NZ Business - - LEADERSHIP -

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.

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