Embracing a digital culture in people management in Africa

Embracing a Digital Culture for People Management in Africa


In July 2019, I was honoured to be a guest speaker at the East African HR Convention in Kigali. The focus of my talk was about embracing a digital culture for people management in Africa for the long term. This post highlights some of the key points from my presentation.


Kigali Conference Centre, Rwanda.

Kigali Conference Centre, Rwanda.


HR Tech Africa - East African HR Convention, Kigali, Rwanda

IHRM (Kenya) National Chairman and Executive Director, pictured with Ayaan Chitty at the East Africa HR Convention, 2019.


Why is it important to create a digital culture for people management in Africa?


The world is an exciting place right now. But it’s also becoming increasingly more uncertain in many ways. Technology continues to advance and generation shifts in the workplace are causing ripples in the way things have traditionally been done.

Many people have been in their HR careers for some time and have become accustomed to certain ways of working. So, it can be somewhat overwhelming to hear many new buzz words, concepts and innovations.

The fact is, the world is changing around us everyday.  Let’s just stop for a second and think about some of the significant advances in technology that have happened in the past ten years alone. Things have changed drastically, so it’s not hard to imagine that the things we know today will be ‘shaken up’ again in the next decade or so.

As HR and business professionals, it is crucially important that we pay attention to three things:

  • Not taking anything for granted
  • Keeping an open mind
  • Embracing change and most importantly of all, be prepared for constant change.

Here are 5 steps on how you can start embracing change and be prepared for the future of digital HR in Africa.


1. Act now


The digital revolution is here and there is no escaping it – and there is definitely nowhere to hide!

Therefore, the focus is no longer planning for what is to come. It’s now all about how to jump on board the moving train, which has already left the station and is gaining momentum, fast.


How quickly will business and HR leaders respond?


Many will undoubtedly be left behind. They will fail to see the need to adapt or firmly dig their heels in and refuse to change the old ways of doing things.

Others will embrace the change. They will not only see it as a necessity but appreciate it as a positive move towards a better, more productive, happier and conducive workplace.

Which ones will become the leading companies of the future?


Well, not the ones who stand firmly in front of the train and refuse to move. Unfortunately, change will continue with or without them onboard.

The wave of change happening right now also presents greater opportunity for HR to elevate themselves from being just operational and reactive. Ambitious business leaders expect more. HR must step up and become a leading function in the business. How can they achieve this? Firstly, by being proactive and showcasing the strategic value that HR can bring to the table.

To be more proactive, HR professionals need to demonstrate commercial awareness and become familiar with concepts such as people analytics. Analytics can be an excellent way to link HR activities to strategic planning and decision making.

For example, metrics that show how to drive down retention and enhance productivity will be a positive step in the right direction when it comes to conversations with senior leaders. A HR leader who can provide such metrics is clearly forward looking, future focused and deserving of a ‘seat at the table’.


The train has already left the station and is gaining momentum

Act now. The train has already left the station and is gaining momentum (Image by StockSnap, Pixabay)


2. Build capabilities


PwC’s 22nd annual CEO Survey highlighted that globally, CEOs see ‘significant retraining and upskilling’ as the best answer to building capability in the workforce. This came above changing to a contingent workforce or hiring from the market.

Talent already exists within most organisations, it just needs to be tapped into and nurtured. A re-focus is required to develop the right skills and ‘ignite the spark’. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can be challenging to know where to begin and which skills and capabilities to focus on. The process of reskilling an entire business can seem incredibly daunting.

Capabilities for the future workplace will include a blend of digital and soft skills. We can think about building capabilities in two ways:

  • Capability within HR
  • Capability within the wider organisation for both current staff and new hires

HR can no longer simply play an ‘enabler’ role in supporting the business goals. They must become an integral part of the strategy design and take a much more proactive role, to help drive the business forward.

To prepare for the future, HR must develop a strategic outlook, embrace change and be proactive about ‘rethinking the way they work.’

Skills for the future


In a more general business context, non-technical skills that will become very relevant in the future workplace are outlined below.

  • Digital collaboration
  • Digital mindset
  • Dynamic problem solving
  • Dynamic learning
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Human-machine collaboration
  • Learning from failure
  • Critical thinking
  • Multi-cultural intelligence
  • Dealing with rapid change.


Human-machine collaboration is an important skill

Human-machine collaboration is an important skill for the future (Image by iakovenko, 123rf.com)


Aside from upskilling current employees, when hiring, you will be looking for candidates who already demonstrate these skills. This will make it easier for you to build their skills as they progress through their career.

