There is a quaint old lore about Henry Ford.
It’s that every time Ford increased productivity, he raised wages. In a certain three-year period where he reduced labor cost by 66% per car, he raised wages by just as much.
It wasn’t a moral decision by Mr. Ford, but a decision that enabled a whole class of well-paid workers to spend more. On food, on clothes and not the least, on cars.
The idea was a decision to power a favorable rachet. For as the workers build a stronger purchasing power, they are able to do more, connect more and produce more. What we have on our hands then is a positive system that allows businesses to thrive. Not by shrinking, but by opening up opportunities for the workforce to derive real value from their work.
We found ourselves contending this lore as we pored through the top 100 Nigerian Companies list published by Jobberman, our sister company in Nigeria.
In the study, only two wholly-local companies were in the top ten – sandwiched between multinational and multilateral companies – Guaranty Trust Bank and Konga Online Shopping.
Every local company on the list is a standout company simply by the virtue of being there. But we were unable to help drawing parallels.
What stands these two companies out?
The immediate observation was a conscious global positioning from the two companies. All signals considered, GTBank has positioned itself as a global brand since its founding in 1990. Since that time, it has opened shop in eight African countries with operations in the UK to boot. In 2007, it became the first Nigerian joint-stock company to be listed on London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Borse. We are not sure that a company without globalization baked into its DNA would have been able to do these and in a short lifetime.
Konga, of course, has an abiding influence from its major investors, Swedish Kinnevik and South Africa-based Naspers. This combined brand affect has helped the company focus on people and to intentionally draw a healthy organizational culture.
However, the intentional brand position aside, an even stronger parallel is the obsessive focus on people.
Employee’s feedback compared across the two companies reveal that both companies are committed to “career advancement prospects,” “staff contribution recognition,” and “staff welfare.”
The profit-maximizing logic holds that companies are only to extract more economic values from their employees and their customers, but if GTBank and Konga’s brand stature have proved anything, it’s that great companies are borne out of the collective womb of an empowered workforce. Business history dotted with companies from Ford to GE to Facebook, Google and GTBank prove this every time.
Great companies are borne out of the collective womb of an empowered workforce
Rather than seeing organizational processes as a way of simply exploiting human resource; high-performing and enduring companies provide meaningful livelihoods for those who work in them and generate money while at it.
As employees get empowered, they are better equipped to empower the company.
As Seth Godin, that Yoda of marketing and brand storytelling, once aptly articulated – “the goal isn’t to clean the table, the goal is to set the table.”
In the coming weeks, we will follow up with more in-depth analyses and specific people-focused activities of GTBank and Konga.
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