Career

Empathetic Employee Engagement: Putting Yourself in Your Employees’ Shoes

21 August 2018
  • Andy Leung

    Principal – Career Business, Mercer Hong Kong

article-img
“Nine out of 10 senior leaders think engagement is important, and eight out of 10 organisations have a formal engagement programme already in place.”

For decades, organisations have recognised — and have tried to realise — the benefits of a highly engaged workforce. According to a recent study, DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Create and Sustain Highly Engaging Cultures, conducted by Mercer | Sirota in partnership with the Engagement Institute™, nine out of 10 senior leaders think engagement is important, and eight out of 10 organisations have a formal engagement programme already in place. Clearly, engagement is a vital area of focus: It’s estimated that organisations spend close to a billion dollars annually on promoting higher levels of employee engagement.[1] Despite this huge investment in employee engagement, and even with the many different approaches to driving employee engagement that are available, most organisations are still frustrated with their progress in overcoming their engagement challenges. In fact, results from the study show that only 50% of HR leaders feel that managers know how to take action on engagement survey data to help achieve their desired results.[2]

So what’s the problem? Is it a lack of relevant data and insights? An inability to hear employees’ voices and truly understand their concerns? Or is it that organisations are just sitting on data and neglecting to execute their well-intentioned action plans? In talking with many different stakeholders (including business leaders, HR leaders, frontline managers and employees), we’ve noticed that despite significant differences in how highly engaged organisations approach their people challenges and the myriad ways in which they choose to engage their employees, one thing remains the same: Highly engaged organisations anchor their engagement approach in a critical value— empathy.

But some might ask, “Aren’t we being empathetic when we conduct employee engagement surveys to better understand our employees’ experience at work?” Well, yes, to a certain extent — but in reality, the survey is only the first step. The principle of empathy should apply not only to the survey process, but to all aspects of the employee engagement journey, especially to post-survey-related activities such as action planning.

Be Empathetic by Adopting Design Thinking

An empathetic approach to employee engagement may sound fairly simple as a concept, but ensuring it’s executed effectively requires a major shift away from the more traditional methods that most organisations have adopted.

To better understand how to achieve the goal of an empathetic and highly engaged organisation, we have worked with leading organisations that are setting the standard for high employee engagement by adopting human-centred design thinking to address their engagement challenges. Although there are numerous frameworks for design thinking (devised by Stanford and IDEO, most notably), they all share three key stages of developing an employee-centric approach— exploration, generation and realisation. The three stages are outlined below:

  • Exploration Stage
    o  Learn more about employees, other key stakeholder groups in the organisation and the context of problem
    o  Synthesise learnings gleaned from discovery and from listening to various points-of-view

  • Generation Stage
    o  Conduct iterative ideation to push past stereotypes to get to breakthrough ideas
    o  Build prototypes to learn, providing a foundation for making ideas better
    o  Test ideas and prototypes with actual users, or in this case employees

  • Realisation Stage
    o  Implement the chosen solution and maintain a focus on continuous improvement
     

Exploration Stage
 

There are two phases in this initial stage: discover and define.

- Discover.
Using an employee engagement survey to collect employee feedback helps organisations explore the unique needs of their employees and discover what their people value. Employee engagement survey results serve as the foundation for providing the necessary insights organisations need to be empathetic and to design meaningful actions that not only meet business objectives, but also truly address employee needs.

Another important element of this phase is creating a compelling problem statement. A well-developed employee engagement survey identifies the core elements of the problem to guide the future direction. The core elements include the following:

  • Who — identifying specific demographic segments for which the problem/issue is most relevant
  • What — understanding the impact of the issue and/or problems caused
  • When — conducting multiple rounds of study to identify when certain workforce trends, whetherpositive or negative (attrition or turnover, for example), are happening
  • Where — pinpointing the geography (or geographies) where the issue is taking place
  • Why — using statistical analysis to identify key drivers of employee engagement
     

- Define. Organisations need to synthesise the insights they gather — this is how they make sense of what they’ve learned, identify patterns, find meaning and develop an overall picture of their own workforce trends. In this phase, organisations also begin to lay the foundations for an overall employee engagement architecture. By translating the findings into an employee experience story, they can identify the root of the challenge and clarify how to move forward. The story can be simple: for example, a technology company I worked with recently, successfully engaged its employees by providing them with a high level of autonomy and embedding an experimental approach into company’s processes. This resonated with employees who tended to be more motivated by having opportunities to innovate instead of by achieving financial rewards alone.

A key part of an organisation becoming more empathetic is by strengthening its analyses of the employee experience through journey mapping and blueprinting — to illustrate the journey of an employee over time. Other components are sometimes added, such as high points (moments that garner the highest reception from employees), breakdowns (areas that likely may receive varying degrees of receptiveness, leading to lower positive perception from some employees), emotions (employees’ psychological reactions to certain changes, which employers can anticipate by defining employee personas) and touchpoints (the connection between the various parts of a holistic employee experience within an organisation). This helps us understand the building blocks of engagement that are unique to each organisation, and reveal the processes that are delivering highly engaging experiences for employees. It also enables us to connect the various components of the employee experience to one another, from frontstage (involving direct interaction with employees) to backstage (including all the behind-the-scenes preparation required to implement a successful engagement programme).

An effective journey map and blueprint should be able to:

  • Provide a clear overview of the employee experience and the systems in place (like performance management, and learning and development)
  • Facilitate communication across dimensions (for example, total rewards versus agility) and related organisation groups (managers and employees, for instance)
     

Spot where certain things are not working, highlight opportunities for greater enhancement and support decision-making to identify the most suitable options

Generation Stage
 

While most organisations are open to listening to employees’ voices and needs, action planning is typically still a “closed door” activity and thus not truly empathetic. The generation stage is about the divergence and convergence of ideas, and about building on the outcomes from the exploration stage to identify possible solutions in a collaborative way. The three phases of this stage — ideate, prototype and test — function as an iterative cycle. 

