HRH Leaders in Action: Malena Mohalenyana
An interview series with HRH champions in developing countries produced by the HRH Global Resource Center. The HRH Leaders in Action series asks leaders to look at HRH leadership.
Malena Mohalenyana is the Lesotho Ministry of Health’s Director of Human Resources, a position she has held for the past four years. She sees her role as giving strategic direction on issues pertaining to HR and advising on HR policies, processes and systems. Ms. Mohalenyana works to ensure that the policies in place are well implemented and evaluated. She oversees all HR functions in nine areas within the Ministry of Health: training and development, management services, organizational development, policies, implementation, organizational values, remunerations and benefits, employee relations and use of HR analysis demand and supply.
What does it mean in Lesotho to be an HRH leader?
I am a strategic partner of the health sector. I am responsible for implementing systems and advising on what has to be done when and how.
As an HRH leader yourself, describe the path you took to your current leadership position?
I joined government in 1986 as an administrative officer, and then the positions were changed from administrative to personnel officer. I moved through the system, starting in public service, then went to tourism, then treasury, then to foreign affairs, and I stayed there longest. Then the positions changed from personnel officers to human resource officers. Then I went to Ministry of Justice as an HR manager. In July 2003, I became the Director of HR for the Ministry of Health.
How does that background support you as an HRH leader?
As I went through the different ministries I brought change and helped to build the HR offices. With each office I assisted in handling different people with different personalities. In HR you have to be patient, firm and direct. When it comes to the Ministry of Health, I had to do things a bit differently because the people working in the MOH want scientific proof:"According to this formula, this is what I have to do." Moving through the system—also working with lawyers—made me a person who can reason with and convince people, and it also made me change from using the professional jargon of HR to simplifying the concepts to accommodate other people.
Also, it gave me the relevant experience to be HR director, because I can trace incidences back to 1986. I’ve also seen the change between "personnel officer" and "HR officer." Under HR you don’t just judge people. You have to find out why something happened, and assist people to change. It taught me how to be human. It’s my responsibility to look after people’s well-being, whereas before we were focusing only on the organization’s well-being. Now we want to help the person reach new stages of self-actualization.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I enjoy working with my team and leading by example. I do what they do, and I do it with them but always leading, in the forefront. When I’m not here, there will always be someone here to lead. I don’t keep things to myself. I share with other people. I ask for opinions, because I’m not always right. I don’t know everything. Because once you think you know everything, that’s when you mess up. I need them to comment, to advise me. I need them to grow in their professions and personal development. I allocate responsibilities, I monitor that, and I then sit with them and ask together, "Where did we go wrong?" (if we did go wrong) and "How should we go forward?" And when we got it right we say "Hurray!" I like giving people feedback even though I know sometimes it hurts.
What do you think others—those in the Ministry of Health, the clients you serve and the Government of Lesotho’s leaders—expect from you?
They expect me to do things alone that pertain to HR. They think that when you talk of HR you are talking of the HR department. They don’t think that the HR I am talking about is HR for health. My role is to facilitate and address HR processes. They think, for example, if they want a nurse clinician I must give them a nurse clinician. But first they must tell me what a nurse clinician is and does. I facilitate to get them what they want, to develop a strategic plan for human resources for health. If you go through the HRH strategic plan document, you will find each department has a part to play. They have to decide, "Am I sending out this person to train?" Or "I want to hire this type of person." They want me to say, "You need to train these people." But my job is to give them information. This month I have been meeting with them to find out, "How many more [health workers] do you need in order to achieve your goals?" I am just the facilitator.
I am working on training those I work with now to understand HR. Now I’m focusing on the management team. We have already started a consultative meeting to assess the skills of managers in human resources management. After the skills assessment we will go through meetings from Maseru [the capital] to the districts. We will start by focusing on leadership groups so they know how to lead their people.
Describe an achievement in HRH that you are most proud of.
I was able to facilitate the HRH strategic plan production and the production of the procedures manual. I was also able to establish the HR directorate in the MOH. I aided in the establishment of the directorate of HIV/AIDS, and the establishment of District Health Management Teams along with the restructuring process of the Ministry of Health. I’m also facilitating the establishment of the human resources for health database. In the beginning, it was in Microsoft Excel, and now I have changed it into Microsoft Access. Now, what I’m working on, with technical assistance, is hiring tutors—our target is 27—for nurses in different fields, for lab technicians, pharmacists and environmental health practitioners so we can double our HRH production to meet our human resources gaps.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your HRH leadership role?
Self-satisfaction for the achievements I’ve made is the reward. Another reward is that people’s mind-sets are beginning to change. They are beginning to understand the role HR plays. In the beginning they would not include us in their meetings. Still there are some who do not, but it’s at least 60% now, because I fight a lot.
What is the biggest HRH challenge you are facing right now? How are you approaching it?
Shortage of manpower. Like I said, we are going to increase the tutor numbers.
Another HRH challenge is haphazard training, training done because individuals want it, not because the organization needs it. We have requested heads of departments to come up with training development plans. We also established a training committee chaired by the Permanent Secretary to send a strong message of the importance. In the past when requests for training came, the head of the department would just sign it. Now the training committee will help us analyze—based on the Needs Assessment Study and on the HRH Strategic Development Plan—who should be trained in what.
Also, deployment is a challenge. We don’t have a deployment policy, but we’ll start that in the third quarter. Too often people are placed in a role because they are someone’s friend. So we will start on a major plan starting third quarter, after we receive approval for funds.
What do you do to help keep the Ministry of Health staff focused and their morale up while facing increasingly complex and changing conditions?
That is the most difficult one. I give them guidance, especially the senior management team, on how to handle people when people complain, and how they should talk to them. If their grievances aren’t handled correctly, settled in time and in accordance with the law, the organization falls down. There are many increasingly complex situations now that we are working on the health reform programs. The reforms affect a number of people. People have to be equipped with information so they can be in a position to handle the complex changes that are coming. In the past we thought the impact of restructuring would be retrenchment. But after looking at it closely, career paths will be there, we will be able to promote. Restructuring doesn’t mean sending people home. We can move them from one position to another. So we have to give people information, because all of this impacts on individuals differently.
How do you cultivate leadership in others?
I allocate duties. I don’t tell them how to carry them out. I want them to be creative and innovative. And then I meet with them and tell how they are doing. If they get stuck I want them to come back to me. I’ll usually ask them, "How do you think you can solve it?" because sometimes they know how to solve this problem. I want them to be creative, so that when I’m not here they can do it and they can then tell me what they did. I do want them to inform me. I normally tell them that if you are responsible, you must be in charge. I am in charge of you, but you are in charge of that activity. [My job] is to make sure it’s done well. I never tell them how. The how part is theirs. And even if they don’t inform me I tell them I will not be responsible. Inform me, then I know what you are doing when someone comes and asks. I fight with them if they don’t inform me, because I want to know what’s happening in this department.
What do you see on the road ahead for future HRH leaders in Lesotho?
I see a bright future for these leaders, because they now understand the HR principles. They now feel for their people. And whenever there’s a problem, they ask the HR department, "How do you think we can solve this?" The leadership is now interested in HR management and leadership training. We had training on strategic planning. They all went and said, "We want the leadership program." Even if you are a doctor, you don’t work alone; you work with a nurse, an office assistant, someone who sweeps the floor. So there’s a bright future for [future HRH leaders]. They even know the push factors for why people are leaving the country. They even know that it’s not the money, it’s the working conditions. I never come up with an idea and impose it on them. I want them to come up with the solutions and I help them implement it. I am a strategic partner. I make them identify the problems and come up with solutions and I assist monitoring how they’re implemented.