As any employer or HR practitioner will know, expensive schooling and impressive certificates are not always a reliable indicator that your candidate has what it takes to do the job you’re hiring them to do. While education is vital, more and more business owners are waking up to the value of apprenticeships as they build and groom their next generation of star employees.

Many business owners, perhaps justifiably, view apprenticeships with a certain amount of suspicion. Taken on for the wrong reasons or managed incorrectly, apprenticeship programmes can indeed be a drain on company resources with little advantage to show for it. In the South African context, we’re seeing a lot of companies establishing government-sponsored apprenticeships. Sadly, many only use their programmes as a way of getting cheap or free labour, with no idea of just how mutually beneficial apprenticeships can be if done right.

Apprenticeships are not cheap labour. In fact, they can be a significant drain on a company’s resources, compared to an experienced hire. Implementing an apprenticeship programme is therefore likely to entail much more work for you and your team, not less. The upside is that if all goes according to plan, you will have taken a common resource and made it into a rare one. Here are ways that implementing an apprenticeship programme can revitalise your business:

Providing a skilled workforce for the future
Apprenticeships help to ensure new recruits develop exactly the skills they need to successfully join the organisation, which can only benefit a business in the long term. Managers can ensure that the competencies being developed are exactly those that the company will need more of in the future – filling in any gaps and allowing the business to source future leaders from within.

Increasing staff loyalty and retention
Employees trained in-house tend to be more highly motivated, committed to their role, and supportive of the company and its objectives. Apprenticeships encourage employees to stay with the company longer by demonstrating its willingness to invest in its new recruits and treat them as a valued and integral part of the workforce.

More efficient recruitment
Apprenticeships can revolutionise the efficiency of your human resources efforts – saving you time and money lost to the recruitment process, as well as helping to make the need to replace employees a far less frequent bother. Apprenticeships are a great way to incubate the talent of your company’s future leaders and test the waters in a safe, insulated environment. You’ll also get to oversee and mould that talent as it develops. What’s more, having an apprentice around is a good insurance policy in case one of your team members should suddenly leave, because they’ll be leaving a trained “understudy” behind who can help pick up the slack.

Freeing up existing staff members’ time
As your business grows, your team will probably find their time being taken up by smaller tasks that tend to derail their main work responsibilities. Delegating these tasks to apprentices not only provides them with the hands-on upskilling they expect, but also frees up the time for your other employees to be more productive and less distracted.

A breath of fresh air
Bringing new, young people on board often translates to a fresh approach and a renewed positive attitude in the workplace, which can have the effect of enhancing workplace morale and cementing team unity. Apprentices inspire existing staff members to be willing to lend a hand in their training, as well as focus on improving their own skills. Apprentices from a variety of backgrounds and with different educational histories also give you fresh insight and out-of-the-box ideas to your business operations, encouraging change and innovation.

Companies considering taking on apprentices should not do so without considerable planning and the willingness to oversee every aspect of their apprentices’ progress. It is vital to be clear about your expectations as well as theirs, and make them a welcomed part of your team. With guidance, encouragement and good communication, you may find a few hidden gems among your new recruits, who may eventually show themselves to be your star employees in the future.

By Pieter Scholtz, leading business and executive coach and SA’s Co-Master Licensee for global franchise company ActionCOACH

Women in the boardroom

South African women have come a long way in the boardroom; however, they still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making their mark and claiming ownership at board level.

In a rapidly evolving world, one would think that considering all the milestones we have passed and overcome as a nation and country, gender equality in the workplace is automatically observed.

At the Beijing Conference of 1995, women’s rights came to the fore. Here delegates prepared a declaration and platform for action aimed at achieving greater equality and opportunity for women. In South Africa we have our Bill of Rights, which was intended to promote the rights of women as equal citizens. This legislative environment is very much in line with a global trend that indicates that the advancement of women who hold leadership positions is linked to a legislative framework or environment and not a voluntary action of society.

Even with these milestones of women making their mark across various industries being very prominent and continuously encouraged, the success of gender transformation according to Stats SA and other relevant sources tells a different story.

