How to communicate with subordinates

Today’s leadership needs to appreciate that the key to better performance is better communication. Experience has shown that leadership and various management initiatives are premised on one common factor, sharing of information for the benefit of the organisation, and that is communication.

A number of structures such as the workers committee, news bulletins etc. have been established as communication enablers. Such techniques enable the conveyance and gathering of information needed to bring about change. What is now juicy news is that these familiar techniques though used correctly actually inhibit the communication that the twenty first century corporations require. I have observed managers talking to subordinates at every level in order to find out what actually goes on in organisations. But, do we ask the right questions to allow communication? Or when leaders do so, they will be preventing employees from providing the kind of deep information, insightful behaviour and productive change needed to cope with the much more complex problems of organisational renewal. What mostly come out of such strategies are cafeteria and parking issues but nothing strategic. The deep and potentially threatening or embarrassing information that motivate learning and produce real change is not surfaced. Organisations are faced with extraordinarily complex issues and these should be exposed to allow open debate for an array of possible solutions. Encouraging communication promotes decision-thinking teams.

Notably, employees are very good and quick at picking management blindness and timidity. We may as leaders persistently prefer using the derogatory boss approach not knowing at all that this approach does not get subordinates to reflect on their work and behaviour. We need not employ single loop approaches as a one-dimensional question also elicits a one-dimensional answer. Recently I had an opportunity to listen to a supervisor who was communicating with a subordinate. Although the leader appeared like he was asking the subordinate about a work operation in actual fact he indirectly was expressing dismay. I heard him say,” Where are the tractors ploughing now, I want to go there?” In response the subordinate tried to provide some double loop response explaining that as at that hour no one had paid for the services, but however, it was possible that someone could phone anytime. He then went on a blaming game, where the supervisor was accusing the subordinate of not saying the truth. He insisted he wanted a straight answer that the tractors had not been hired. Surprisingly before the end of the day, three people had paid for the services of the tractor. I saw the subordinate frustrated to the bone as it meant working during the holidays.

Allow employees to share first hand experiences about their jobs. More often than not, solutions and initiatives that will improve performance lie within the subordinates. When communicating, do not censor what everyone needs to say and hear. For the sake of morale and considerateness, managers often deprive employees and themselves of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own behaviour by learning to understand more. What I also saw from the cited example was the usage of socially upbeat behaviour to inhibit learning. Leaders need to see readily how they inhibit learning and our reasons could lie in deeper and more psychological motives. Such one-dimensional loop communication make the whole communication between leadership and subordinates tense. Subordinates are not at times allowed to ask the motives behind a given fact. Every time we are communicating with subordinates, we need to be cognisant that the moment we involve potential threat or embarrassment, rigorous reasoning goes right out of the window and defensive reasoning takes over. Defensive reasoning serves no purpose except self-protection. Paradoxically, those who use it rarely acknowledge that they are protecting themselves. Leaders strive to invoke strategies which are pro-learning.

Double loop form of communication which allows for more steps to enable subordinates to ask leaders questions are a better option. As leaders we need to appreciate that there are two closely related mechanisms at work all the time we communicate the social and psychological. The social appears as if a leader is putting a subordinate on the spot. This is what happened in the cited example. But allowing employees to dig deeper uncovers the employee as a well-rounded important stakeholder. Why supervisors instinctively and thoroughly avoid the double learning form is psychological. In some cases, employees open Pandora boxes which leaders may not be prepared to deal with. They may have approached a subordinate with a position which can turn out to be embarrassing or a threatening issue.

It is best practice to desist from gathering data in sloppy and self-serving ways, once we do this we are seen as blaming employees. Employees view this approach as having psychological connotations where a leader would be trying to express a negative message but does it subtly.

Let us try to avoid vulnerability, risk and embarrassment and any appearance of incompetence in our messages. Try avoid the management’s “benevolent” censorship of true but negative messages. Leaders be cognisant that good communication promotes learning and builds decision-thinking teams.  

