HR ExpertSpeak: Mauritius must produce people who are enablers and innovators
Mrs Françoise White, who is co-founder and partner at executive development consultancy firm, White & White Associates, spoke to AfricaMoney on how the island must be strategic rather than tactical in its approach to human resources, and churn out talent that innovates and enables, rather than just processes work. (Image: Cecilia Samoisi)
Mrs Françoise White, Partner/Director of Mauritius-based consulting firm White & White Associates, which specialises in learning & development solutions for Mauritius and the region, spoke to AfricaMoney on employee engagement in today’s competitive business world. Being an accredited trainer with the Global Corporate Governance Forum, Françoise White brings her skills to the assistance of the Mauritius Institute of Director (MIoD), acting as a facilitator for their executive development workshops, trainings and other key events.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Can you tell us more about your organisation?
My husband and I, who are the brains behind White and White Associates, have over 30 years of experience in the corporate world, in the course of which we have worked with NGOs, corporate, government, local and international parastatals. In 2004, we took the plunge and incorporated White & White and had a very soft launch till 2007 when we boldly addressed the need for executive development in Mauritius and in Africa. We started venturing, timidly at first, into French-speaking African countries and now we are working with nearly nine African countries, mainly in the telecoms industry. Basically, we engage in executive development, which means assessing individuals, and training them in the leadership skills for 21st century. This is essentially about getting leaders to understand how to manage, lead and drive change. We believe that leadership starts with a thorough knowledge of who one is. We are in a world where things change very rapidly and a big challenge that people, mostly leaders, in general, have to face is to how to make sense of everything, such as processes, compliance, regulations and requirement, which are ever-changing.
What are the key achievements of White & White Associates since inception?
Building talent for organisations, large international banks, global corporate and leading mindset and organisational culture change are our key achievements. Geography-wise, our major work lies in Niger, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabon. Concerning Niger, we are very proud to say that one of the operations we worked on has been able to get the highest score in employee engagement globally and it was a world record. We do not do one-offs, so when we talk about achievements, it is in the long-run. The way we work is that we sit down, understand the challenge with the leadership team, and then propose something that would work over a long-term horizon. We may in the future have other lines of products that we would be launching that could be events to generate awareness such as one-off seminars or workshops, but this is not our main modus operandi. We tend to accompany organisations over a long period of time.
So far, what are the Leadership Development/Change Management/Strategic HR Development initiatives carried out in Africa?
The biggest leadership development was with the client in Niger that I previously mentioned, an organisation which was on the brink of chaos and collapse, and for which we have been working with for slightly over four years now. We have helped them to rebuild trust in leadership, in management, revamp the whole human dynamics of the organisation, and reshape the organisational culture. We did it by working with different strategies during the first year such as teaching leadership management, raising awareness about what it means to work in a global environment, and finally, how to run a global organisation in the local context. I think that most important is to indoctrinate people in the language of truth and to show people how the world is changing — the loud and clear message is that we have left the world of hierarchy and are in a horizontal world. Another important thing is to let people discover that in today’s working world, they need to develop competencies that will keep them in employment. Individuals must bring their talents into the team and the team must, in turn, give recognition and synergise the members’ contributions to give wing to organisational capacities like speed of delivery, reaction time to market, and so on. It is up to individuals to manage their own career. I think that there is a big awakening that we managed to achieve with many of the people out there, and obviously, this has led to a learning culture. Organisational learning helps organisations to create a knowledge base, change the behaviour of people, and develop leaders who are more agile, practise innovation on a daily basis and find the right solutions to critical issues faced by their company. This new culture also builds a new sense of community that is not inward-looking but more outward focused, resulting in motivated people who perform at the highest level.
What are the key projects that White & White Associates is working on for the future?
We would be launching our business psychology leadership and career development centre in Mauritius. We will be working on networks with a few organisations across the African continent and they are linked now with Singapore. This is going to be the main thrust of our activities henceforth.
Please provide us your views on the three-day ‘Training of Trainers’ course held in Mauritius last year, that was organised by Mauritius Institute of Directors and supported by the Global Corporate Governance Forum?
I have an accreditation from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which allows me to carry out corporate governance training, and as such, I act as facilitator for some MIoD workshops. The fact that there was a need for the trainer in itself was great news because corporate governance is on such an uptrend that the MIoD has requested for more trainers to impart more corporate governance training. I had earlier enjoyed the experience of training the trainers within the traditional core program in corporate governance.
Could you comment on your experience so far as trainer, facilitator and executive coach in Mauritius?
My first work experience was when I assisted a friend of mine who is retired now and the last post he held was as an education advisor at the Ministry of Education. I used to assist him in teaching English to the supervisors, then conducted through an organisation called ‘Institut pour le developpement et le progrès’. This was a great experience, which lasted for six months. Training is distinct from teaching because of their methods being so different. When I joined the work place, I saw myself enjoying training and now, I have been in executive development for the past 30 years. What just used to be an activity to make ends meet, all of a sudden became our core business in 2006. We go at least once a year to learn new skills, new tools and new processes that we can add to our training. The need for more knowledge has now taken another shape since people come into the work place with so much more knowledge now that the role of what used to be a trainer is more about a facilitator. We really have moved from training, facilitating and coaching which is a big need in many organisations.
Do you think there is progress in terms of talent development and retention in Mauritius? Any key instances you would like to highlight?
Today, we are in a talent world where any organisation which is thinking about organisational sustainability needs to invest in talents. All organisations have got more or less the same processes and, it may sound unfortunate, but people can be easily substituted if they only master these routine organisational processes. We talk of talent much more when it comes to not only people who have technical mastery, but people who have all the individual skills that come with the right work approach: creativity, initiative, leadership, taking up challenges, and driving teams. This is why an organisation needs to invest in such talent development because if you want to master corporate sustainability, the organisation needs talented people who are going to take the organisation to new heights, achieving not only corporate sustainability but also the organisation’s overall strategy. Coming to ways of managing people in Mauritius, you really have the good, the bad and the ugly. People are starting to figure out that the new generation of workers coming on the market today have different career aspirations and expectations. Employers and organisations do not understand that they need to change the way that they have been attracting, recruiting, developing, and retaining their employees. The key instances are that in Mauritius, there are CEOs who understand the new workforce, and their overall need for work-life balance. Also, there are organisations, which have the 360-degree feedback that help people to understand the impact on their peers, subordinates, and their way of performing and behaving in the organisation in general. The core issue here is, how does an organisation find and retain talent. There is a lot of progress to be made on the Human Resources front in terms knowing the competency framework.
Finally, please provide your views on the way forward for the Mauritius economy, with focus on human resource development.
I think our only asset in Mauritius is our skilled human resources. We are tactical in Mauritius, but we are not really strategic. We are tactical in the sense that we are opportunistic, and there is a need in the financial services to encourage people study finance and accounting. With this tactical understanding, many people find themselves in accounting and finance, and I believe at some point that it is a narrow path for people to start a career being a specialist in something that is so niche. I think that life is much larger than that. I guess that we now need to think how we can better use the collective brainpower of Mauritians in public services, such as in the sector of health, for instance. The need of the hour is people who are versatile, that is people who can move and are solution providers to many of the corporate issues that we are facing today. Unfortunately though, we are so tactical in our approach in Mauritius that we are producing ‘processors’, and not ‘enablers’. We will have to open ourselves more and more to the challenges of the global world and to do so, it is critical that we produce enablers rather than just processors.
- By Marie-Lorry Coret and Cecilia Samoisi