Other than government, corporate SA shows an 80/20 split in the job market focused mainly on levels of directorship such as executive and board levels whereby men dominate the workplace.

According to the Stats SA 2015 survey, the gender gap is higher in the private and semi-private sectors. The percentage of senior posts held by females in state-owned enterprises is only 24%, with 76% being held by men.

Similarly, in chapter institutions this number is only 25% of senior leadership positions being held by women, with 74% held by men.

The most alarming, however, is when we look into the JSE Top 40 listed companies and find that only 3% of these CEOs are women.

“South Africa has a long way to go in establishing and promoting the future of female leaders. This clearly indicates the importance of gender mainstreaming as well as BEE transformation at board level,” says MD of Transcend Talent Management, Zanele Luvuno.

According to a report released by PwC, Executive Directors 2014, only 13% of women hold executive roles in the basic resource sector, in comparison to the 87% of males who occupy the same space. It highlights the amount of work still to be done and also the fact that the gap between male and female at board level continues to grow.

Another area of concern to be pointed out is the financial services industry, where the positioning is 85% male and 15% female split. Given these facts, it is evident that women in the workplace have a long way to go and grow, especially at board level.

Research has further pointed out that women at board level play a vital role in the dynamics of the organisation, bringing to the table more productivity, a visible increase in companies’ bottom lines and seeing better corporate governance. With there being a business case for women in leadership positions, why then has corporate South Africa been so slowly to transform?

The Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa indicates that women are mostly appointed in non-executive directorship positions, only 9,2% of women hold chairperson positions and only 2,4% of women are appointed as CEOs.

An argument for keeping women out of leadership positions has been our desire to have children and our responsibility to our families. Being the ever-increasingly independent beings that they are, women have become accustomed to a work/life family balance and are able to single-handedly juggle all these responsibilities.

By not empowering women, we not only deprive the economy but also deprive households of opportunities, where in this day and age run households as single parents and mothers, providing for their families. The facts continue to unravel of how male candidates have owned the corporate leadership space over decades and have been given preference over more senior opportunities.

Transcend Talent Management offers unique and tailored solutions to boards and companies to help align and place qualified women into leadership positions. Being headed by a successful female promotes the placement of women at directorship levels and into transactions so that we may start to be drivers of initiatives such as black industrialisation. Managing Director Zanele Luvuno focuses on partnering clients with the appropriate black partner to create the perfect fit and relationship for long-term success.

According to Microsoft, the average human currently has an attention span of eight seconds, 33,3% less compared to the 12 seconds in the year 2001. Smartphones and mobile devices contribute to this phenomenon, creating greater demand for easy and convenient online communication and services.

When a potential client stays on a page for longer than 30 seconds they are more likely to spend two minutes or more on the site. This also increases the chances of returning to the site at a later stage. The big question is, how does a leading online service retain a customer’s attention, create a relationship and maintain it?

“Customers want to have control of their decisions, participate in activities and quickly get the message that is being translated to them. In order for online services to retain consumer attention long enough, they need to provide them with a site that has clear messaging and easy navigation through the various sections, all underpinned by a compelling value proposition to the customer,” says Derek Wilson, head of Hippo.co.za.

Here are some of the tactics used by Web site analysts to retain consumer attention:

  • Visual information – people are likely to remember 10% of the information they read three days later, whereas 65% is remembered when it is paired with relevant images/visuals.
  • Web design and development – 40% of visitors will exit the site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Web sites also have to be mobile device friendly and have an easy to remember website address.
  • Filter applications – they allow the consumer to customise information and simplify the search process.
  • Interactivity – Web sites that have interactive features (for example audio, video, or scroll events) can keep site visitors entertained and lingering for longer.
  • Create an excellent online customer service experience. According to research, 47% of customers could take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing bad service.

Building a loved brand goes a long way to improve customers’ propensity to use the service frequently.

As winter approaches, South African businesses will face an onslaught of germs – and not just from people, but from desk “germ traps” too.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy with head offices in Johannesburg, said that South African companies face losing millions of productive hours because of sickness this winter.

