By Akintola Benson-Oke
NO matter what we do, each instant contains infinite choices. What we choose to think, to say or to hear creates what we feel in the present moment. It conditions the quality of our communication and in the end the quality of our everyday life. Beliefs and attitudes are made of thoughts. Negative thoughts can be changed and by doing, so we create for ourselves more pleasant inner states and have a different impact on the people around us.”–Dorotea Brandin
There is need to inculcate and sharpen the often-neglected but vital skills that officers of the Civil Service Pensions Office require to properly and fully serve the pensioners and retirees of the Lagos State Civil Service. Savvy and experienced people know that, in order to truly attain effectiveness and greatness, one must go beyond the mere formality of following the rules. While the rules are important and even essential, there are other considerations and skills that, if absent, may make the application of the rules ultimately meaningless.
In furtherance of its dedication to this ideal and philosophical bent, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, the Governor of Lagos State, has mandated the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions to embark on a continuous training of the staff of the ministry in order to ensure the inculcation of sterling values that will enable and contribute to the delivery of top quality service to the officers of the civil service.
In aiming to call attention to, and aid the development of, the vital interpersonal skills that are vital for pension administrators, I will focus on the skills that are not learnt in schools but are important though rarely visible. These are the skills that are less tangible, harder to quantify, challenging to teach and, sometimes, difficult to describe. They include attributes such as etiquette, getting along with others, listening and engaging in small talk.
Without doubt, these skills are related to the concept of ‘Employability’ but they are also related to the concepts of effectiveness and efficiency. Clearly, possessing the right attitude to work is a soft skill that is not taught in universities and other formal schools. This is therefore an attempt to help officers of the Civil Service Pensions Office develop the skills that are necessary for success. This will also fully assist the participating officers to appreciate and acquire the benefits that skills training brings to bear on the attainment of the strategic objectives of the government and the effectiveness of the institutions of the civil service.
Larry Buhl, one of the outstanding business news journalist in the world today, reported the outcome of a survey of more that 2,000 businesses in the United States. The report revealed that employers were of the opinion that entry-level workers in a variety of professions were lacking in several areas, including communication skills, problem solving, conflict resolution and critical observation. He then noted that it is now fashionable to see the possession of vital interpersonal skills showing up in job descriptions, next to demands for technical qualifications. He reported that employment experts agree that while technical qualifications may get a candidate a job, the vital interpersonal skills will determine whether the candidate can keep the job and succeed at it.
The state intends to help officers of the CSPO to appreciate that officers will attain better performance heights if they possess, among others, good communication skills. This doesn’t mean you have to be a brilliant orator or writer. It does mean you have to express yourself well, whether it is writing a coherent memo, persuading others with a presentation or just being able to calmly explain to a team member what you need.
The CSPO as a department will become more effective and efficient if you can work in a team and collaborate. Today’s institutions want people who play well with others and can effectively work as part of a team. According to Lyne Sarikas, the MBA Career Center Director at Northeastern University, “That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with others across the organisation to achieve a common goal.”
We emphasise that you are also expected to possess interpersonal skills that make you adaptable to different situations. This is especially important for more-seasoned professionals to demonstrate in order to counter the often erroneous opinion that older workers are too set in their ways. Again, as quoted by Larry Buhl, Lyne Sarikas opined that “To succeed in most organisations, you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.”
Furthermore, the idea is to point out the expectation for pension administrators to have the skills to solve problems as organisations want people who can be left on their own to figure out how to resolve conflicts and avoid chaos and ill feelings. You are also expected to be able to identify and spot potentials for conflicts before they fester into full-blown crisis. Indeed, the ability to persuade, negotiate and resolve conflicts is crucial if you plan to move up. Sarikas is reported to observe that, “you need to have the skills to develop mutually-beneficial relationships in the organisation so you can influence and persuade people. “You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved.”
In the same vein, the pension administrators in the CSPO will benefit from having officers who are able to make critical observations. Because the world is fast changing and issues are becoming more complex, the people in charge of important organisations must be able to observe and critically assess the impact and consequence of developments as they arise and, sometimes, even before they arise. Larry Buhl pointed out that it is not enough to be able to collect data and manipulate it. You must also be able to analyze and interpret it. What story does the data tell? What questions are raised? Are there different ways to interpret the data? Summing this up, Sarikas is quoted as saying, “Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention, and suggest possible next steps.”
As you may have observed, these soft skills have everything to do with one’s attitude. Attitude is so important that most other coveted attributes flow from it. Shawn Ashmore says your “style is a reflection of your attitude and your personality.” Hans Selye opined that “adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” Maya Angelou, the famous poet wrote that, “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Similarly, Lou Holtz observed that, ‘virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude.” Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America said, “nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
Finally, let me remind officers of the CSPO of the importance of the work they do as exposed by Marcus Tullius Cicero who lived between 106–43 BC “the welfare of the people is the ultimate law.”
The truism of this assertion can hardly be denied. Governments who deny it do so at the risk of ruining their stewardships and the trust of the citizens in governance.
Furthermore, employers who deny this run the undeniable risk of ruining their enterprise and the trust and devotion of their employees. Thus, the work of the CSPO is of vital importance because it directly touches on the welfare of all the officers of the Civil Service. I urge you, therefore, to continue to show dedication and commitment knowing that your work has important ramifications for the state and for the lives of so many people.
*Dr. Benson-Oke is Lagos State Commissioner for Establsihments, Training & Pensions.