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at

Helping employees plan for retirement

It is no secret that impending retirement can be stressful for employees. The statement is very true if the employees and organisation have not carefully considered the financial and emotional implications of retirement.

Employees world over, are now more conscious of the need to plan for their sunset years. Retirement schemes are therefore, becoming a key consideration in benefits packages. It is the role of organisational leaders to ensure that pension administration and investments are handled by competent personnel and or Fund Managers. It is also the role of leadership as it is for employees to prepare for retirement. Some organisations may go beyond and continue offering employee wellness programs to pensioners.

Research has demonstrated that robust retirement packages will improve employees’ performance. Counselling programs to address a range of psychological and practical issues surrounding retirement have a huge impact on all employees. Imagine a retiring employee only getting to know how much they will be getting per month just before they are disengaged. Organisations may conduct sessions designed to prepare people to manage retirement benefits and wealth accumulated during their work life. It has been noted that attending these retirement classes often prompts employees to seek more personalised information.

Experience has shown that retiring employees, who start planning late, are more likely to face financial challenges and will try to earn extra income from activities that do not give them the much-needed satisfaction. Resultantly, health related problems like stress, anxiety and habits such as substance abuse may creep in.  

It is interesting to note that as employees age and move closer to retirement they change their interests and preferences about work retirement. In this regard individualised retirement plans are very handy and the most effective way to motivate employees at large. When conducting these programs organisations should encourage top-down commitment and dialogue. With the Zimbabwean economic situation, retirement planning has become a lower priority for employees seeking current and short-term financial relief. It will therefore, not be enough to create such programs in institutions if they do not promote open discussions internally about retirement. Organisations that have implemented interactive retirement programs have come up with a hands-on approach that benefits employees. A good example is where some local organisations have engaged and allowed the main contributors of pension funds, the long serving employees, to invest in real estate as a way to hedge their retirement packages.

Again, it should be noted that it is never too early to begin planning for employees’ retirement. It is of importance that management should customise the retirement programs to suit different ages and career stages ensuring at all times that employees construe the intended purpose of the retirement plans and counselling courses. While creating an improved retirement counselling program geared towards an aging workforce can seem like a daunting challenge, if done right it is quite manageable.

Counselling programs done earlier like in the first ten years of employment should help employees to focus on issues such as where they will live permanently. Owning a home or property will reduce the challenges as they are not likely to be bothered by landlords over rent when retired. Five years before retirement, counsellors might want to start advising employees to start shifting their investment mix from a focus on assets accumulation to income generation. Organisations can help by creating a peer network for aging employees and these do not cost institutions much. Invoking the use of peer-based counselling offers employees the opportunity to get information from people they trust. In that manner, the aging employees have a chance to balance the formal textbook information on retirement with real life anecdotal experiences in order to understand better what retirement will be like.

Retirement initiatives must never appear like the employer is pushing the retirees out. Remember as people get to retirement there are tendencies of being highly stressed as they constantly reflect on their lives after retiring. When retirement planning is taken as a key HR strategy organisations will be better placed to know if they will derive benefits from offering voluntary early retirement schemes. These are less stressful to some employees as they are viewed as an opportunity to leave an organisation with a meaningful package to embark on personal endeavours.

In the long run organisations will realise that well-crafted counselling and employee assistance programs can help improve performance and productivity, morale and enhance succession planning. These will facilitate transfer of knowledge and skills to younger employees. Employees are usually more engaged in organisations that are seen as ensuring a descent retirement.

It is incumbent on the organisational leaders be cognisant of the changes in today’s workforce. People are living longer and given a chance, employees are willing to work beyond retirement age either in their chosen or encore careers. Neglecting to properly disengage retiring employees is at the very least a missed opportunity by employers and to some extent a threat to employee morale. Today’s leaders need to consider embracing effective off boarding plans as a means to boosting employees’ odds of a successful retirement.

Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at

Competence building tools besides training

This week’s article is about coaching and mentoring as competence building tools in organisations. It is important to realise that training is not the only tool to improve or promote employee learning and development.

Organisations may get confused about the difference between coaching and mentoring. Although the purpose and process of each are different, there are overlaps. Coaching provides specific feedback and can be used within mentoring. Mentoring on the other hand, tends to be more holistic in that it develops the whole individual. It is far more personal and relationship based.  A mentor focuses on the mentee’s longer term personal development. The relationship is never formally evaluated nor only connected to the job advancement but rather to one’s personal improvement. It’s more of a collaborative approach. Both tools include offering guidance, advice, encouragement and training.

Fundamentally, there is a price in mentoring. It is a generous gift that organisations can typically use and will repay in kind over time when the mentee in turn becomes a mentor. Inherently the capacity of mentoring is amplified by embedding values such as respect, generosity and contribution in the corporate culture.

Coaching focuses on offering solutions to immediate problems and learning opportunities while mentoring offers long term development. The role of the coach is more on informing and offering appropriate feedback while mentoring focuses on interaction, behavioural role modelling and making suggestions and corrections. No doubt as a competence building tool, coaching allows for “just in time learning” and that learning is usually administered in small doses hence positively impacting on the change needed. So evidently, one addresses short term needs while mentoring focuses on longer term development.

These competence building tools though a low cost option for skills development are an overlooked aspect for workplace learning. Although coaching and mentoring have informally and unintentionally gone on in organisations as employees help each other; “Has your organisation established a formal means of harnessing the knowledge of their more experienced managers and staff?’’ Mentoring allows transfer of knowledge, experiences and insights on business management. It is key therefore, for aspiring executives to have a mentor.

I therefore highly recommend the establishment of mentoring and coaching programmes in the workplace. Such programs are built through thoughtful planning. The first step is to define the objective of the programme. Is it developing the next leadership, retaining staff or addressing a need? The next step is pairing the mentor/coach and mentee/coachee. The organisation can make efforts in coming with up with a selection criteria bearing in mind that it is an art more than a science. The existing relationships, organisational culture and desired outcomes will guide this process. Mentoring relationships maybe set up between individual and the responsible manager. But lets us not be limited in our scope. Establishing mentoring relationships between people from different functions of the organisation brings in greater understanding and improves cross functional communication.

Communication has to be part of it, from beginning to end. Both parties should know their roles, expected outcomes, processes and training to be conducted. Consequently, it helps in building commitment. This gives a clear structured workflow. More importantly, the programs should be flexible to allow and support varying individual needs, learning capabilities and demands from current responsibilities. Finally evaluation will wrap it up. Always remember that what gets measured, gets done!

Because of less cost associated with these tools and their ability to change culture easily, organisations need to embrace both coaching and mentoring programs as essential business components. The usage and adoption of these methods offers organisations myriads of benefits as discussed earlier. In addition mentoring and coaching enhanced business performance, attraction and retention of best employees. My experience has shown that the presence or absence of such programs means more than money to a decision to accept a job offer or to remain with an organisation.

These programs offer not only professional growth but confidence to handle new situations and manage change. They also boost self-esteem, job satisfaction and ultimately promote loyalty. Where organisations facilitate mentoring programs usually collegiate groups are built which are more willing to share their experience. Team work becomes the order of the day.

As organisations embark on success planning imperatives, usage of mentoring helps in leadership development. They provide a better basis for promotion and setting up high potential individuals on the fast career traction.