“Germs are everywhere, it’s a fact of life. Also known as microbes, bacteria, bugs and now even superbugs, various types of germslive within us, on us and all around us.

“Many of them keep us healthy and alive, but others pose threats to our wellbeing if our bodies cannot manage them.”

Andrews notes that according to a Lancaster University study, 72% of people report going to work when they are sick.

“What most people don’t realise is that it’s not just germs from people that spread to colleagues – office surfaces and materials used in the office space can be potent germ transmitters too.

“Germs are loiterers. They can live and thrive on all kinds of surfaces, including – and especially – desks in the workplace. Many office materials harbour germs making them as infectious as a sneezing colleague when you consider 80% of infections can be transmitted by touch, according to the WebMD website.”

Andrews added that the problem is likely to exacerbated by the fact that nearly 40% of the workforce is expected to be mobile by 2017.

“Workplaces today need to provide a variety of places for people to work, giving people choice and control over where and how they work. But as employees use shared workstations throughout the day, there is also increased need to minimise sharing harmful bacteria.

“One study by the University of Arizona’s Dr Charles Gerba found more than 10 million germs on the average desk. Crumbs for example that accumulate on desks, are a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive.”
Andrews added the transition from assigned “I spaces” to shared “we spaces” globally has created rising demand by companies the world over for the use of antimicrobials in the workspace as a way of fighting back agains the proliferation of germs.

“Antimicrobial agents and coatings are technologies that either kill or slow the growth of microbes.

“We’ve seen an increased demand from our clients in South Africa and across Africa for antimicrobials since we pioneered them in 2011 in South Africa and have had them as standard since then.
“They’re gaining relevance in the workplace as an option to dramatically reduce germs on frequently touched surfaces such as the worksurface edge and desk pad, height-adjustment controls, and power and data access points.”

Andrews said that the increased use of antimicrobials is expected to significantly reduce the cost of absent works and the related health care costs as they become a standard feature of office ware over the next decade.

“Antimicrobials show promise as another way to proactively create health-conscious work environments in support of improved worker wellbeing.

“Although antimicrobial materials should not replace or decrease regular cleaning routines or good hygiene practices such as hand washing, coughing into elbows and staying home when sick, they can add another level of potential benefit by sharply reducing germsin the workplace,” Andrews concludes.

Work smarter, not harder

Truly efficient people know there’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Harnessing the power of productivity is less about time management and more about managing energy – working smart instead of hard. Nashua has rounded up seven tips to help you perform more efficiently, no matter your job description.

Schedule it
Organise tasks you need to complete each day in order of importance – and go a step further with self-imposed hourly deadlines. Limit time frames and see how your mind focuses to get the task done. Not only are you accountable to yourself, you can also direct focus to one specific project at a time. Be realistic to avoid frustration.

When prioritising tasks, complete the most pressing jobs first to capitalise on high energy in the morning. Set aside time to respond to emails instead of allowing your inbox to dictate how you spend your day. Urgent mails and calls are (obviously) the exception.

Avoid mental fatigue
Scheduled breaks help improve concentration – especially if the break involves standing up to stretch or a short bout of exercise to get blood pumping, like taking a walk. Five to 10 minute breaks between long tasks can help maintain a constant level of performance, as opposed to a steady decline in performance from working without breaks.

Don’t multitask
Although it’s seen as a positive attribute, multitasking isn’t always key to increasing efficiency. In fact, psychologists say there’s no such thing as multitasking – our brains simply switch from task to task at a rapid pace. This results in lost time and productivity. Committing to finishing a single task before moving onto the next is a better, more constructive habit to form.

Banish distractions
Interruptions throughout the day are inevitable, but the extent of the distraction can be mitigated. If possible, try work from different locations or isolate yourself for a certain period of time. For a subtle ‘do not disturb’ sign, wear headphones. And to the colleague who’s looking to shoot the breeze, communicate honestly to let them know you can chat later.

Online videos and phone notifications can also be distracting. Instead of checking social media every five minutes, limit it to every two to three hours (or longer) instead.