- Ideate. To be truly empathetic in idea generation, highly engaging organisations are adopting a participatory design approach by involving employees in their action planning. These organisations recognise that employees have important insights to offer and can best articulate, when given the appropriate tools to express themselves, how their needs should be addressed. The ultimate aim is to prompt employees to tell their unique stories about their experience in the organisation. This serves as a core component of the design of an effective employee engagement programme and offers numerous benefits:

  • Enhances the potential for being innovative by going beyond existing solutions
  • Leverages diverse perspectives and the collective wisdom of employees
  • Uncovers unexpected knowledge worthy of exploration
  • Generates greater volume and flexibility in innovation options
  • Creates a sense of ownership of the ideas that are generated
     

There are many ideation techniques — brainstorming, mind-mapping, sketching, among others. But no matter which techniques are adopted during ideation, postponing the evaluation of the ideas that are generated during the ideation phase is critical. When employees know that the merits of their ideas will not be immediately evaluated, it allows their imaginations and creativity greater freedom, and also demonstrates an organisation’s flexibility in aligning employee input on engagement actions with its overall business strategy.

- Prototype. After ideation for employee engagement action planning is complete, building a prototype will be crucial — to avoid losing the potential for empathy and innovation while focusing on the most viable ideas, and to answer questions that will help bring an organisation closer to the best solution. A prototype for employee engagement action can take any form, as long as it encourages employees to interact with it: It could be a storyboard of a concept, a game employees play or a gadget they put together, or a role-playing activity, to name a few examples. The prototype can be simple — it need not be very detailed; it only needs to include a few points to describe the solution or outline the steps that need to take place. The key is that for a prototype to support the idea of empathy, it must be something the employee can experience.

Four principles should guide the prototyping process:

  1. 1. Get started — don’t delay. If you lack a clear picture of what to do about employee engagement or don’t have all the details in place, don’t let it stand in your way. Just having some notes and ideas is enough to get the process going.
  2. 2. Look for a clear indicator. A prototype is critical because it enables you to answer specific questions with certain variables (for example, whether to link performance ratings to salary increments or to a percentage of an employer’s contribution to employee pension funds). These variables will serve as the anchor to support the next step or action (whether it be further strengthening the variables or deciding to change direction).
  3. 3. Be ready to let go. A prototype is not meant to be a guaranteed solution. There are many different ways to engage employees: Organisations should not let themselves get too attached to any one idea or solution, and should be open to exploring other options.
  4. 4. Stay focused on employees. Continue to ask, “What do employees want?” The answer(s) to this question will help focus the prototyping by collecting meaningful employee feedback that can inform iteration and guide next steps.
     

- Test. To ensure a prototype can become a viable solution, it needs to be tested: eliciting feedback on the prototype from employees creates additional opportunities for empathy, reinforcing the focus on employee engagement. Testing is also crucial to supporting the iteration cycle and, of course, identifying the most suitable solution.

An empathetic approach to testing collects employees’ feedback during the iteration process to help shape the employee engagement action plan design. “Micro-piloting,” a hot choice and one of the latest market trends, is a great way to capture employee feedback. There are many different ways to conduct a micro-pilot — below are some examples drawn from my experiences in working with highly engaging organisations.

  • Crowdsourcing Campaign: A company might encourage employees to participate in budgeting decisions for its people programmes (for example, a company outing or a wellness programme) by asking employees to “vote” for a specific event or initiative by using a virtual token that has no direct monetary value, but instead has an internal currency. For example, if senior leaders have budgeted $100 per person for people programmes, they might issue a $50 virtual token to employees to enlist their help in identifying the most promising programmes and determining how much the company should allocate to these programmes. This engages employees by giving them the opportunity to show how they think the organisation should use its funding, allowing them to have a more direct influence on budgeting and to have a say in what experiences will deliver the best outcomes and most value.
  • False Door: A false door is typically a webpage that includes a simple call to action to promote an employee engagement initiative or programme — often employees are prompted to click a button to “understand more” or “sign up to participate”. Organisations can then track employees’ actions and responses to various engagement programmes, allowing them to determine, for example, which programmes have the highest click rate or most visits, providing organisations with valuable data that helps them understand what serves their employees’ best interests.
  • Wizard of Oz: In this scenario, employees don’t know that they’re participating in an employee engagement initiative; instead, their feedback is being collected behind the scenes. For example, in a retail company I worked with recently, employees wanted an enhanced training approach to improve their customer service skills and support their ongoing development, so the company designed a new online programme to test how the training could best be delivered — they wanted to more closely assess their use of technology to determine, for example, the optimal number of interactions for employees. As employees moved through the online programme, their behaviours and responses (for instance, how they navigated from one page to another within the programme) were guided, observed and recorded to help shape and refine the design and the delivery of the training. By testing against different variables and adapting the design of the training accordingly, the retail company succeeded in customising the training to fit their employees’ needs.
     

Realisation Stage
 

To maintain a strong focus on empathy in the execution phase of any employee engagement programme, deployment must be consistent and all stakeholders must adopt a continuous learning approach. Organisations that have been successful in the realisation stage understand that for an empathetic approach to have real impact, employee engagement efforts must not be built just for show — they must be authentic. And more importantly, employee engagement programmes must be “built to run” and “built to learn”.

- Built to Run. Being empathetic is not just about “branding” improvement actions; it’s about ensuring follow-through. Employee engagement must be managed in a holistic and enduring way. To achieve this goal, highly engaging organisations have defined a clear governance model to ensure their employee engagement action plans are executed in a consistent and empathetic way. When it comes to employee engagement, good governance is defined by six characteristics — employee engagement efforts should be:

  • Participatory: Employees are involved in the implementation.
  • Ownership-driven: It’s not only leadership and HR who have accountability for driving employee engagement; this critical responsibility is also delegated to more junior employees.
  • Transparent: Employees have a clear picture of all the different aspects of the employee engagement programme.
  • Responsive: The employee engagement programme is designed to capture moments that matter (for example, those involving communications around bonus awards, promotion decisions or departures from the company).
  • Inclusive: Employees feel they have a stake in the organisation’s engagement journey; no one feels excluded.
  • Rules-based: A fair policy framework is put in place to enforce actions, with incentives and consequences, to help ensure the identified employee engagement actions have been properly implemented and the desired impact is achieved.
     

