How does GuySuCo’s Blueprint propose addressing the fundamental human resource problem?

Dear Editor,

Again, I must apologise for responding to the message sent by the photograph of the GuySuCo’s CEO in Stabroek Business of June 24, 2011. For rather than projecting an optimism for ‘salvaging’ as headlined, it more reflected the lament contained in the text, with specific focus on the skills shortage which the GuySuCo Board identified “as an equally formidable hurdle to be crossed in the quest to salvage the industry.”

It was instructive to learn that there existed a Strategic Blueprint for 2009-2018 – (presumably extending one earlier announced for 2009-2013). One notes, with due apprehension, that the ‘Strategic Blueprint’ is reported as revealing the following concerns:

i)    loss of skilled and experienced personnel as one of the factors that has impacted negatively on GuySuCo’s field operations since 2004;

ii)   “the continuous flow of skilled managers…”;

iii)  the rate of resignations and migration has resulted in a level of skills losses that sometimes compels the administration to promote other employees to higher positions before they are adequately equipped to resume responsibilities – notably in the areas of ‘agriculture and factory’;

iv)  “the rate of losses has left the corporation depleted of key skills with very few choices for replacements and promotions”;

v)    the corporation has consequently been affected by “poor decision-making in the field and factories through lack of experience and the general decline in the quality of management;

vi)   the loss of all eight cadets trained in Australia (no discipline mentioned), while only one of four cadets trained in Agriculture Engineering and one trained in Information Technology remained in employ up to the time the Blueprint was completed (2009);

vii)  the propensity for a “high number of strikes”;
viii)   being “faced with greatly reduced windows of opportunity for getting the field work done.”
The above is, hopefully, a faithful itemisation from the quoted ‘Strategic Blueprint.’ It deliberately omits mention of GuySuCo’s human resources developmental efforts between 1990 and 2005, and between 2006 and 2009, as it is not explicitly stated whether these activities were referenced in the off-quoted ‘Strategic Blueprint.’ One is therefore left to divine how the Blueprint proposes to constructively address this besetting fundamental human resources problem; how the dire situation described will be salvaged. Presumably the remedial action is defined elsewhere in unquoted sections of the Blueprint, as it is difficult to detect from the exposition, any inherent ‘strategy’ for addressing this encompassing crisis.

The criticism attributed to the current Board (which must have produced the ‘Blueprint 2009-18’) that “lack of imposing sanctions… which had created the impression of a ‘blasé attitude’ where senior estate management do not feel under pressure for poor management, and a general culture of excuses is felt to have resulted,” could hardly be indicative of an action plan. One could only applaud the CEO for his bravery in according SB the recital of such a macabre description of an organisation whose Mission Statement includes the following: ‘To be a world class industry producing high quality sugar…’

One now understands the dejection portrayed in the CEO’s image.  The ‘Blueprint’ as exposed, does not appear to give him comfort. It reveals little or no ‘strategy’ for ‘salvaging sugar.’

In the aforementioned circumstances one would hope that the Board has mandated the Human Resources Division to analyse the reasons for the substantive loss of critical human capital:

a)  i) If not effected before, the exercise could include a series of exit interviews – to obtain feedback from those who (now) resign voluntarily.

ii)  Conduct, particularly among the existing managerial cadre, a confidential assessment of the perceived organisational strengths and weaknesses, and prepare the resultant analysis, with appropriate recommendations, for objective consideration by the Board.

iii)  Indeed the level of disaffection reported in the latest interview suggests a justification for an even more extended campaign of evaluating the work environment:
* It would not be surprising if a correlation were found between the migration of managerial skills and the reported absenteeism from work at the operational level.
* It also would not be surprising to learn that the perceived ‘blasé attitude’ was in fact a reflection of deep demotivation – resulting from a number of scenarios – one in which despite published achievements, personal effort goes unrecognised, or rewarded either by five per cent across-the-board increases – as applicable to the Office Assistant in the Public Service, or occasionally by no reward at all. Why would bright cadets stay in such circumstances?
* Most importantly in the absence of a viable performance appraisal system, it is difficult for one to obtain any appreciation of one’s value to the organisation; and equally of feeling oneself a human being of value – one reason for achieving skills to work effectively.
The literature of successful CEOs all speak to the critical priority given to the ‘human’ amongst other resources.
* Another likely stressor may be the depleted social conditions with which management staff must cope; compounded, perchance, by a perception of differentiation between ‘favourites’ and ‘non-favourite.’

b) Undertake a comprehensive audit of competencies of existing managers (and potential managers), identifying the gaps between what obtains and the respective educational and performance requirements (on the assumption that specific relevant job descriptions exist to facilitate measurement).

c)  Utilise the ensuing analysis as a basis for formulating a Human Resources Development Programme that can be implemented as urgently as possible, taking account of the availability of identified resource personnel within the industry (agriculture and factory being priorities) to contribute as facilitators and mentors.

d)  In the process attention needs to be paid to indicators that suggest likely stayers (say at least for ten years) and detailed evaluations completed of their potential capacity for development in order to justify the developmental investment contemplated.
This will involve in-depth discussions with the identified candidates about their own career ambitions, and arriving at a mutual understanding, to be enshrined in a written commitment to the proposed developmental programme. As a cautionary measure, further contractual arrangements may have to be formalised with the overall aim of bringing some stability to the human resources situation.

e)   There is still the question, however, of recruiting and/or retrieving experienced skills, including from the diaspora.
The answer may well be in GuySuCo’s reviewing the gaps between its range of compensation packages and earlier declared expectations, with a view to developing special contract arrangements for a mutually agreed periodicity. Such an investment must be viewed also from the perspective of the impact examples of high competency performance can have on respective operational units, and possibly across individual functions. Ideally the result over time could be a rebuilding of self-confidence amongst teams of management and managed, and ultimately restore confidence in the organisation as an employer of choice.

The above is by no means an exhaustive programme, but can be a beginning of a process which aims at goal fulfilment by the year 2018. But precedent to all is for the corporation to be satisfied that it currently retains the necessary human resource management expertise to advise on the above suggestions, in the first instance.

Equally important would be the re-institution of all the necessary infrastructure, equipment and related logistical arrangements necessary for implementing a refreshed Human Resources Development Programme; the revitalisation of partnerships, as necessary, with the University of Guyana, Guyana School of Agriculture, National Agriculture and Research Institute, and other relevant tertiary educational institutions. In this context it also seems appropriate that GuySuCo should tap the wide range of former specialist expertise that is readily available locally to contribute to ‘salvaging’ the organisation which grew them and helped to make them the valuable citizens they still are.  They are prepared to give back.

It stands to reason that for the industry to be sustainable, GuySuCo must become again the learning organisation it once proudly was.

All this means that at this crisis juncture GuySuCo requires truly transformational leadership, which not only will accept responsibility for decisions, and be accountable to the support teams of managers and workers; but also in whom the latter (and other stakeholders) can believe. It must be a leadership committed to merit as one criterion, and which eschews the differentiations of the recruitment and promotions for example, reflective in the misalignments in the wider community.

But when last has the industry produced even an outstanding sportsperson?

Yours faithfully,
E B John

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