This article was first featured on the October/November 2012 issue of Ventures Africa Magazine
VENTURES AFRICA – The last quarter is upon us and this year has seen the introduction of a plethora of new, networked technology devices. The endless streams of new models cater to the different demographics at far-reaching corners of our increasingly connected world. We are slowly homogenising into a “global village”.
From high-end smart phones and tablets to basic feature phones, we are now able to reach most people at the click of a button or two, and research facts and figures online without thinking twice. New solutions are developed fast, news travels faster and all the information you need is literally at your fingertips 24/7. While this state of affairs provides immense opportunity for businesses globally, it does also result in a progressively more complex environment within which companies need to manage and compete for talent.
Employees have the opportunity to take greater control of their careers, to make an impact and get results. No longer can anyone use the excuse of not having access to information – Google has organised it all for you. If you really can’t be bothered to look for the information, follow someone who does on Twitter. If you want it, it is out there and with the right level of curiosity and ambition it can be yours.
The technology and civil infrastructure challenges in some emerging markets and the actions leaders are taking towards improvement has been played to death. What is much more interesting is what managers do with the people they have working for them today – the employees who go though the challenges of poor roads, who face the fourhour journey into work because of traffic jams. What differentiates successful companies from the rest is how, and to what extent, they invest in their people.
Working on a project to improve the operations of a struggling financial institution, I identified a talented worker, Jimmy, who was unfortunately relegated to the back office. Too critical in his role providing much-needed data to his superiors on an ad-hoc basis, Jimmy had not taken a holiday in over a year, had no training despite his wanting to develop project management skills, and had no mentor. Added to this, in the typical management chaos, Jimmy never got feedback on the outcomes of his delivered work. He worked ungodly hours but had lost the will to continue. Both Jimmy and I knew what he was really good at, so when he asked me why he should continue to work at this institution when he could work for himself, providing such expertise to corporations, I struggled to provide a good-enough answer.
In my experience, most people want to do a good job. What hinders them is the lack of appropriate mentoring to learn and grow, an environment devoid of encouragement to take ownership of outcomes. The best managers nurture talent. They take the time to identify what drives an individual, and then give them clear goals which enable them to tap into their inner drive to produce outstanding results. In a world where everyone can easily become an expert with the help of the Internet, and where everyone can become an entrepreneur or have a far-reaching voice blogging on the Internet, managers need to find the voice that their employees desire and enable them to grow wings and fly. Or they risk losing perfectly good talent.
A so-called “B” player can very easily become an “A” player with a clear remit within an appropriately formed team. Great companies invest in their team leaders and managers to equip them with the tools necessary to form balanced, effective teams, comprised of complementary skilled teammembers, with tangible objectives. I daresay that in emerging economies there is simply not enough emphasis placed on developing people.
This is not an issue that requires advanced infrastructure to solve. It simply requires awareness and a willingness to invest in the parts that inevitably make up the whole.