HR Challenges in the Ethiopian Labor Market Recap

‘In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.’ – Harold S. Geneen 

AWiB’s Senior to Junior Business Seminar held bi-annually provides a unique opportunity to gain invaluable experience in the world of business. Attendees leave with fresh insights and perspectives on running successful enterprises as senior business owners and seasoned professionals generously share their secrets and lessons learned. This seminar series serves as a bridge between experienced professionals and budding entrepreneurs, fostering a rich exchange of knowledge.

Eager participants from various backgrounds filled the hall of Ras Amba Hotel. To officially commence the event, Genet Abebe an HRM expert and the Head of People & Culture at Mastercard Ethiopia introduced the first speaker, Dina Makonnen, an acclaimed HR professional and the Chief Operating Officer of Africa Jobs Network. Dina’s reputation as an HR guru preceded her, and her presence commanded the audience’s attention.

Dina’s keynote speech delved into the fundamental and indispensable role of Human Resources within any organization. She opened her presentation with a thought-provoking quote from Lawrence Bossidy, a sentiment that resonated deeply with the audience: “Nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” Her words emphasized the irreplaceable value of individuals in the success of a company, reinforcing the notion that HR is not merely a department but the heartbeat of an organization. With Dina’s presentation leaving a lasting impact, she graciously returned the stage to Genet after which the attendees enjoyed their first tea break of the day.

During the break, participants savored their treats while networking. Upon returning, Genet introduced the panelists: Lydia Addis, a successful entrepreneur with a background in HR management; Wondwossen G. Teklemichael, a seasoned management consultant and leadership coach; and Messeret Habtamu, the head of HR at MultiChoice Ethiopia. The discussion’s first topic was “Recruiting and Hiring Strong Candidates.”

Lydia stressed the critical importance of identifying existing gaps within the organization before initiating the hiring process. She believed that a successful recruitment strategy required a deep understanding of the company’s mission, vision, and values. To Lydia, recruiting wasn’t just about filling positions; it was about aligning the new talent with the company’s core principles.

She emphasized the need for a recruitment strategy that goes beyond just finding candidates with the right skills. It should also involve an assessment of candidates’ values and how well they align with the company culture. This was, she believed, the key to building a cohesive and motivated team that could work together seamlessly towards a common goal. She explained that when recruiting fresh graduates, it was important to focus not only on their academic achievements but also on their potential and eagerness to learn. Lydia believed in the power of mentorship and development programs to shape these young talents into valuable assets for the company.

Genet then turned to Wondwossen and directed a question regarding the importance of candidates’ prior work experience and strategies for attracting top talent. Wondwossen drawing upon his wealth of experience emphasized that attracting and selecting strong candidates goes hand in hand with an organization’s overall strength. In other words, strong companies, by their very nature, tend to draw in strong individuals naturally. This virtuous cycle often results in expedited hiring processes as exceptional talent is more readily inclined to join such an organization. Furthermore, Wondwossen expanded on various approaches and strategies to identify and secure top-tier candidates. His insights were not only informative but also pragmatic, providing the audience with valuable takeaways they could immediately apply to their own HR practices. He emphasized the importance of intentionality in the hiring process, urging HR professionals to be discerning about their selections.

Wondwossen prompted the audience to consider a series of crucial questions. “Who would be the right fit for your company?” he asked. He underscored the significance of understanding the prevailing mindset within your organization. Do you need to seek out experienced professionals with seniority, or is it more fitting to recruit individuals with a few years of experience, marked by their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, whom you can then nurture and train to excel in their roles? This approach reflects a proactive and strategic mindset that aligns with the organization’s needs, a concept that resonated deeply with the attendees.

As the panel discussion progressed Messeret steered the conversation toward critical issues of diversity, inclusion, and on-boarding in the HR landscape. Messeret began by drawing a compelling analogy, likening employment contracts to marriages. She highlighted the fact that both involve a significant commitment and just as marriages can be challenging to dissolve, ending employment relationships can also be complex and fraught with difficulties. This insightful comparison underscored the importance of thorough and thoughtful recruitment and onboarding processes to ensure a harmonious and lasting partnership between employers and employees.

Moreover, Messeret delved into the potential of technology in HR, shedding light on how it can revolutionize recruitment, streamline onboarding processes, and enhance the overall HR experience. She emphasized the need for transparency in recruitment, which not only fosters trust but also ensures that candidates are well-informed about the organizations they are joining.

