In an organisation beset with low morale and poor performance, this HR professional knew training was the antidote.
When Jeremiah Arigu Emmanuel CPHR began working at the Department of Housing in Nigeria in 2006 as a Training Officer, he immediately knew something was amiss.
The Department of Housing is responsible for building and constructing housing and roads in Nigeria’s 36 states in collaboration with several stakeholders.
Good roads and affordable housing are integral to the growth of Nigeria’s economy and its expansion into non-oil sectors such as agriculture, solid minerals and tourism.
Many employees didn’t bother turning up to work, and if they did, it would often be late in the day before they arrived. Customer service relationships suffered, with unethical practices becoming a regular occurrence.
“People were collecting kickbacks to do tasks they were supposed to do already without any strings attached,” says Emmanuel, who is know a Teaching Associate at Monash University.
Ethics wise, there was also a common issue of favouritism and bias. Employees were singled out for praise and training based on their connections within and outside the organisation.
The impact of these issues radiated outwards, with many projects suffering service delivery setback
“The organisation handles a lot of enormous projects and we had contractors and organisations working with us to carry out these projects.
“The turnaround times in processing documents and files was impacted, and contractors were often coming to the office to follow up.”
Reinvigorating the training process
As a training officer, Emmanuel worked closely with the Deputy Director of Learning and Development and the Director of HR, and was responsible for developing training plans and proposals and overseeing short courses.
He discovered that in an organisation made up of over 9000 employees, the training budget only took a quarter of this number into account.
“Training had stagnated over two to five years,” he says. “When there was training, there was no deliberate attempt to train people based on needs and merit.”
On a daily basis, both formally and informally, Emmanuel received complaints and queries from employees about the lack of training, which led him to link this back to the issue of low morale and the resulting behaviours.
“Based on that, I drew up argumentative evidence [to demonstrate that] something had to be done if we want to reinvigorate a workforce that could deliver the organisation’s expectations.”
The proposal, which was the focus of Emmanuel’s case study to achieve AHRI’s HR Certification via the Senior Leaders Pathway, was a two-pronged approach comprising a mass training exercise and specific department-centred training.
The project was designed to uplift the capabilities of mid-to-junior level staff, who made up a third (3026) of the organisation.
“These staff were critical resources who I would describe as foot soldiers,” says Emmanuel. “They carried out the nitty-gritty detailed work that required approval by top-level management.”
The first aspect consisted of a one-time holistic training course to bring back employees’ confidence and let them know that the organisation recognised their importance.
Next, he changed the focus of the training to a needs and merit basis.
“I came up with a training needs analysis (TNA) [tool], and formed a Ministerial Training Committee which comprised line managers across all the departments in the organisation, including finance, architecture, engineering, electrical and highways.”
This committee helped to facilitate their respective departments’ TNA to identify the gaps, those who needed to upskill and the training required. They were also tasked with sourcing reputable training organisations that worked in collaboration with the HR team to deliver the required training.
“Employees who came late to work were coming in early and there was an enthusiasm in the air that you could read in their faces.” Jeremiah Arigu Emmanuel CPHR
However, there were some issues agreeing on the format of a TNA survey, but Emmanuel came up with a template that captured data in the context of performance in the following areas: What are the skills required to perform these roles? Do the employees have those skills? If not, what skills do they need to perform at the level expected of them based on the job description?
To strengthen his business case, the TNA was carried out before Emmanuel submitted his proposal to the higher ups. But it still took him a whole financial year to get the plan across the line after some delay due to lack of funds as advised by the finance and accounts department.
Emmanuel persisted, however, and was able to get the department on board by convincing them that training was critical to driving the organisation forward.
Moving the needle on mindset and performance
Once the new approach was implemented, almost all (2384) junior-to-mid level employees received training in a single financial year. The shift in their morale was palpable.
“Employees who came late to work were coming in early and there was an enthusiasm in the air that you could read in their faces,” says Emmanuel.
The turnaround time for processing customer requests improved dramatically, with 90 per cent of files processed within 24 hours of receipt. Positive customer relationship behaviour displayed by front-desk staff also jumped from 30 per cent to 70 per cent.
“I personally received messages from consultants and contractors, saying, ‘The customer relationship has improved.’
Employees also showed their appreciation, telling Emmanuel that greater access to training enhanced their technical, managerial, and attitudinal skills, and improved their ability to perform tasks.
“You could see that employees were beginning to implement things they learned during training.
“It showed in their behaviour and the way they approached colleagues and customers outside the organisation, with a considerable decline in employees taking kickbacks or engaging in corruption.”
The perception of HR in the organisation also shifted after the success of the project. HR used to be locked out of high-level discussions and there was no strategic alignment of HR and business functions. But afterwards, there was an integrated, deliberate approach in discussing key people-related issues at the top level.
“HR became a strong strategic partner in that all the departments saw HR as helping them achieve business objectives.”
Advice for HR professionals
For HR professionals looking to take on a similar challenge, Emmanuel says collaboration, openness and transparency are the keys to success.
“You need to collaborate with other stakeholders in the industry, whether regulatory bodies or others in the organisation, such as the finance department.
“Training is not a one department affair – it’s an organisational affair. Get the right team and then work together.”
Resilience was also essential for Emmanuel to achieve his goal in the face of resistance.
“Even though some felt this may be a futile effort, I was determined. Top executives might ask you, ‘Why do you want to train people? Everyone is delivering.’
“You need to be persuasive and convince them that in order to gain a competitive advantage in the workforce, you need to upskill, train and develop them.”
A version of this article first appeared in the October 2022 edition of HRM Magazine.
Want to take your career to the next level and be recognised as a Certified HR Practitioner? Achieve the industry standard for the HR profession with the AHRI Practising Certification Program (APC).