- Built to Learn. Iteration with the goal of continuous improvement is a key aspect of adopting a design thinking methodology and a lab mind-set in promoting employee engagement: Indeed, employee engagement is not a one-off initiative, but an ongoing journey. To excel in this journey and ensure they keep learning, highly engaging organisations adopt the mechanism of progressive survey design in their employee engagement studies.

What is progressive survey design? High-engagement organisations do not issue an employee engagement survey as a one-time exercise; instead, they conduct engagement surveys regularly to chart progress and ensure employee voices are continuously heard. Because the number of survey questions is often limited to ensure a better survey experience, selecting the right questions to reflect the current moment is crucial. Each survey questionnaire should be designed to align with the overall strategy, keeping longer-term objectives in mind, while mirroring the natural evolution of change within an organisation. If senior leaders want to understand how an organisational transformation is impacting their employees, survey questions must be designed to reflect and capture employee responses to progressive change. For example, survey questions might evolve as the organisational transformation unfolds, moving from initially asking questions about employees’ awareness of the change to later posing questions in subsequent rounds of the survey about employees’ understanding of and commitment to the change.

In Closing
 

It’s clear that an organisation that succeeds in engaging its employees in this age of increasing disruption creates a competitive advantage. And to win this increasingly competitive war for talent, organisations need to reinforce and model the principle of empathy by adopting design thinking to design employee experiences that are meaningful and enriching. When organisations truly empathise with their people and literally put themselves in their employees’ shoes, and when they take an iterative approach to employee engagement initiatives with a focus on continuous learning, they succeed in building a thriving workforce — and a thriving business follows naturally.

 

1 Mercer | Sirota and Engagement Institute study, DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Create and Sustain Highly Engaging Cultures, 2014.
2
Ibid.

MORE IN CAREER

Digital transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are rapidly changing how workers perceive their professional futures and career experiences. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation are replacing once reliable careers and industries with worried workforces, putting the global economy in a constant state of flux. These technological advancements, however, are revolutionizing how employees perceive and manage their own careers. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study reveals that both individual employees and employers must collaborate to address the disruptive impact of advanced technologies. Fortunately, in Latin America, Kimberly-Clark recognized this fact and partnered with Mercer to develop a game-changing approach to professional development in an economy defined by constant digital change. The solution combines the value of seasoned mentors within the workforce and a digital platform that empowers employees to create their own paths toward professional development. The Career Experiences Platform   Kimberly-Clark challenged us with the task of deriving positive outcomes from the costly disruptions that will impact the company's employees and business operations, so we went straight to the source. We surveyed 150 workers and discovered a startling outcome: 4 out of 5 employees reported having a lack of clarity regarding their careers and desired more support in finding that clarity. In light of these responses, we created a digital mechanism that enhanced job satisfaction and career stability for employees in an era haunted by the specter of the unknown. The result was the Career Experience Platform. Kimberly-Clark wanted to provide its employees with ways to advance their careers at a time when the business landscape was being restructured and impacted by forces that people felt were far beyond their control. Knowing this, we dove deeper to gather all the information we could to truly understand what employees were feeling — and why. From our findings, we devised a program based on four key sprints: 1.     Information gathering 2.     Content enhancements 3.     Streamline applicability 4.     Validate everything The results were surprising and incredibly valuable to employees and the company in realizing the importance of unique career-driven experiences. By implementing an agile methodology based on sprints, Mercer was able to seamlessly build and iterate the development of the platform and process within Kimberly-Clark's existing organizational structure. Kimberly-Clark considered Mercer's creative approach to being a flexible and adaptable partner as a key differentiator. Each agile sprint featured a clear objective, from brainstorming and interviewing employees and stakeholders to building detailed experience maps and designing an intuitive interface that employees found engaging. Mercer worked closely with every level of Kimberly-Clark's employee structure in manageable sprints and timelines to ultimately deliver an inspiring digital career playbook and suite of professional development tools and assets, so employees could create their own career path strategies. The Career Experiences platform features a customized host of tools and functionalities that combine the value of human wisdom with digital management insights and capabilities. By providing each employee with recommendations from seasoned mentors within Kimberly-Clark, employees can make informed decisions and professional development choices based on their personal aspirations. This allows employees to take a proactive approach to their own career enhancement through continuing education and select career paths and work experiences. These recommendations, when combined with individual use of the platform to make decisions based on evolving interests, talents and skills, will prove critical in confidently navigating a work environment that is constantly evolving due to the rapid advancement of technological innovation. Self-Determination Through Transparency   Transparency is critical to C-suite leaders and managers who are responsible for the well-being and productivity of their employees. Oftentimes, the higher-ups in large businesses feel disconnected from the realities of their employees and seek ways to genuinely connect with them to understand their challenges, ambitions and professional goals. Our platform democratizes communications between employees and leaders, which increases mutual understanding, while reducing bureaucracy and empowering employees to take control of their own careers. The Career Management Platform offers employees at Kimberly-Clark an invaluable advantage as they consider the future: career management clarity. Designing and fulfilling a career plan is a complex process that involves navigating often nebulous and confusing opportunities and challenges. Mercer developed the platform so employees could leverage a self-administrated tool that grants them access to career experiences and recommendations from senior mentors. This collaborative dynamic provides employees with the ability to easily see they have both a future at Kimberly-Clark and access to top-notch career advice about how to achieve their professional ambitions. The platform compels employees to grow and dream at their own pace while constantly inspiring them to expand their skills, talents and knowledge base — as well as their job security and career paths within the company. Self-administration also allows employees to take control of their own careers and professional development. Everyone knows a friend or family member who had their careers hindered by an unhelpful boss or manager. This platform allows each employee to showcase their goals and accomplishments outside of the bias of any individuals who have disproportionate amounts of control over their future. For executives, this new level of access to the employees and human capital in their businesses is game changing. It's also worth noting that when a productive employee leaves because they feel overlooked, underappreciated or ignored, the multifaceted cost of replacing that employee can be quite burdensome to an organization. In Latin America, only 50% of employees in our engagement survey reported being satisfied with their career development opportunities — meaning there's a chance the other 50% have contemplated looking for a more satisfying job elsewhere. This can be devastating to companies that not only lose valuable people but also must spend significant time, money and resources to replace them. The New Horizontal Upward Mobility   Traditionally, career advancement was defined by moving upward — increasing your salary, position and power by making vertical moves up the corporate ladder. However, today, employees should consider horizontal moves as an effective, long-term career strategy. Our platform can connect employees to unprecedented opportunities for professional development. Though restructuring can mean the elimination of conventional jobs, our new world is increasingly connected by powerful technologies that provide employees the chance to move horizontally to previously overlooked but incredibly rewarding opportunities. For example, an employee could become a first assignment country manager in places such as Bolivia, Nicaragua or Uruguay. Change is underway, and the jobs of tomorrow will not simply require years of toiling behind the same desk or workstation using the same conventional skill sets. Beyond even horizontal shifts, career advancement in the future will require critical thinking abilities forged by challenging job experiences and unique professional histories. It's time to place new value on experiences that can result in more dynamic, well-rounded and informed employees. The Future of Work From Day One   Our research has found that the top three concerns for employees are job stability, salary and future career opportunities. We've developed the user-friendly Career Experiences Platform to reconcile these concerns. Kimberly-Clark trusted us to fulfill their mandate of creating new, unprecedented opportunities for their employees in an economic landscape where nothing is certain. The final result garnered an incredibly enthusiastic response from not only the employees but from their managers and leaders, too, who felt an obligation to provide their employees with a stable and rewarding career experience. The collective response of appreciation was moving for everyone involved. In addition, the platform poses exceptional value to workers and employers, because it can be implemented from day one of an employee's career. It serves as a source of truth throughout their journey within the organization. As the global economy adapts to digital transformation, Latin America and the rest of the world must find ways to empower employees and companies so that human beings and technology continue to invent new ways to find job satisfaction and quality of life. The Career Experiences Platform is an excellent start. The best lesson we learned from this experience is that employees and employers want what is best for each other — and we're glad we can facilitate that connection.  

