A sense of ownership

I wonder if you can guess the most common complaint I receive from CEO’s about the attitude of their staff?

‘Why can’t my employees act like owners?’

This  ranks top over many other popular choices, which include ‘Why am I the Company Reminder Officer?’ and ‘Why would anyone steal from us?’

The answer to all three questions obviously lies in the level of engagement a CEO produces in his employees. And in Africa this level is depressingly low. We are adept at building hierarchies, adjusting organograms and sending all-staff memos. We’re just not much good at getting our employees’ attention, and holding on to it.

Employees rarely act like owners because they aren’t owners. So, it is unrealistic to expect discretionary effort from your staff unless you have consciously built a culture that develops talent and recognises contribution. 

But I’m delighted to say that many enterprises on this Continent are making an emotionally intelligent effort to get to grips with organisational culture. In this they receive help from an unexpected quarter: the much maligned Millennial. It turns out that the people HR struggles most to understand are actually the key to creating culture transformation. 

My star enterprise of the month is a client of mine, but what they have just created was not of my doing. It is a game-changing idea, and the thought that has gone into its careful design is truly admirable. 

Last week, all over Africa, a Kenyan-headquartered business actually managed to give all its employees a true sense of ownership. DPO Group, Africa’s largest Secure Payments Provider, launched its Employee Stock Option Programme to loud applause from all staff. It was based on the declared premise that the business will, within a defined time period, achieve a Liquidity Event. This is defined as the moment when the real owners of the business realise the value they have been creating – either through a sale, a listing or some other eventuality.

At that point, every employee will receive a life-changing amount of cash, calculated on their seniority and length of service. And, to seal the deal, each employee has been given a legal letter determining their payout (which will be updated whenever they are promoted). The mechanism is brilliant in its simplicity and categorically does not involve offloading a load of share certificates, which employees are then unable to trade or liquidate.

So, in one fell swoop, a modern Africa enterprise has made a gesture that rewards loyalty and prowess in every employee, not just a chosen few. Bravo DPO!

Chris Harrison’s book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available from Text Book Centre.

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Workplace Wellness

Today, there are so many aspects of Human Resource management that we never had to consider before. Not because HR Managers weren’t thinking about them. But because of the way we in Africa had decided to structure and run our businesses. 

We favoured hierarchies. We respected old age and male gender. We believed staff were there to be managed, not led. Our leaders favoured despotism over democracy. This ‘kind of’ worked, because there were far fewer salaried jobs in Africa than there were millions of people hungry for them. 

Now old habits need to be broken. In the modern workplace getting real productivity out of employees is a two-way street. A collaboration, not a coercion. A dialogue, not a diktat.

We live in consumer societies where the customer is very quick to pick up on a lack of alignment between what your business promises and the ability of your staff to deliver it. 

If you are an employer, consider how your people might respond to these four questions:

  • Do you enjoy what you do at work, and understand how your contribution makes a difference?
  • Do you feel part of a team, where you are valued and respected?
  • Do you feel secure in your job? Does it give you financial reassurance?
  • Do you feel concerned about your health? Can you properly balance work and leisure time?

The last question talks to Wellness. As a change practitioner, I should tell you that the most productive transformations we are making inside company cultures revolve around it. In this we are guided by psychologists. But our interventions aren’t clinical. We educate staff about poor sleep, anxiety and depression. We suggest strategies to improve their lot, and encourage managers to be watchful for symptoms of stress. We use meditation to recharge energy levels during the working day.  We work to adjust shift patterns, to rebalance Management’s priorities to favour productivity over dumb attendance.

The first impact we see is on staff happiness. The simple fact that an employer is prepared to consider your Wellbeing gives any employee a morale boost. 

The second impact is on socialisation. When people begin to take an interest in each other as human beings again. When they feel they have permission to spend time with family and to go out with friends after work instead of scurrying home to hide. These two changes then begin to improve work ethic and productivity. With hope restored, employees can direct genuine enthusiasm both towards routine work and to development projects. 

Ergo, the enterprise begins to get more done. And, perhaps most important of all, customers begin to notice a difference.

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The Achilles Heel of any organisational culture is communication. I work inside local, regional and continental businesses – and my diagnostic interventions highlight this time and again. 

This seems strange when you consider the exponential growth of channels now open to employers and their employees. Whatsapp, Yapster, Live Chat, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom etc. Part of the problem is remembering where you spoke to whom, and about what!

On the plus side, we are no longer reliant on the hateful medium of email. I chose that adjective deliberately because I observe the misery that email creates in the lives of employees. Unless we are superlative writers, acutely aware of tonality, our emails can be counterproductive. Whether using capitals for emphasis or profane language to intimidate (you’d be surprised how often I see both), or you simply write for yourself rather than the recipient. 