Regain control
Procrastination can bring productivity to a halt. To regain control, take an hour to get organised and sort out admin. Delete irrelevant emails and file those you need to keep for reference. Don’t be tempted to start the actual tasks at hand: plan them first. Separating bigger jobs into smaller, achievable chunks reduces the feeling of being overloaded – a great incentive to crack on with the work.

Another trick is to build a routine to get into a working mind-set, like creating a playlist or turning off your phone before you get started.

Declutter your work space
A cluttered desk leads to unnecessary distractions. Instead of hoarding piled-up paperwork, transfer documents to cloud storage, like Google Drive and Apple iCloud Drive.

Research shows art in the workplace can increase creativity and productivity, so personalise your desk with one or two colourful accessories. Paintings and drawings from family, framed photos or desk plants all work well. Stick to two to three desk items to cut clutter.

Prioritise sleep
According to research, after several nights of losing sleep – even the loss of just one to two hours each night – your ability to function suffers in the same way as not sleeping for a few days. You take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, are more prone to mistakes and can slip into micro-sleep (brief moments of sleep that occur when you’d normally be awake).

Set a regular bedtime and put your phone away an hour or two before you sleep, to boost quantity and quality of sleep. Practise relaxation techniques like breathing deeply and visualisation. Also use this time to reflect on your achievements and productivity.

The total annual cost to the country in lost earnings due to employees being absent from work is estimated at R40-billion per annum (equal to 2,2% of the GDP), according to a 2013 South African Stress and Health Survey (SASH). With employee absenteeism costing SA businesses billions each year due to reduced productivity, implementing employee wellness programmes (EWPs) can have significant financial benefits for businesses.

This is according to Vuyokazi Lekhelebana, executive consulting psychologist at Work Dynamics, who says that employee absenteeism is considered to be an indicator of poor organisational health and is directly associated with disengagement and poor morale.

“Employee absence levels often provide a very accurate depiction of the overall health of an organisation. Absenteeism however, is retrospective or ‘reactive’ to a bigger issue and the cost and loss in productivity associated with employee absenteeism, calls for a more proactive stance that is focused on prevention.”

She points to a survey conducted by Canadian based organisation, Officevibe, which indicated that companies that implement EWPs can expect a 28% reduction in sick leave.

“Unfortunately, there is no ‘generic’ approach when it comes to EWPs, so organisations may benefit from conducting some internal research to gauge employee attitudes and preferences.”
Lekhelebana explains that a well-researched strategy ensures the highest likelihood of success and utilisation for a EWP. “Typical wellness interventions range from health and fitness programmes, health screening, smoke cessation support and creating wellness incentive programmes, There are a wide range of EWPs that institutions can choose from, these would include in-house wellness programs on a small scale as well as outsourced wellness initiatives, such as psychological consultancies, where the primary focus is on the psychosocial and mental well-being of employees.
She stresses the importance of the role of management with regards to employee wellness and explains that it extends far beyond facilitating policy development on wellness issues, but includes endorsing and supporting the programme.

“When management participates in the programme, employees will usually follow suit and buy into the benefits of the programme. Employee participation is after all a prerequisite for any successful employee wellness initiative.”

“Forming external partnerships with HR and psychology consulting firms has become an essential factor in fostering business growth and refining company moral, as the financial benefits of a successful programme far outweigh the initial investment,” concludes Lekhelebana.

Economic instability and high rate of churn among employees within some companies is partly why leads are not being converted to iron clad sales.

Kevin Hall, national sales and marketing manager at leading ICT services and solutions firm Elingo, explains that slow economic growth means companies take time to make decisions, and a high staff turnover within the sales force results in inconsistency.

These factors are contributing to more companies struggling to transform leads into real sales opportunities.

This is the reality facing many businesses competing within emerging markets, and the reason targeted sales strategies are pivotal – and why their efficiency is entirely dependent on understanding market segments and prospective clients.

“Sales teams and sales people do not operate in silos, the effect of quality marketing materials, and specific case studies and white papers on specific verticals, should never be underestimated. The client would like to feel they are dealing with somebody that understands their unique industry and the challenges they face, not just a blanket approach,” says Hall.