Amy Scissons | 28 Nov 2019

What does it take to lead successful international teams? Successful teams are often united over a common goal and a shared set of experiences. But, as the workforce becomes more distributed and business travel becomes increasingly burdensome to the bottom line and detrimental to the environment, leaders need to be more creative in developing and fostering positive team dynamics. With fewer face-to-face meetings, how are international leaders coalescing their teams? Here are four habits I have adopted that you should consider in managing international teams: Habit 1: Remove the Mentality of "You Need to Be There"   Technology is, without a doubt, the game changer when it comes to international team effectiveness. Yet, human-led organizations often struggle to accommodate and leverage the speedy and persistent nature of change brought by digital technologies. There are, of course, times when face-to-face meetings are required; however, Mercer has noticed clients are demonstrating an increasing comfort level with holding seminars, conferences and other traditional in-person interactions via online meeting platforms. Though the virtual workforce trend is nothing new, it has reached an inflection point where clients often prefer to partner with companies that actively internalize the power and practicality of being agile, versatile and virtual. Today's transformative Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) urge their C-suite peers to adopt have this mindset and leverage differentiating new technologies. As managers, marketing leaders will find that their employees and marketing teams are more productive and online more, if allowed to do their work on their own time. People react well to not only managing their work but also having the flexibility to set their own schedules. At Mercer, we have seen our people work with more excitement, passion and collaborative enthusiasm when provided the freedom to excel according to their personal cadences. Let talented people do what they need to do to get stuff done. Habit 2: Cross-Cultural Communication With International Teams   With the direction set and the team empowered to find their path forward, it's time to focus on communication. Different cultures, of course, perceive, process and interpret information and context differently. These differences can create communication breakdowns that are extremely costly in terms of time, quality and money. Effective messaging is direct and only refers to limited but critical pieces of information that necessitate a particular email, phone call or conversation. Inspiring leaders find their voice and communicate in a way that is simple, memorable and supportive. All correspondences among international teams should be carefully packaged, contained and well thought out. Don't underestimate the power of repetition. Often, when dealing with team members from multiple cultures and languages, repetition of established goals, processes, timelines and expectations is vital to successful outcomes. Repetition, when done with tact and clear intentions, is not disrespectful or seen as micromanaging. It bolsters the ability of everyone on the team to achieve their goals (honestly, I find repetition extremely helpful. By the time I'm reminded what we're trying to get done three or four times — especially in a few different ways — it sticks!). When you're dealing with cross-border teams, never assume that everyone fully understands the strategy and desired results on the first two or three discussions. Using repetition creatively helps the team focus on the north star. Habit 3: Be Succinct and Culturally Aware   Cultural awareness is learned. It took me a while to appreciate and understand the nuances of each member of my team, not only in their approach to solving problems, but the influence of their culture on their overall outlook. Our research on diversity and inclusion points to the value of ensuring all voices are heard on the team. As a matter of fact, there are a range of products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives (separate from employee engagement surveys) — and many of these are being tailored for D&I purposes. With international teams, this lesson is particularly punctuated. When team members in Tokyo, Taiwan and Mexico City are speaking to each other, ensuring they use the same direct, simple and familiar language increases efficiency and the likelihood of success. Being culturally sensitive and aware is incredibly important. Years ago, I used to feel very concerned if people were not speaking up in marketing meetings or weren't instantly on video conferences showing their face, but I realized over time that people need to communicate in ways that make sense to them. As a leader, I've learned it is my responsibility to respect other people's learning and working styles and that — if I did that — these individuals would become increasingly more open and trusting of me. Marketing leaders have to earn trust, just like everyone else. It is important to not expect that people think and act the way you think and act. People come from different perspectives and have different personality types — from introverts to extroverts and everything in between. And that diversity is instrumental to success. Habit 4: Lead With Genuine Positivity   My favorite habit, is bringing my whole self to work. As leaders, we must make a conscious effort to be encouraging and find genuine, sincere ways to boost people's confidence. This takes time and awareness as each person behaves according to varying types of motivations, instructions and sensibilities. As a company, we have to be demanding, because we have aggressive goals. However, the most effective and rewarding route to achieving those goals is by making the conscious decision to encourage employees as they execute their responsibilities — especially during challenging times. Regardless of gender, race or nationality, I think that one overriding universal truth is that people respond more graciously, productively and passionately to authentic positive feedback and encouragement. I know this personally, because I have benefited from positive reinforcement many times in my career — often when I needed it the most — from my peers, colleagues and fellow team members. It really helps. In fact, the most successful leaders I know and have worked with are extremely positive people. Teams and individuals need to be reminded, particularly during tough times, that they are doing excellent work and they are moving in the right direction. Never underestimate how much a genuine comment, like "You're doing a great job" and "Keep going" can do for someone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated or unmotivated at a particular moment in their career. Positivity is all about appreciating the time and work employees invest into success and giving them credit for their efforts and accomplishments. Originally published in Thrive Global.