The Harvard Business Review in 1978 had a front page that declared, “Everyone who makes it has a mentor.’’ Facilitating learning is not merely dictating rules and providing resources but through mentoring and coaching we impart knowledge and support employees. The broader impact of mentoring is invaluable in today’s environments and jobs that are fluid and dynamic. These tools develop a set of competence skills that go beyond the day to day needs to complete job tasks. Now that organisations are seeking employee retention, productivity, adaptability, job satisfaction, improved morale and pride, organisations need to seriously consider formally embracing these competence building tools if they are to remain relevant.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at

Flexible working time concept

It is almost 50 years since Christel Kammerer invented flexible working time concept. With the rapid pace other management concepts have been adopted, it is quite perplexing to note the slow up take of flexible working time in our region. Maybe the answer lies in our pace of industrialisation. Flexible time or flexi-time refers to variations in starting and finishing times but assumes that a constant number of working hours are worked each day. Flexi-time is meant to benefit both employees and organisations.

Its application by countries has varied because there is no one size fits all schedule as the concept allows employees to customise their working hours. For example in Australia, flexi-time refers to accumulated overtime hours that an employee can build up and exchange for the equivalent amount of time off. In Florida, employees considered flexi workers are salaried but exempted from insurance regulations and are given a broad leeway to settle their own work schedule.

However coming closer home, flexi-time may mean flexible work arrangements which help employees to manage either their work life demands, time spent trying to get to work or may be used to manage costs by organisations. The concept was once introduced in Zimbabwe some time back when one group of employees was required to start work at 9.00 am finishing an hour later compared to their counterparts. Our financial and telecommunications industries have adopted this concept well. Sales representatives have flexible work schedules and are remuneration based on targets met.

Currently, as a nation we face unprecedented traffic challenges, resulting in loss of productive time. Those able to get to work on time have to forgo resting time by waking up earlier than usual. These challenges have taken a great toll on parents who have to drop off and pick up kids at school. A trip that would normally be done during lunch break may now need two hours. When employees are always in a rush, agitation and fatigue kicks in. Could flexi-time address these challenges?

Notably, the developmental sector has also embraced this concept as used in Australia. Their staff work longer hours per day so that on Fridays staff leave early to attend to their social life as well as avoid traffic jams. The time has also been allocated for social games hence providing the needed work life balance. Where business travel happens over the weekend, they are usually allowed time off in lieu of the travelled time. Consultancy work is a prevalent flexi working strategy and is common in this sector. The flexibility is extended to the place of work too.

Digital technology can be used to enable employees to work from anywhere and anytime. Organisations can create group platforms that allow contributions by group members hence taking away the need to be working within regular working schedules and from the office . Using your local area networks your employees can easily access global group information anytime. The use of flexing makes employees happy, engaged and productive. Unplanned disruptive absences are reduced as employees do not call in at the last minute. There are also less claims on overtime and the system also carters for parents who may want to work from home in order to also take care of their children. The flip side to flexi- working involves the upsurge in utility costs, especially in the manufacturing sector since the plant is open for longer periods of time. Also the managing of the work schedules may pose serious challenges. In the services sector, flexi-time may cause serious confusion in the whole business chain as schedules of delivery may be affected. The Administration of the system may make demands on HR departments by creating additional workloads. Lack of supervision is likely as employees work those non-traditional hours. They also interfere with inter office communication and often compels organisations to implement sophisticated time recoding systems that monitor employee scheduling and punctuality.

Undoubtedly, team work occurs almost without effort were staff interact and spend time together. Organisational culture is also ingrained in such a set up. Flexi-time may take away this family sense in employees.

It is important to conduct due diligence before adopting flexi time. Once adopted, strong administration systems have to be implemented for it to be successful to avoid expenses and pitfalls highlighted above. The work schedules must meet the business needs and accommodate your staff. Extensive communication will assist in achieving the afore-mentioned. Policies and procedures have to be developed to support flexi-work schedules. Employees should not be given a carte blanche to work whenever they want. It should be a system that enables staff to work their lives around work without sacrificing work productivity.