Another concept Messeret explored was that of employee branding. She underscored the power of employees as brand ambassadors, their experiences and satisfaction becoming a form of word-of-mouth promotion. In a world where reputation and perception are everything, nurturing a positive employee brand can significantly impact an organization’s ability to attract top talent and customers alike.Genet summarized the discussion, and the floor was opened for a Q&A session, covering topics such as the impact of age in management roles and strategies for handling difficult employee behaviors and complaints. As time pressed on, the morning session concluded, and lunch was served. Over lunch, participants had the opportunity to engage in informal discussions with the panelists, delving into challenges and issues in their respective fields.

The afternoon session commenced with a discussion centered around the theme of “Cultivating a Robust Corporate Culture.” The discussion delved into the significance of a well-established organizational culture and strategies for its creation and sustained upkeep. Wondwossen introduced the concept of corporate culture, underlining its profound influence on both employee satisfaction and the quality of work. He stressed the imperative of comprehending the organizational objectives and how new recruits fit into the bigger picture.

Bringing new employees into the fold necessitates more than merely hiring them and stepping back. Instead, there’s a crucial need for proper training, acquainting them with the company’s ethos, fostering connections with colleagues and team members, and ensuring their grasp of company culture, team dynamics, and their specific roles. Wondwossen advocated against hasty decisions based solely on salary expectations, urging a willingness to take calculated risks when the candidate aligns with the company’s vision. In lieu of generic interview queries, he advised asking questions rooted in real-world scenarios to gauge their capacity to handle challenges the company may encounter.

The importance of assessing an individual’s attitude and potential ego-related challenges was also emphasized. The interview process should aim for a delicate balance in evaluating whether the candidate would seamlessly integrate into the existing team and collaborate effectively. Recognizing the alignment between behavior and specific job roles was another key point. It was stressed that every employee should be valued to foster a harmonious and thriving workplace environment.

Messeret explained the concept further by drawing from her experiences and boiled the concept of corporate culture down to how one wants employees to behave and work in the company and how they will behave without supervision.

Genet’s insights added a valuable dimension to the discussion, as she highlighted the unique advantages of startups when it came to establishing a company culture. She explained that startups often have a clean slate, unburdened by decades of established norms and practices. This fresh start allowed them to be agile and define their culture from the ground up, aligning it with their mission and values in a way that was difficult for larger, more established companies.

She led another engaging Q&A, delving into key topics like effective feedback, strategies for reducing turnover through culture, and the importance of long-term employee mentorship. She emphasized that feedback should be a two-way street, not just top-down and that it should focus on growth and development rather than criticism. To reduce turnover, she advocated for a culture that fostered employee engagement and satisfaction.

Panelists were then invited to clarify crucial terms such as benefits, salary, and compensation. They made a clear distinction between salary and compensation, emphasizing that salary is the monetary reward for an employee’s work, while compensation includes both monetary and non-monetary rewards, such as bonuses. Benefits, on the other hand, were explained as the additional perks and privileges that employees receive, which could be monetary, such as health insurance, or non-monetary, like flexible work hours, and are often tied to an employee’s position and seniority within the company.

After the second tea break, the discussion continued with another round of Q&A, where the focus shifted towards performance management, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), leading by example, and tailoring benefits to motivate employees. Genet pointed out the significance of setting clear expectations and using KPIs to measure employee performance. Leading by example, she believed, was crucial for establishing a positive culture, as employees often looked to their leaders for guidance.

The discussion ended with a consensus that tailoring benefits to motivate employees could significantly boost morale and job satisfaction. Different employees have different needs and motivations, and a one-size-fits-all approach might not be as effective as personalized incentives.

The seminar came full circle as Dina Makonnen returned to discuss talent development and investment. She shared her team’s journey in transforming a stagnant company into a successful one, emphasizing the importance of setting a clear vision, engaging the management team, monitoring outcomes, nurturing a corporate culture, and recognizing and rewarding achievements.

The speakers’ insights added several layers to the discussion, emphasizing the evolving nature of HR in an era of technological advancements and emphasizing the significance of inclusivity, transparency, and employee branding as key factors in the success of modern organizations. They also provided a well-rounded perspective on the nuances of culture, compensation, and employee engagement in both startups and established companies.  The audience left with a deeper understanding of how these factors could shape their organizations and enhance their workforce.

AWiB’s 6th Senior to Junior Business Seminar proved to be an invaluable investment. It was an electrifying experience that left everyone buzzing with inspiration and anticipation for what’s to come! As a token of appreciation, AWiB presented gifts to the panelists and the moderator for generously sharing their expertise and experiences.

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