Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to forge a close relationship with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM).
The Institute has been in the forefront of the ongoing renaissance of the HR Management in Nigeria and has been largely responsible for the emergence of HR as a premium career destination for some of the country’s brightest young talent.
In February 2013, I had the honor of being invited to facilitate the Institute’s 2013 Strategic Planning Retreat at the luxurious La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort, Ibeju, Lekki. Over 48 thrilling hours, 40 of the country’s top HR practitioners brainstormed their way through a no-holds-barred examination of the Institute’s current performance and then charted an exciting plan for future growth. It was exhilarating stuff and I remember thinking how fortunate I and my team of co-facilitators and support personnel from Human Edge were to have been a part of the project.
Although the Institute has always been led by some of the nation’s most accomplished HR practitioners, the current (and outgoing) president, Mr. Abiola Popoola has brought his own special brand of executive leadership to the role. A consummate corporate executive and seasoned HR practitioner, Mr. Popoola has reenergized the Institute and given it renewed confidence in its mission.
A humble man, the CIPM president recently sat down to an interview with Nigeria’s Saturday Punch newspaper in which he described some of the highlights of his term in office and gave a peek into his personal background and life. The interview is reproduced in full below. It’s a fascinating read. Enjoy.
How would you assess your tenure as president, CIPM?
Looking back at these past three years, I’m very pleased and content. I am grateful to God for being able to move the Institute’s agenda forward. We have hit a lot of our key buttons, but we still have more to do. These past three years have been very wonderful. I was elected the president of the Institute at our AGM in April of 2010. In CIPM whoever emerges as the national president is also the chairman of the council. I believe that leadership works best in a team. I have worked with some of the best people here. It has been a wonderful time; we worked ahead and always outlined what we hoped to achieve and how to get it done. We hold retreats to review our strategies as we look at what we have done within the context of the environment. Then we define our imperatives which become our guiding lights for the years ahead. We have a committee that is responsible for crafting and designing the imperatives, that is the Strategy Planning and Implementation Committee, which I chair. We worked together to draft new and existing strategies towards achieving our goals.
How would you describe CIPM’s contribution to HR practice?
I am privileged to say that CIPM has added great values to the regulation of HR practice in this country. As the apex regulatory body for HR, when we mention the word “regulation” the thinking of most people is enforcement and sanctions, but we still advocate that a regulator must set the pace. You must help your constituency to grow their skills and competencies. The CIPM council is there to handle people who fail to meet the standard set by the Institute. We organize exchange programmes, experimental opportunities and events to promote networking of members, among others.
You know, the HR space is one that is required to share ideas that nobody knows. Unfortunately, many HR practitioners are not yet members of the Institute, and that is where we have concerns. So to that extent, we face the challenge of how to expand our membership so that practitioners out there can come into the fold. Don’t forget that our vision is to promote excellence in the acquisition and application of skills and knowledge in HR practice. Our best resource is people, hence the need to equip HR managers to make them real professionals. That way, they can help us reconstruct the economy. So our concern is the regulation of HR practices knowing that its impact on the economy is immense. Human resources are the greatest assets you find in organizations, whether private or public sector. It’s all about people, so how do you acquire them? How do you equip them? How do you grow them? How do you motivate them? These we do by grooming our members to become thorough professionals.
What’s the need for a new building for the Institute?
Where we occupy right now is number 1, CIPM Avenue, Ikeja and we are very proud that this avenue was named after the Institute. The building was erected many years ago and handed to our generation by our forerunners. The building was built at a significant time; we were tenants before we moved here. Currently, this building occupies one-third of the space on the land but we have had the plan to erect a more befitting edifice that matches our new brand image. Part of the planning is to continue to expand the Institute and it’s good that this is coming in our own time. We are making the dream come true.
The plan is to build a millennium building that is more modern and bigger than what we now have. This is a three-storey building but the one we are anticipating will be a five-storey building. It will give us a new look and that is why we call it the millennium building. It will be within this same premises and it will be equipped with newer and more contemporary facilities. We call it a millennium building because this one was built in the 70’s but in this case we are saying that we have moved on. Therefore, what we try to do is also to bestow laudable legacies to those coming after us.
How much is the building going to cost CIPM?
The project is about One billion Nigerian Naira. But we are hoping that we can still save more costs. It might be slightly more but we believe the money will be enough to deliver the complex. However, one big challenge is financing the project, but we have identified four sources of finance. The first is internally generated revenue; we have been planning this for a long time. We have been saving some money towards the project. Again every member will pay a levy that will be used for the project. Then we also anticipate support from friends and stakeholders. Finally, we will identify key players in the economy, private companies for support on this project.
Is this project sustainable?
I have 100 per cent belief that this project is sustainable. It is not even about me, but I can tell you that the new leadership is part of this tenure led by me. I thank God that it’s during my tenure that this is happening. I can tell you that I inherited the design of this building and I believe leadership is a continuum. In my own case I had excellent support from the past presidents so I am sure of sustainability. We are all together.
Why are many practitioners not CIPM members?
That challenge is actually not peculiar to our Institute; there are many practitioners in other professions. They don’t see the need to join professional bodies. Let’s face it; we have to be very ruthless in the assessment of the matter. That is why the rebranding thing was very important; We should rather ask what value proposition are we giving to those who have not joined? I can say happily that CIPM has given more commitment to this proposition. For instance, we used to have induction of few numbers once a year but in 2012 we had two inductions for about 800 people. The number has been growing. Some of the processes for admitting people were not as friendly and that was a challenge. People are looking for ways to reduce the stress and we try to make it easy for people to join without adulterating the brand. All that a prospective member requires is to go through our qualifying exams at different levels, especially as a young graduate. But for those who are already practicing, they need to provide evidence of what they’ve done and we see if it meets our requirements. Most of all, they must commit our code of conduct and conform to the ethics of the profession.
What would you do better, if given another chance?
Okay, it is how we engage younger members. Historically, personnel functions did not have so many young people, but these days there is a new generation of younger practitioners. Another area is becoming more visible and louder in advocacy relating to HR practice. It is important to note that we are trying to build a perception and respect for HR unlike the history of HR personnel that was, “tell the personnel, we hire and fire”. But the world has moved away from that, in fact today HR personnel are part of leadership which is about people. So we are trying to raise consciousness that the field is a special area that requires knowledge and skills. The need to maintain high standards is crucial to our brand building policy. It is a journey and it takes a long time to build a strong reputation but it doesn’t take time to erode it. The Institute must be an ambassador of that brand. I want the new Exco to keep the reputation high.
How did you become a HR professional having studied Chemistry?
I owe a lot to my antecedents. I read chemistry at the University of Ibadan and joined Guinness Nigeria Plc. as a management trainee. It was a wonderful place to start a career and I worked in the production department for about 10 years. Thereafter, I became the packaging manager. Because I took interest in management activities, I was spotted by the HR director as having potential for human resources management and that was how I joined the HR department. I rose to the position of HR director of the company before I retired. I now run a consultancy company of my own.
What do you enjoy doing?
Generally, I love to live a balanced life. I believe that there are pillars in life that makes life balanced. There is the God factor, family life and hobbies. For instance, I love cars and like to drive. I enjoy lengthy discussions and also enjoy walking or riding a bicycle.
[This article first appeared in the Saturday Punch newspaper on March 23, 2013.]