Didintle Kwape | 14 Nov 2019

Africa's youth employees are a valuable, ample talent source that multinational companies can tap as they expand their operations throughout the continent. Record numbers of teenagers and young adults in Africa are either unemployed or underemployed but are willing to work if given the chance. In South Africa alone, where the unemployment rate is expected to grow beyond 30% this year, two-thirds of the jobless are between 15 and 24 years of age.1 Realizing the Untapped Talent Pool   "We are very much alive to the fact that youth unemployment is indeed a national crisis," stated South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2019.2 Governments across the continent are now rewriting labor laws and breaking down bureaucratic hurdles to make hiring youth less cumbersome for both multinational corporations and local small businesses. They are also teaming up with nonprofit organizations to nurture young talent and teach necessary workforce skills. Alliances are being forged to aid these efforts, such as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Together, they hope to address youth employment at regional and national levels. To better prepare youth for work, the ILO provides employment services, skills development and labor market training — with a focus on technical and vocational education, apprenticeship and job placement services for disadvantaged youth.3 In June, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Young Africa Works program, a public-private partnership for youth employees between the Mastercard Foundation, the Kenyan government and the private sector. Within the next five years, the program aims to groom and place five million young Kenyans in "dignified and fulfilling work." 4 The MasterCard Foundation, along with two Kenyan banks — Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank, as well as their respective foundations — will provide about $1 billion in capital, business development services and market linkages for the program. The aim is to create these jobs for youth employees, which will also help over 200,000 micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises strengthen their productivity, sustainability and creation growth.4 The international hotel industry is one sector that's nurturing the development of the continent's youth, as hoteliers expand into Africa's emerging markets, according to Jan Van Der Putten, Hilton's VP of Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean.5 Hilton now has 46 hotels open across Africa, including sites in Morocco, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana, with plans to more than double that amount in the next five years. Expansions in tourism and hospitality will not only boost socioeconomic growth, but it will also provide meaningful employment opportunities. As such, it's paramount to foster an environment to help African youth workers succeed. Training the Youth of Today   In addition to basic workforce skills, the emerging digital economy also requires youth employees to learn the skills of digital fluency, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, empathy and adaptability.6 Simbarashe Moyo, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand, notes, "Although countries like Rwanda and Kenya are already making considerable progress in preparing their youth for the digital economy and the future of work, more African countries are yet to take meaningful action to address the yawning skills-gap and digital infrastructure inadequacies bedeviling the continent."7 Moyo advises that African nations need to equip youth for the future of work. First, they must create responsive education systems that will equip the youth with the proper skills and a sense of responsibility. They also need to develop a nationwide digital infrastructure to improve interconnectivity between nations. In addition, to keep stakeholders in check within the expanding digital economy, they need to formulate proper regulatory policies. Lastly, they need to optimize public-private cooperation to support digital training initiatives on a larger scale. "Collaboration between governments, multinational development banks and the private sector will create room for innovative financial models which promote upskilling among Africa's youth," Moyo writes. "This will also reduce inequalities caused by duplication of efforts, especially when establishing digital infrastructure in African nations. Public-private cooperation will therefore enable more young Africans to access training programs and digital infrastructure." Empowering the New Workforce   Employers can also take advantage of the rising use of mobile phones among Africa's youth by providing training and development programs via mobile apps. Workers in South Africa echo the sentiments of those in other countries who rate opportunities to learn new skills and technologies as the number one way they can thrive at work, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. The survey also shows that workers like to learn independently, and they want their employers to provide platforms enabled with access to curated knowledge and expert sources. A combination of both employer- and employee-driven training can give people more control over what and how they learn while tying their development directly to organizational goals. Mercer's research also reports that 99% of companies are taking action to prepare for the future of work, and they're doing so by identifying gaps between current and required skills supply, developing future-focused people strategies and adapting skill requirements to new technologies and business objectives. For multinational organizations interested in expanding in Africa, these steps will prove critical to upskilling, enabling and empowering the youth workforce. By taking the time to understand what Africa's youth employees need and developing integrated people-centric strategies for them, multinationals can be at the forefront of developing the continent's workforce. This will allow them to meet stakeholders' needs today, while also building a bigger, better and smarter workforce for tomorrow. The long-term benefits will result in a completely reinvented Africa — with engaged workers as far as the eye can see. Sources: 1. "Africa's Youth Unemployment Rate to Exceed 30% in 2019: ILO," 7Dnews, 4 Apr. 2019, https://7dnews.com/news/africa-s-youth-unemployment-rate-to-exceed-30-in-2019-ilo. 2. D, Sourav. "Youth unemployment a 'national crisis' in South Africa, says Ramaphosa," Financial World, 18 Jun. 2019, https://www.financial-world.org/news/news/economy/2276/youth-unemployment-a-national-crisis-in-south-africa-says-ramaphosa/. 3. "Youth Employment in Africa." International Labour Organization, https://www.ilo.org/africa/areas-of-work/youth-employment/lang--en/index.htm. 4. Mbewa, David O. "President Kenyatta launches program to tackle Kenya's youth unemployment," CGTN, 20 Jun. 2019, https://africa.cgtn.com/2019/06/20/president-kenyatta-launches-program-to-tackle-kenyas-youth-unemployment/. 5. "Exclusive: An interview with Hilton's Jan van der Putten on expansion in Africa," Africa Outlook Magazine,7 Apr. 2019, https://www.africaoutlookmag.com/news/exclusive-an-interview-with-hiltons-jan-van-der-putten-on-expansion-in-africa. 6. "World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work," The World Bank Group, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2019. 7. Moyo, Simbarashe. "4 ways Africa can prepare its youth for the digital economy," World Economic Forum, 29 May 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/4-ways-africa-can-prepare-its-young-people-for-the-digital-economy/.