Individualised communication

While some firms may scoff at the idea of having to enforce individualised, focused communication to clients, the fact is that this can make or break business relationships, according to Hall.

“The client has already told you what they want to read about, what they understand, and how they want to be marketed to. By not sending them individualised newsletters, and quality social media campaigns, you are just saying, ‘thank you for answering the questions on the marketing we sent you last year– we simply did not listen, and we just did it to sort out our POPI requirements, we don’t really care about you, and we are not intending to listen to you’ This is not the best start to any business relationship,” he says.

Understanding and communicating effectively will lead to sales success, not just fast talking and flashy presentations.

Elingo stresses that the success of personalised, focused communication (in other words generating and capitalising on leads) is also dependent on using the right platform at the right time for the right reason.

“We live in a world where information is just a click away, the client is not looking for you to share what he could have already understood on your website. Learn to find leads from social media. Having a strategy on LinkedIn does not mean just open an account and have a nice bio and profile picture. Lead generation should be a strategic focus, and understanding the interaction below the line will become even more important,” says Hall.

Another reality of the market today is that time is a premium commodity and few decision makers in business have the opportunity to engage traditional marketing models, including exhibitions and trade shows.

“Clients have less time to trawl through all the vendor marketing on line, they just want to find the solution to their problem, compare the price and speak to the right person the first time they contact you. Solid leads that sustain themselves on social media, and business networks will be based on apparent value propositions, not complicated mission statements,” Hall continues.

Technology is used to boost presentations, capture attention and help in the hunt for leads. Like any art, the ability to secure leads and really gain business requires practice and commitment.

As Hall explains, the challenge has become a lot more pronounced and ex-co level decision makers are too busy to delve into various value propositions.

“One should ask some very difficult questions when dealing with sales teams, like how many people are we seeing per month actually wanted the information we are providing, or the solutions we offer. In some ways technology is making the distance from the sales person to the decision maker shorter, because it’s easy to find who the decision makers are,” says Hall.

In an age of professional social networks, it might seem as if the design of your CV and depth of your LinkedIn profile determines your ability to advance your career. In reality, networking is still an essential skill that should be fine-tuned and perfected. Here are some important insights into this often-overlooked business skill.

Network first, Facebook later
Decision makers still value human contact. Your digital profile is still considered a ‘cold call’ by the people who matter – they want to know who you really are, beyond a one-dimensional summary. Although it’s vital to play in the digital networking space, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The perfect LinkedIn profile means nothing if you can’t win people over in person, even though the end goal is ultimately the same: to promote yourself and connect with the right people.

Know your game
It’s pointless to attend an event and blindly try to make an impact on everyone in the room. You have to know your short and long terms goals, and align your networking strategy accordingly. Be strategic: before you attend an event, research who will be there and a little bit about them. Know who you want to chat to, and make it happen.

Listen longer
The most vital skill in networking successfully is listening. Never approach a group of people and start running your mouth off because you feel you need to assert yourself and promote your skill set.

Ask questions, listen and identify similar interests. Pick up on these interests and ask more questions about them. Be flexible – if they’re not responding to you, change your agenda. Endearing yourself to someone as a person first makes it much easier to approach them professionally later. Always remember to keep it strictly friendly and familiar, never flirtatious.

Understand it takes time
Would-be-go-getters are often awestruck by the raw talent of successful networkers – this is a misconception. No one is a born networker – it’s a learned skill. Some people might be more naturally confident, but that certainly doesn’t make them a good networker. It takes endless hours of practice to fine-tune and master a fruitful networking style. So practice as much as you can.

Attend events that push you out of your comfort zone and try to leave with at least a few contacts. You’ve got nothing to lose, so be bold. Like anything else in life, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

Network everywhere
It may sound odd, but your networking skills spill over into your personal life too. Social occasions are equally important opportunities to network – but in this case, you’re looking to make friends, or just create a relaxed and comfortable environment.

The same goes for networking within your company. Just because you’ve landed the job you want, doesn’t mean you should stop networking – connect with people above and below you in the corporate structure. Offer support where and when you can, because one day you’ll probably need it in return.

