BY: OLAYINKA A. WILLIAMS
We had hit the jackpot!
Three of us were in the office of the CEO of the Nigerian arm of one of the world's top beverage companies, set to make a presentation to him.
Just getting the opportunity to be in the room was already a win for us, but he wasn't going to let us leave without offering us the bonus of a mind-shifting lesson.
We were proud of the HR application we were pitching to him, as it was the very definition of "Made in Nigeria by Nigerians." But little did we know that his excitement, borne out of a desire to see tech bring more fairness and equity into the Nigerian work culture, would instantly vanish upon discovering that our app only sought to heighten and reinforce the roadblocks to the change he was so desperately seeking.
As we took him through the workflows, he was clear in pointing to us that the greatest challenge to the progress of Nigerian companies and indeed, Nigeria as a whole was supervisors, line managers and bosses in general.
"The biggest problem in Nigeria is Oga," he said, expressing his pain and distaste for a system where superiors lorded over their subordinates, instead of working with them to move the firm forward.
Being so engrossed in the lesson, I couldn't spare a chuckle for the unique way he repeatedly pronounced "Oga," as he went on, describing how many Nigerian bosses deliberately prevent their subordinates from rising. He even physically gesticulated how "Oga will just sit there, doing nothing but block the advancement of the people under him."
As a foreigner who had worked in different countries, you could tell he was speaking from both shock and experience. The shock from what he had witnessed first-hand upon resuming his new role in a new country, and the experience of how things had worked so well elsewhere.
When we showed him the process of an employee applying for training on our app, he was again disgusted at the fact that such an employee would need his supervisor's approval.
Would the supervisor approve such training if he felt his job could be threatened by the employee gaining that knowledge?
Shouldn't the system know whether the course is a good fit and at a good time?
He gave an example of a more open system where one of his blue-collar workers had attended a company MS Excel training and subsequently got a job in the finance department of the same organisation.
In his words, "Do you think if Oga had known about it, he would have given his approval?"
When we got to performance appraisals, he was livid, explaining that technology should remove all human subjectivity in the appraisal process and free all parties of convenient ambiguities.
If the company's leadership has set an annual target and cascaded it down through the platform to the last employee, who had received his specific target for the year, why would the same leadership need a supervisor to tell them whether that employee met his goals or not?
Shouldn't the same platform measure his year-long output and performance viz a viz the overall organisational objectives, maybe like it's done with sports science, instead of allowing subjective reviewers to determine his fate?
Technology shouldn't be aiding and abetting oppression, it should be liberating those held captive by it.
His parting gift to us was one final example of how to rid your organisation of idle coffee-sipping supervisors.
While making the rounds in the early days of his new job, he visited his plant managers and asked what they did for the eight hours of the workday. To his surprise, what one of them claimed to do for the entire day was doable in two hours! So, he promoted him and gave him more responsibility to oversee an additional plant.
More money, more deliverables, but the same time allotted.
As I left his office that day feeling both humbled and culpable, I noted the two great lessons I had learnt that day.
1. As a business leader you must be both objective and hands-on. Be sincere enough to admit that there are problems. Then, study the problems, discover their root causes and see the solutions through without micro-managing.
2. Contrary to my earlier belief, technology should not only be designed to make life easier, but it must also make it better, and hopefully disrupt us out of oppression; especially from those who swore to serve us.
Dear bosses, please understand that 'easier is not necessarily better.' So, pursue the latter as you design your products and processes.
Let's make it of better benefit to all.
OLAYINKA A. WILLIAMS is an author, speaker, startup founders' coach, personal brand and career advisor, recruitment and training consultant. This article was originally published here.