BusinessDay

BENEDICTA OYIANA is equipping leaders, organisations to remain ahead

Benedicta Oyiana (PhD), is an organisational Psychologist and HR leader. She brings almost two decades experience spanning the FMCG, oil & gas, banking, management consulting and industries, focusing on business process review and development from providing business advisory services to SMEs. Her expertise spans business transformation, performance and talent management, learning and development, change management, cultural transformation, organisational development, merger and acquisition to mention a few.

She is actively involved in the youth mentoring and women empowerment space, and has several youth and gender developmental initiatives under her belt. She is a published researcher with focus on gender mainstreaming. She is passionate about human motivation, personal re-engineering, coaching, mentoring and peak performance, having identified these as key ingredients to social development.

Benedicta obtained a PhD in Psychology from Walden University. She is an alumni of the prestigious Lagos Business School, obtaining an MBA in General management (2010). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Delta state university. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (MCIPM), and a life time member of Psi Chi in recognition of her outstanding scholastic achievements. She is a mentor on both the Lagos Business School Alumni and WIMBIZ Mentoring Programs.

She currently volunteers as Deputy Director for Education on the LEAF Initiative, a Pan Nigerian development group of young technocrats.

Her research background equips organisations and leaders in diagnostics and investigation, data collection and analytics relevant for sound decision making. Her imperative is to equip leaders to achieve immediate to long term business priorities and remain ahead in the dynamic business environment.

Benedicta was born into a family where her parents had so much love and regard for their girl-children. As a child, she loved to sing and act in French. She had always been a bookworm and she continued to find solace in new knowledge and actionable outcomes.

Her passion requires that she speaks publicly, be a voice, and bridge for hard to reach places. “We are 3 girls and a boy, yet growing up, there wasn’t any difference in relations nor in distribution of resources. My parents never told me of endeavors that excluded women, nor did they stifle my creativity (apart from a time I was barred from joining a drama troupe). They also never taught me about relating to people based on their tribe and race as these conversations never came up.” Benedicta revealed.

Today, in raising her 3 children, that philosophy forms the building block of her family’s approach and outlook to life. However, her observations in the world of work she says are too depressing to ignore.

“I see women positioned as 2nd class citizens , or an unavoidable headache. I therefore have committed my life to building platforms that extend the conversations into actionable strategy. In 2018, I started a group called the Buddy Network- a group of 94 women committed to raising a village of women who are growing financially, intellectually, and drive social change through active learning and knowledge sharing.”

That is not all. In 2008, Oyiana developed a secondary school program that can run alongside the public secondary school curriculum, with the objective to build entrepreneurial and leadership capabilities of students in transitional classes.

In the organisations she has worked in, she led the inclusion agenda through practical interventions that extend from awareness to purposeful action by leveraging strategic partnerships and networks.

About 8 years ago, Benedicta stumbled on a life changing article that described how the workplace was evolving and how forward thinking organisations should start to evolve. It hit her in the moment, that the human resources function as we knew it, would change dramatically in no time. She then asked herself the million dollar question: “How was I going to get ready for that change and avoid becoming a dinosaur.” She began the quest for further development which led her to her choice of Organisational Psychology.

Organisational Psychologists are subject matter experts who focus on the behaviour of employees in the workplace. Emphasis on workplace. “We apply psychological principles and research methods to improve the overall work environment, including engagement, performance, communication, job satisfaction, well-being and safety.” She revealed.

Oyiana was once asked by a leader how she contributes to her organisation. Slightly taken aback by the question, she responds “People, that’s how I create value. Not through a department called HR, rather leveraging commercial acumen in building a productivity oriented culture across all cadres and business units. We use business insights to create playbooks which help keep ambiguities to a minimum within the organisation’s ecosystem.” Oyiana stated.

For example, in our post COVID inflation ridden world where people are quitting at record levels, Benedicta says informed companies will not try to attract and retain staff using the same old ways, as a customised intervention like renegotiation is probable.

Furthermore, she is of the opinion that, increasingly, there is a mismatch between companies’ demand for talent and the number of employees willing to supply it. Adding that, COVID enabled people get a multiplicity of skills thus giving employees a lot more options, higher negotiating power, and lower levels of job commitment.

“So, largely, we leverage people, workforce data and trend analysis, in generating insights for decision support.”

Though it may be impossible to summarise succinctly the volume of experience, Benedicta is clear on the fact that organisations that will win in the marketplaces must continue to pivot. According to her, “The pandemic made everyone of us long for substantial changes in our lives. Many are rethinking their career paths entirely. We must deliberately stay ahead of the curve, anticipate and take action, while navigating attrition and upskilling present growth opportunities for organisations.”

For Oyiana, “People will leave an organisation when the smell of the room (culture) is no longer fit to thrive in, their appetite has evolved, they have more alternatives, and may have new expectations that are entirely different from your current proposition.”

