In my work in Culture Transformation I’m often asked, ‘why don’t our employees act like owners?’ I’m sometimes asked ‘why do our employees steal?’ And before COVID-19 I used to be asked, ‘why do our employees take so many sick days?’
The answers to all these questions, and many more, lie in creating a value exchange that is more meaningful than the one our grandparents enjoyed. Whilst COVID-19 may be making employees grateful for their wages, that’s not going to last. That appeal was fading five years ago, so employers can only count on a short respite now.
Modern employees in Africa are looking for opportunities for growth and recognition. Every employee engagement study we conclude validates this. That’s something we should celebrate because it confirms African people are no different from any others in terms of their legitimate aspirations.
So African businesses need to get with the beat. It’s no longer enough to promote a casual to a permanent worker. To palm employees off with hastily concocted annual performance reviews that legitimise subjective bias. To send people on external courses just to prevent them from resigning.
If you are a boss whose company just goes through the motions of employee engagement, your employees will continue to repay you in kind.
There’s a nice collaborative exercise you can use to begin to rebalance the value equation. It’s called defining the Employee Value Proposition. Many HR Managers will claim they’re working on one, but a quick Google on the subject reveals only one major East African enterprise (the biggest one) is able to articulate theirs publicly.
I suggest collaboration in creating your EVP, for two reasons. First, you are going to learn what you never knew about staff perceptions and motivations. Much of it will make uncomfortable listening. But, to use a medical analogy, a worrying diagnosis often prompts correct treatment and thence recovery.
Second, involving a representative team of staff and managers will produce a wider range of actionable ideas and begin the process of creating a sense of ownership in the future (see question 1. above).
As there are many step-by-step methodologies for creating meaningful value propositions available online, I’ll leave you to find the one that best suits your organisation. However, I always begin by getting the team to visualise an ideal employee. How do they behave, at work and outside the business? What is their attitude towards customers and colleagues? How do they speak about working for the company?
Once you have your ideal employee in mind, you can move on to what might persuade more staff to follow their example. I’ll give you a head start: look first at your company culture.