Impact Stories: Moving from X to Y

In 1960, Douglas McGregor at MIT’s Sloan School of Business formulated the Theory X and Y management structures. According to Theory X, workers inherently dislike their jobs. People must be coerced, controlled, or punished to accomplish their tasks. It’s all about the money. Sound familiar?

Theory Y, conversely, states people are actually motivated by higher achievements. Workers seek responsibility and can feel fulfilled by their work beyond their paycheck. In this mindset, everyone has a unique contribution to the team and company, if only their interests can be aligned with their work.

Our first year of operation at Impact Enterprises felt like a Theory X environment. We had launched a completely new type of company with nothing to guide our way. Employees daily were concerned with their pay target. Managers were commending or penalizing performance only through bonuses, which brought down overall morale. We were pushing our way day to day through the work without seeing the bigger picture.

Even though projects were being accomplished, we were in a rut. This wasn’t the company we sought to establish.

At the end of 2014, we conducted anonymous surveys with all of our employees to gauge their job satisfaction, goals, and achievements. The results were both encouraging and poignant. 84% of employees said they had gained new skills, while 92% said their experience will help them get a new job in the future.

Conversely, the general sentiment was Impact Enterprises was not providing them opportunities to advance. For 57% of them, this was their first job and they expressed a new sense of responsibility thanks to being employed. Our Data Specialists were hungry to improve themselves and we simply were failing them.

We immediately set off to launch a comprehensive curriculum of workshops to develop our employees beyond their daily tasks. Thanks to the help of a diverse group of advisors, we devised an ongoing internal program focused on 5 modules: management skills, personal well-being, career planning, self-assessment, and community engagement.

The workshops cover myriad topics, ranging from communication skills to conflict resolution, stress management to personal motivation, health and wellness to goal setting. Employees study their Myers Briggs personality type to become self-aware of their core strengths and weaknesses.  Local business leaders give talks about their success stories. Through the process, employees will gain a better understanding of their capacities in a way they never considered before.

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All this follows in the spirit that every employee, given the right guidance, can contribute to the greater team. Henry Ford realized the value of investing in employees when he introduced the $5, 8 hour work day in 1914. Up until that point, his factory was hiring 300 employees a year for 100 spots on the production line. Turnover was costing the company a fortune. By doubling the daily wage and shortening the hours, employees no longer were an expendable good. He broke through the “dark clouds of the present industrial depression” by proving his commitment to his workers.

Employee engagement rings just as true today. From 1998-2005, the average stock price of Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ rose 14% per year, compared to 6% for the overall market. The bottom line is, employee engagement works.

Supporting our employees is especially necessary in Africa,DSC04438 where high unemployment means an unlimited supply of labor. The typical contract for a young graduate in Zambia is 6-12 months, allowing for an employer to avoid paying benefits while ensuring cheap salaries.  For a low-skill company like a grocery store, this might not be harmful, but for a high-skill digital service company like Impact Enterprises, ensuring the quality and sustainability of our employees is critical.

As McGregor stated, a successful company cannot thrive without adopting a Theory Y mindset of management. Developing our employees ensures they better align their skills, lowers turnover, and improves overall productivity.

Furthermore, we are demonstrating to our community and the region at large that establishing an employee-focused service company is an incredibly positive business model. We expect our employees to go on to bigger and better career opportunities and we want their time at Impact Enterprises to serve as a beacon of inspiration for their future endeavors. We have no doubt that many will become leaders in their workplaces, families, and this country. Giving them every opportunity to learn and grow is how Impact Enterprises is providing valuable employment to these Zambian youth.

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Digital Jobs Are The Key for Tomorrow

According to the Population Reference Bureau, up to 51% of youth are unemployed in southern Africa. Unemployment undermines the foundations of a stable, prosperous society and restricts opportunities for growth.

The economic and social costs of unemployment are well known, often locking people into a vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion. With 90% of the world’s youth living in developing countries, the lack of job opportunities leads to a dangerous expansion of the informal sector, forcing young people to accept a reality of job insecurity, low, erratic income, and few options for advancement.

The rapidly growizmoutng “impact sourcing” industry, a subsector of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, focuses on addressing social issues and employing those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Impact sourcing service providers (ISSPs), like Impact Enterprises, are harnessing technological innovation to tackle the challenge of unemployment while providing valuable services to global customers.

Impact Enterprises attempts to address this major challenge facing humanity in Zambia, where, as the 11th youngest country by median age, the problem is as acute as anywhere. What we witness, however, is that so many youth idling in the economic torpor already possess the skills, understanding, and alacrity to compete on a global scale.

We have already seen that they can succeed and drive Zambia into the 21st century, if only given the proper opportunity.

The Zambian economy is almost entirely reliant on the mining of one element: copper. The mining industry has been the backbone of the economy, but one sector cannot support a country forever. Already the foundation is caving, as copper prices have consistently fallen in the last 4 years and the Zambian Kwacha has devalued to an all-time low.

Existing initiatives by the Zambian government and foreign investors to tackle unemployment prioritize the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. To reach economies of scale, these industries require huge capital investments and a complex network of trade.

Diversification and innovation, therefore, is necessary for creating the opportunities that young Zambians are crying out for.

With relatively few of these commitments entering Zambia, the job market continues to fall farther DSC04452behind its emerging market peers. However, the IT industry, which has been virtually ignored to date, has huge potential to quickly employ youth with lower capital expenditures. In just our first year of operation, our workforce expanded sevenfold.

While the challenge at hand is enormous, so too is the potential of the technology sector to address it. Globalization and advances in digital communications have created a world where access to information and employment in the global economy are no longer determined by where you are born.

The rapidly expanding impact sourcing sector, growing at 29% annually, is demonstrating that eager individuals across the developing world have the skills to work and compete in the international marketplace.

Impact Enterprises, as well as many other ISSPs, is at the vanguard of this movement, distinguishing itself as a socially driven outsourcing company. As we scale, we will demonstrate how innovative start-ups can be role models for economic development in the region. Together, we can unlock a new generation of jobs for young Africans in a sector otherwise overlooked by the status quo.