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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