Experience on the Ground
My search for new clients, or small food enterprises, has led me into the search for good people.
One of our key targets as a service firm providing relationship advisory is to build management teams that can deliver higher quality services and products for market. I have been doing this in some capacity since 2005, having lived and worked in East Africa during this time. While there, I have built teams for different NGO’s (3 in total) and in my most recent foray into the private sector, I have been building teams to drive value for firm specific objectives, around 7 in total. Although not comprehensive in outlook, I have seen varying staffing capacity from startup and established NGO’s to startup and more established businesses.
Yet herein lies the challenge: management teams are often pieced together just to get by. Systems or structures are unfound. Organization and history are typically not documented. Agreements are made orally. Customers are not tracked or analyzed. Staff do not meet regularly. Communication is on an ‘as needed’ basis, with the very decision to communicate coming from a central source. Merge this with the culture and qualifications of local staff, as described below, and you have a typical summary of most local enterprises (that I’ve seen). Will we ever reach the point in Gary Hamel’s “The Future of Management” where he states that management needs to be reborn and reflect those values of the internet? He refers to why the internet has been so adaptable, innovative, and engaging with the following attributes:
- Everyone has a voice.
- The tools of creativity are widely distributed.
- It’s easy and cheap to experiment.
- Capability counts more than credentials and titles.
- Commitment is voluntary.
- Power is granted from below.
- Authority is fluid and contingent on value-added.
- The only hierarchies are “natural” hierarchies.
- Communities are self-defining. Individuals are richly empowered with information.
- Just about everything is decentralized.
- Ideas compete on an equal footing.
- It’s easy for buyers and sellers to find each other.
- Resources are free to follow opportunities.
- Decisions are peer-based.
When searching for good people, we are searching for those who can work within these types of systems, and thrive. Yet even when finding good people in Uganda, I cannot seem to find the qualified ones. Or in finding the qualified ones, I cannot seem to find the right ones for the roles needed. And understanding what the local culture is and comparing it with that of the internet is a significant contrast in itself. Where, now, do I turn?
How is ‘good’ defined?
In Central Uganda, the Baganda are known for their hospitality, their generosity, and their kindness. But this does not translate into understanding customer service or in delivering quality services on time, nor does this cut across all tribes and regions. Yet the term good is more comprehensive than simply being nice and saying yes. It includes the working culture and work ethic. It includes customer service, the ability to communicate clearly, being dependable and trustworthy, and following through on assignments. It involves being able to critically think – to analyze information on the spot when it is received and have a competent witty response. It involves being able to sift through loads of useless information to find the information needed for the task. It incorporates taking in information and offering solutions. It is about clear communication, speaking with specifics. It is about handling pressure and working with grace. But more so than task or function specific qualifications, it is also about ‘something else’. It has more to do with personal characteristics than formal qualifications.
More recently, Time Magazine published an interesting article mixing analytics with corporate hiring. They refer to it as the “x Quotient” or xQ, which is a play off of IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence). The essence of hiring is not just identifying conservative qualifications of education and experience in a particular field, but also how you worked in that field, how you work with others, and how you may fit in to the culture you are being considered for. How do hiring teams account for this – with IQ or EQ? That is where xQ comes in. It specifically measures the capabilities, beliefs, values, and actions candidates would take and maps that against the needs of the position and the chemistry of the organization or team.
Is there an “xQuotient” algorithm for locals? Clearly looking at a degree or how well candidates performed grade-wise has absolutely NO bearing on job performance.
Right now, we are paying recruiters to help us search for qualified staff who can measure up to the needs within our available positions and within the organization. And yet, considering this is a position which requires high levels of communication and possibly sales or marketing, it was said that of all the people our recruiters have trouble placing, the ones we are after are the hardest to place – with a 99% fail rate! There may be a role for this new tool; but in my view, the fundamentals still need to be addressed.
Who are we looking for?
Capitol Food Ventures is expanding its operation in the region and we want to bring on high quality local talent. We are not searching for degrees or formal papers. We are looking for experience and competencies that we believe will drive value for our clients. For instance, we are looking for candidates:
- who want to work and build a practice as their own
- who are good at listening, who can observe a situation quickly, assess it, and engage in conversation to qualify and address it
- who can think critically, who can think on the spot with new information presented to them, and to do this all the while talking about it
- who are quick witted, understands social cues, can handle stress and pressure confidently and this allows them to thrive
- who are dependable, proactive, curious, open to change, and authentic
- who are able to critically think and carry on a discussion while analyzing ideas or issues
- who possess high-level of knowledge and experience with technical writing and reviewing cases
- who has strong process analysis and problem solving skills
- who has an affinity for writing and presenting – ability to formally document requirements, reach agreements with others, and explain detailed requirements to others as needed
- who is able to work independently with minimal direction and guidance from others; ability to work in unstructured or unsupervised environment while still maintaining focus
- who is able to work with others, work as a cohesive team, and play in the same ‘sandbox’ regardless of political, social, religious, cultural, economic, or other differences
- who are emotionally intelligent and culturally competent
- who understand finance, investment, business operations, accounting, supply chains, management, and marketing
If you know someone like this, send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is clearly my ideal situation. My ideal candidate. But what does the local environment really look like? In the local environment, the labor structure looks much different than what I am after – not because there are no smart people in the region, but because structurally, the institutions do not cater for the service oriented jobs which can help transform the region, economically.