In a previous post, hiring the right skills for the future Kenyan workplace, I looked at each of these skills in more detail.


3. Build a digital culture for people management and the business


Actually, digital is only part of the story.

A winning strategy must include building an inclusive culture that will inspire and motivate employees. To be successful with implementing digital tools and creating an optimal future workplace, it’s important to ensure that the culture of the organisation is inspiring, conducive to change and willing to embrace technology. In real terms, this really means showing that you care for and value your employees and are prepared to equip them for the future.

To quote Mr. Joseph V. Onyango, National Chairman of the Institute of Human Resource Management (Kenya), “we need to see employees as humans rather than simply a resource.”

Changing a culture is not something that can be done overnight, it takes time.

The following list provides some ideas of things that you can focus on to nurture the right culture.

  • Wellbeing
  • Resilience
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Intrapreneurship
  • Autonomy
  • Personalised experience
  • Unbiased processes
  • Real time feedback
  • Trust and transparency
  • Communicate clearly
  • Inspire and build excitement
  • Take employees with you on a compelling journey
  • Measure and respond to employee insights
  • Build a culture of continuous learning
  • Be human.

Let’s think about what really lies beneath each of these points for a second. It’s clear to see that the key to success is about making employees feel valued, trusted, inspired, empowered. Perhaps most importantly of call, simply treating them as humans.


Treating people as human in an increasingly digital world is critical.

Treating people as human in an increasingly digital world is critical (Image by langstrup, 123rf.com).


4. Streamline and centralise data


The shift towards data-driven decision-making using real time insights and predictive analytics is becoming a hot topic.

In my recent article, I highlighted 6 steps to getting started with HR analytics for African businesses. One point which I emphasised is importance of building solid foundations, in terms of both data and technology as a starting point. This is a fundamental step in preparing for the future digital workplace.

If you have data all over the place, in various systems or even worse, in spreadsheets or manual files, then the first task needs to be to organise this in a sensible fashion. Data must also be accurate and there are suitable processes to ensure it remains up-to-date. This can be done in conjunction with an upgrade of digital solutions but it must be done.

Failing to take this crucial step early on, would be similar to building a house without first laying a concrete foundation to support it.


Streamlining and centralising data is a fundamental step in preparing for the future digital workplace.

Streamlining and centralising data is a fundamental step in preparing for the future digital workplace (image by nexusplexus, 123rf.com).


5. Embrace & invest in digital


According to PwC’s Preparing for Tomorrow’s Workforce, Today report, HR’s ability to navigate the technology landscape is a top ‘at risk’ capability for organisations.

It is also clear from this survey that HR and business leaders don’t see it the same way. 41% of HR leaders are confident that their HR departments are up to speed in this area, but only a quarter of business leaders agree.

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 also highlighted that HR has failed to develop its digital skills in pace with advances in technology!

With continuous digital changes happening at significant speed, it is imperative that HR does more to understand technology. Specifically, how to apply it successfully within their organisations.

Building HR’s understanding of technological change and its implications will be a vital step in successfully preparing for the future.

Business leaders also need to be prepared to make investment into both technology and the upskilling of the workforce. Aside from that, HR leaders must take steps to educate their peers and own the conversation within their organisation. It is HR’s responsibly to bring business leaders with them from the start of the journey and clearly demonstrate that they have the capability to continue leading HR into the next generation workplace.


Business leaders need to make investment into both technology and the upskilling of the workforce

Business leaders need to make investment into both technology and upskilling the workforce (Image by kiquebg, Pixabay).


Key takeaways & final thoughts


There were three key takeaways I highlighted to delegates when I spoke in Kigali. These were:

  • Act now – the change is happening, so get on board and be prepared!
  • Develop capabilities from within the business and nurture a culture that is ‘digital to the core’
  • Seize the opportunity to elevate the perception of HR and showcase your strategic value.

Finally, by embracing a digital culture for people management in Africa, you are developing a future-focused workplace that will continue to thrive through the times ahead.


HR Tech Africa - East African HR Convention (2019), Kigali, Rwanda

Martin Wanjohi (Director, iPerformance Africa) pictured with Ayaan Chitty at the East Africa HR Convention, 2019.


HR Tech Africa - East African HR Convention (2019), Kigali, Rwanda

Lillian Ngala (Head of HR, Diamond Trust Bank) pictured with Ayaan Chitty at the East Africa HR Convention, 2019.


Thanks for reading


If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook



Are you a HR professional in Kenya?


If you would like more information on how you can prepare for the future and build the right digital culture for your African business, please reach out to me here



Never miss an update from us.

Leave a Reply