As a HR person in Kenya, you must already be aware of some unique factors concerning our industry here. For some reason, HR is normally given the lesser seat at the (management) table or no seat at all. For the same reason I presume, HR is also among the most understaffed departments in the whole organization. It’s not uncommon to see a one-man HR department, never mind that the one HR person is charged with handling multiple and diverse roles including recruitment, training, personnel administration, staff welfare management, compensation, discipline and grievance management, workforce planning… you get it, it’s a looong list.
Working for a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) may complicate HR issues further due to challenges that are exclusive to small and fast growing businesses. You may be contending with urgent yet virtually unplanned recruitments, hurried staff replacements, impulsive dismissals, zero budgets for training or staff welfare, delayed staff salaries, unruly management … the list is endless. The responsibility for all this sits squarely in the nature of the SME – it’s a small business, probably a small proprietorship or family-owned business which is trying its hardest to grow with limited resources be they financial, time or business experience.
As much as the SME is dependent on its human resources (staff) for survival, this rocky business environment affects the will and intent of the business to invest in its staff. In following with the proverb “Once bitten, twice shy”, SMEs are very sensitive to any negative treatment they receive from their staff. Due to their heavy financial and other investment, business owners become virtually allergic to staff who they feel might compromise their business existence. They also become very tough, putting out inflexible conditions for hiring and treatment of employees. It’s often their way or the highway. Take it or leave it.
This hard stance by the bosses makes the HR’s job even more difficult. Why? The HR is a negotiator. They are the middle man between the management and the staff, shuttling between two often opposing forces of power, trying to get them to a middle ground. The two forces of power need each other, but they are both willful and stubborn, sometimes so much so that they lose the plot altogether. They require a master power broker.
Enter the HR person who has their own set of challenges to handle. Dealing with nutty bosses and even wackier employees amidst a burdensome workload can make the best of HRs take leave of their senses. Actually having a heart, which is certainly this job’s requirement, can prescribe one to be committed (into a loony bin). So what do you do?
As a HR, you need to get in control of your situation. This begins with describing and accepting your situation, however absurd it is. You need to say, I am the HR person of company X which has some unconventional bosses who actually expect to hire people for Y (inadequate) salary, overwork them, deny them leave and yet expect them to actually work and stay with this company. On the other hand, this company has some cuckoo employees who expect to get paid (on time!) for doing half the work or no work; misrepresenting the company by the look of their tardy, unkempt, uninspired selves; and for breeding all sorts of problems for the employer to solve besides their (many) other business concerns. This is my company. It’s my responsibility to bring these crazy two groups together and make this relationship a win-win for both.
Now, question is: What then happens to the middleman? Sure, you’ve watched many movies including Samuel L. Jackson’s “The Negotiator” movie. Do you survive?
Now, that depends on you. On your war strategy. There are many strategies to consider: You could go about it like Sun Tzu in his “Art of War”, or following Robert Greene’s instructions in the “33 Strategies of War”.
You need to keep your heart. You need to keep your head. You need to keep your health. You need to be able to sleep at night. You need to keep it together. Bottom line: You have to have a strategy or you will surely perish.
More on that later…