I had mixed feelings on my arrival in April. I was happy I arrived in the country safely and was enthusiastic to join the team and contribute my expertise. However, I was anxious to see how the people would receive me, learn about their business culture, and how we would get along. Generally, I like exploring new cultures. I have lived with people from different nationalities and cultures, including fellow Africans in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Namibia, but was still interested in exploring Zambian culture. As I expected, I was received with open arms, and the contact person at my host organization had prepared the ground for me.
The company is small compared to my former company and undergoing a scaling-up process. The first challenge I had was to quickly understand the business operations of the company, its strengths and weaknesses, and how to strategize and assist in the restructuring process. Prior to my arrival, I did a desktop research about the company and got more information during the interview process from them. This gave me a background of what to expect. Assuming a Chief Operating Officer’s (COO) role, I knew I had to learn fast and hit the ground quickly. I found that most employees came to work late, especially the office staff, there where were no clear job descriptions for most staff, and departments had no managers. The CEO and Operations Manager lead most operations.
By the second week in my role, I took charge of HR and implemented standard office hours, meaning in at work 08:00hrs and out at 17:00hrs. Later on, I had to develop staff job descriptions under the guidance of the CEO, including KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for increased efficiency at work. It is good to know that my effort and strategy yielded results, as all staff now observe the set hours and their efficiency is building up gradually. The restructuring process is ongoing, and I expect things to improve more in the next few months. Hiring capable employees has been a problem in Zambia, according to my host organization’s management and my own observations. I am attempting to solve this challenge by implementing monthly trainings for the staff and helping the organization in the interview process to recruit capable team members.
In recent weeks, I was caught up between management and an employee in a contract re-negotiation problem and was asked to broker the deal. Management initially offered a better salary package than previously, but the employee insisted on a further increase. I took up the case to sharpen my negotiation skills, and after talks that lasted about two weeks, I was able to convince the employee and win her loyalty for the company. Both management and the employee were happy that my efforts yielded good results. I am very happy I was able to broker a deal.
In order to be successful in my current role at my host organization, I am aiming to improve my skills in effective communication, project management, negotiation, business development, and staff training. Effective communication is a very important management skill for a leader in order to make positive impacts on employees. This skill is also useful in training staff for efficient operations.
My experience so far has been good. I am learning new things every day and solving challenges as they present themselves. For people interested in participating in the LDI Africa fellowship program, I would advise them to keep an open mind to all challenges in order to be successful in their roles. They should also be able to assimilate new business/corporate cultures, as there will definitely be cultural differences. Above all, irrespective of age and years of experience, they should not miss any opportunity that comes their way to learn new things, as we all learn every day in order to grow.
Sunday Shomide is a 2017 LDI Africa Fellow with Emerging Cooking Solutions in Zambia.