An interview with Martin Osembo, Head HR at Olam International

Written by: Fleming. Team

Martin Osembo
Olam International
Head HR

1) Current issues and challenges for the region?

Generally, the issues faced by the region range from governance, security, corruption and the economic integration as summarized below

- One of the key issues in the region is governance and challenges in promoting multiparty democracy. Restricted freedom of expression and association are clearly under threat in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, where the opposition have little room to propagate their ideologies. Removal of term limits in Rwanda & Uganda, the holding to power of the current Burundi president etc. are some of the examples.

- The other big challenge is peace and security. Civil strife and political instability in Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia continue to impact negatively on the security and economic performance of the region. The terrorist attacks on civilians in Kenya in schools, shopping centers among others.

- Corruption remains a major challenge in the region as most EAC partner states appear to have lost the war against official graft. Kenya, tendering scandals, Uganda scandals in real estate, financial, health, security etc. Tanzania and Rwanda have had commendable effort in the fight against graft.

- The challenges faced in regional economic integration for example, non-tariff barriers, abolition of work permits across the boarders remains an impediment to the free movement of goods and service, labour inclusive.

2) Role of HR in organizations success?

HR plays an integral role in organization’s success. All HR people related initiatives are aligned to the business requirements from Strategy, Performance management, compensation, Industrial relations etc. are geared towards ensuring the organization is competitive and wins in the market place. Some of the areas are,

- Strategy : HR supports the development and achievement of organization Strategy. HR is at the forefront of impacting the bottom line through proper linkage of Vision, Mission and promoting culture. Through performance management, HR supports that alignment of the different functions to the achievement of company goals through planning, monitoring and evaluation of performance

- Organisation Development : HR is at the forefront in change management, guiding company decision making that underlines the staffing requirements and projections based on demand. Aligning the human resource through capacity development, structures that support the business.

- Business partnering : Through understanding the business and spearheading Human Resource Planning Recruitment and Selection, Staff placement and Information Management.

- Welfare - Compensation and benefits : Design compensation structures that respond to the nature of business, that inspire discretionary behavior and that inspire results. In addition, HR designs benefits that aim at attracting and retaining good talent hence reduce the company’s costs associated with turnover, attrition and hiring replacement workers.

- Health and Safety : HR supports the company to provide safe working conditions that comply with international and national laws. Medical support, attendance logs, holidays, protective equipment, insurance among others.

- Industrial Relations : Helpful in maintaining a harmonious, predictable labor relations through worker associations, trade unions and employee engagement. They identify, investigate and resolve workplace issues that, if left unattended, could spiral out of control and embroil the organization in legal matters which can be costly in the long run.

3) Future trends and challenges that will be faced by Uganda?

The rate at which the world is changing has spiralled to the world of work. HR has to understand the implications and prepare for these changes. The need to understand the implications and effects of issues concerning labor mobility, demographic changes, and changes in technology, Mergers and Takeovers, Social Media etc. has placed new demands on HR Managers in Uganda to venture into new frontiers to create an edge and manage the challenges that may come with the changing work environments.

- Mobility of labour and globalization : Labour has become very mobile in the different industries. This is because of the effect of globalization where multinational corporations place new demands on HR practitioners. Some of the pressures come in terms of the skills requirement, appropriate mix of workers, cultural adaptability to handle global assignments. This places new demands on HR for continuous training, cultural orientation, etc. to keep pace with the changes.

- Changing Demographics : Uganda’s labour market is changing with workforce becoming heterogeneous. There is an increasing entry of female workers, younger workers, with development ushering diversity in social class, values, education, language, lifestyle among others. These have placed new demands on HR managers in Uganda calling for innovative approaches to harmonizing these necessary differences.

- Changes in Technology : With rapid changes in technology, there is a new demand to up skill the workforce to adapt and respond to technology. If many companies are to survive, remain competitive, productive and effective, the skills deficiencies have to be filled. This is an exciting challenge for Uganda that has embraced technology.

- Mergers, Acquisitions, and structural changes : There is a new demand on HR managers in Uganda to manage the process of restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. These usher structural changes like downsizing a process which requires proper communication and change management. The challenge is to manage the negative effects like dilemmas, uncertainty, and decline in performance, among others

- Social media and productivity : The impact of social media is starting to slowly be felt as productivity likely deteriorates. Employers face a challenge in ensuring that time allocated to work is utilized optimally. Social media including Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram etc, has become a competing priority with work.

- Work - life balance : With the increase number of female workers today in Uganda, a result of continued women empowerment, there is high demand for leave to attend to family obligations. The trend is such that both spouses are engaged in full time employment hence the upbringing of children is a shared responsibility. Laws and work practices are being enacted in response to this including day care services, breast feeding rooms at workplaces as well as introducing flex working hours.

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