More from Voice on Growth

Amy Scissons | 28 Nov 2019

What does it take to lead successful international teams? Successful teams are often united over a common goal and a shared set of experiences. But, as the workforce becomes more distributed and business travel becomes increasingly burdensome to the bottom line and detrimental to the environment, leaders need to be more creative in developing and fostering positive team dynamics. With fewer face-to-face meetings, how are international leaders coalescing their teams? Here are four habits I have adopted that you should consider in managing international teams: Habit 1: Remove the Mentality of "You Need to Be There"   Technology is, without a doubt, the game changer when it comes to international team effectiveness. Yet, human-led organizations often struggle to accommodate and leverage the speedy and persistent nature of change brought by digital technologies. There are, of course, times when face-to-face meetings are required; however, Mercer has noticed clients are demonstrating an increasing comfort level with holding seminars, conferences and other traditional in-person interactions via online meeting platforms. Though the virtual workforce trend is nothing new, it has reached an inflection point where clients often prefer to partner with companies that actively internalize the power and practicality of being agile, versatile and virtual. Today's transformative Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) urge their C-suite peers to adopt have this mindset and leverage differentiating new technologies. As managers, marketing leaders will find that their employees and marketing teams are more productive and online more, if allowed to do their work on their own time. People react well to not only managing their work but also having the flexibility to set their own schedules. At Mercer, we have seen our people work with more excitement, passion and collaborative enthusiasm when provided the freedom to excel according to their personal cadences. Let talented people do what they need to do to get stuff done. Habit 2: Cross-Cultural Communication With International Teams   With the direction set and the team empowered to find their path forward, it's time to focus on communication. Different cultures, of course, perceive, process and interpret information and context differently. These differences can create communication breakdowns that are extremely costly in terms of time, quality and money. Effective messaging is direct and only refers to limited but critical pieces of information that necessitate a particular email, phone call or conversation. Inspiring leaders find their voice and communicate in a way that is simple, memorable and supportive. All correspondences among international teams should be carefully packaged, contained and well thought out. Don't underestimate the power of repetition. Often, when dealing with team members from multiple cultures and languages, repetition of established goals, processes, timelines and expectations is vital to successful outcomes. Repetition, when done with tact and clear intentions, is not disrespectful or seen as micromanaging. It bolsters the ability of everyone on the team to achieve their goals (honestly, I find repetition extremely helpful. By the time I'm reminded what we're trying to get done three or four times — especially in a few different ways — it sticks!). When you're dealing with cross-border teams, never assume that everyone fully understands the strategy and desired results on the first two or three discussions. Using repetition creatively helps the team focus on the north star. Habit 3: Be Succinct and Culturally Aware   Cultural awareness is learned. It took me a while to appreciate and understand the nuances of each member of my team, not only in their approach to solving problems, but the influence of their culture on their overall outlook. Our research on diversity and inclusion points to the value of ensuring all voices are heard on the team. As a matter of fact, there are a range of products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives (separate from employee engagement surveys) — and many of these are being tailored for D&I purposes. With international teams, this lesson is particularly punctuated. When team members in Tokyo, Taiwan and Mexico City are speaking to each other, ensuring they use the same direct, simple and familiar language increases efficiency and the likelihood of success. Being culturally sensitive and aware is incredibly important. Years ago, I used to feel very concerned if people were not speaking up in marketing meetings or weren't instantly on video conferences showing their face, but I realized over time that people need to communicate in ways that make sense to them. As a leader, I've learned it is my responsibility to respect other people's learning and working styles and that — if I did that — these individuals would become increasingly more open and trusting of me. Marketing leaders have to earn trust, just like everyone else. It is important to not expect that people think and act the way you think and act. People come from different perspectives and have different personality types — from introverts to extroverts and everything in between. And that diversity is instrumental to success. Habit 4: Lead With Genuine Positivity   My favorite habit, is bringing my whole self to work. As leaders, we must make a conscious effort to be encouraging and find genuine, sincere ways to boost people's confidence. This takes time and awareness as each person behaves according to varying types of motivations, instructions and sensibilities. As a company, we have to be demanding, because we have aggressive goals. However, the most effective and rewarding route to achieving those goals is by making the conscious decision to encourage employees as they execute their responsibilities — especially during challenging times. Regardless of gender, race or nationality, I think that one overriding universal truth is that people respond more graciously, productively and passionately to authentic positive feedback and encouragement. I know this personally, because I have benefited from positive reinforcement many times in my career — often when I needed it the most — from my peers, colleagues and fellow team members. It really helps. In fact, the most successful leaders I know and have worked with are extremely positive people. Teams and individuals need to be reminded, particularly during tough times, that they are doing excellent work and they are moving in the right direction. Never underestimate how much a genuine comment, like "You're doing a great job" and "Keep going" can do for someone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated or unmotivated at a particular moment in their career. Positivity is all about appreciating the time and work employees invest into success and giving them credit for their efforts and accomplishments. Originally published in Thrive Global.