Master the follow-up
You’ve spent a day connecting with the right people, swapped business cards – now what? Always think ahead and plan how you’re going to connect after the event. If possible, try and swap numbers and send a follow-up message the day after. Don’t be too aggressive and stalk them: asking for a coffee or lunch meeting to chat is okay, asking them to swing past your house for a glass of wine probably isn’t.

If you want to become a successful networker, remember you have to be self-motivated. The onus is on you to fine-tune your skills, because no-one is going to do it for you. It’s about being your own personal cheerleader, without anyone actually noticing. You’ll be surprised by how much it benefits other areas of your social life – and it might just land you the position you want.

By Tish Magongwa, franchise marketing manager at Nashua

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
It’s a quote that aptly sums up the cutthroat world of Game of Thrones, but one that I often find myself thinking about when considering the unforgiving digital marketplace. Fail to play the digital game and your company will find itself facing a nasty fate indeed.

In fact, watching this season’s Game of Thrones, I can’t help but see the world of Westeros and our own as surprisingly similar. Sure, there are fewer shadow assassins and dragons in our world, but we both find ourselves facing major forces of disruption.
Thankfully, our own disruptive forces are more beneficial than the marching white walkers, but there are still a few important leadership lessons we can take from Westeros.

Tradition won’t save you
It doesn’t matter how old and venerated you are in Game of Thrones. No-one is safe in Westeros, not even the kings and queens themselves. Those leaders who allow themselves to get comfortable, thinking they’re safe because of the traditions they surround themselves with, are the ones who inevitably lose their heads – often literally.
Compare Ned and his unwillingness to compromise with the more agile Lannisters, who are at their peak when Tyrion is given free rein. Old business models are losing out to more nimble enterprises who are able to get product to market faster and respond to change.

Back the right house
Alliances are a huge part of building and maintaining power in Game of Thrones. Get the right house to support you and you’ll be able to stave off the worst that your enemies have to offer. The same is true in today’s platform-based economy – those companies that stand alone are the most in danger of falling to ruin.
In a platform economy, having strong digital partnerships is like having a powerful house behind you. The capabilities a company needs to have on hand to innovate in such a fast-paced, hyperconnected world are staggering. Working in apartner ecosystem model allows for the scale and agility necessary to be able to deliver real-time customer experiences, as well as create bold new innovations.

Anticipate the disruptive threats
Winter is coming. Everyone on the show already knows this and yet they consistently choose to ignore it and rather focus on their own petty battles. While not everyone might know of the peril of the white walkers, the signs are there that something big is coming over the Wall.
For real world enterprises, the changing digital landscape can seem as alien and daunting as an army of ice zombies. But transformation, like the white walkers, doesn’t have to be a surprise. Unlike the Night’s Watch, we have the tools to be able to predict how disruption might change businesses, markets and even whole industries.

Knowledge is power
At the heart of these tools is data. Just why is it that Littlefinger – a rather minor figure among the great houses of Westeros – wields so much influence? It’s because through his network of spies and informants, he knows practically everything that goes on in the Kingdom and can adapt his own plans accordingly.
Data is even more critical in the real world, where markets live and die on accurate insights and predictions. Companies that embed analytics into their decision-making processes enjoy the fruits of better performance across their whole organisation.

Think young
Jon. Daenerys. Arya. It’s the young who are taking charge in Westeros, trying to either create their individual paths to happiness or take up their family legacies in their own unique way. When the dust settles and the battles are won, it is they who are likely to be standing at the end of the series.
Similarly, some of the most disruptive companies in the world are the likes of Uber, Tesla and Spotify. Start-ups and newbies are out-manoeuvring their larger, slower competitors, shaping what the future of their respective industries look like. And within enterprises themselves, it is often millennials that are driving innovation and change.
As you fight your own digital battles, you need to ask who the Jon Snows – those visionary young heroes that drive innovation – are in your organisation. What alliances are you putting in place to help you face the winter?

By Lee Naik, MD of Accenture Digital in South Africa

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