MANAGING YOUR PEOPLE
For Penny Simmonds, the CEO at the Southern Institute of Technology, people management is a major priority for leaders.
She says we spend a lot of time worrying about leaders qualifications to analyse data and analyse figures, but it is managing people that is the crux. And it’s an area where it’s hard teach someone beyond giving strategies for different situations.
She thinks the difficulties with people management may stem from our very egalitarian society, we struggle with giving constructive criticism and keeping it out of the personal realm.
At SIT they try to concentrate on understanding people skills, understanding where people come from and that people have different personalities and different motivations and how different people can get on together. They place a lot of effort on team work and collaboration.
She suspects this need for team work and collaboration is pretty well understood in academic circles and sees it being used even at the undergraduate level.
“You can teach people to understand that we all come with a different perspective on things and we all react differently to different situations and the need to build that level of awareness.”
As a CEO she says managing her people is always a work in progress as different and new employees come through with different expectations and senses of entitlement. Generationally she thinks expectations are changing so the communication has to be different. People have to be a lot more aware of where other people are coming from.
Simmonds has been CEO at SIT for 20 years and is probably the longest serving CEO of a tertiary institution in the country. SIT has 13,000 students which equates to 5,500 FTE studying with them and about 18 percent are distance learners.
This distance learning also helps with leadership skills, she says, as it lets people stay working while they study and they are able to bring real life situations into their studies.
Distance learners work together through chat rooms and by bringing their own business situations to their studies they can try out different strategies.
Distance learning also applies for domestic students in the institute’s newest programme, the Master of Applied Management, which is aimed at management practitioners and recent graduates, wishing to undertake an advanced programme of study in order to prepare for further study or to assist with obtaining a more senior position. The students develop advanced knowledge and capabilities in areas including analytical, managerial and the course also qualifies for the zero fees regime which SIT put in place 16 years ago.
Simmonds advice to new leaders is to remembers that it’s all about people no matter what industry you are dealing with.
“Sometimes I think we forget that it is really important for leaders to put their ego in the back pockets.”
She has watched leaders come in to an organisation and restructure and restructure again and is proud that in her 20 years she has never restructured but instead each year makes incremental changes as needed. Restructuring, she says, is incredibly damaging for both the individual and the whole organisation. And these individuals have families, who are also affected.