From the CEO’s Desk: March 2019

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The private sector as the biggest creator of wealth has the power to bring about change at a scale. This can be reflected in so many of the ways in which we do business with others. We need to deliver to our clients and consumers, empower our suppliers and treat them fairly, manage our environmental impact, keep our shareholders happy, and build our reputation as good corporate citizens.

But there’s one key aspect of business that is often overlooked.

Our competitive edge is determined by people. The way we treat the people that work for and with us can be the difference between success and failure. Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce has put it best: “Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage. They’re the ones making the magic happen – so long as their needs are being met.”

While doing all we can to make our value chain, our products and our services better, there is an important question that needs an honest answer and implementable solutions. How do we treat our biggest assets?

  • When our workforce does not reflect the demographics of our society, what do we do?
  • When we hear or see racial discrimination or stereotyping, what do we do?
  • When we see remuneration inequality based on gender, what we do?
  • When we find evidence of unconscious bias in our hiring practices, what do we do?
  • When employees are faced with challenges outside of their control, from a strike cutting off transport to the unreliable electricity supply that plagues many African countries, what do we do?
  • When we see an employee bring treated unfairly, what do we do?

This is not about indulging entitlement. It is about acknowledging the humanity of our people. The New York Times reported on a survey of more than 12 000 employees, which identified four drivers: physical (having the opportunity to recharge); emotional (feeling valued); mental (having the ability to work autonomously); and spiritual (feeling connected to a higher purpose). As employers, it is a part of our responsibility to ensure our employees wellbeing more meaningfully than allowing the minimum amount of sick leave. If our employees are unhappy and disengaged, our business suffers. If our employees feel valued and cared for, their loyalty and drive can take our business to new heights.

Let’s not just call our employees our biggest asset – let’s create an environment where our biggest asset can prosper. Only then can we honestly say that way we treat our employees is our competitive advantage.

Onwards and upwards!
Tiekie Barnard
CEO, Shared Value Africa Initiative