Read also: Nigerian graduate set to transform and save lives in home country

She therefore finds the following approaches to be practical on both individual and organisational levels:

Firstly, selectively out-compete. A company can’t be everything so be selective. Companies who choose ethics, fairness and integrity amongst other things tend to improve performance, retain and attract top talent.

Secondly, you must fix what’s broken. Ensure employees sense and believe their current organisation recognises their value. Reinforce your investment in them by making career paths transparent so that you can stay ahead of the talent war.

Thirdly, humanise your employee value proposition. Deliver on your promise; do what you say and when. Stay hungry, keep tabs on the changing world within and around.

On volunteering as Deputy Director for Education on the LEAF Initiative, she says LEAF is a leadership movement that started years ago. They are currently 100 intellectuals within the age bracket of 35- 50 across geographies and culture, who are interested in leading better governance for Nigeria.

“We believe that through active political participation, running for office, subject matter expertise and delivery, policy formulation, reviews and compliance standards, we can improve participation and the overall quality of national leadership.” Benedicta stated.

At LEAF, they lead value-based interventions in 4 critical areas of the economy- Education, Health, Economic Development and Law (With a special focus on the criminal justice system of Nigeria). A few of their members ran for office from President to House of Assembly under different political party platforms.

They support financially, mentally, and through network affiliations. Members have spent a considerable amount of time in upscaling their understanding and redefinition of the pertinent issues in order to proffer practical solutions and partnerships. While they take a big picture view, their approach entails working at the grassroots to effect sustainable change.

“It is our ambition to see a fresh crop of younger people in Governance in Nigeria. We are calling on Nigerian Women and youths to join different campaign teams and ensure we have qualitative representation of change agents. In my capacity as Deputy Director for Education, I lead our national initiatives for basic primary education at the grassroots in the pilot states.” Oyiana explained.

Oyiana is big on gender matters. According to her, “Truthfully, despite the promising outlook and track record of gender initiatives, there remains major concerns with reconciling organisational objectives with feminist goals. In addition, the welfare approach to gender issues has created a view of women as the problem that requires fixing thus influencing most policy frameworks today.” Benedicta opined.

For her, clearly, at the heart of gender inequalities are relational issues which includes trouble perceiving and relating to situations and plights of people (women). She believes that to change the narrative, to circumvent these relational issues, we must extend the conversation beyond a focus on women to include dialogues with the men, ensure male sponsors in women participation in decision-making roles and responsibilities, and access/control of resources is a great place to start.

In Benedicta’s study of leadership perception of Gender Mainstreaming (GM) in male-dominated industries, where she spoke to C-suite leaders, she said their views were a far cry from all that we hope to achieve due to perception and inaction on the salient issues.

According to her, a leader said, “My organisation is more performance and costs conscious than focused on the gender delivering the value. It is just not important. We do not care about the gender that is delivering the value. It is not important.”

Oyiana believes that this position undermines the cost and effort required to deliver value and it remains a critical concern in the gender mainstreaming journey.

Sharing on what we should look out for soon, Oyiana says “My book, a fictional playbook for leaders will be out in September, stay tuned!”

We all have that never to be forgotten day or moment in our lives. Benedicta shares hers with me. “Every time I see or experience a miracle is an unforgettable day. When I daily enjoy the mercies of God in full expression is also an unforgettable one, so typically, everyday is unforgettable because it’s a gift for which I’m most grateful. Also, whenever I encounter new insights or an ‘aha moment’ is usually unforgettable.”

We cannot undermine the importance of right mentorship. Benedicta agrees. “I would say mentoring and sponsorship have helped me immensely on my journey. I have been blessed through different seasons by the gift of right counsel. The interesting thing I have learnt is that, mentors and sponsors could be seasonal so don’t get bugged down with holding on to something that has served its purpose. Appreciate the benefits, but identify those who should stay on. I also recognize that mentors and sponsors transcend positions and titles.”

Furthermore, she adds “Having this mindset helps you seek diamonds in the rough, making you treat interactions with intentionality and respect. A security person can speak and grant you access, hence why they are called gate keepers. I choose to listen more, and go groom relationships and not use people, it will add up eventually. In identifying mentors, I have penchant for authentic individuals who have had decent amount of failures. They have been schooled, they no doubt always know a thing or more that can serve me.” She said.

Benedicta therefore advises that when shopping for mentors, start with who you know, your contact list is an amazing place. What is the area you require counsel? Identify people who are intentional about their journeys and actively chasing it. She also believes that you must find common ground with them and commit to asking great questions.

Finally, Benedicta says she believes that success leave clues, and she remains saddled with a purpose to shine the light on and hard too, to reach places, to address concerns around access for the under served, to address hindrances to expression of full human potential through knowledge sharing, capability building, and breaking stereotypes.

“I call on everyone to pitch in daily as we ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’… in the words of Steve Jobs.”

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