Hendri Pelser: Human resources – no pain, no gain

Former journalist Hendri Pelser is trying his hand in carpentry but still holding on to his roots. And in so doing he is documenting his journey in the small business realm. In his latest instalment, Pelser has human resource headaches. And as any HR manager will tell you, there’s no sliding door between an employee’s work and personal life, and at times the two clash – and there’s no one way to handle such a situation. And in another well-written account of the challenges the business encounters on a daily basis, Pelser puts on his HR hat. – Stuart Lowman

By Hendri Pelser*

Hendri Pelser

Jeffrey has fallen off the wagon again and his hours have become as irregular as the quality of work delivered.

Jones hasn’t had electricity at his house for three days and hasn’t been able to cook or bathe, making him moody and neglectful.

Thabo’s girlfriend’s parents are demanding 10 cows for damages and lobola, turning a usually upbeat young man into a depressed soul. His work is full of small mistakes he would usually never make.

Kekane is moving house, as his overbearing wife demands a lifestyle he simply cannot afford. His debt is mounting and his work is suffering.

The list of our staff drama goes on.

Most management books and courses will warn against becoming involved in the personal lives of the employees you manage. It is often a recipe for disaster.

In many small businesses, especially where the bulk of the workforce is blue collar, this can be difficult.

Our employees come from previously disadvantaged areas and life can be tough.

Emotional intelligence – at this level – is generally quite low and their dramas and tribulations often translate into a barrage of emotion: frustration, depression, anger, and at times, spitefulness.

Copyright: Hendri Pelser

In many enterprises, the business owner is more than a mere employer. He, or she, is seen as the head of a large, extended family and is expected to actively help to solve the workforce’s problems.

Some business owners obviously could prefer the easier option…

Having come from a mostly corporate background, I find it difficult to be as personally involved with the staff and their problems.

But, our business, and its owner, is different.

In the last few weeks I have probably learnt more about people management than in the 10 years prior. As a result, I’ve had to change my management style completely and adapt to a different corporate culture.

So, we try to help Jeffrey sober up and focus. We work over weekends in order for the guys to make overtime.

Truth be told, the approach and involvement in personal problem solving is not completely altruistic. This is because custom, bespoke furniture is an item; a physical reality that a customer will live with.

You cannot reason mistakes or substandard quality away. It is there to be seen forever.

Copyright: Hendri Pelser

So, when our people are distracted and are making mistakes, we need to address quality immediately. But, in this business it also means understanding and working with the root cause. Simply jumping up and down, waving a finger in the air does not deliver the intended results.

In the past, I would have addressed the human resource and associated issues within the institutional structure of the organisation, using a variety of management styles and sometimes, corporate tools and guidelines (aka, the read Human Resource Manager intervention).

Now, I have to learn to address the human. Directly. One-on-one. That is our corporate culture.

At times, I find it simply irritating. But, it is important to work with the many facets of the human and not just the worker.

Far more important than the faceless and soulless carrot and stick approaches employed at many large corporates.

The personal growth of Cherryhill Woodcraft’s employees is a cornerstone of owner, David Meyerowitz’s business and personal philosophy.

Right or wrong, this is how he wants his business managed and I think he sees it as making a small difference in this world and as the legacy he will leave one day.

So, I am willing to evaluate and adapt my management style and learn a few things in the process.

This is because when it works, it is simply inspiring.

Read also: Second chances – the convict and the cabinetmaker

* The employees’ names were changed for obvious reasons.

  • Hendri Pelser is a former business journalist and editor, turned woodworker. He practises his craft as an apprentice cabinetmaker at Cherryhill Woodcraft, an exclusive bespoke furniture manufacturer. He shares some of the business’ adventures with the BizNews community. @HendriPelser is on Twitter and Cherryhill has just launched it’s own YouTube channel.