Business owners and senior management teams often ask me ‘what’s wrong with our people?’ They cite poor timekeeping, growing complaints about terms of service, and a lack of company loyalty.
Not surprisingly, the leaders who make the most effort feel most frustrated. A very good friend has built an exemplary business in professional services. It’s taken him 18 years, since he bought out his division from a multinational. He has trained developed an engaging and admirable body of local staff. He has even put in place an ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Programme).
His problem is employee churn. His best people leave and, as far as he can tell, it’s only for a bigger pay cheque. When they leave, the first thing they ask to do is cash in the value of their ESOP. To him this demonstrates that they see no value in continued participation in the business and are closing the door on any opportunity to return.
One of the reasons I called my business The Brand Inside is because the process of building a culture is exactly the same as the process of building a brand. Both are built on four crucial pillars. And the two pillars that give a brand its energy are Differentiation and Relevance.
So it is with culture. As an employer brand you have to stand out from the crowd: be different enough to solicit interest of the talent pool. Even if you are in a broadly commoditised category like Law or Accountancy, the way you talk and the way you present yourself to the market can differentiate you.
But being different is not enough. That difference must be relevant.
An ESOP may seem a highly differentiating idea to you and to your own CEO peer group. However it may not be relevant to the employee group you are targeting. If it is irrelevant, or of low importance, you’d be better off investing time and effort in some aspect of company culture that is.
Usually when we begin a culture transformation programme (CTP) we recommend investing time and money to investigate what makes your workforce tick. A number of the more modern research houses in the region offer tools to help with this. The best of them enable you to map out the level of employee engagement by department, by location and by level of employee. That is a really useful map to own. It not only shows you how committed your employees are, but also what buttons to press to improve that position.The more we do these studies, the more we understand the way the employee base in the region is changing. And the good news is that we’re seeing fewer complaints about salary and benefits alone.
The more challenging news is that demands for greater participation, for acting on employee ideas, and for recognition of individuals and teams is on the up. That is because the present employee base is known globally The Millennials. And Africa is no different to the rest of the world.
The term Millennial was first coined to describe people reaching adulthood around the turn of the century. Fifteen years on, this segmentation hasn’t been superceded by anything of significance. So the group is now estimated to number 2.5 billion worldwide.
Millennials are the most ethnically, racially, and gender- integrated generation to date. Fairness and participation are hardwired into them. They have grown up immersed in technology. To older generations that makes them look distracted, but the reality is that they are anything but. Being ‘always on’ means that they are very well informed, and much better able to develop an individual point of view on the work-life balance.
Millennials have higher expectations (than we did) of their leaders and their employer organisations. They don’t live to work; they live for quality of work.
This means that almost any HR initiative designed by an older generation will tend to lack relevance. And don’t even think about waving the Employee Handbook at this generation, you’ll find yourself ‘talking to the hand because the face ain’t interested’!
As in most crisis situations, the important thing is not to panic. The Millennials can indeed be influenced. Their creativity and contribution can be harnessed, and they may yet turn out to be our most productive employee generation. But like any brand audience, you have to take steps to understand them.
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