Myanmar’s Talent Gold Rush

title-Gold-RushI got to spend a fantastic couple of days in Myanmar last week and had a really wonderful experience. Having been isolated by economic sanctions for more than a decade, Myanmar is shaking off its shackles, focusing on the future and booming. The international business world is descending on Myanmar, as it is one of the last white spaces, and is hungry to capitalize on the desire of 55 million people who rightfully believe their time has come.

Infrastructure, FMCG, Automotive, Pharma, Energy Companies and recently, Telecom Operators, are all knocking on Myanmar’s door. Some companies had come prepared, moved in the moment the sanctions were removed and now have a significantly successful head start in running their businesses.

Setting up shop in Myanmar is not for the faint hearted. It has many challenges, but probably the most difficult is finding, developing and retaining Burmese talent. Myanmar’s underinvestment in education, its isolation and the brain drain of Burmese talent to other part of the world has created a super storm, almost wiping out the availability of Burmese talent capable of running an international business.

This high demand and low supply of talent has created a Talent Gold Rush (like the situation I witnessed in China in the 90’s and Vietnam in the early 00’s) where new entrants are going all out to spot talent and are trying to lure them away from existing companies. Existing businesses are introducing all kinds of golden handcuffs in order to retain their staff. The few Burmese who are lucky enough to have the required skill set, fare well by this situation, as their salaries are destined to multiply of the next years. But, an ever-increasing salary spiral for the happy few is not a solution for Myanmar and those companies that are trying to build a successful and sustainable business.

For companies to succeed and for the government to ensure the economic boom trickles down to other parts of the society, both need to design a creative and holistic talent strategy. This strategy should combine casting the recruitment net wide and far, an all out effort to bring people up the skill curve in the shortest possible time and creating a heartfelt connection that binds people with the company.

The companies that prevail in Myanmar will be those that make the achievements of the country and its people their success. That success needs to be earned “Inch-by-Inch” through hard work, being smart, moving fast and a long-term focus.

The enthusiasm, energy and excitement in Myanmar is palpable; It is their time and I am sure they will capitalize on this to the fullest. Lets hope it lifts as many boats as possible and that the past decade has not created a lost generation.

– Paul Keijzer

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Picking The Right Team

ID-10086457Now that Pakistan has elected its new leaders, the focus shifts to how they use this mandate to select the team that will govern us. Will they focus on loyalty or capability, on past track record or intentions, on homogeneity or diversity? Who ever they choose, it will say a lot about the future direction of our country.

Of course, the same can be said about creating a collaborative culture in an organization. The composition of a team is a great indication of performance. So, as a team leader, how do you pick the right team members? You have to find the right balance of people that you believe will collectively bring individual strengths that work best as a whole.

When it comes to compiling a team, there has to be a list of things a leader is looking for. Here is my personal selection criteria:

1. Can they deliver?
The most important criteria should be about whether an individual has the capability and capacity to deliver on overall objectives. Working for a personal agenda can get in the way of team building and can been seen in delivered results.

2. Are they committed?
For an individual to deliver he has to have both the ‘will and skill’. Having the skill but not the will won’t get you anywhere. Are the person’s interests, motivations and passion aligned with what they are being asked to do?

3. Are they different?
Thirdly it is all about diversity. The power of a team is in the combination of different personalities coming together. If everybody thinks the same, acts the same, likes the same ideas, I promise you that the outcome will lack the creativity that a team brings to the table.

4. Are they willing to learn?
A person that is curious and willing to learn will grow, will not be stubborn and will only ‘defend’ his point of view. The willingness to learn means wanting to build on other people’s points of view and creating a dialogue from which breakthrough solutions can result.

5. Can they have fun together?
Lastly, it’s all about enjoying being and performing together. Having a positive experience and outcome is about being able to hold each other accountable, argue and fight about the things that matter and then to realize that no one in the team is more important than the team itself. I don’t know many people who can give their best if they don’t have fun in what they are doing.

It is all about bringing people together to create synergy and achieve greatness. In your opinion, what should leaders keep in mind while planning the company’s future and assembling their dream team?

– Paul Keijzer

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Democratic Enterprise

ballot_box_my_vote_ssk_37571284There are two things that I love about elections. Firstly, everybody is equal. Everybody has one vote, no matter how rich, poor, educated or illiterate they are. Whether they are from the north or south, male or female, everybody has only one vote.

The second thing I love about elections is that it is an opportunity for people to vote for the person that they believe will help them build a better future. For people to believe in political leaders, the candidates have to rise tall in front of the nation, explain what they stand for and what they will do to make those changes happen. They are criticized, scrutinized, challenged and pushed to the limit. However, as a result of all this, people get to know the candidate and how he or she may or may not be their best representative.