Another missing element in modern employee communication is the ability to persuade the recipient. Almost all internal communication is ‘For information’. Once the writer has pressed the send key they can metaphorically brush their hands and move on to the next task. They think: ‘ I have told them. So now they know.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Staff are already overloaded with messages 24 hours a day through multiple channels. So they just don’t notice.

‘For information’ no longer works. So now we must work on persuasion. Taking a few moments to lay out a simple case that makes sense to the recipient and inspires the right emotional response. Using this combination of logic and relevant emotion is not new to us. We use it daily in our family relationships. We are unconsciously adept at communicating in different ways to children, spouses, siblings and seniors.  We know what works with whom, because we are interested in what the recipient receives, and the response that it motivates. We also know that in 8 conversations out of 10 it is emotion that wins the day. 

But in the working environment, it seems that addressing bigger audiences persuasively requires too much of an effort. We don’t know how to care enough about bigger groups, how to demonstrate sufficient interest in our recipients to make internal communications relevant. We don’t consider their state of mind, their workload, or the time of day they’ll receive our message.

Ironically, successful brands have been working on relevance for more than 100 years. Understanding mass audiences and finding ways to make messages persuasive and motivating for them. Marketers don’t just say ‘For Information’ because they know their message will be ignored. Internal communicators could learn about persuasion from their Marketing colleagues.

Chris Harrison’s book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available from Text Book Centre.

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Experience not Service

Customer experience has become the new marketing. It influences brand perceptions and impacts business performance just as strongly as traditional Marketing once did. As my Chairman, Professor Nader Tavassoli  www.nadertavassoli.com reminds us: “Brands are promised by advertising but delivered by people.’

If you work in Insurance, you know this already. Easy claim settlement is your most powerful marketing tool.

Global research shows us that a good customer experience makes a person 

five times more likely to recommend a company and purchase in the future. In modern African businesses, Net Promoter scores (customer willingness to recommend) and Customer Effort scores must now part of every Marketer’s proof of efficacy, and should be regularly reviewed at Board level.

Customer Experience is now so important  that it has earned its own acronym (CX). And while I decry the use of acronyms, when it comes to customers I support the use of the word ‘Experience’ over the more traditional ‘Service’. Service is something that is taught and learned by rote. It’s prescribed, and when you prescribe something the best you can ever hope for is that employees do what you told them to. That’s why HR teams mistakenly invest in training to teach service skills. How much better it is to promote an attitude that encourages staff to see things from the customer point of view. And to build a culture that enables them to design their own innovations in daily customer interaction.

Customers are individuals, and the best way to engage them is to do so on a human level. Sure, you can set parameters for this. But in a modern business you should also try to find ways to release the power of individual staff members. 

I learned some great lessons in customer experience when we brought Virgin Atlantic to East Africa. Regular airline passengers to Europe certainly miss them today, and yearn for more vigorous airline competition on Customer Experience. While I appreciate that only a limited group of people fly internationally, Virgin Atlantic’s approach could be applied to any business. Virgin always divides Customer Experience into three levels:

Brilliant Basics – doing the expected, better than your competitors.

Magic Touches – using creativity to add memorable moments (the first airline to offer you an ice cream in the middle of a long flight).

Game Changers – using innovation to deliver something that no-one else does (door- to-door limousine transfer for Business Class passengers).

Segmenting CX delivery like this also makes it easier to deploy your more imaginative people where they can make the most impact on your customers. Leaving the less gifted to concentrate on delivering the basics … brilliantly.

Chris Harrison’s book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is available on Amazon

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Adaptive cultures

According to Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, there are four types of organisational culture: Clan, Adhocracy, Market, and Hierarchy. Last week we looked at the prevalence of Market and Hierarchy cultures in Africa. We noted that they are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency and stability. Company cultures with market focus tend to be results-oriented, with a focus on competition.

Much progress has been achieved by these types of organisation. But, as I move around the corporate space, I sense that leaders are frustrated. It’s almost as if they have gone as far as they can to grow business by top-down leadership. They are meeting resistance to Western-style cultures that demand ruthless competition and the absolute subordination of employee interests to those of the body corporate.

To put it in human terms, Africa produces people who are still more socially engaged than many of their western peers. Interested in doing the right thing by one another. Helping each other out; and giving respect where it is due. Overlaid on this we now have the complex value sets of Generations Y and Z. As you will have read, these younger people prize opportunities to make individual contributions to the organisation and to be recognised for them. So, authoritarian company cultures now fit poorly with modern social norms.

