My Clark Kent Theory: Dear Entrepreneur, what is your value proposition to your staff?
A few years ago, I was so frustrated by the quality and character of my Human Resources, you can’t even imagine it. There was one star for every 5, er… non-stars, and even the rare stars were also not staying.
I began a pilgrimage to peers and mentors to try and find out what I was doing wrong. To think about it now, I LOL. To cut a long story short, they were facing the exact same problems either with all their staff, or with the younger staff they had. Or worse,
I found myself and my peers complaining about the same thing: when we were working for others, it was different; we were respectful, dedicated, hardworking, loyal, and only eager to climb up the ladder by learning the ropes.
Well, tough luck. I decided to take a step back and engage this problem by understanding it. The complaints stopped. I shared some of what I learnt in my Y! Magazine editor’s letter last edition:
It’s of those moments that pop culture enthusiasts like us cling to, but to the rest of the world just something else to get used to, or altogether inconsequential: Stop the world! In the October 2012 issue of the Superman comic book, the famous world- saver Clark Kent resigned from his job as a journalist at the Daily Planet – He became a blogger.
But in more than one way, the evolution in the story spoke to a reality that Human Resource experts and just about anyone whose job it is to manage people or talent is discovering – power is changing hands.
The traditional power points across the world have given way to a new world order, where one individual can be more powerful than an institution, a blogger more influential than a newspaper, an artiste with a Twitter handle more relevant than a PR agency.
As this magazine went to print, the rumours were just about confirmed in public and sources has certainly confirmed in private: the talent powerhouse called Wizkid (Cover, present) had aggressively parted ways with EME, the label powered by Banky W (Cover, June 2012) – interesting news in light of what he told us only weeks before (p.36). Like Nigeria Twitter folk would say: Clark Kent tings’.
It would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. That a young man would turn away from the comfort of the institution that gave him a safe house and strike out on his own, and that his move would almost immediately transfer the balance of power to him. Especially if that guy is just 23.
But that’s the new school that Wizkid is leading – as odes his colleague Davido, whose controversies and successes we profile in an incisive feature (p.30) – and it is that power that is wielded, sometimes by sheer talent, sometimes simply by showing up that perhaps most defines the generation he represents.
The challenge in this environment is that young employees are seduced by the plethora of opportunities that surround us – new sectors, new job descriptions, or even just the opportunity to go sit at the Co-Creation Hub and work on their start-ups. Also, everyone’s here now: Microsoft, Google, Opera Mini. It’s not like 30 years ago, when our fathers had to sit at a job and take it for 20 years.
Now, the opportunities are dangerous in their seduction to be sure, and they make many young people make terrible mistakes. I see some of my ex-team members, who after a few months thought they had it all figured out and left, still struggling years after, when I know they could be driving that official car that others who stayed with me are driving now *tongue out*
So yes they might be foolish and making big mistakes, but, as we used to say in secondary school, two things are involved:
1. Some of them could actually go ahead and succeed, so you must – no matter your bitterness – make allowance for that;
2. Even if they make a mistake and fail, well it is THEIR mistake. They have the right to make mistakes with their lives, and learn from them.
But hhere’s the deal for you as an employer: you need to be able to inspire then to understand why they don’t need to make those mistakes and/or stray, when they can stay with you and do great things, and find fulfillment. You can let them know that, it might be hard now, but that’s the process before the sun starts shining in a few years, or maybe months. Know this. That is YOUR job, not theirs. And yes, the wise ones amongst them will get it without you telling them; but for whatever reason if they can’t, it’s your job to show them because it’s your vision that’s at stake.
Bottomline: Bosses need to get off their high horses. The nature of human resources has changed. Power has changed hands.
To use pop culture examples: why should BBA’s IK Osakioduwa still stay with Silverbird instead of leaving when the opportunities are flooding in? Why would Chris Ihidero stay with Amaka Igwe Productions when he already has his own award-baiting films?
The value proposition. Bosses in a new, people-empowered (as opposed to the corporation-empowered) age need to make it plain to their staff why they should choose to stay. Especially if, like me, you insist on staff that stay with you inspite of other opportunities, rather than because they have no choice, ask yourself, if you’re a small business – well, why should they choose you over MTN, or over freelance work? Do you provide a caring environment, opportunity for flexible income, an exciting, mission-driven workspace, the opportunity for them to make a difference in the world or, yes, love? For them to know that with you they are truly safe? Any of these, some or all, or something else – but you have to make it clear and to show them that picture, not once but constantly. T’s like showing love – you don’t show a person love once and go home. You have to keep proving it; keep fanning the flames.
Each time someone from a telco comes at them with twice the salary you pay, let them have a TRUE (lying backfires) mental picture of what you offer them now or in the future that the telco can’t. And it can be a different proposition for each person or the same proposition for all.
Hard work I know, but we deal with the world as we see it, eh?
Of course, my business is still comparatively young and I still have complaints about my team members, as I am certain they have about me. None is perfect, and Steve Jobs still screamed on the brilliant Jony Ive until he passed. But I have begun a fulfilling journey since after my course-correct. And I am excited to see where it leads me.
Me and as many Clark Kents (I call them ‘Superstars’) as I am able to inspire to stay with me and own the future together with me. We will strut around the world and tell others – “well, see what we did together.”
Welcome to the new world.