 2015, I am wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

Follow me on Twitter @El_De_Bash

Recruiters can do better

I read a piece titled “Table Manners” by Christopher Demers and it evoked those unpleasant manners and practices of recruiters. If it is not ‘laziness’ I do not know what word to describe a recruiter who mentions nothing about his client when putting up a job ad. If you wont reveal the identity of the organisation you are filling a position for (even though I frown at this), what about the industry or its market position. I think the focus of every recruiter is to attract a wide pool of talent for position being advertised!

Sometimes when I see ambiguities between job descriptions (JD) and person specifications I wonder if the recruiter had read through the ad before putting it up. The truth could be that these recruiters ‘copy and paste’ already prepared  JD of a particular role for all organisations. In the process, vital details are left out.

The use of social media for recruitment has been on the rise and now a popular source of hiring for most recruiters. How well have they fared on this platform can be determined by the quality of job ads on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I do understand the constraints of word counts with some of these applications which made it practically difficult to spell out every detail as regards a particular job role. However, I think they can get round this constraint by converting the ad to a web link which can be opened in a new window.

A worrying trend also emerging is for recruiters to tersely post a job role and request for interested candidates to give their email addresses in the comment section. This is a ‘NO’ for me. I wont give out my email address to the public domain with hackers and spammers everywhere. I’m sure other people will share this sentiment. It also gives room for people to send you unsolicited emails and requests. Recruiters can definitely do better than this!

Lack of feedback is an issue so many people have harped on but has lingered in the recruitment industry. The common excuse is giving feedback to hordes of unsuccessful candidates is not practicable. I beg to differ, it is. I wont go into the details of stating the importance of giving feedback as this has been done in numerous blogs but it is important to stress that feedback is possible no matter the number of candidates you have.

As 2015 beckons, we expect to see recruiters up the ante in the new year.