Delivering Results in a Low-Trust Environment: A ‘Dangote-Wilmot’ Model

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One of the major challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Nigeria and several other such countries is, unfortunately, fraudulent activities by staff. These activities include direct cash theft, under-invoicing of sales to favour a customer, over-pricing of purchases from suppliers, direct pilferage of products, etc. These actions make entrepreneurship more costly and difficult in our environment. They have led to the bankruptcy of what would have otherwise been successful businesses. The emotional stress of the betrayal by people trusted to get things done honestly is another costly leg of the Nigerian entrepreneurial experience. Indeed, there is hardly any Nigerian entrepreneur who doesn’t have something to say about such activities.

These are, unfortunately, a statement of our collective moral handicap. And it is costing us more than we think we individually ‘gain’. To succeed in entrepreneurship in Nigeria and other countries that suffer such operational challenges therefore, it is necessary to adopt the appropriate pragmatic approaches to running your business.

Dr. Patrick Wilmot, renowned Sociology professor, in assessing, what I will call the ‘limited achievements’, of the President Buhari administration, advised the President to adopt the approach of successful Nigerian business people in addressing the challenges of running a complex country like Nigeria. As Dr. Wilmot put it, successful people in Nigeria like Alhaji Aliko Dangote rely ‘. . . on intelligence and imagination, and employed people based on their expertise and energy. They (do) not require unconditional trust but ability and created systems of control to make reliance on trust redundant. They employed people who transformed obstacles into opportunities.’ (1)

Obviously, Dangote Group, with some 30,000 employees is a microcosm of Nigeria, pearls, warts and all. So how does Alhaji Aliko get superlative results with his people that leave others in political and business leadership positions dumbfounded? Dr. Wilmot makes the brilliant postulations above and more on exactly how. And having worked with Alhaji Aliko at quite a senior level, I want to add muscle to Dr. Wilmot’s suggestions for the benefit of entrepreneurs to address this ‘Nigeria-specific’ issue. I will call this approach the ‘Dangote-Wilmot’ model.

Integrity is not enough: This is the starting point. Dr. Wilmot makes it clear that your integrity can and will definitely endear you to most reasonable people. Unfortunately however, integrity alone does not ‘deliver food on the table’. In this context therefore, we can say integrity is a desired but neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition. This point is very critical because the moment you get obsessed that the people you recruit must be people of integrity, it becomes a ‘limiting’ factor if your pool is primarily of the morally handicapped. How does one, then, reconcile the suggestion by Dr. Wilmot with this quotation of another enomously successful person, Mr. Warren Buffett, who said:

Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

The reconciling factor between Dr. Wilmot’s and Mr. Buffett’s statements is simply ‘environmental realities’. Mr. Buffett has a wider pool of people of integrity he can choose from than Alhaji Aliko.

Create goals: The first thing an entrepreneur should do is to is to create goals. Obviously without setting goals you will simply roam around wasting precious resources. Setting goals shapes your dreams and creates focus. It directs actions towards key activities thereby enhancing efficiency of resource utilisation. Without creating goals, you do not stand a chance to achieve what is desirable. Alhaji Aliko and his team are very competent in setting their corporate goals. Even the public can easily read in the newspapers what the Group is up to. What, however, distinguishes the Dangote Group with its competitors is its relentless execution appetite and capacity.

Develop Processes, Systems, and Structure: Having set your goals, the next key thing is to develop processes, systems and structure that will make it possible to achieve the set objectives. This might involve setting procedures, control and execution systems,  etc. The purpose of your process, systems, and structures is to facilitate the achievement of your various operational objectives. 

Processes, systems and structures refer to the ‘heart’, ‘mind’ and ‘body’ of an organisation respectibly. They make it possible control and yet get things done. Alhaji Aliko has a strong yet fluid corporate structure that can seize opportunities anytime an opportunity is smelt.

In addition to the above, Dr. Wilmot expounds that successful people operating in low-trust Nigerian terrain, focus more on other people’s competencies, such as;

Intelligence: Identifying trends; ‘seeing’ into the future; and creating solutions is a factor of intelligence. If you wish to succeed like Alhaji Aliko, you should strive to get the best people you can lay your hands on and afford. Get your people  from as diverse backgrounds as is possible and of different qualifications, skills sets, experiences etc.

Decisiveness: The ability to take decisions is key to success. Alhaji Aliko is ‘on duty’ and accessible to his people literally twenty-four hours a day. He will always take their call and return it if he missed it due to other commitments. His ability to take decisions either alone or in consultation with his people is almost always instant. Nothing is ever delayed unless there is a compelling reasons that justifies or makes the delay necessary.

Energy: The Dangote Group is a bundle of energy. It is a reflection of the personality of the Chief Executive. Lazy people have limited hiding place in the Group. This is necessarily required because the Group has so much to get done at any point in time and delays are financially costly.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must also have people who are willing to get things done at the odd hours, as well as be willing to put in the long hours. Any entrepreneur that is unable to take decisions and execute will fall by the way side. These require mental and physical stamina.

Obessive Focus: What Dr. Wilmot calls ‘ruthlessness’ I will call obsessive focus. This is required by all entrepreneurs to succeed. Without focus, the entrepreneur gets distracted and loses both efficiency and effectiveness. Alhaji Aliko is an extremely focussed person who ‘lives’ what he does. He talks about it and superintends over it religiously. It is like it is his life. From handling so many products in the course of the growth of his Group years ago, they have now focussed on a few core products whose markets they aspire and strive to dominate.

Don’t get distracted into chasing so many opportunities hoping that one or more will ‘work out’. Instead, study various possibilities and select the most promising and work really hard and smart to make it work out.

Compassion and Sensitivity: Dr. Wilmot highlighted compassion and sensitivity as key to success in leadership. Alhaji Aliko is a tough businessman and his competitors have the scars to show!  And that is business, that is what happens in the terrirory. However, he has certain compassion and sensitivity about his people that most people either don’t know or do not realise. He hardly disengages people even in difficult economic times. Whenever you read about employee retrenchment in the Dangote Group, chances are that senior management would have prevailed on him given their professional considerations and responsibilities. And in most cases he would have such ‘surgeries’ drastically toned down.

His willingness to retain his staff even in difficult times is because he knows his Group is always growing and will sooner, rather than later, need the services of those same people who may have otherwise been disenagaged. Instead of having to go through a recruitment process, therefore, the Group can simply move hands around. This might seem inefficient for a business, but the Dangote Group can easily carry such weight, and it impacts positively on the loyalty of staff.

If you can bear the cost of keeping your staff in difficult times, keep them and use them as the need arises and as situation improves.

Don’t limit your circle of advisors: Dr. Wilmot believes that in running a complex country like Nigeria, it is harmful to rely on either ‘cabals of corrupt individuals’ or ‘a trusted coterie of advisors’. In the same vein, as your organisation grow, you have to expand your sources of gettimg your information as well as getting a real and true feel of exactly what is happening. That will necessarily involve going completely out of your traditional circles of information and advise. Alhaji Aliko communicates with various staff at different levels in his organisation which gives him a real feel of most things happening around.

Bottomline is, if you are able to get intelligent and energetic people and are able to develop your goals as well as design appropriate processes, systems and structure, you could smartly make the need for integrity in your staff unnecessary for the achievement of desired results.  

(1) Reference: The Travails of Caesar’s wife

By Patrick Wilmot

About Me

My name is Musbahu El Yakub. I am an entrepreneur, a consultant and an author. I desire to help, guide and support start-up and growing entrepreneurs. I try to do this by providing them with information, tools and guidance..

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