Fortunately, Quinn and Cameron’s work identified two further culture types – worth considering in this situation:

Clan culture. A friendly working environment where people have much in common and strongly resemble a large family. Leaders are viewed as mentors and maybe even father figures. The organisation is held together by loyalty and tradition. There is a high level of engagement. The emphasis is on the long-term benefits of human resource development and great value is attached to personal relationships and morale. Success is usually defined as the ability to address the needs of the customer and take proper care of its people. The organisation attaches great value to teamwork, participation and consensus.

Adhocracy culture. A dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative working environment where people stick their necks out and take risks. Their leaders are viewed as innovators and risk takers. The binding agent that keeps the organisation together is a commitment to experimentation and innovation. Longer term, the organisation’s emphasis is on growth through new products and services. Being a pioneer is considered important, so the organisation encourages individual initiative and freedom.

It’s time for modern business leaders to acknowledge that culture is fundamental to enterprise success and to try something different. Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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Try emotion

In Africa, the Internet now provides almost universal access to global news. We’re no longer limited to stodgy newspaper coverage of national, regional and local politics. The daily trumpings of  Trump, and China’s campaign to secure the planet’s strategic resources for itself are now common conversational currency in Africa. Within that context, the unresolved agonies of Brexit (the UK’s unactioned resolve to leave the European Union) provide two salient lessons for organisational leaders worldwide.

The Leave campaign is primarily driven by emotion; the Remain by logic. Emotion won the referendum and logic has tried to prevent its realisation. Whatever your views on Brexit, it’s clear that emotion continues to win the war of attrition. As commentator Rory Sutherland  says in his amazing new book about ideas (Alchemy) Remainers don’t understand that saying ‘leaving the EU will result in higher labour costs’ is heard by half the population as ‘wages will rise’. Economic logic has no traction, because both the EU and the efforts to overturn it are political projects.

So, the first lesson for business leaders is that cold logic on its own is ineffective. If you order your employees to work every Saturday and Sunday because failure to do so will jeopardise company results, what do you imagine they will do?

I recently engaged with a company where the leadership team believe that giving orders  and demanding compliance is the only way to change business performance. They are learning a hard lesson about the limits of coercion: passive resistance and active sabotage surround them. Their response has been to issue more orders and be nastier to staff. If we manage to save this enterprise, we will have to address the weakness in its leadership.

Which brings me to outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May. She’s a godsend to me (not her country) because she provides the clearest demonstration of the difference between a Manager and a Leader. She is educated, methodical, process-driven and has been totally committed to delivering something she doesn’t believe in because she feels that is her duty. That’s the only point at which emotion has been allowed to play a role in her premiership. Everything else has been cold, relentless, persistent logic. And it has failed, so (logically) she now has to go.

In business, we call the process of building company culture to deliver a specific result ‘Alignment’. The most successful enterprises manage to persuade employees to deliver what their brand is promising, and therefore the desired business result. It’s more of an emotional task than a logical one, and it tests leadership… not management.

‘Marketing Medicine’ by Chris Harrison is now available worldwide on www.amazon.com

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Machine and human

It’s sometimes worth looking up from the day to day routine and thinking about what is over the horizon. This applies to us all as individuals, just as much as it does to the managers and leaders set over us. What will it mean, for example, for humans to thrive in the age of the machine?

London Business School professors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton are wrestling with this in a fascinating new research study.  It builds on their bestselling book about longevity, ‘The 100-Year life’ that has been translated into 14 languages and is credited with jolting the Japanese Government into taking steps to address the issues thrown up by its aging society.

Taking a 100-year view of human lifespan opens up a broad debate on work and life. People are asking about technology and its impact on longevity. “They’re beginning to realise how interconnected things are,” observes Scott.

I’m of the view that the story is not about technology, it’s about the people. Those of us working in the digital transformation of businesses in Africa are learning that’s as true here as anywhere. Digital transformation is all about imbuing your business culture with new behaviours that are empowered by technology. Faster decision-making; anticipatory customer service; collaboration between traditional silos.

There’s already an element of fear underlying  the debate, prompted by luminaries like

Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning of a turning point when humanity risks losing control of the technology it has created. However, human intelligence and soft skills are still necessary as they will dictate future artificial intelligence. A critical role for humans will be to ensure that EQ (Emotional Quotient) balances IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

For roughly a century, life in established economies has followed a predefined pattern: a three-stage progression from education to work to retirement. One benefit of living longer is that, with more productive years, the range of individual choices is extended. It also makes some choices more critical. The obvious one is ensuring adequate material resources to support a long and active old age. It also puts an unexpected premium on intangible assets such as networks of family and friends, something Africa still has in abundance.

