Contrary to the thought of most African entrepreneurs and their employees, finance is not necessarily the major hindrance to the successful takeoff, running, and growth of a viable business proposition. Empirical observations seem to suggest that one of the greatest impediments to these challenges is what I will call ‘poor work ethic’ on the part of both entrepreneurs and their employees.
Whilst we obviously have people with excellent work philosophies and habits in our societies, unfortunately they are a minority, and unless we reverse the proportions, we will continue to wallow in very simple problems, unable to sort them out. For us to create an entrepreneurial renaissance in Africa, both entrepreneurs and employees must rethink their attitude to work.
Work Ethic defined: I like the definition by Webster’s New World College Dictionary which states that work ethic is ‘a system of values in which central importance is ascribed to work, or purposeful activity, and to qualities of character believed to be promoted by work’.
Elements of Strong Work Ethic:
As entrepreneurs or employees, the extent to which we add value in our business or place of work is determined by the following:
What do we think of our jobs? Do we think and believe our job is important? Do we know how it is important? Who is it important to? Or do we think our job is just meant to give us the income required to pay the bills (and if possible without necessarily putting in the required effort)?
How do we feel about our jobs? Are we really happy with our jobs? Do we look forward to getting to the office and getting things done every working day? Or do we feel going to work every morning is a chore we wish we could do without?
What do we do at our places of work? Do we spend time solving problems that matter at our places of work? Do we spend time trying to get things done better or creating solutions? Or do we reluctantly get to work, pass time away and just look forward to Friday evenings and the weekends?
Our work ethic is determined by both our philosophies about and attitude to work. Both entrepreneurs and their employees must understand that the successful takeoff, running and growth of a business enterprise is dependent so much on the components of these two measures. Thank goodness both can be significantly reshaped and positively improved if we take deliberate measures.
Whilst several factors are obviously required for the success of any enterprise, we bring below the fundamental ones we believe are key in being able to develop a strong work ethic:
Passion for what you want to achieve: Starting a business and growing it is no mean challenge. The entrepreneur and their team will face problems and setbacks of all magnitudes. The only way to stand a chance of surmounting them, is by having a continuous supply of bountiful emotional, mental and physical stamina. These will readily be available if you have a passion for what you are doing. That way you are eager for the day to start and have fun even as you going through the challenges at work. For the entrepreneur, it is important that you start a business in which you really have a passion (and which, of course, is commercially viable). And in recruiting employees to work with you, ensure that you identify and select only those who have a passion for the trade and the work as well. Passion will generate the enthusiasm and desire necessary to doggedly pursue objectives over extended periods.
Given our high unemployment rates, it is very easy for our youths to ‘latch’ onto any job that comes their way. Whilst this may achieve short-term personal objectives, it can go a long way in demotivating the young employee as their productivity is likely to fall short of the desired.
When an individual is passionate about an object, they will be positive and radiate confidence. When you watch Bill Clinton in politics or Bill Gates in business, you can’t but ‘see’ that they they are indeed ‘in their elements’! No wonder they got to the top in their chosen fields. When an entrepreneur and their team are passionate about what they are doing, hardly can challenges and setbacks stop them. Take the time you need to sincerely realise what you are passionate about, and get a team that is also passionate about the same things.
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”
― Steve Jobs
Competence (knowledge and skills) in what you do: Business is about solving problems and providing solutions. The entrepreneur and their team can only do these if they both have the requisite knowledge and skills. Knowledge refers to the quantum of relevant information that an individual or group has acquired over a period of time. Typically, we build our knowledge base by learning concepts and principles through reading and/or training in formal and informal settings. Skills on the other hand refers to the application of the knowledge an individual has within a situational context.
The basis for longterm success for the entrepreneur and his team will be the quantum of knowledge and skills they possess in their chosen trade or profession. Whilst passion and determination will provide you with the energy required for success, only your knowledge and skills will solve problems and create solutions for the customers. Entrepreneurs should therefore be diligent in continuously building the knowledge base of their organisations as well and developing the skill sets of their employees. These twin objectives will significantly increase the enthusiasm of their staff as well their capacity to solve customer and organisational problems.
To what extent do you, as an entrepreneur, continuously seek to increase your knowledge base and develop your skills? To what extent do you get your staff trained and developed, both on the job and off the job? Do not take staff training and development issues lightly. The way to view this easily is to realise that the financial costs of training yourself and your people is an investment and not an expense. Furthermore, as Richard Branson said, ‘train (your) people well enough so they can leave, (but) treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. In addition, ensure that the knowledge and skills individuals acquire are internalised for the lasting benefit of the organisation.
Integrity in everything you do: In its simplest, integrity is defined ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’. Undoubtedly, this is the most important quality required in entrepreneurs and their employees. Your personal and corporate integrity makes it possible for you and your business to earn the trust of your colleagues, business partners as well as the rest of the society. You need that to succeed and grow in the long run. The way to earn the trust of others is by always doing what you said you will and when you said you will. As simple as this sounds, all sorts of pressures tend to make it very difficult. To make this easy for you and your team, you have to be very clear about what your resources and competence levels are. These are determinants of what you can do and cannot do. Over-promising and under-delivering is a sure way of eroding the trust others have in you. The entrepreneur and their team should deliberately work to build and earn trust gradually, and protect it jealously.
“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.”
― Warren Buffett
Sincerity in assessing your peculiar situation and reality, and a congruence between your thoughts, sayings and actions is what will earn you the trust of your associates.
Putting it all together: Admittedly, several factors, in addition to the above, are necessary in building the foundation for a strong work ethic in an enterprise. We however consider the ones mentioned herein as the most fundamental and which will generate such other ‘derived’ factors as loyalty, hardwork, diligence, etc.
Our next post will be on ‘How to Build a Strong Work Ethic at your Place of Work’.