EMPLOYEES: GETTING THE RIGHT MIX

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague. Just like me, he is a veteran entrepreneur with scars all over and nothing to show for it. He has dabbled in almost anything and everything.  Mention it and he’s been there, done that and most probably, failed.

That’s the life of a serial entrepreneur. Right now, he is at his lowest having closed his office and is now freelancing on the streets. That, for a man who is known as Boss and a mentor by many is a new low.

We delved deep into the murky waters of entrepreneurship and employees in particular. In his view, there are two types of employees. Those who stay and those who leave.

He thinks those who stay are mostly dead weight. You tag them along sucking on your blood like ticks. You only survive because like intelligent parasites, they know how to keep the prey alive. They, for example are ready to take minimal salaries. They rarely leave or steal any significant value that may upset the cart. You end up paying them poorly and they reciprocate with even worse returns. If you dare sack them, you will end up at the labor office.

Then, there are the ambitious go getters. They push the envelope literally, questioning the way things are done and seek to change them. The are loathed by their colleagues for creating uncalled for disturbance in an otherwise tranquil environment. Normally, they succeed in the short run but eventually are overrun by the system. Once they are ejected, the company recedes to its old ways.

We also talked about the professional job seekers. Those experts in crafting powerful CVs with admirable list of multinationals as their former employers.

This class of employees have made a career out of looking for jobs. Rarely do they stay in one organization for more than three years. As soon as they arrive, they start using the new elevated position to clinch even more lucrative titles. In a word, they are like snake oil salesmen. They sell no valuable skill but somehow have the know how to convince employers that they are the answer to their woes.

These type of employees are highly visible and are well known and admired by their peers in the industry. They normally ask for and get obscene packages. Eventually, they run out of the runway and get ejected where upon they embark on a desperate bid to start consultancies that never fly.

We veered off to the the Asian model of employment. The Asians are comfortable employing dwarfs to supplement family labor. They prefer yes men and women. Those who take and execute orders without question. Their employees have a high tolerance for insults from superiors. They love those workers who believe that their present job is the same as oxygen.  You cannot live without it. Given their poor remuneration, they survive on petty theft, endless loans and salary advances. It’s a thankless job with a thankless pay.

The Asians are clever employers. Once in a while, they dangle big titles around with no significant changes in job description or pay. That’s how you end up with Extremely Senior managers earning peanuts and without any authority to make decisions. These are actually permanent dens of misery.

The other significant employer is the multinationals championed by the Wazungus. These have vibrant staff structures and remuneration but equally demanding performance. Their training is good and pay is significantly competitive. The higher levels have significant office politics but merit is generally rewarded. Somehow, the cream rises to the top. Their robust systems usually dull employees into believing that they are super performers only to dive into more challenging environments and discover that they are out of depth. Its like playing for the big league teams. The supporting team mates can easily make an average player look like a star.

The true test of workers is in the entrepreneurial environment. Here; every department is tested. An employee is supposed to be a goalkeeper, a defender, midfielder and a striker. Success at this level is generally deserved and directly rewarded. It brings forth a well rounded employee. For former multinational employees used to elaborate systems, joining entrepreneurship is a herculean task. The system leaks are debilitating. Its like pumping air into a sack.

Back to our initial point, I wanted to inquire from my friend the best employees to hire given his experience. He was categorical. Get the eagles. The go getters. True, they will not stay long but will take you from point A to B. Better have in your employment those who will challenge you, bring home the butter and steal part of it than those who wait for you to bring and share with them. In his opinion, there is no value in an average employee who stays for ever.

Many would disagree. Take for instance the Asian model. Here they believe in stability. Time. According to them, the restless employees who are ever looking for jobs will leave you poorer and disoriented. A start up for example needs that stability to establish its footing.

This thinking posits that an employer needs an employee who can give a minimum of two years of service to shape the business. In any case, in the first six months, one is only being paid to learn the system and is not expected to yield much in return. You do not sow and reap on the same day.

Like a football team, the stable employees will form the pillars of your business. They will carry the company culture and heritage along. You can rely on them to reboot after being shortchanged by the restless go getters.

Once you get stability, you can now gamble with the restless employees to bring immediate results.  Getting the right mix of talent is a constant challenge. Over to your HR professionals.

Evans Majeni is a businessman and a Director at African Market Media.

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