Yesterday I attended training on personal development planning. From what I can tell, where I am, the powers that be had spent a lot of time ensuring that the processes are iron clad, but forgot about the people. I have to give my previous employers credit for the amount of effort spent empowering the staff. This is Africa, the minimum wage is less than $1 a day, so they can afford to pay $500 a month to a so called “professional”. However we know with the huge amount of imported products means we actually need a salary commensurate to a professional of this grade in America. The multinationals have long since had that attitude that if you don’t want, somebody else does want (which is true). But my previous employers realised that at a certain point, these people who are treated like a commodity will then leave and become a boss somewhere else. The fact that these people have worked in a world known multinational puts a high price on their head so they go.
So what my previous employers did was say, we are still not going to give you that salary required to live, but what we are going to do is empower you. The processes are there and you do it well, but we are going not going to be just another multinational in Ghana, we are going to allow our people to be multinational people. They took out the hierarchal structure (well not completely, but the perception of it). The business head was very accessible. Lots of team building excercises, lots of transparency in the business. Most importantly though, there was a lot of focus put on filling the gaps in the basic soft skills that one needs to survive in an International environment.
To be honest, leaving was the hardest decision I had to make, it wasn’t perfect and I came across some real arse wipes, but hey every organization has that. Had it not been for the fact that I could not totally commit to the job at the time, I would have probably still been there. The place has a way of sucking you in. Like that guy who you are in a love hate relationship with, so if you get an offer outside, you really have to weigh your options before you leave.
What I can see from my present job is that it is only now that they have focused on the people. I don’t know what the conditions are like abroad, but from what I can see, Africa wasn’t really a focus back in the day. Asia was the money spinner and this was just another multinational in Ghana. Now the focus is now shining here and especially Ghana, so it has made them sit up.
Now I am not saying the people are not hard working. In fact, the people are constantly behind their PCs from 8am to sometimes 8pm. But it is a bit Stepford Wives. The people just go along with the process and don’t really know how to think outside that.
For example, this individual development plan we are spending a week talking about. The aim of this is to say, this is where I want to be in 3 years time. Look at the gaps that need to be filled in to achieve it. Sit with your line manager and agree on the deliverables. Simple you would think.
As I sat in the meeting and people asked questions, I had to tune off at some point as I would have made a comment which may have caused offence (people get offended very easily around these parts of the world). The questions asked were:
1. What is HR doing to make sure that the discussions take place with the manager
2. What will HR do to make sure that it is implemented
3. What if your boss thinks you are trying to take his position
4. How do I know which gaps to fill in
5. What if my boss has another career plan for me
As I couldn’t answer then, this is my answer now
1. It’s about your career development, if you can’t speak to your boss, do you really think you are ready for the next step in your career. Maybe one of the gaps that need to be filled is your ability to talk. You can’t really blame them, they have been used to going to school, reading books, passing exams. Other than that, speak when you are spoken to and never challenge your elder/superior. However, when it comes to your career, only you and your God are in the front seat so if you are waiting for someone to make sure discussions take place. You probably deserve that seat 20 years later
2. Valid question. Even in the West, we go through this tedious appraisal process and the following year we just change the dates but it basically remains the same. I assume though, the reason there is a whole week on this subject there is something being done to make sure that it is implemented. What I would suggest is that if things and happen. Make sure it happens. Agree timelines and once it is signed off, make sure you follow up if things aren’t moving along. Your boss is managing not just you most likely so take control.
3. The rule of the game suggests that your boss moves higher, than you replace your boss and so on. If your boss has no aim to move higher and wants to be in the same position 5 years down the line, I think it is worrying. Or he is committing some kind of fraud which he doesn’t want you to see. Or he is waiting for retirement. Maybe you need to consider working under a leader who has more aim.
4. There is usually something on the intranet, if not ask somebody
5. If your boss has to guide your career, then something is wrong. He can advice alright based on what he sees is your strengths but how old are you, like 5. Only you can decide what you want to do. Plus, chances are, your boss is thinking of themselves and their next move so I wouldn’t sweat it.
The days of waiting for someone to die or retire before you take that position has long gone. Plus you have the added advantage that the world is your oyster. In truth, there is a quota of the amount of cross-border work experience. There are a number of black Africans who need to be sent to another countries office so it looks like the company didn’t just come to exploit the people. However, if you can’t think for yourself or out of the box, it is difficult to make it out there and people just don’t want to take that chance on saying that they put their money on you.
I don’t think this limitation is limited to black people, I think it is an African issue. My Supply Chain Director, at the interview he told me he was the demand planning expert and process champion, however he didn’t tell me anything about people empowerment, I can tell he is very process led. He had his doubts when I told him the reason I left my previous place was due to minor illness and my head really wasn’t in a good place but I am ok now, his thinking was that I may not give 100% if I “get sick again”. Trust me, if I was sick, I would be at home, I like money, but I am not going to kill myself for it.
The truth is, I was told about this role last year, firstly I wasn’t interested and secondly, well I can see that last year was just a write off year and I am glad that I had that break. The reason I am here now is that it pays the bills and I never did operational planning so what the hell. However I am not going to lie, I do not have the same connection and would not hesitate to go if I find myself going numb in the brain because I have turned into a process led zombie who cannot think for herself.
But as I wrap up this discussion and without playing the race card. This Supply Chain Director I am telling you about, he is good at his job with this company being a multinational in Africa, he too didn’t do more than processes and do them very well. There was a quota to fill, and well he has a white looking face. So it didn’t matter that he lacked people skills, he had enough to be sent to Ghana. His face is whiter. It’s always going to be that much harder for a West African because your face is dark and you are seen as a lower class of people (that is the reality). You are seen as the cleaners and the care workers so you are going to have to work just that bit harder to survive and move up the ladder.
Unfortunately, from what I can see, there is going to be a bit of a way to go because until you empower the people to do so. The turnout was not all that great at yesterday’s meeting and those that were there only turned up because there was a lucky dip. There were lots of little prizes such as T-shirts and key rings but the grand prize was a Samsung mobile phone.
I went to the meeting out of interest but did have a go at the lucky dip. Being the new girl everyone was just pushing in front of me so I waited patiently. So it finally got to my turn and I put my hand in the box expecting a T-shirt or a better luck next time. Well to my surprise I open the slip of paper and it said Congratulations you have won a phone. Now considering that I have not won anything ever, it kind of didn’t register until the shrill of fake excitement from the ladies around me pierced my ears. Well what do you know, maybe a gift from God from keeping my big mouth shut.
The final day of training is today, now that the phone has been won I see very little interest from the people around me. So I suggest that we go back to the drawing board. Take a leaf out of a little Swiss Company that has found the trick. Empower the people and just like your products bring them up to International Standards and see that life is more than just following the process very well.