Oladimeji Alo
The President, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Dr. Oladimeji Alo, says that forward looking organisations insist on professionals manning their human resources units. He spoke to CHINYERE FRED-ADEGBULUGBE.

Beyond employee acquisition, training and development, how else can a HR professional add value to a business enterprise?

One way is to align the HR strategies, systems and practices with the business strategies. A second way the HR professional can add value is to help the organisation to create an environment that promotes innovations and creativity. Many people do not know that the HR professional has a lot to do in creating the organisational culture. If you and I work in the same place and we do not greet each other, and I am afraid to sit down next to you because I do not know what you will do when I get up and move out, it creates a stressful environment that is not conducive for cooperation.

The HR manager has a role to play in creating rules of interaction, fostering an atmosphere where people can give their best. He also helps to create the organisational structure and rules that will permit employees to take calculated risks that will ensure that when people make mistakes, they are not punished in such a way that will prevent them from ever trying.

What we need to do to get out of the economic crisis are innovations and creativity. Companies have to think out of the box and consider who will do this for them? It is the employees that will do it. There is also what is what called employee engagement. It is an employee who is fully committed to an organisation that will be willing to go the extra mile. It is the HR manager who creates the condition that will encourage that employee to do that. All over the world, you have employees who are working, but their minds and spirits are not there; they just want to do the minimum. But the HR manager can do those things that will make the environment so conducive that people can, on their own, give themselves. This is called engaging the hearts and minds of the workforce. That is one major value an HR manager can add to an organisation.

Why are there organisations which HR departments are manned by non-HR professionals?

That is the whole point we are making. If you trace the history of HR, it used to be just for administration functions which merely existed just to carry out the instructions of the chief executives and line managers. But today, the HR manager has moved from just being an administrative person to becoming a strategic person. He is now involved in formulating policies that will ensure that the goals and objectives of the company are met. He is no longer waiting to be told what to do; he is involved in the planning, thinking and execution. He is moved from just being an administrator to becoming a strategic part of the business.

So what is the implication of having non-HR professional performing functions in an organisation?

There are quite a good number of companies in Nigeria who has non- professionals handling HR functions and that is one of the banes of enterprise management in Nigeria. It is like shooting oneself in the leg, because when an organisation does not have professionals handling its HR functions is short-changing itself. On the short run it would appear as though it is doing quite well, but when it has a crisis, and performance is sliding in comparative to its competitor, that is when it will realise the importance of HR in acquiring the right skills, developing the talents and helping to create the right organisational climate for the company in annexing its resources to achieve its objectives. These are better done when a company has a professional in charge of its HR unit. An organisation that employs non HR professionals to perform HR functions may be saving money in the short run, but on the long run, but is harming itself and its future survival.

How would you advise organisations on incorporating effective result-oriented mentoring systems?

Mentoring should be part of an organisation's talent management strategies. Often, we find that in organisations, there are many persons who have stayed long and risen high on the hierarchy. Those persons owe it to the organisation and the economy to mentor the young ones coming in. If a company has a good mentoring system, when a new employee comes in, he is attached to a more senior colleague who has gone through that line before, who would look after his interest. Therefore, a mentoring system enables the company to shorten curve for new workers. It also assists them to have people they can discuss job related matters with. Often, a mentor is not one's boss, but such a person understands the system better, and being experienced as to what works and career management, he must be there as a mentor.

For companies that embrace mentorship, it helps in their human capital development programme, learning and development programme and it also helps to improve their retention practices.

There are lots and lots of literature on mentoring; it is a whole topic on its own. There are issues on who could be a mentor and the rules of engagement. For instance what rules are there to ensure that the mentee is not exploited and the mentor himself is not taken advantage of? There are training programmes for installing programmes in organisations and the institute has one.

What are some of those competencies the CIPMN has developed over the years?

Over the years our emphasis at the CIPM has been to develop the knowledge and skills of our people. In the last five years, we have focused on certain areas of our work that are now emerging. One of those areas is change management. Today, a good human resources manager is a change manager. He is to help his company to prepare and cope well with change. That is an area where many of our members are not very strong so the institute in the last five years has done a lot to improve the competence of HR managers in change management.

The second competence we have worked on is HR metrics. For a long time HR managers spoke in qualitative terms, but in the last three years, we began to change the orientation of our people to think not just in terms of emotions, satisfaction and other qualitative things, but to also demonstrate the value added of HR to the bottom line and to begin to put figures. For instance, if an HR manager makes a recommendation to his managing director on any new initiative, he should also try and find a way of determining what it could cost the company to do it and what kind of benefit in financial terms that it would bring to the company. Our new orientation for our members now is that any HR professional must speak the language of business.

Another competence is that we get our members to see themselves as business people, rather than narrow socialists. An HR professional in a company should always seek to understand how the company makes money, what the value chain is and how he, as the HR manager impact on the drivers of the value chain. Therefore, in the last five years, we have been emphasising it to our people that they should move away from their comfort zone of being specialists, to becoming business people who think in terms of how they can align HR policies, systems and strategies with the strategies of the business.

Can you say the CIPMN has been able to effectively regulate HRM practice in Nigeria?

I would say yes and no. We have a register of professional HR members and we are authorised by law to keep such a register. We also do all in our power to help our members to sharpen their skills; give them information, organise trainings to help them stay on top of their trade. We have a code of conduct, against which our members are judged if they fall out of line, so that way we help to regulate the practice.

But there is a part which we cannot do and that is the part where we need to have the government making the point that only those who are chartered can practice our profession. We do not have such support from the government, so you still find many companies where non-professionals still head HRM departments. We cannot do anything about these persons, it is only our members that we can manage and control.

Nigeria has a vision of becoming one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020. Do you think the country has the human capital to achieve this?

The programme is in 2020 and we are now in 2010, everyone concerned in the design and development of the Vision 2020 recognises that human capital is very central in the achievement of that goal and this has been reflected in the work of the committee that put it together, but what we need to do is not just about designing a template for achieving the vision. Rather we need to begin to take action along the line of the timetable in the Vision 2020. what is important is that we should begin to implement considering that we have lost almost a year as the illness of the president and all the political rigmarole has not allowed any work to start on implementation. But when that work starts, we should look at the issues of investing in education and health, adopting best practices in managing HR within the public sector and getting our educational institutions at all levels to adopt governance practices that are geared towards achieving their objectives, issues of strategic planning and management in our higher institutions; these must happen. There are also the issues of the linkage between the tertiary institutions and industry, issues of better human capital management, to know our exact needs and what the universities should produce, these have been spelt out in the document, but we need to begin to implement them. The implementation is not just a government thing; it should involve the private sector and individual households.