Although I think there are some interesting similarities that you can draw with companies (one I have touched upon earlier in CEO Elections), one parallel that I wish leaders of companies would learn from is the communication aspect of elections. Can you imagine the engagement of the whole company, from senior managers to the peon, if leaders in the organization spent the same amount of time as political leaders, in explaining their vision and strategy of the company. If leaders were to allow themselves to be challenged and analyzed then they can come up with a blueprint of the future that everybody in the company strongly believes in and is committed towards.

I have only met a few leaders who actually do this. Safaraz Siddiqui, Managing Director of DHL Pakistan, has spent a lot of time discussing and jointly agreeing with colleagues the way forward for his company, and through this was able to transform DHL (and became the Best Place to Work in Pakistan in the process.) Lynda Gratton, the London Business School Professor wrote one of my favorite books called the Democratic Enterprise in which she “built a roadmap for companies to Liberate their Business with Freedom, Flexibility and Commitment. It delivers the blueprint for a business built on choice and commitment, a business people would choose to work for”.

What do you think? Can you set your company on the path of becoming a Democratic Enterprise?

– Paul Keijzer

Change From The Inside Out

Mind-Set-Pieces1The Women@Work Study aims to understand what would help enhance female participation in the Pakistani workforce. Apart from the survey, in which we will ask female employees of participating companies to fill in a questionnaire as well as HR departments to share their best practices, we will also conduct one-on-one interviews with working women. The power of these interviews is to understand real life scenarios that you can’t always capture through surveys and focus groups.

I have come to understand that all the following things are important to working women: commitment from the top, supporting gender diversity, organizational support in the form of specific facilities, coaching and networking, ability to manage your work timings and support from family and the society. However, one thing has also become clear and that is the importance of the mindset and bias that leaders, line managers and colleagues have. All the policy papers and communication material can look fantastic, but if the person you work with is not able to understand and empathize with what is required for a woman to work in Pakistan, then you will still end up with the shorter end of the stick.

A woman who recently left a ‘what we thought was a progressive and female friendly workplace’ shared with us that although all the facilities were there and she really needed to work, she could not take her working environment anymore. Ever since she had become a mother, her line manager had taken away all the ‘exciting assignments’ and given it to young and upcoming trainees. She was given mundane tasks far below her capability as a line manager and after two years she has decided to resign.

It is one thing to have a biased male boss but it is even worse if, as a woman, you have a biased female boss. An example of this is a woman, who in line with the company policies, has reduced her work timings but her female line manager is not agreeing to this stating that “I have been able to do it, so you should be able to do it as well.”

Improving the gender balance and retaining women in the workforce will require more than good intentions, a few role models, beautiful statements and the right policies. At the end it requires people to change from the inside out, men and women alike.

What is your story? Have you seen the need for change?

– Paul Keijzer

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Is Following Your Passion Overrated?

follow-your-passionIn October I wrote a blog called “Do What You Love or Love What You Do” in which I talked about finding the right balance between three intersecting spheres: (1) What are you interested in? (2) What can you be the best in the world at? (3) What lifestyle is important for you?

The first two spheres, pitch skills against passion, and over the last couple of decades passion has been winning over skills. This come from assuming that if you are passionate about something you will learn to be good at it.

The problem however, is that a majority of people don’t have an inbuilt passion for something when they are at the start of their career. Kids, for example, change what they want to become rapidly, from an airline pilot or astronaut, to a footballer. When they realize that they don’t have the required skills to be the best footballer in the world, they change their minds and want to become engineers, doctors or accountants. As a result of students not being clear about their own interests, many follow the footsteps (or are influenced by the practical advice) of their parents.

Recently in an interview with Eric Barker, one of my favorite bloggers, Cal Newport (who wrote the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love) says “Long-term career satisfaction requires traits like a real sense of autonomy, a real sense of impact on the world, a sense of mastery that you’re good at what you do, and a sense of connection in relation to other people. Now, the key point is those traits are not matched to a specific piece of work and they have nothing to do with matching your job to some sort of ingrained, pre-existing passion.

He advises “to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to […] “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?“ Newport calls it the craftsman mindset.

This idea connected with me. A craftsman hones his skills, keeps at it, pushes his limits, learns from others, tries out new things and doesn’t give up. As a result, over time a craftsman becomes better and better at what he does.

It is likely that for most of us, passion follows craftsmanship. When we feel that we are good at something, that we can have an impact and that people recognize us for our craft – then we are more likely to become devoted to what we do.

Many of you will argue that in order to invest so much time and energy in honing your craft, you need to be somewhat enthusiastic about it. But think back to your own career start and that of the people around you. How many of them were passionate about what they were doing from the very beginning? My guess is only a lucky few.

– Paul Keijzer