Africa's Top Employers give power to their people

Employees must take ownership of their own careers

Employees must take ownership of their own careers

Insights from the Top Employers 2018 Certification Programme show that Africa’s leading employers are cementing their competitive edge by giving their employees the tools and support to take ownership of their development.

As the proverb goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. And it is a mantra that Africa’s leading employers are taking to heart. This year’s African Certification Programme, facilitated by global HR Certification company the Top Employers Institute, show that when it comes to honing competitive advantage on the continent, putting people first is key.

Attracting, retaining and developing talent has always been a priority for employers, says Billy Elliott, Top Employers Institute country manager: Africa. Growing skill shortages, brain drain and a restlessness among a new generation of younger workers makes this a perennial challenge.

But what sets Africa’s Top Employers apart is a growing recognition that people development is not a top-down strategy, but a partnership between the employer and the employee.

“Employee development is a joint effort,” says Elliott. “Over recent years, we have seen a tremendous growth in the maturity of HR practices that these employers deploy. We have seen how African employers are continuously working to optimise their employee conditions and put the development of their people first.”

The Top Employers Institute highlights three trending strategies from Top Employers that are keeping employees engaged and increasing the probability they will remain with the organisation.

1. Managers as coaches

Organisations are shifting from manager-driven development plans to empowering employees to take ownership of their own careers and development, says Elliott. “Ideally employees should have the intrinsic desire, drive and aspirations to continuously develop themselves. But to empower employees, the organisation must provide the right processes and structures, including people development practices and technological support. Managers are still integral — in fact 96% of Top Employers hold line managers accountable for talent management practices — but they must lead by example and coach their team.”

Sameera Mohamed, HR manager of Microsoft, a certified Top Employer in 2018, agrees: “One of the most important roles of our managers is to create an inclusive work environment where every employee can effectively engage, learn, grow and develop. Line managers work to provide timely, actionable feedback that enables each employee to learn, adjust, grow, and deliver increasingly greater impact.”

Significantly, 92% of Top Employers line managers are instructed and trained to provide employees with open and constructive feedback on their performance on an ongoing basis. And 100% ensure that employees, in their turn, play an active role by providing input for their performance evaluation.

2. Inspiring a thirst for knowledge

Constructive feedback and clear communication is key, says Elliott, who believes that many employee development initiatives flounder because of a lack of clarity over who is responsible. He cites a joint research study conducted by EdAssist and the University of Phoenix that found, alarmingly, most employees think that it is the responsibility of their managers to ensure they are “developed”.

“To overcome this inertia, employers need to find ways to inspire their people to want to learn and to let them know that the opportunities are there for the taking,” he says. A great workplace must offer employees the opportunity to access and engage in learning and development and it must make it easy and aspirational for them to access these.

Top Employers have found various creative ways to do this. Old Mutual, for instance, gives employees access to online Harvard tools and an online learning platform where they can do book learning workshops. This is linked to performance and talent management online processes that prompt employees when they need to take action with respect to their learning and growth.

Old Mutual is not alone: 91% of Top Employers on the continent provide guidelines and steps for entry criteria on how to apply for training. A further 88% help employees identify their learning needs, and 66% support learning programmes digitally.

3. Climbing the ladder

Career and succession management is also a key concern for Top Employers, with 95% holding personal career development discussions between employees and their managers.

It is crucial, says Elliott, that development initiatives have an explicit emphasis on career advancement. “The best and brightest employees will be drawn to where they can shine, and Top Employers provide that environment,” he says.

To facilitate this, all Top Employers promote and encourage employee mobility across the organisation. Some have taken this to new levels. Top Employer Orange Business Services, for example, has launched a novel group-wide platform for internal collaboration called Plazza. To make doubly sure employees are playing to their strengths, the company has developed a digital tool called Skills Drive, which combines skills anticipation with data intelligence to ensure the company has the right people with the right skills in the right location.

At Top Employer EY, the performance management programme is continuously evolving. “In September, we launched LEAD, our transformed approach to performance management. LEAD focuses on frequent, quality conversations that drive career conversations and personal development rather than idealistic performance expectations. Employees use continuous feedback in their day-to-day work to grow and develop,” says Johanna Mapharisa, Africa talent leader. 

African brain gain and retain

This year a record 200 African employers spanning 33 countries and 24 industry sectors achieved Top Employers Certification status. Collectively these world-class employers positively impact the lives of approximately 541 000 employees on the continent.

“It is hugely exciting to see how executive management and line managers in these organisations are committed to creating the right environment by promoting a culture of development and ownership that is impacting meaningfully on the lives of so many people,” says Elliott.

“This symbiotic relationship will lead to better employee engagement and improved business performance. And with growing focus on developing their workforce, Africa’s Top Employers can expect to reap the rewards of a brain gain — and retain [their best staff].”