Straight Talk With Bode Olutunbi, Managing Partner, Peoplesource Consulting

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We believe that the People challenge is the greatest one our country will face in coming years

 I was very excited for the future of our country when in 2005, the global Investment Bank, Goldman Sachs released a research report on the fastest growing emergent economies in the world and concluded that Nigeria had the potential of becoming the 11th largest economy in the World by 2025, if we retained our current growth rates and enabling political and social environment. In the same vein, our successive governments have set their sights on 2020 as a significant development milestone for the country as articulated in the Vision 2020. Our ability to attain this vision will be largely dependent on the availability of people with the right blend of skills, experiences and capabilities. It is evident that we need to tap into the local and international Nigerian talent pool to make this a reality.

When we look at other countries that have transited into leading world economies today, we see that they have developed societal, workplace and people management values and cultures that have supported their transition into growth. Of course, the context and experiences of each country is different and must be understood. We therefore see differences from country to country. Lets take the USA and Japan for example, the American work culture and approach to managing their people has changed over the years as the country has developed as an economy.  The culture in Japan on the other hand, was always very different from what obtained in America. However, in the 1970’s the Japanese rose to major global significance taking market share from American companies within both their local and the global market.

The American business community was humble enough to take stock of its workplace culture and to study what the Japanese did differently and how it gave them a competitive advantage. This led to the use of Japanese concepts such as Kaizen within America and Europe, as they realised they could imbibe certain aspects of these to gain competitive advantage. This degree of openness to change exhibited by the Americans at the time helped them retain their leadership position in the global league of nations.

I believe that Nigeria’s people challenge is more than a test for today. Obviously, many organisations are already finding that a resource gap exists between the type and number of people they need to achieve their ambitious growth plans and what is available in the local career market. Beyond the immediate circumstances, our country will need to rethink how it manages and develops its people and the prevailing cultures within which work takes place in the country, both in the public and private sectors.

Singapore is today one of the most developed economies in the world. I found it interesting to note that in that country, public sector pay is benchmarked against what obtains in the private sector. Looking at our experience as a nation, we can explore adopting such a policy to help attract top talent into the public sector and prevent the current situation where they seek employment mostly in the higher paying private sector.

Obviously, we cannot transfer the Singaporean experience into our environment without studying the context and cultural differences in much more detail but we definitely need to look beyond our environment for answers to the questions we face. Will our current approach to workplace issues sustain the ambitious growth plans we have in Vision 2020? Will it help us prove Goldman Sachs right by 2025? These to me are the key questions we need to find answers to at this time.

We are certainly different from America and Japan but we don’t have to make the same mistakes they have made instead we can learn from these mistakes. We can leverage their experience by taking the bits that are useful for us and shaping our future today with the decisions we make as a country. This is absolutely crucial to our development as a nation.

It will be difficult to accurately determine what will work best in our country if we do not have a critical understanding of where we are as a nation. This will enable us determine how our current practices stack up with global best practices, determine clearly why any differences exist and help us define what “Good” looks like for the management of our country’s human resources going forward.

Peoplesource is currently collaborating with another firm to conduct a survey of the Nigerian HR environment across a variety of sectors. We aim to gain clarity on the issues I raised earlier by interviewing numerous respondents and holding focus group meetings within the country to arrive at a greater understanding of talent management, people development, staff retention and the nature of the psychological contract existing between our companies and their employees to mention a few. This Report and its outcome should be interesting to business leaders in Nigeria.

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