Staff Turnover

Modern African company boards include staff retention on their dashboards. Diligent company directors look for underlying trends and often read high employee turnover as a red flag – a sign that not all is well inside the business.

But what is a high level off turnover? Is the Millennial generation rocking the boat so hard that unprecedented numbers of staff are going overboard? You’d be surprised to hear that the data says not. 

While there’s little sharing of employee retention information in Africa, elsewhere in the world it’s widely available. US-based Pew Research recently compared what percentage of 18-35-year-olds stayed with their employer for 13 months or more. 63% of Millennials chose to do so in 2016 compared with 60% of Generation X in 2000. Hardly a seismic shift.

The UK’s Institute of Employment Studies, believes the core labour market has stayed “remarkably stable”, even if certain “bits around the margins” are less secure than they were. Their data shows that the average time spent in a job was 7.9 years in 1994, moving to 8.2 years today, partly due to an ageing workforce. The Institute says: “There’s a persistent narrative that job tenure is more fleeting, but the data doesn’t bear that out. And while 30 years ago a UK graduate might have found a position to match their qualifications after taking one or two jobs, today it is more likely to be their third or fourth.” 

Workforce culture specialist O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2018 Global Culture Report says that creating a positive employee experience is no longer about providing a job for life. Instead it’s about ensuring that each individual feels a sense of purpose and is offered suitable opportunities to achieve success.

 “If you ask people why they’ve changed jobs, they won’t say it was for money or a promotion. These days they have a deeper appreciation of what a positive workplace looks like and are no longer afraid to say what they want; so they’re not less loyal, they’re just more demanding.”

While new attitudes may have come from the Millennial generation, they’ve now permeated the age range. Staff members, irrespective of generation, now expect more from employers. From my experience inside African businesses, I can confirm that this change is happening here too.

Our more progressive Human Resources departments are starting to realise that retaining employees for the sake of it is a false economy. The leadership and management challenge has now shifted: it’s more about keeping people engaged, so they provide value while they’re with you and then become brand advocates when they leave.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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Interesting Leaders

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is important in business. Whether it’s in the ability of a Brand Manager to shape an emotionally relevant promise for an audience. In the skill of a Financial Manager in developing coaching relationships with colleagues. Or in the traits of a successful CEO, who uses her humanity to gather support from employees. For more on EQ, try Dr. Travis Bradberry’s bestselling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’.

We follow people who attract our interest on many levels.  They tell exciting stories and they seem to lead unusual lives. But what exactly makes them so captivating?

It’s probably curiosity more than anything else. An interesting person is always excited about exploring the world, and this energy seems to radiate outwards. On a  simple level, I taught my children a technique that works whether you are sitting with a man with a PhD in Accountancy or a grandmother who has lived through a century of history. Ask questions. That will demonstrate interest, kick-start empathy and you might just learn something. 

Some people are naturally interesting, but my psychologist friends tell me there are ways you can practice to be more engaging. Here are a few to try: 

Try new things. Interesting people do what interests them. The very act of seeking new experiences also happens to be great for your mood, and people who are happy are far more interesting to be around than gloomy ones.

Learn and share. Albert Einstein kept a sense of wonder throughout his life that made him continue to ask questions about the world. He was also really good at sharing. Interesting people feel out their conversational partners to see what sparks their interest. Einstein didn’t try to share everything he had done with everyone he met.  

Have passion. Dr. Jane Goodall left her home in England and moved to Tanzania at age 26 to study chimpanzees. It became her life’s work, and Goodall has devoted herself fully to her cause while inspiring many others to do the same. Interesting people don’t just have interests; they have passions, and they devote themselves completely.

Dial down your ego. An egomaniac is always posturing, never interesting. Always worrying about how they’ll come across. Oprah Winfrey says, “Learn to leave your ego at the door and start checking your gut instead. Every right decision I’ve made has come from my gut. And every wrong decision I’ve ever made was a result of me not listening to the greater voice within myself.” 

Maintain your difference. Interesting people often have preferences that don’t fit the norm. Billionaire Warren Buffett still lives in the modest house he bought in 1958 for $31,500. 

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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Job titles

When I investigate the culture of a company, one of the first things I look at is how jobs are ordered and titled. I’ve become quite keen on the organogram, using it as a map to see how easily I can navigate the interior and understand the intended relationships between employees. Many organograms look clear as I start off down the path, but become misleading the further in I go.

This signals a gap between what Management and HR would like the organisational structure to be, and what it really is. Excused by the phrase, “this is the structure we’re working towards.” Which means that Management hasn’t found a way to exit or repurpose an individual who doesn’t fit – either for skill or attitude. 

Of the two, skills lack is easier to address – with a willing employee. But what do you do when someone who manifestly dislikes their job, puts no effort into collaborating with colleagues or lacks respect for the Leadership? The best treatment is to give them a clear redirect on the required behaviour change, and a short timescale within which to achieve it.

The worst way – to address either the skills or attitude gap – is to change the employee’s job title. It’s a ‘fudge’ that never works. At best the Manager is happy to have been seen to take action, and the employee is relieved to still be in work. But, like a sugar rush, the positive effect is soon replaced with demoralisation on both sides. I know, because equal numbers of people tell me “I should have found another job at that point” and “We should have exited her immediately”.

The impact on the organogram is clear. Its value is undermined by a peppering of non-tiles or half titles:

  • Deputy Sales Officer
  • Senior PR Executive
  • Temporary Assistant Plant Manager
  • Director of Office Services

In most of these, the qualification in the title is the giveaway. The inappropriate use of the title Director signals Management panic. And now there’s a further filter being applied with the arrival of ‘funky’ titles from the world of tech-based start-ups:

  • Customer Ninja 
  • Sales Stormtrooper
  • Chief Happiness Officer

In fairness, little of this nonsense has yet impacted companies in African. Just as well, because we’ve already got plenty of clearing up to do!

The reality is that flawed structures and false titles are dishonest. They create confusion and conflict, and they leave residual bad feeling. When coupled with an illogical remuneration policy, they represent an emotional time-bomb inside the organisation. 

It takes real courage, a sense of fairness and a gritty persistence to properly address the problem.  So, clearly, this must be a Leadership responsibility

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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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 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

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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

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