Digital transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are rapidly changing how workers perceive their professional futures and career experiences. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation are replacing once reliable careers and industries with worried workforces, putting the global economy in a constant state of flux. These technological advancements, however, are revolutionizing how employees perceive and manage their own careers. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study reveals that both individual employees and employers must collaborate to address the disruptive impact of advanced technologies. Fortunately, in Latin America, Kimberly-Clark recognized this fact and partnered with Mercer to develop a game-changing approach to professional development in an economy defined by constant digital change. The solution combines the value of seasoned mentors within the workforce and a digital platform that empowers employees to create their own paths toward professional development. The Career Experiences Platform   Kimberly-Clark challenged us with the task of deriving positive outcomes from the costly disruptions that will impact the company's employees and business operations, so we went straight to the source. We surveyed 150 workers and discovered a startling outcome: 4 out of 5 employees reported having a lack of clarity regarding their careers and desired more support in finding that clarity. In light of these responses, we created a digital mechanism that enhanced job satisfaction and career stability for employees in an era haunted by the specter of the unknown. The result was the Career Experience Platform. Kimberly-Clark wanted to provide its employees with ways to advance their careers at a time when the business landscape was being restructured and impacted by forces that people felt were far beyond their control. Knowing this, we dove deeper to gather all the information we could to truly understand what employees were feeling — and why. From our findings, we devised a program based on four key sprints: 1.     Information gathering 2.     Content enhancements 3.     Streamline applicability 4.     Validate everything The results were surprising and incredibly valuable to employees and the company in realizing the importance of unique career-driven experiences. By implementing an agile methodology based on sprints, Mercer was able to seamlessly build and iterate the development of the platform and process within Kimberly-Clark's existing organizational structure. Kimberly-Clark considered Mercer's creative approach to being a flexible and adaptable partner as a key differentiator. Each agile sprint featured a clear objective, from brainstorming and interviewing employees and stakeholders to building detailed experience maps and designing an intuitive interface that employees found engaging. Mercer worked closely with every level of Kimberly-Clark's employee structure in manageable sprints and timelines to ultimately deliver an inspiring digital career playbook and suite of professional development tools and assets, so employees could create their own career path strategies. The Career Experiences platform features a customized host of tools and functionalities that combine the value of human wisdom with digital management insights and capabilities. By providing each employee with recommendations from seasoned mentors within Kimberly-Clark, employees can make informed decisions and professional development choices based on their personal aspirations. This allows employees to take a proactive approach to their own career enhancement through continuing education and select career paths and work experiences. These recommendations, when combined with individual use of the platform to make decisions based on evolving interests, talents and skills, will prove critical in confidently navigating a work environment that is constantly evolving due to the rapid advancement of technological innovation. Self-Determination Through Transparency   Transparency is critical to C-suite leaders and managers who are responsible for the well-being and productivity of their employees. Oftentimes, the higher-ups in large businesses feel disconnected from the realities of their employees and seek ways to genuinely connect with them to understand their challenges, ambitions and professional goals. Our platform democratizes communications between employees and leaders, which increases mutual understanding, while reducing bureaucracy and empowering employees to take control of their own careers. The Career Management Platform offers employees at Kimberly-Clark an invaluable advantage as they consider the future: career management clarity. Designing and fulfilling a career plan is a complex process that involves navigating often nebulous and confusing opportunities and challenges. Mercer developed the platform so employees could leverage a self-administrated tool that grants them access to career experiences and recommendations from senior mentors. This collaborative dynamic provides employees with the ability to easily see they have both a future at Kimberly-Clark and access to top-notch career advice about how to achieve their professional ambitions. The platform compels employees to grow and dream at their own pace while constantly inspiring them to expand their skills, talents and knowledge base — as well as their job security and career paths within the company. Self-administration also allows employees to take control of their own careers and professional development. Everyone knows a friend or family member who had their careers hindered by an unhelpful boss or manager. This platform allows each employee to showcase their goals and accomplishments outside of the bias of any individuals who have disproportionate amounts of control over their future. For executives, this new level of access to the employees and human capital in their businesses is game changing. It's also worth noting that when a productive employee leaves because they feel overlooked, underappreciated or ignored, the multifaceted cost of replacing that employee can be quite burdensome to an organization. In Latin America, only 50% of employees in our engagement survey reported being satisfied with their career development opportunities — meaning there's a chance the other 50% have contemplated looking for a more satisfying job elsewhere. This can be devastating to companies that not only lose valuable people but also must spend significant time, money and resources to replace them. The New Horizontal Upward Mobility   Traditionally, career advancement was defined by moving upward — increasing your salary, position and power by making vertical moves up the corporate ladder. However, today, employees should consider horizontal moves as an effective, long-term career strategy. Our platform can connect employees to unprecedented opportunities for professional development. Though restructuring can mean the elimination of conventional jobs, our new world is increasingly connected by powerful technologies that provide employees the chance to move horizontally to previously overlooked but incredibly rewarding opportunities. For example, an employee could become a first assignment country manager in places such as Bolivia, Nicaragua or Uruguay. Change is underway, and the jobs of tomorrow will not simply require years of toiling behind the same desk or workstation using the same conventional skill sets. Beyond even horizontal shifts, career advancement in the future will require critical thinking abilities forged by challenging job experiences and unique professional histories. It's time to place new value on experiences that can result in more dynamic, well-rounded and informed employees. The Future of Work From Day One   Our research has found that the top three concerns for employees are job stability, salary and future career opportunities. We've developed the user-friendly Career Experiences Platform to reconcile these concerns. Kimberly-Clark trusted us to fulfill their mandate of creating new, unprecedented opportunities for their employees in an economic landscape where nothing is certain. The final result garnered an incredibly enthusiastic response from not only the employees but from their managers and leaders, too, who felt an obligation to provide their employees with a stable and rewarding career experience. The collective response of appreciation was moving for everyone involved. In addition, the platform poses exceptional value to workers and employers, because it can be implemented from day one of an employee's career. It serves as a source of truth throughout their journey within the organization. As the global economy adapts to digital transformation, Latin America and the rest of the world must find ways to empower employees and companies so that human beings and technology continue to invent new ways to find job satisfaction and quality of life. The Career Experiences Platform is an excellent start. The best lesson we learned from this experience is that employees and employers want what is best for each other — and we're glad we can facilitate that connection.  

