East Africa HR Symposium

East Africa HR Symposium 2018


In July 2018, I attended the East Africa HR Symposium conference in Naivasha, Kenya. The conference was hosted by Rise & Learn at the Enashipai Resort and was the first of its kind in the East Africa region.

The theme of the conference was “The Future is Now… Gaining the Edge in HR”. This theme perfectly highlighted that the new generation of workplace is very much digital, and it is happening now.


East Africa HR Symposium.

Delegates on Day 1 of the East Africa HR Symposium.


An impressive line up


Emily Kamunde-Osoro, Founder & Director at Rise & Learn passionately stated in her welcome address that technology is what will shape the future.

The world-renowned “Father of HR”, Dave Ulrich the keynote speaker for this prestigious event. I was delighted to be featured as one of the speakers alongside Dave and other highly regarded thought-leaders and industry experts.

The full line up of speakers was impressive:


East Africa HR Symposium

East Africa HR Symposium – Speaker Line Up


The Symposium was immensely inspiring for me and was an opportunity for me to learn more about HR in East Africa.

I took away many insights, both directly from the other speakers as well as through discussions with delegates.

During my flight home, I had some time to digest and reflect on what I learned from last week. I will share some of these reflections plus some recommendations for HR within the region.


East Africa HR Symposium

Ayaan meeting with Steve McOgutu


HR Tech Africa

Ayaan meeting with Emily Kamunde-Osoro and Stewart Samkange


The Future is Now… Embrace Technology


Dorcus Wainaina, Executive Director of the Institute of Human Resources (IHRM) Kenya gave an insightful opening speech.


“The future is truly now; we need to prepare for what is to shortly come… we must prepare for a more dynamic workplace and as HR professionals, we must gain the edge.”

~ Dorcus Wainaina.


During day one, Stewart Samkange, LinkedIn’s new Talent Services Director for Africa, talked about the impact of technology on talent acquisition.

Stewart used a personal example of how he landed his jobs at SAP and LinkedIn. This was primarily by being actively engaged through social media and building his own brand to showcase to the world.

Stewart set the tone for the next three days by encouraging delegates to embrace technology and not fight it.”


Breaking through traditional thinking


It is still important to get the fundamentals right. But, there is now much more to HR technology than the traditional HRIS systems.

Social media, cloud-based applications, artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data are just a few examples of disruptive technologies.

There are many new ways to incorporate technology into the workplace for a variety of purposes. I highlighted one such example in my breakout session, titled “Creating the Ideal Workplace through HR Technology.”

I used the concept of gamification engage the audience. By using their mobile phones to participate in a group quiz (and win prizes), it changed the dynamic. People instantly became engaged (and highly competitive!)

The point of this exercise was partly to make the session interactive. It also perfectly demonstrated how similar concepts can be used in the workplace to enhance engagement.


East Africa HR Symposium

Engaging with the audience during my breakout session at the conference.


HR Tech Africa

Ayaan participating in a panel discussion with Winnie Pertet and Dave Ulrich


Re-imagine HR; focus on adding value to gain the edge


Enosh Bolo, Managing Director of Maxworth Associates posed the question: Is your HR function transactional or strategic?

The reality is that many HR functions like to think they are strategic partners to the business. Yet often, they lack sufficient knowledge of the business and their day-to-day priorities are administrative tasks, such as processing leave forms.

Technology now makes it easy for routine, administrative tasks to be automated. This allows control to be in the hands of people outside of HR, allowing HR the opportunity to become more strategic.

HR is the heart beat of an organisation.

However, unless the function is adding value to its customers, whether internal or external, then there is a danger that they will become less relevant. HR will be measured against other functions such as IT or Finance.

So, HR must step outside of its comfort zone in order to drive the right conversations and implement the right strategies to add value.

HR professionals must also be prepared to learn, unlearn and then relearn in order to develop a strong work place for the future. As Stewart stated “we [HR] are not being seen as relevant – we are not driving conversations about data and how it can be used to support business decisions.”


Value Defined

Dave Ulrich gave an inspiring presentation and suggested that “value is defined by the receiver not the giver; we don’t impose our wants on someone else. Ask what the leaders want, then connect that want to HR and how they can help to deliver it. Can we create value for somebody else? That is adding value.”

How can HR add more value?

