The hardest thing to do in business: building an efficient organization (Part 4)

__A great vision needs great people.

Organizational management is really about “people and process.” If you don’t know how to master these two, it doesn’t matter what you’ve invented, or how much money you’ve raised… you won’t make it in business.

It’s usually really hard to get the best people to join you when you’ve just started a business because you’re (rightly) considered too risky.

It’s particularly difficult when you, the founder, are yourself young and inexperienced. I know what I’m talking about because when I started out almost 30 years ago, I was only 26 years old and didn’t have either the money or reputation to attract people to work with me.

So I understand why most people in that situation will often turn to unemployed relatives and friends, who can sometimes be unskilled and even troublesome. Believe me, I’ve been there, and done that!

I almost laugh now when I look back, but I hired some people who were downright incompetent and almost got me killed… Remember I’m an electrical engineer by training, and some of my early recruits as electricians did not quite measure up!

In my own case, my partner and I did almost every kind of job in our little business. There was simply no room for “pretending to be the big man”! When we did a job for a customer, I was there myself, and sometimes when we finished, I joined the cleaners to make sure the customer’s premises were left clean. We did the work, the cleaning, the invoicing, and the books. We woke up early, and went to bed very late.

I never complained because it was “honest hard work” for a young man, and I enjoyed it. I interviewed every single person that I hired very carefully. I always looked for people who were skilled, sober, honest, and prepared to go the extra mile. I knew them personally, and their families.

I tried to be fair in every aspect of my dealings with my employees. It wasn’t just that I considered myself an honorable man, but I also knew that “people talk.” I wanted word to get out that I was a “fair guy” in an industry where people were often exploited, and owners of businesses were known to think of themselves first, particularly when they got paid, as I discussed last week.

When I did get paid, the first thing I tried to do was invest back in the business. In particular, I wanted my staff always to have the best tools for their job. I also wanted them to be proud of their employer. I was fastidious over things like uniforms, presentations and appearance before a customer.

Knowing that I didn’t always have the opportunity and money to hire the most skilled people, I focused a lot on training and workshops, which I handled myself. I drilled and drilled my staff. We talked about each job, and I allowed everyone to say something about what we learned. It’s great to have the big idea, but you must have an eye for the details.

Then one day it happened: I got a call from an engineer who worked for a highly reputable and well-established player in our industry. He wanted to join me. And soon it was a flood, with people prepared to take a pay cut for the opportunity to work with my young company.

Now remember what I said earlier: “People talk.” You want them to give you and your company a good reputation, one that attracts the best people to your business. The best people are the most profitable. That’s business!

In his bestselling book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t,” Jim Collins writes, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Do you have the right people in your company focusing their time doing the right things? We’ll get to the importance of “process” next week.

To be continued. . .

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About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

13 thoughts on “The hardest thing to do in business: building an efficient organization (Part 4)

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1. I consider it a disgrace to have a business with people from only one tribe, or where people from other races and religions feel unwelcome. From the beginning I wanted diversity in my companies, and went out of my way to hire women, and people from different tribes. My country, Zimbabwe, had a sizable community of other races, and I hired them as well. A healthy business is one which reflects the diversity of the community in which it operates. Diversity gives a business strength, and with that comes profitability.

    • robson mutandani

      Thank you sir for sharing with us your experience,armed with this information we wont be lost.I need more of your articles on my personal mail

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2. “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel,” wrote the Nobel laureate, Maya Angelou. It all goes back to the importance of the Golden Rule which I wrote about a few weeks ago in my post about choosing partners… This applies to how workers and management treat each other, too!

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3. I’m not opposed to hiring relatives, but to the extent I have a choice, I try to avoid it. I once hired a cousin and he pushed his weight around the place. One day I told him off, and when I got home, I found his parents waiting for me, because they were senior in our family. The following day, I fired him and never looked back! If you have to hire relatives including your children, you must make it clear to them that they’re not there to be the bosses or policemen, particularly of people more skilled and experienced than they are. They must be respected for their ability by those working around them, otherwise your organization will not attract the best professionals.

  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    This week I was part of the delegation of global CEOs who were invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican to discuss moral and ethical leadership. I was given the opportunity to talk about the role big businesses can play in helping young entrepreneurs. Fortunately, you guys had helped me to prepare and I used many of the ideas, and concerns that you have shared with me.
    Someone said at the meeting that my Facebook page, has “started a global movement.” I thought that was a nice compliment for my dedicated followers.

  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    The response to the post I did late week as part of this series, “Pay your workers first,” really took me by surprise. The post reached 16.5m people. At one time it had engagement of more than 1.5m, and recorded over 1.4m Likes. It was incredible. What pleased me most was that a new generation of entrepreneurs is rising, which is like none before: You have a high level of integrity; you care about the people who work for you, and you care about your communities and environment. Well done! Let’s build a global movement.

  6. GOZIE


  7. Womba Christina Yikona

    Thank you so much Dr Strive. I always look forward to your insights. You are a tremendous blessing. Yes! We are building a global movement!

  8. Udedike Charles

    Dr Masiyiwa, Good Day Sir, I must comment that my generation is Blessed to have you, I yearned for such mentorship for a longtime until my friend introduce me to your Facebook page around November. With what I have learnt so far from you (and to learn from you) I know I am headed for success. Now I have found a true African business leader I could relate with his success and build mine and also pass on to posterity. God Bless you and your family.
    Charles Udedike
    from Lagos, Nigeria


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