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Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry – Job Summit (26th Sept 2011)

Facing up to the crisis Clearly this summit comes at a time of crisis as our country continues to lurch from one strike season to another, when key public service and Business sectors at all levels of employment, from unskilled to highly dedicated professionals such as medical and educational people are under pressure to strike due to limited vision by employers in the context of labour management.

As Government attempts to address our economic problems, and specifically the need to create jobs, we are conscious of the frequent launching of new economic growth plans and commissions which promise to create millions of jobs. Also under the spotlight is the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ which continues to widen. Clearly there is considerable doubt as to whether the Government is capable of successfully addressing our economic challenges. It seems to me that Business must become more proactive in this regard, Government should put more effort into creating the right environment for Business to thrive.

Managing human resources – looking back

I speak to you today as a former professional human resources specialist of some 25 years experience and I like to see myself as an elder of society, though no longer involved in the way you all are, but offering in my way, something from the ‘common wisdom’ of society of the past and of my personal experience. There is much to learn from the positive and negative experiences of the past so as to enable us to manage the future.

In my time, going back some years, our profession was known as personnel management, today we refer to ‘human resources management’. But let’s not play with words….the role and purpose of this organisational and management function continues to have important relevance.

Our profession originally emerged out of consideration for the welfare of employees. So in the very early days, the function was largely welfare-orientated. Some of us entered the profession on this basis but we soon learned that the welfare of employees was not solely about providing housing, medical schemes, staff canteens and good working conditions etc. It was about simultaneously addressing business and human needs in organisations by focusing on personal development and motivation.

My dictum through the years as a personnel manager was that I don’t believe in ‘happy’ employees who plod along quite contented with mediocrity, in a work environment where everything is comfortable and where management has no concern for employees spending the first twenty minutes of their working day drinking coffee while reading the morning newspaper …or where staff nip out to do their personal shopping during working hours. For me, it was about having satisfied employees …a situation where employees are challenged by their work and can go home at the end of the day in the knowledge that they have met those challenges, have delivered what’s required of them and have been well compensated for a job well done; a situation where employees can feel a sense of achievement and of personal growth, conscious of the dignity of their work and of themselves as human beings. So, it’s not about ‘happiness’ but rather a sense of well-being attained from fulfillment through achievement and where appropriate value, worth and dignity is attached to every job…benefiting both employer and employee.

Today, the HR function is hardly seen as an essential business strategy. It seems that the emphasis is largely on the employer’s need to comply with a host of laws concerning affirmative action and ethnic equity, disputes and disciplinary procedures and so on. Sadly today, we also seem to have a very different ethos around the concept of work. For many, work connotes an environment that can be described as a battlefield, a battle between management and labour…a ‘we / they’ situation where labour regards Management as the opposition which needs to be severely attacked at least once a year during wage negotiations and where work is a penalty imposed on us by life. And on the other hand, there is rightly serious concern around the massive disparity in earnings at each extreme of the remuneration continuum, mindful as we are of our serious concern around pay structures in the civil service where professional middle managers are blocked or trapped at certain levels of occupation with no or little chance for promotion. We know this leads to frustration and de-motivation of staff and for the country there is a serious loss of skilled, knowledgeable professionals who leave our shores for better opportunities. All of this can best be described as a divergence rather than a convergence of interests.

As a patriotic and concerned South African, I keep asking myself “how much longer can the present situation continue, where every year without fail the country is subjected to huge devastation, destruction and disorder on the part of strikers, and the economy is brought to a costly standstill?” Clearly something is wrong, business as usual is not working, and corrective action needs to be taken.

This summit such as this is hopefully the beginning of the solution.

Getting back to basics

In the context of employment, I want to urge employers, especially Government, the largest employer by far in this country, to get back to basics. Here I mean, let’s seriously examine the way we go about our work and exactly where the emphasis needs to be. I agree fully with Tony Ehrenreich of Cosatu, when he said: “The urgency of the current employment climate does not allow for the comfort of rhetoric. A pragmatic approach is required and we are hopeful that, together, we can find ways to address these issues which are holding back our progress and impacting the lives of every South African.”

So let’s move away from the comfort of rhetoric, and apply “a pragmatic approach” to labour relations. Getting back to basics for me as a former human resources specialist means, on one hand, addressing the very fundamental need for employees to have a sense of ownership and pride in the organisations for which they work, and on the other, where management, and this includes Government, applies remuneration policies in such a way that both labour and management are on the same side; remuneration policies that are based on logical and progressive systems that result in fairness, equity and opportunities for individual motivation, development, growth and promotion… a human relations policy that adds value to the enterprise by creating opportunities for skills development and resulting in wealth creation.

As a young professional many years ago, I was always conscious of the need for an holistic approach, what we called OD, or Organizational Development, in the way management approached and applied its personnel policies. A lot of attention was given to recruitment and placement, induction and training, manpower planning and staff development and motivation, performance evaluation and reward, all based on a logical, systematic, equitable and fair approach to compensation based on sound job evaluation principles that motivated staff and promoted thereby increasing productivity, while taking care of employee needs for achievement, growth, development and recognition.

Conclusion

It’s not my brief this morning to go into the details of how compensation based on sound job evaluation principles should be applied. In this regard, my colleague, Daan Groeneveldt, is hugely more competent than I to offer proposals for sound principles and practical approaches to the challenges facing Management.

I believe that what Daan will offer you here at this summit, and hopefully in future deliberations at business / labour forums, is a way for employers and the unions to focus on a human resources strategy that focuses on:

  • the cost of work in relation to output and the need to find ways for management and labour to work together in a win-win situation that maximises returns, and addresses
  • the need for stepped-up skills development programmes, and
  • the introduction and implementation of remuneration policies which are based on logical and progressive systems that result in fairness, equity and opportunities for individual motivation, development, growth and promotion… a human relations policy that results in increased productivity, and which adds value to an enterprise and therefore wealth creation.
  • In short, this is about labour and business working together to support the private sector to grow and create jobs.

This was fundamental to personnel or human resources management of years ago, and I believe, the relevance of such a strategy is no less important today, and certainly more critical today. I commend Daan’s presentation to you this morning for your thoughtful attention and application.

Stewardship

I want to end by referring to the principle of stewardship. These days there is rightly a lot of emphasis on sustainability in the way we manage and use our resources. Another way of perceiving that concept is that of stewardship. Each of us, managers AND workers, need to remember that we are all entrusted with the care of the totality of our national and communal resources. We have rights and we also have obligations. We all have social responsibility. We need to be mature and responsible citizens by seeing the bigger picture, taking an holistic approach to our economy. It’s the responsibility of bothBusiness and Unions to ensure that we manage our human resources based on the values of creative and sound stewardship.

Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Job Summit
26 September 2011
Gordon R. Oliver

Gordon Oliver was a personnel management professional for 25 years of his working life. He was a member of the South African Institute of Personnel Management (SAIPM) and for four years in the seventies, was chairman of the Western Cape Branch of the SAIPM. In 1980 he was elected as a city councillor and in 1989 became the mayor of Cape Town till 1991.

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