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:


Social Media and Learning

The internet would definitely contest for a top finish if inventions by Man were to be graded. An offshoot of the internet wonder is social media which enables people living poles apart to socially interact. The fast growing number of platforms and applications available testify to the level of interactions that go on on the internet. Needless to say that there is a massive piece of information available on the internet.

While I admit that these information are directed at different end users, I am curious on the actual amount which constitute learning. If the amount of blogs, monologues and other writings that are churned out daily are anything to go by, we should have productive employees and flourishing businesses. The reality on ground is not commensurate to the number of business writings available in links and posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social sites. If this is so, it becomes imperative to begin to look on how much learning takes place on Social Media.

For learning to have taken place, there has to be a shift in processes which will lead to improved outputs. If however results are dwindling or a business is rooted in the same position even after learning interventions, it then calls for concern. As interests in learning on social media is gathering momentum, it is pertinent to sound a note of caution. Some of the materials available on social media for learning are not practicable. In academia, social media contents do not make it onto peer-reviewed journals. I think the business community should also be wary of what they use from social media.

I agree that there are lots of experts to learn from on social media but I think some posts and writings are generic. Even within an industry, no two organisations are the same; each with specific needs. Contrarily, individual and organisational learning resources on social media are not company-specific. Yes, it is a source of general information and knowledge but not a solution to your business learning needs.

Consequently, companies investing in social media learning and neglecting the traditional on-the-job and closed space learning need to have a rethink. I’ll suggest more of the investment on learning should be directed towards the traditional approaches and social media majorly be used for business promotion and service delivery. If however there are businesses that have harnessed the potentials of social media learning, how were they able to achieve that?

Please drop your comments below.

Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash

What are your areas of weakness?

Being humans, we all have our frailties. There has to be that habit or skills that need development. While it is easy to come up with those strong attributes and excellent work ethics that make up the individual being, the same cannot be said of our weakness. As individuals, we often do not admit our weakness even though a third party would easily identify this. A third party here means that person who relates with us regularly at a close range. This ranges from supervisors, colleagues and even our spouses.

The intriguing question this piece is probing is why it is difficult to individually come up with one’s own weakness. A regular interview question is to ask a candidate his area of strength and weakness. As a HR person, I have heard candidates give ‘not-too-intelligent’ answers when responding to the weakness aspect. The probability of ‘strength and weakness’ question coming up in an interview is almost one. Consequently, It is expected that most post people would rehearse their answers before appearing at interviews. Yet, most answers we get are not genuine and are ‘crappy’ at the same time.

Apart from job candidates, interview experts are also evasive on tips to answering the tricky question. The common advice is for candidates to stress on efforts they are making to correct identified weakness. Whatever that might be! I do share the constraints of coaches and mentors in attempting to render adequate counseling on the ‘weakness question’. Most interviewers are never explicit on the question. Weakness could be in the areas of skill sets or behavioural traits and other psychological competencies.

If interview experts and counselors are evasive on ‘weakness-question’ because of its ambiguity, it is then proper to turn to recruiters and other HR professionals who sit at interview panels. Mostly, the question is being thrown to elicit certain information or reactions that would help the panel in making a sound judgment on suitability or otherwise of a candidate. Are we expecting candidates to be upfront on their weakness? If the answer is yes, then most candidates do not tell the truth on this.

It is imperative we revisit those generic interview questions because candidates are likely not to be truthful with their responses. What we ask at interviews are set of similar and pre-determined questions. It is like a list of commandments which are meant to be stuck to that in so doing we shy away from probing questions and miss out on good fit. It is high time we reviewed our interview strategies.

The title used for this piece is borne out of the need to evoke changes in the way we conduct interview. It is also genuinely aimed at getting an answer to the ‘weakness-question’ as I have always wondered why individuals are never forthcoming on this. If it is also so important for employers to know the weakness of a would-be-employee, it is more important that the question is asked without any form of vagueness. It is only then; career coaches and mentors can give appropriate guidance to their wards.

Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash

Reports from Employees

It is good work ethic to respond to emails and return calls recorded on voicemail. For job candidates, they expect recruiters to give feedback on their performance at interviews. As Managers, we expect feedback from our team members on assignments given. In general, the workplace is never efficient without adequate and appropriate feedback.

If responses and feedbacks are necessary elements of the workplace, it is disturbing to note that some employees do not render reports after attending learning sessions or conferences paid for by the company. With the increasing requirement by most businesses for HR to justify its strategic importance, not rendering reports of training activities attended by employees will further undermine the significance of the HR department.

The essence of training would have been defeated if an employee returns to work as if he had just stepped out to lit a cigarette and back. It is expected that an in-house session is organised for team members that were not nominated for the training. This is to be facilitated by the returning employee. Consequently, knowledge is transferred across the team and does not remain with one single individual.

The impact of a learning activity can be measured when everybody understands expected outcome and putting into practice what has been learnt. ROI on training interventions has received enormous interest from organisations. This cannot be measured when employees do not render reports on training attended. Having invested in the development of employees, it is only appropriate for companies to be able to measure returns on their investment.

Reports are additional learning resource to every organisation. Employees need to upload reports on company’s portal to make it accessible for all. Do we even have libraries in our organisations? This is a topic for another day. If reports are to be a source of reference within an organisation, it means they should be written in a standardised manner.

HR has a critical role to play in ensuring employees give reports on return from every learning activity. As employees move up on organisational ladder, their mastery of report writing should be topnotch. This needs to be enforced by HR. It is also a way of entrenching leadership traits in an organisation by paving way for employees to learn from one another. Let the journey begin…………………..

Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash



Leading Change and HR

Businesses tend to consolidate on their competitive advantage using several management techniques like content marketing, competitive pricing and product change, mergers and acquisition (M&A). Irrespective of the business process that is being adopted, it is sometimes accompanied with changes across the organisation. The Human Resources (HR) department is pivotal to the success of the strategic change.

In the case of Merger & Acquisition, attention should not only be focused on assets and financials of the organisations that are involved. Often, equity composition and share value dominate the transactions while the peoples-issue are left till late. Sometimes, HR issues are attended to after consummation of the M&A which might lead to employees unrest and lack of engagement.

As due diligence is being carried out on fixed assets, short and long term liabilities, it is also important to carry out diagnostic HR of the organisations from the word go. An assessment of available talent, organisational culture, salaries and HR policies of all the companies that are involved in the merger.

Huge wage bill is something businesses would want to avoid aftermath of a Merger and Acquisition exercise. Consequently, it is imperative to have a projected workforce size for the new business, desired skills and experience. With these, an effective manpower plan can be designed.

An effective Manpower plan should reveal the number of surplus employees. Then, you begin to calculate the cost of pay off using existing policies on severance package. Where none exists, appropriate sections of relevant Labour Laws on lay off should be applied. This way, number of litigations can be minimised if not completely avoided.

With the required and adequate workforce in place, job schedule and proper placement are next on the agenda. Salaries and other benefits should be harmonized and communicated to employees. Culture change initiatives are necessary for the new group as a clash of culture is prevalent when companies fuse into one.

At the point of assessing available skills and talents, areas of development would have been identified. Learning and development plans need to designed and should begin forthwith. Periodically, surveys on engagement and job satisfaction are carried out to measure the level of success achieved and identify areas needing attention.

HR is the champion of change and should lead the change process of any organisation. It is however surprising to see departments like Business Development, Research and Development in the forefront of changes taking place in some organisations. This is not dispensing the importance of other departments, successful change is strongly dependent on a buy-in from employees and HR is best at achieving that.

Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash

Race against Time in the Job Market

The route leading to the labour market is one which we have all taken and is well familiar to most of us. Our experiences may vary but a common theme which describes the job market is its unsavoury nature.

Depending on which side of the market you are, blames are heaped on the other party. Recruiters are always on the receiving and get a lot of bashing from job seekers on one hand while job seekers are seen as not having the right skills and attitude for available jobs from the recruiters’ perspective.

As the blame game goes back and forth, I discovered a unique factor working for or against the two parties. The factor of time is an essential element of the recruiting process which works for or against the recruiter and the job seeker.

Getting a vacant position filled within a given period is vital to any recruiter while job seekers also compete against time to get their applications out in record time. How the two parties react to the time factor may vary but it has a consequential effect on the outcome. Some job seekers do not wait to understand the role being advertised before sending their applications. Employers or recruiters are often overwhelmed by the number of CVs they receive for advertised positions that they sometime come up with wrong fits.

The two key players in recruitment market have devised different means to beat the constraint of time. Job seekers now have ‘customised’ CVs for numerous job roles. This allows them to apply for more than one job at at given time and more importantly beating the deadline. Recruiters on the other hand, are embracing technology to help in filtering through CVs for qualified candidates. It is also a common practice for recruiters to contact only qualified candidates for the next stage of the process. This is all in a bid to save time.

It is however contestable if these time-saving methods have helped the entire recruitment process. Customised CVs might not indicate specific skills required for some particular roles and could hinder candidate’s chances of proceeding to the next stage. Some job applications are quite extensive and require patience and time to get by them; using a customised CV for such applications could jeorpadise the chances of candidates.

Recruiters and employers are not only in the job market to just recruit anybody but to be able to attract a pool of skilled and qualified hands to select from. This can be achieved if job seekers are treated with respect and dignity. Giving critical feedback to all candidates, whether successful or not, makes employers become ’employers of choice’.

Whichever way one looks at it, time is a tricky element in the job market. Consequently, it is important for all players to strike a balance in the race against time. How they achieve this depends on the industry, immediacy or futuristic role, and other important details of the recruitment industry.

Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter @El_De_Bash

Maintaining Sanity as Ebola Scare grips Nigeria

In the midst of pandemonium and confusion, it is important that there should be someone who should be able to hold his head and think straight. And I think HR people in Nigeria should wake up to their role to providing leadership and direction at this time. The outbreak of Ebola in the West African region has spread to Nigeria as seven people are confirmed to have contracted the deadly virus with one reported to have died.

For a country with an estimated population of over one hundred million, an Ebola outbreak is worrisome. It is more disturbing when one realises that Nigeria’s healthcare system is not strong enough to contain a deadly epidemic like Ebola without international help. As I write, medical doctors working in government hospitals are on strike. This is stretching the government to the limits and fear and panic have set into the minds of people.

One HR Manager told me this morning that he received about ten panic calls from his staff during the course of the night. Each one of them suddenly has one unconfirmed medication for Ebola or the other. People are scared-stiff I must say. The crux of this discourse is for HR to rise up to the occasion to calming employees.

For organisations that have medical units, they should sensitise their employees on ways to stay safe from Ebola. The creation of information desk on Ebola within the organization will also go a long way to assuage peoples’ fears. The internet is also a good source of information which can be printed and pasted on notice boards. Biometric clocking system available in some organisations should be reviewed if employees are vulnerable.

The spread of Ebola is a global health emergency as declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is not only the responsibility of governments but businesses should also be involved. Businesses have the right to protect its employees within their premises and as they commute back and forth to the workforce daily. Consequently, HR is really involved and should lead the process. As this is being done, HR people also need to stay safe.