Allan Ngunze, HR Manager at Population Services Kenya (PS Kenya) shares some insights on the current and future state of HR and what we need to take cognizance of. He spoke to MURUGI NDWIGA.
Being at the centre of hiring, how do you spot talent and how can you tell that a candidate will be a good fit for an organization? Do you make bad choices when recruiting and how do you salvage the situation?
For me attitude is very key, poise and other softer skills and the non-verbal cues that are communicated during an interview. Confidence is also key in terms of being able to articulate issues when questions are asked and or when making presentations.
There are instances we have made bad choices but there is an opportunity during the probation period to assess and evaluate the performance of a particular candidate.
The gig economy is becoming a big reality globally. Is this being witnessed here in Kenya and what are its effects on HR management?
It has a number of challenges, for instance, the level of commitment is wanting as they (employees) are always looking for the next opportunity instead of fully focusing on the one they currently have. For example, about 65 per cent of the employees at PS Kenya are millennials, with around 20 per cent being on short term contracts. With this kind of short term contracts, the turnover rate is high thus so much time, energy and resources are always spent looking for other people to replace the ones who have left. The quality of work is affected because of lack of 100 per cent commitment to what the employee on short term contract is working on as they are juggling a couple of different jobs. There is a lot of discontinuity of work as you may find one particular project having been worked on by different people before it is complete. However, the millennials prefer being on short term contracts since they do not want to be stuck on one project for a long time.
What are some of the challenges that the HR office deals with every so often, especially when it comes to dealing with employees?
The key issue is giving feedback and a lot of people do not know how to give it- giving feedback is never easy. At our place, we have taken our supervisors through programmes where they learn to give feedback. We believe in constructive feedback. Also having difficult employees and people you have to ease out of the organization- that is never an easy thing.
What are some of the challenges that are currently being experienced in the HR fraternity and that you hope will be non-existent in 5 to 10 years?
Strong unionization will no longer be an issue as there will be more independent workers who are not unionized due to growth of the gig economy, thus there will be no long channels of dealing with issues that may arise in the course of an employee’s contract. The ‘Gig’ economy will also no longer be a challenge as measures will have been put in place to attract the right kind of talents and good hand over systems to ensure continuity of work. However, there arises a new challenge of legal problems that may arise from working with independent contractors. Predictive analytics will try and solve issues on talent acquisition and retention.
What are the new technologies or transformations currently being experienced at the workplace, especially in Kenya?
Our organization has an intranet system called Julisha that allows employees to access data from any location with access to internet and find quick solutions. Our processes are gradually becoming paperless with new systems being introduced like the ERP system, Performance management system among others. This paperless system makes keeping and retrieving records much easier and more efficient. Records would also not face the risk of getting lost or destroyed if they are in digital copies as opposed to printed papers.
When it comes to transformation, there has been a change over the years on how employees operate. There is an open floor plan which encourages employees to interact, work together and help each other ease into new technologies that are introduced. Another transformation is with the communication systems. Employees are able to communicate via Skype and conference calls which gives employees freedom to work from anywhere in the world, further keeping employees more engaged and ensuring work runs smoothly as everyone involved is up to date with the progress of work.
What would you say about the open floor plan in offices? Does it work or not? Should employees be given a choice in where and how to work based on the nature of their jobs?
In PS Kenya, most of the employees are out in the field and only report to the office to key in data or hold meetings. Thus mostly the people in the head office would be the ones affected by an office plan. There are two different schools of thought, one supports the open plan system while the other does not.
PS Kenya has adopted an open floor plan. Each department is allocated a specific section where they can all be able to work together and there is good flow of work. This is advantageous as it boosts interaction and collaboration among employees which are very key to building cohesion and team work.
The second school of thought is against the open floor plan as it is invades the privacy of employees, the level of noise is high and the air circulation is also affected. In order to curb that, PS Kenya has set aside the Innovations Room as well as the Jawabu Room where teams can meet to brain storm on ideas and hold meetings separate from other employees to avoid a noisy situation. So, for PS Kenya, the open floor plan works perfectly.