This trend will definitely continue across countries and organisations as work is no longer confined to a particular time period and place but is now viewed as an activity to meet organisational goals. A good start for our local case is perhaps to consider flexi-starting and finishing hours as a way to manage the outside challenges that are negatively impacting businesses.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at

Causes and management of stress at work

Stress is perceived as pressure from the environment which makes a strain within a person. It is the result of the interaction between a situation and an individual which has both psychological and physical effects. Stress is also viewed as a normal reaction that comes from a human being. Bodies are built to experience this for a short time in response to various stimuli. Extra stress hormones and adrenaline are released to help the body when faced with perceived threat. But when these hormones activation gets longer the chemical change wreaks havoc on one’s body whose effect can be detrimental to one’s health and organisations’ success.

The most common stressors today are in the workplace. Employees face an array of demands from strict deadlines, dynamic environments; making ends meets and juggling family life.

As leaders, we may think all is well with our teams but a closer look at some of the manifestations may show signs of work related stress. These include feelings (such as fatigue, anxiety, depression), weak mental capacity (memory loss, difficulty in concentration, problem solving) and physical symptoms (difficulty in breathing, palpitations, headaches etc.). If stress persists it may lead to mental and physical ill health. Staff behaving in uncharacteristically depicting ways like snapping at the boss, or crying over the things they would not normally do, signs of being overly emotional, edgy and highly irritable may be symptoms of stress. While some can even get to the point of missing their lunch break in pursuance of work the effects can be detrimental. Usually, work related mishaps are translated to the family resulting in serious conflicts simply because the relationship between work and family life is likened to a circle. When you are happier at home you perform better at work and when you perform better at work you are more pleasant at home. Employees may however fail to control the circle as proposed especially when they feel beholden to the demands of their employment.

Jeffrey Pfeiffer a guru in management addresses the drivers of stress in a work environment as having negative impact on human health. He cited work overload, overtime, skills underutilisation, limited resources, understaffing, organisational justice and climate, poor working environment as common stressors in the work place. Pfeiffer says that employees are only human and have a life outside work which equally competes for their attention. We have an obligation as the leadership to ensure work demands do not overly affect the social life of employees. Today, long working hours have become the norm for successful employees interested in advancing their careers. They may be a status symbol and have become inevitable in certain roles. As such employees drench themselves under pressure to signal how valuable they are or simply to get their work done; these long working hours have become synonymous with successful careers.

When an employee is dealing with looming work deadlines, difficult work relationships, family problems or bereavement, the body switches to the emergency stress response mode. To counter such workplace and personal ordeals, managers have many strategies they can employ to reduce stress levels in teams. There are more compelling reasons to understand and eradicate the causes of stress in any organisation than pretend its non-existence. Good management practice includes assessing the risk of stress among employees. Management interventions to reduce stress may take two approaches, organisational and individual. Organisational structures affect work relationships, workload (both overload & underload) and how change programme will be managed. Organisational culture may be a main stressor in the workplace. Leadership that is critical, unsupportive, and unresponsive or has bullying tendencies may actually cause more stress to employees. When organisations have open and effective communication channels, organisational stress may be nabbed in the bud. As leaders let us be drivers of organisations’ visions by providing enabling environments and resources necessary for employees to excel in their work.

It is important to note that individuals differ in their risk of experiencing stress and their vulnerability to the adverse effects of stress. Employees need to ensure healthy eating while exercising regularly, these are well known to reduce stress levels. It explains why organisations that provide robust staff wellness programmes have happier employees. Employees may be trained on how to manage organisational stress .The best safeguard against organisational stress is to build employee resilience   through developing their capacities to face, adapt and cope with challenges at work and at home. Learning how to increase resilience and deal well with stress could be an employee most important lesson in life.

William James said,” The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.’ This article has come out of the realisation that the old covenant between employer and employee wherein companies used to offer job security in exchange of adequate performance and exhibition of loyalty has evolved. It’s now also the role of the employee to manage their own careers showing commitment to both the company and their homes. As leaders therefore, our role is to support this commitment.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at