Unemployment in Uganda
“Gangs of unemployed youths and men with nothing to do loiter aimlessly at street corners, in parks, in bars and cafes. As more and more people were thrown out of work and unable to afford a decent place to live, grim jerry-built shantytowns constructed of packing cases, scrap iron, grease drums, tarpaulins, and even of motor car bodies had sprung up in cities such as New York and Chicago – there was even an encampment in Central Park. Similar makeshift colonies littered the fringes of Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden. In the United States, millions of vagrants, escaping the blight of inner-city poverty, had taken to the road in search of some kind – any kind – of work. Unemployment led to violence and revolt.”
This was the imagery of the Great Depression depicted by Liaquat Ahamed who wrote Lords of Finance in the midst of the 2008 Financial Crisis. This passage sheds light on a time period where such characteristics exist today in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and yet, unfortunately, we are not reeling from the impact this has on the greater global community in part because we are not seeing the violence Ahamed describes ensue. Why is this? As many development organizations push to agriculture as a source for addressing unemployment, agriculture may in fact be a culprit in not advancing better employment policies in SSA generally, and Uganda specifically. In particular, as it relates to unemployment, is it any wonder that youth aged 15 – 24 in SSA are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to any other age cohort? Or that as a country, Uganda in 2012 had an unemployment rate of 5.1%, up five-fold since the turn of the century? That this figure does not account for the under-employed, a much larger figure as a % of the population, nor accounts for the differences amongst those in wage earning roles vs. that of ‘doing what you can to get by’ roles, further shapes the dire nature of labor in SSA and East Africa in particular. Again, why no response from the populace? Why no revolt? My belief is that with the backstop of agriculture for the vast majority, with a viable option of returning to the family shamba, this has a lessening impact on people who become unemployed in the region, preventing the requisite will for change.
The Brookings Institution recently published the work of Africa Growth Initiative fellows Mwangi Kimenyi and Gemma Ahaibwe in a piece titled Youth Unemployment challenge in Uganda and the Role of Employment Policies in Jobs Creation. In it, they touch on the structure of unemployment as well some public sector initiatives to address the issue. Some key highlights are:
- Urban youth are 12% unemployed, Rural youth 3%
- Female youth are twice as likely to be unemployed than male youth
- Unemployment is lower among non-educated, and higher among higher educated
- Formal employment (wage labor) is much more difficult to find in Uganda than informal work
- NEET (Not in Employment Education or Training) is closer to 18% (unemployment)
- More from Uganda Bureau of Statistics National Labor Force Report 2011/2012, here
- Private sector investment (in the enabling environment) doesn’t translate to more jobs
- YES (Youth Entrepreneurial Scheme) from the late 1990’s extended credit for youth business with very little success and almost no recovery on loans; shift to MFI’s, but not sure of impact
- Current venture capital funds (e.g. Youth Venture Capital Fund, Graduate Venture Fund, and Youth Livelihood Program) are catered to youth business ventures all with limited impact
- Broader approaches including funds, training, business development services, and infrastructure development are all needed in a package to address the issue of unemployment from the private sector
- Yet even with Business Technical Vocational Education & Training (BTVET) extended by the government into the curriculum of many schools, attendance is low primarily because of the social impression vocational schools have on parents and students
Yet the kicker for me and the reason for jumping into this issue is the claim made by the authors that Ugandan labor is heavily underutilized for reasons that people work in jobs that do not fully utilize their skills and competencies, earning low pay and not working full time as desired (job insecurity). As someone who is a part of building teams for NGO’s and private sector firms, this is far from the truth. Even the State’s Uganda Vision 2040 document identifies the very first challenge within the country is low competitiveness (in labor) and it then goes on to discuss other human related capacity factors which are limited. Unfortunately, throughout entire document what is considered more important are policy, infrastructure, and industry all without catering to the people (and their capacity) to drive change in the future and again the reason for this post. *Other challenges include weak public sector management, ‘ideological disorientation’, inadequate human resource, and unfavorable demographics (referring to youth).
The reality is that many youth are unprepared because they do not have the resources to support them in wage earning (formal) employment.
Did you know that in all East African institutions of higher learning there are NO (meaning zero) career development centers?
No resume writing, cover letter writing, mock interviews, practice questions, corporate culture seminars, question and answer sessions with employers, relationships cultivated with employers, etc. None of this exists for students/graduates. This shock came to me as I was reading my good friend and colleagues recently published book “The Fresh Graduates Companion” which attempts to address the limited resources students have when entering the workforce. In the book, Thomas Okedi and here, challenges the reader (current students and recent graduates) to critically analyze themselves in their search for work. It is a values-centered approach which is counter to the dogmatic role based didactic environment surrounding most students in the region. See my beliefs on education here. If you do not know already, you can graduate from a respected university in the region without ever having actually studied (but having simply copied term papers for submission, which is common) or written a paper. Many graduates I have come across do not possess the critical thinking skills necessary for management related work (service work), I believe as a result of this. (more on this later)
So the claim that labor is heavily underutilized may be true, but not because of skill sets or competencies owned, but those that have never been developed.
As Okedi alludes to in his book, we need a significant transformation of the spirit (and attitude) of our leaders, especially our educational leaders (which includes you) to help cultivate and shepherd in these skills with our youth.