/ 20 February 2009

Empower your employees

There is an urgent need for South Africa’s organisations to develop high-performance cultures that foster positive work environments and take productivity to the highest levels. Achieving this is no easy task. There are five key challenges that have to be overcome.

The first of these is job security and job satisfaction. In a depressed labour market unhappy employees are likely to stay within organisations. But organisations may lose employees through restructuring and retrenchments.

What of the morale, satisfaction and commitment levels of those who remain? Factors affecting job satisfaction include the reward systems, work autonomy, the working environment in terms of organisational policies and managerial support.

If management does not address these factors employees within organisations usually have a lower level of job and personal satisfaction and a resultant lower level of commitment to their organisations.

The second critical area is addressing employee commitment, which is weak in many South African organisations. A way to remedy this is to address the dimension of trust between employer and employee. This trust can be addressed only through attending to the psychological contract, in which both parties in the employment relationship commit to meeting the needs and expectations of the other. In so doing, levels of commitment can start to be addressed.

Employee empowerment is the third area of importance. Managers need to create an environment that enables employees to apply their creative abilities to the full, without censure or interventions that create cynicism. Managers need to employ the right people and then trust them to do their work to the best of their ability.

Employees also need to stop looking to management for guidance on every matter and must vindicate the faith that put them in the positions they occupy by taking full responsibility for their work. Employee empowerment is a two-way street that includes open and honest communication between management and employees, with both parties being interested in delivering high-quality work.

The fourth challenge is the attraction, motivation and retention of employees. In the ”war for talent” South African organisations have embarked on a mix of recruitment strategies. The motivation and retention of new members of staff is vitally important. With our culturally diverse workforce, creating an inclusive environment in which employees can grow is essential.

In South Africa the criterion for selection into management roles often rewards outstanding technical ability, but the ability to communicate, motivate and build a high-performance culture is far more important. Judging by South Africa’s dismal productivity rankings in the World Competitiveness Report (WCR), we have not mastered these necessary managerial attributes. The WCR ranking is a direct result of poor management. So, clearly, management development is a place to start addressing this.

The final priority is management and employee development. Employee development does not occur without the meaningful participation of all parties. Recent research confirms that a lack of support and commitment to the individual employee undergoing management development detracts from the value of the learning and its potential to be applied.

The research revealed that many working adults pursuing management-related qualifications were being sponsored by their companies without any clear succession planning or career development plans in place. Although South African companies might be spending money on employee development, it appears, as with employment equity, to be a likely case of compliance rather than commitment and investment.

What all the above point to is the urgent need for organisations to strive towards a high-performance culture. Addressing challenges, such as the people-related issues discussed above, is essential. This is where managers must play a key role and make meaningful contributions to their organisations.

Dr Linda Ronnie is a senior lecturer in human resource management and director of the associate in management and postgraduate diploma in business administration programmes at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business