HR’s job is not to do HR!

This statement may sound counter-intuitive. But actually, HR has evolved well beyond administration. Leaders have different expectations from the function in today’s world.

Dave Ulrich mentioned several times that HR is not about HR. It is all about its customers.

He continued by stating that HR must make their leaders feel valued and understood. Listening doesn’t mean that YOU understand but that the other person feels understood.

According to Dave, 80% of data is in observation and 20% is in analytics. However, HR are often afraid to rely on observation and their own experience. In HR we like to be comfortable but to be successful, we need to get out of that comfort zone.


“Don’t look in the mirror. Look out the front window to the outside world”

~ Dave Ulrich


East Africa HR Symposium

Emily Kamunde-Osoro appreciating Dave Ulrich.


East Africa HR Symposium

Media engagement at the conference.


A new approach is needed for the future workplace


By 2020 there will be up to 5 generations in the workplace and millennials will comprise up to 50 percent of the workforce (source).

Millennials are demanding much more flexibility, have high expectations and are driven by different things.

There are more contract workers and a higher degree of entrepreneurial spirit, both inside and outside of work.

The business world is becoming much more competitive and technology is having an increasing effect in all areas of our lives.

Having a job for life is now a thing of the past, with many people moving around in their careers much more freely.

There are so many factors coming together to call for a new approach. The world has moved on. We cannot just continue doing things the same way, or we will become less and less relevant in the marketplace.


52% of the Fortune 500 firms since 2000 are gone!


Susan Githuku highlighted the reality of this unprecedented pace of change:  Statistics like this force us to sit back and think.

Susan highlighted that the new industry leaders are increasingly causing unexpected disruption to well-known firms. This is largely by adopting a very unique approach to the way things have been done for generations.

For example:

  • MPESA has changed the face of digital banking in Kenya. This solution was developed by a telecom company, not a bank!
  • Uber – the world’s largest taxi firm owns no taxis!
  • AirBNB – the world’s largest hotel company owns no real estate!
  • Netflix – the world’s largest entertainment company lays no cables!
  • The world’s largest social media companies create no content!


Now, let’s sit and think about those companies a little more. None of them existed 20 years ago! If that doesn’t show you that the world has moved on at a very fast rate, I don’t know what will.

Clearly, we cannot ignore such examples and should not get complacent about our ways of doing things. No matter how successful we are today, there is always a potential competitor ready to overtake us. Usually this happens when we take our eyes off ball.


Purpose, meaning and impact


People will assess a company and ask questions such as does the company align to my personal mission, vision and value?

Companies must also understand and ensure it helps the process of finding the right alignment. Nicol Mullins of Mercer, South Africa, stated that people who are not aligned with company mission, vision and value, will not want to stay long.


Developing a digital culture


One of the most important aspects to foster in the workplace today is a digital culture.

Developing a digital culture and DNA from the inside out should not be underestimated. This must start by companies upskilling their current work force.

It is imperative that leaders start to inspire their people with a vision of the future, allay fears, find ways to engage them with digital. From this, people will see the value in investing in their learning and feel a desire to develop their skills.

When hiring new talent, consider those who already have a digital footprint and can resonate with the future vision of the digital workplace.


“We live in a digital era, so we should be looking for digital natives when hiring for the future”

~ Stewart Samkange.


My final thoughts & recommendations


These are 8 recommendations for how companies in East Africa embrace technology and prepare for the future.

  • Develop a HR strategy. This should be in line with the business goals and objectives and use innovative thinking.
  • Embrace technology, do not fight it. Change in inevitable. Organisations that resist change will be left behind and blown out of the water.
  • Plan for how HR can support the business objectives using digital solutions.
  • Start small and focus on resolving 1 – 2 pain points using technology. Link the results to actual business benefits and value.
  • Get the basics right first. It is crucial to build on solid foundations. Accurate data and efficient processes is the best place to start.
  • Enhance the employee experience and consider ways to increase engagement. This will ensure that you are in a better position to retain your best employees.
  • Hire and develop the right talent and skills needed for the future.
  • In the words of Tony Robbins “knowledge is not power; knowledge is potential power.” Attending training is well and good but you must take action to see the results.


HR Tech Africa

Ayaan presenting an award, on behalf of Management Centre Europe.


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