Ben Emmens is a teacher and consultant, specializing in third-world and developing world issues by trying to inject leadership and management skills to create stable, strong institutions. A former senior staffer at People in Aid, he brings a broad brush of on-the-ground experience to his work with national government international corporations and aid agencies worldwide. Here, he perfects on the uphill struggle to improve management teaching across the developing world.
MCE: We know the world’s a bit of a mess… any thoughts on education as an opportunity to bring more of the world together for a common purpose?
Ben Emmens (BE): ‘Always be learning’ is my motto, and learning has never been more accessible (think digital learning) or more engaging (gamification, the arts, technology) or more affordable (for those who have an internet connection).
When people come together they learn, but it requires first class facilitation and brokering skills, and, in the case of face-to face-learning, it requires access. And most of the fragile or war-torn countries I’m working in to try and broker learning and collaboration have all too real access and connectivity issues. Combine that with an uneven distribution of power (extreme inequality) and fear of change / contentment with how things are, then educators have their work cut out. So a new breed of educators are required with a very diverse skill set.
MCE: And at the same time we’re getting buried in a digital overload of mega proportions. What’s your view, Can we learn to switch off and chill out, or has it gone too far for that?
BE: I think platforms such as Slack are innovating with their do not disturb or postpone notification functions but ultimately it requires immense courage on the part of each individual (to switch off) plus the (earned or offered) trust of their manager and directors. This takes us into the realm of organisational culture which as we know is a very difficult thing to change. So I think that for as long as we have colleagues and managers working across time zones, sending messages at all hours, and expecting instant responses, then all individuals will struggle to switch off.
MCE: There’s another trend – the caring corporation, operating with mindfulness for their employees. Is that a workable, doable model, or does economics get in the way, when the going gets tough?
BE: I think many organisations are realising they need to retain their best people, and that talent shortages are a very real issue. So I am encouraged by the fact that many organisations are taking tangible steps towards flexible working, and towards improving staff care and wellbeing. Some organisations have been able to demonstrate a business case for being more socially and/or environmentally caring and that helps too! Ultimately, treating staff unfairly, or with contempt, and that includes in the supply chain too, is not sustainable in human or financial terms, and we have seen the market ‘punish’ corporations that have supply chain labour issues or that have failed to pay a minimum wage or offer basic benefits.
MCE: Finally, what’s the other work trend you can see emerging?
BE: It’s getting harder and harder to be geographically mobile as countries tighten immigration laws and entry requirements so whether we like it or not we are having to localise, engage with mono-cultural teams and strengthen local capacity… We’re also having to do much more work remotely / at a distance.
Add to that the slow automation of more and more lower level jobs and we are likely to see a continued ‘hollowing out’ of the workforce and that will require a different kind of leadership, arguably with more than one specialism and towards that of a more expert generalist…