Didintle Kwape | 14 Nov 2019

Africa's youth employees are a valuable, ample talent source that multinational companies can tap as they expand their operations throughout the continent. Record numbers of teenagers and young adults in Africa are either unemployed or underemployed but are willing to work if given the chance. In South Africa alone, where the unemployment rate is expected to grow beyond 30% this year, two-thirds of the jobless are between 15 and 24 years of age.1 Realizing the Untapped Talent Pool   "We are very much alive to the fact that youth unemployment is indeed a national crisis," stated South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2019.2 Governments across the continent are now rewriting labor laws and breaking down bureaucratic hurdles to make hiring youth less cumbersome for both multinational corporations and local small businesses. They are also teaming up with nonprofit organizations to nurture young talent and teach necessary workforce skills. Alliances are being forged to aid these efforts, such as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Together, they hope to address youth employment at regional and national levels. To better prepare youth for work, the ILO provides employment services, skills development and labor market training — with a focus on technical and vocational education, apprenticeship and job placement services for disadvantaged youth.3 In June, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Young Africa Works program, a public-private partnership for youth employees between the Mastercard Foundation, the Kenyan government and the private sector. Within the next five years, the program aims to groom and place five million young Kenyans in "dignified and fulfilling work." 4 The MasterCard Foundation, along with two Kenyan banks — Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank, as well as their respective foundations — will provide about $1 billion in capital, business development services and market linkages for the program. The aim is to create these jobs for youth employees, which will also help over 200,000 micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises strengthen their productivity, sustainability and creation growth.4 The international hotel industry is one sector that's nurturing the development of the continent's youth, as hoteliers expand into Africa's emerging markets, according to Jan Van Der Putten, Hilton's VP of Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean.5 Hilton now has 46 hotels open across Africa, including sites in Morocco, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana, with plans to more than double that amount in the next five years. Expansions in tourism and hospitality will not only boost socioeconomic growth, but it will also provide meaningful employment opportunities. As such, it's paramount to foster an environment to help African youth workers succeed. Training the Youth of Today   In addition to basic workforce skills, the emerging digital economy also requires youth employees to learn the skills of digital fluency, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, empathy and adaptability.6 Simbarashe Moyo, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand, notes, "Although countries like Rwanda and Kenya are already making considerable progress in preparing their youth for the digital economy and the future of work, more African countries are yet to take meaningful action to address the yawning skills-gap and digital infrastructure inadequacies bedeviling the continent."7 Moyo advises that African nations need to equip youth for the future of work. First, they must create responsive education systems that will equip the youth with the proper skills and a sense of responsibility. They also need to develop a nationwide digital infrastructure to improve interconnectivity between nations. In addition, to keep stakeholders in check within the expanding digital economy, they need to formulate proper regulatory policies. Lastly, they need to optimize public-private cooperation to support digital training initiatives on a larger scale. "Collaboration between governments, multinational development banks and the private sector will create room for innovative financial models which promote upskilling among Africa's youth," Moyo writes. "This will also reduce inequalities caused by duplication of efforts, especially when establishing digital infrastructure in African nations. Public-private cooperation will therefore enable more young Africans to access training programs and digital infrastructure." Empowering the New Workforce   Employers can also take advantage of the rising use of mobile phones among Africa's youth by providing training and development programs via mobile apps. Workers in South Africa echo the sentiments of those in other countries who rate opportunities to learn new skills and technologies as the number one way they can thrive at work, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. The survey also shows that workers like to learn independently, and they want their employers to provide platforms enabled with access to curated knowledge and expert sources. A combination of both employer- and employee-driven training can give people more control over what and how they learn while tying their development directly to organizational goals. Mercer's research also reports that 99% of companies are taking action to prepare for the future of work, and they're doing so by identifying gaps between current and required skills supply, developing future-focused people strategies and adapting skill requirements to new technologies and business objectives. For multinational organizations interested in expanding in Africa, these steps will prove critical to upskilling, enabling and empowering the youth workforce. By taking the time to understand what Africa's youth employees need and developing integrated people-centric strategies for them, multinationals can be at the forefront of developing the continent's workforce. This will allow them to meet stakeholders' needs today, while also building a bigger, better and smarter workforce for tomorrow. The long-term benefits will result in a completely reinvented Africa — with engaged workers as far as the eye can see. Sources: 1. "Africa's Youth Unemployment Rate to Exceed 30% in 2019: ILO," 7Dnews, 4 Apr. 2019, https://7dnews.com/news/africa-s-youth-unemployment-rate-to-exceed-30-in-2019-ilo. 2. D, Sourav. "Youth unemployment a 'national crisis' in South Africa, says Ramaphosa," Financial World, 18 Jun. 2019, https://www.financial-world.org/news/news/economy/2276/youth-unemployment-a-national-crisis-in-south-africa-says-ramaphosa/. 3. "Youth Employment in Africa." International Labour Organization, https://www.ilo.org/africa/areas-of-work/youth-employment/lang--en/index.htm. 4. Mbewa, David O. "President Kenyatta launches program to tackle Kenya's youth unemployment," CGTN, 20 Jun. 2019, https://africa.cgtn.com/2019/06/20/president-kenyatta-launches-program-to-tackle-kenyas-youth-unemployment/. 5. "Exclusive: An interview with Hilton's Jan van der Putten on expansion in Africa," Africa Outlook Magazine,7 Apr. 2019, https://www.africaoutlookmag.com/news/exclusive-an-interview-with-hiltons-jan-van-der-putten-on-expansion-in-africa. 6. "World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work," The World Bank Group, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2019. 7. Moyo, Simbarashe. "4 ways Africa can prepare its youth for the digital economy," World Economic Forum, 29 May 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/4-ways-africa-can-prepare-its-young-people-for-the-digital-economy/.

back_to_top