In education, technology is already placing extraordinary learning resources online, much of it free. In the next few years, Gratton and Scott see the education sector “exploding”’ to meet new kinds of demand, moving from part-life to all life, and from a fixation on university degrees to other kinds of upskilling credentials.

Humans have the benefit of insight. That’s always enabled us to build agendas and act upon them. We don’t have to accept what happens to us as destiny – together we can shape it.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.

His book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available worldwide on www.amazon.com

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Bonding not building

‘Let’s have a teambuilding’ is a popular cry. When employees say it they’re usually asking for a little relief from weekly routine and hoping for a treat. When HR people say it they may want to spend a budget but can’t think of anything new to do with it. When bosses say it, it usually means that they feel something is wrong inside the company.

These are all wrong reasons to prescribe teambuilding. They are elastoplast over a graze. They rarely address the wound beneath, so everybody gets a bit disappointed. A recent survey by Vodafone UK and YouGov found that the majority of workers surveyed had been made to go team-building, and 54% didn’t feel that doing more would help them work better with their colleagues.”

In Africa, we have much lower levels of employee cynicism. Generally we find that employee engagement activities work well, if they are part of a strategy that everyone understands. Staff enjoy opportunities for greater collaboration in and around the workplace. And the fact is, you don’t have to go away and spend lots of money if you can create the right tone for these activities.

Team building activities can be socially awkward, especially when very senior people are interacting with junior staff. Rarely, in the history of business, has anyone had real fun when being told to have fun by the Sales Director. And please don’t compel people to participate. I have seen Friday cinema trips promoted as Compulsory Fun Nights!

It’s time we moved on from traditional team building activities towards meaningful team bonding. You don’t do that with ‘trust falls’. Trust me.

Here are three very simple ideas you might try in your organisation. They really don’t cost money, so they are easy to run on a regular basis. You simply need to find people to champion. Here’s a tip – Millennials can help you.

Idea #1 – start singing. Almost everyone sings as part of their regular religious worship. But don’t limit yourselves to choral work. Think acapella, jazz, blues, traditional – Whatever form makes your people smile.

Idea #2 – have lunch together. Cornell University research shows a positive association between eating together and better performance. Remember that Latin origin of the word company was based on people who eat bread together.

Idea #3 – share something about yourself. We find that regular meetings where staff are encouraged to chat about their lives outside work, showcase a talent, or describe their home country or region can work very well. The tone needs to be right: tea, coffee and mandazis help.

In company culture, little and often works best.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.


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Generation Z

Just when you thought you’d heard all you needed to hear about Millennials, here comes another generation right behind them. Generation Z or Gen Z is the demographic cohort born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. Most of Gen Z have used the Internet since a young age and are more comfortable with technology and social media than their predecessors.

As a quick reminder, the earlier sequence runs: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y (Millennials). I’m a Boomer, if you’re interested. By coincidence Boomer is also the US Navy slang term for a ballistic missile submarine, which goes some way to accounting for my mood most mornings.

Africa has participated fully in Generations X, Y and Z – which is why I am talking to you about demography today. Here in Africa, as everywhere on the planet, Gen Z are your new generation of customers and employees. So best you understand something about them.

Gen Z is proving to be an elusive generation to pin down, mainly because much of the information out there about them often contradicts itself. But Google search indicates some of the perceptions and prejudices the world already attaches to them:

‘They’re entitled’

‘They’re job hoppers’

‘Everything has come so easily to them – they’re lazy’

‘Can’t take criticism’

To be fair, the research I have read suggests that they have inherited much of this perceptual baggage from Millennials. That was the generation that worked hard to own new technology and to make a new impression on the world of work. That impression was so contrary to established norms that managers and HR professionals revolted against it. However, in my daily work in organisational culture transformation I have to say that I find Millennial perspectives and energy helpful. Even if they come across as precious and petulant sometimes.

Latest insights from Europe suggest some lightening of the mood in this new cohort. Gen Z are happy and optimistic, but also claim to be stressed. Interestingly they don’t see stress impacting happiness! This may mean that better hygiene factors in the workplace will yield greater productivity. They’re driven by convenience, in the brands they care about, social media habits, and attitudes towards personalisation – as customers and employees. Think about making that Employee Brand Proposition seem more individual.

Note also, they’re more willing to exchange personal data and communicate with a brand if it means getting a better, more seamless, online experience in exchange. Finally, Gen Z claims more affinity with their brands than any other generation. When they feel connected with a brand, they personally identify with it. That’s an opportunity for Marketers to build greater brand loyalty.





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