Caveat: This writer recognises the multitude of hardworking men and women in Africa that strive daily and with integrity at their places of work. Sadly, we need to do much more to restore certain cultures we have lost if we are succeed in developing entrepreneurship for the twenty-first century and beyond.
In my last post, we discussed the infrastructural challenge of doing business in Africa. I narrated about the local delay in receiving my consignment that I ordered on express delivery. Even after actual receipt of the goods, I still monitored the company’s tracker which kept showing ‘in transit’! Someone was ‘too busy’ to press the ‘delivered’ button of a simple machine. Some forty eight hours after collection, I got a call from an agent who explained that he had a slip for me to make a payment for a consignment they are to deliver to me. I asked a few questions and confirmed that he was referring to the same consignment. Not to waste my time, I told him that we have already made the payment at their office and the goods have been collected by our staff some three days earlier. It was a few hours thereafter that the tracker finally reflected ‘delivered’ as the status of the cargo!
That brings us to the second issue we brought up: staff attitude to work in Africa.
Business enterprises are built to add value and as a consequencial benefit of that to make profit. To add value, classical economists tell us we need factors of production, which are the inputs that are used to produce goods and services. These factors are land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Land represents natural resources such as physical land, minerals such as gold; input such as timber etc. Capital is made up of tools and machinery that are used to produce the goods and services. Labour refers to the work the labourers and other employees perform throughout the enterprise except the entrepreneur’s. The entrepreneur on the other hand is the person who takes an idea and works towards making an economic profit out of it by combining all the other factors of production together in an appropriate mix. Historically and traditionally, the entrepreneur is treated differently from the workers and labour because business propositions are expected to emanate from them and they take on the ultimate risks and rewards of the enterprise. However, the intense competition in the world of business now cannot be survived by any enterprise if all solutions are expected to be generated by the entrepreneur. Even if in different ways, business failures affect workers and labourers as they do the entrepreneur. The only way for an enterprise to survive and excel now is for each worker and labourer to be the ‘entrepreneur’ within the scope of their responsibility. Anything short of this can lead to complete business failure or at best loss of value and patronage.
Peculiar Staff Work to Attitude in Africa: I am sure what happened in the Nigerian subsidiary of the international courier company in respect of my consignment is very unlikely to happen in their western international operations. I mean, they do have their slips as well but they are the exception and very likely to be followed up by appropriate apology and even extra effort to make things understandable and acceptable to the customer. The only way we can hope to be taken seriously is to develop the appropriate work attitude at all levels in our businesses.
What are the peculiar challenges posed by African workers to the entrepreneur?
Every enterprise is created to solve some problem or problems or create certain convenience or conveniences. And this must be relentless and ongoing. With increasing competition the world over, what was considered great value a few years ago is now a base minimum expected. Think of mobile telephony. Just a few years ago, it was great having a the beautiful but analogue Nokia 6310. In less than two decades, those machines are now relics and Nokia itself has been faltering, changing ownership many times over. Apple, Samsung and the rest are constantly coming up with shifts and updates. Not all the developments you see and experience in dealing with these companies come from the best engineers, management, or the ‘owners’, many of whom cannot write a single line of code! Instead, what you see and experience do come from all levels of the organizations as a result of various staff contact with customers and research. These contacts and research bring out issues that need to be solved and opportunities that could be seized. Ultimately, new solutions are constantly being developed and pushed to the customers even before they ask or even know of it. How does an orgnaisation achieve that level of performance? Each and every staff must pull their weight and put their level best. In other words, each staff must be an ‘entrepreneur’ irrespective of their job description. Sadly, we don’t always see this in our local staff and some of the staff attitude challenges that the typical African entrepreneur faces include:
Poor time utilization: Staff get to work late and make poor use of the work time as they engage in one private activity or another. Entertaining private visitors is a very common sight in African work places.
Poor customer service: Some staff simply don’t take customer service seriously. They either have no understanding of the linkage between the service they render to customers with the revenue the business generate or just don’t care. Nonetheless, they expect their salaries have to be paid, sales or no sales. No business, no matter the resources at its disposal can survive this in the long run.
Lack of accountability: Inappropriate and unofficial use of official assets, such as phones, photocopiers, vehicles etc. by staff is much common in Africa. My staff once had accident with our official vehicle as he took the vehicle to attend a wedding in another town. But for the accident, the staff would have passed the fuel bill on the company as well.
Sense of entitlement: Many staff just feel that irrespective of what they contribute during the month, their salary must just be paid and their jobs secured. Even with clear productivity terms, many staff feel it is ‘harsh’ to disengage them for failures.
Connivance with third parties: While most of what we have presented above borders of negligence and dereliction, connivance with third parties is fraudulent and criminal. Some staff do connive with external and third parties to defraud the company they work for. One of my first experiences with staff fraud was with a fellow that was appropriately introduced to us. We interviewed him and employed him as our accounts clerk. Few weeks after employing him, my manager called me and report an issue. A ‘walk-in customer’ had paid N1 million for some goods and left only for the clerk, who received the payment, to report that the ‘customer’ had padded N100 notes with a few N500 notes at the top and bottom of each bundle! We lost over N950,000.00 and a simple investigation revealed that the clerk was a confederate of the customer. This happens with other services that the enterprise is likely to buy from third parties.
Poor work attitude cost all organizations, irrespective of size, heavily. Some costs manifest in the immediate run while some others take time. They include:
- Loss of goodwill and patronage as customers loose confidence in the business.
- Increase in operational costs.
- Loss of revenue and profits arising from the above.
- Develops lack of trust and confidence in the economic system.
Bad attitude to work by a few staff is more contagious than good work habits (remember good habits are a product of discipline which is more difficult to achieve than lack thereof). The wrong attitude by a single staff can spread wide through the organisation with attendant negative consequences.
What do you do to address poor work attitude of staff?
Start from yourself: I always suggest that the best starting point for solving problems is from yourself. As the entrepreneur you need to be fair and ask yourself the following questions:
Am I displaying all the good work habits and attitude that I expect from my staff?
Have I provided the required resources for the jobs to be done?
Have I challenged each staff with sufficient work and responsibility to fully engage them for each day?
Are the staff sufficiently trained to discharge their responsibilities?
Are the staff motivated to do what is expected of them? Etc.
If you have done what you believe needs to be done, the next to engage the staff, depending on what the issues are:
Talk to the employee: Talking is the next starting point. Go through the issues with the staff. Be open minded and fair as sometimes you are the root the cause of the challenge!
Provide any resources that may be required.
Train and motivate your staff.
Ensure there are clear rules on dos and don’ts in the organization.
Develop a culture by ensuring the following:
- Staff recruitment process is thorough.
- Employment contracts are clear on duties, responsibilities and other terns of engagement
- Develop processes and systems of getting things done.
- Encourage a problem solving culture and allow for reasonable sincere and innocent errors. Just learn from them.
- Penalise and reward as may be appropriate.
Disengage: As a last resort, parting ways with a staff with poor work attitude is the best thing to do if all efforts to help them change doesn’t yield the expected results.
(Feature photo credit: Pexels)