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Boss Babies or Baby Bosses?

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

As companies and public institutions in Nigeria plan and execute their digital transformation strategies, one key group of people will be critical to the execution and sustainability – the middle level managers. Those at the middle of the organisation have a 360-degree role to play –

  • They work with senior executives to understand the strategies involved

  • They convert these strategies to daily actions with their team members

  • They build alliances with peers, other middle managers and internal customers in other departments

  • They relate with external vendors, regulators, communities and customers.

If your middle level managers are not well equipped for strategy implementation, chances are that your organization will struggle for a long time. Over the last decade, we have worked with more than 150 top organizations across multiple sectors – Banking, Insurance, Oil and Gas, Public Sector, Pensions and lots of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). We found something common, - many are in the middle of digital transformation and are either recruiting new talents or training current employees to fill upcoming leadership positions in a bid to build an institution that is appealing to the requirements of today’s younger employee base and future customers. However, the challenge is how to equip the new and upcoming leaders to effectively handle the workplace of today and tomorrow.

Boss Babies OR Baby Bosses

One of our clients is a Top bank in Nigeria and they had commenced massive recruitment of young and talented individuals for its middle level positions as part of its grand plan to revitalize the workforce and accelerate its digital transformation. The new recruits were sent to a training school for a long period to be taught and prepared for the workplace. During one of my conversations with the HR team, a senior person thought out loud -we are breeding baby bosses” They don’t get it. They think its child’s play out there in the real world”. That statement hit me – who is a baby boss? We discussed a little more with her and explored the initiatives being implemented by other clients of ours and a few we are yet to work with.

We learnt a lot especially as it relates to the workplace. The young recruits, especially the ones being prepared for leadership, can become one of two things – a Boss Baby or a Baby Boss, (baby here is used to depict the age when compared to the age and stage of the existing managers).

A Baby Boss is that young and talented, passionate and well-educated individual who has been prepared (or being prepared) for the workplace to manage resources, people and change initiatives but lacks the mindset, internal maturity, self-connection and depth needed to survive the trenches. The person shows up with fantasies, expectations, and is required to quickly start suggesting fresh ideas, making improvements, managing change, supervising resources, and sometimes people. The challenge is that the new recruit is young, yes but also viewed as incompetent by the system and may struggle for months and months until frustration sets in.

On the other hand, a Boss Baby, though young and considered a “child” within the context of what’s happening in the current workplace, is well equipped and almost assertive enough to deal with the challenges he or she will face in the workplace. The environment, the change processes, the operational structure, the internal handshakes, hierarchy and politics are part of the playbook given to the Boss Baby. Be it the personality type, the upbringing or the depth of training given, the Boss Baby takes charge of the change and is able to deliver results overtime.

Some factors to consider
  1. Most organizations have an entrenched culture, processes, systems and workplace practices that are a struggle for the new generation. They are not just wired this way, so you can’t blame them or the system.

  2. A lot of institutions still have people that are far from digitally inclined. They want to change, some are scared, a lot are unsettled with a desire to improve, but they don’t know how. The influx of younger people everywhere, not just into the organization, is quite encouraging but unsettling. Adegoke, a Business Manager at one of the top insurance companies explained that this problem is even scarier and I asked how. He said –

“we have kids at home too that are digital natives and we struggle everyday to understand what they do in their digital life that is disconnecting them from us. So my worries are double – everywhere we turn, it seems the world has left us, the older generation, behind. The good thing though is that I feel a sense of love and care for those in the office, knowing that these could be my kids too”.

I could only smile. This was in April 2018.

Bringing in young graduates and millennials into the workplace to meet, cope, overcome and survive within these sorts of environment requires a whole new business, leadership, talent, and operations strategy. It is not just a HR or EXCO problem.

In all the cases we studied, these companies spent millions of Naira in recruitment, training, hiring more managers and consultants, changing processes, and making the preparations for these young talents to come in and make an impact. We observed and studied how a lot of them went about on projects and how they have fared in the months and years following (pure observations and interviews and not yet backed by any empirical evidence).

The Boss Babies are pushing boundaries, making better internal connections, growing their network externally too, implementing ideas, inspiring the younger ones, encouragingly stretching the minds of the older generation and better managing conflicts.

In 2019, during one of the strategy review sessions organized where we had both sets of leaders in the same room, a woman from the older generation made a confession:

It started with the parking lot. I used to care less in the past but in recent times, I noticed how old, rickety and dirty my car looked in the parking lot, when compared with those of the younger managers. Then it became my dressing, my writing skills, how I responded in meeting, made presentations and used my phone. A lot was happening at the same time and I knew the world had changed. Though we do not agree a lot of times especially about the riskiness of their behaviour and lack of depth, I must confess that I am learning a lot and repositioning myself to stay relevant. It’s like the current world was built for these younger managers.

Preparing your Institution for the Future

We need the freshness, ideas and perspectives that come with our new managers especially those being groomed for leadership. On the other hand, we also need the experience, depth and perspectives that come with our experienced hands (grey beards as our Board Member, Peter Longe would refer to them).

As business leaders, heads of strategy, managers, HR Heads, supervisors, we should start preparing our teams and institutions for the future by focusing on the following five (5) strategic factors:

1. Our Business Model – everyone (new and existing) should understand the dynamics of the current changes taking place in the industry as well as potential disruptions down the road. We have trained more than 15,000 senior and middle level managers over the last 10 years and a missing link is always the understanding of changing models. It’s a wow! when something major disrupts the market and the CEO will wish that they had led such changes, “if only my people were on the same page, we would have been the first to release this new idea or product”. Lack of understanding is an area of strategic focus. Continuous training, online resources and coaching are some of the approaches to upskilling existing workforce.

2. Our Client Engagement Model – at the end, every business is there to serve the customer and add value while doing so. With the world changing dramatically, the model for service delivery has since changed and must now integrate digital channels into its already existing structures. This is a struggle and arguably so even for the smallest of businesses where the continent’s technological infrastructure is still developing and the leaders are still used to traditional models. Truth is, over the next 5 years, our customers will keep getting younger and they will influence their older parents and, in the end, everyone will want an easier life. Even the public institutions that were once perceived as not having the pressure of competition are now realizing that they have to measure up against their counterparts in other developed nations, and are being called out on social media for poor performance. The citizens need more and expect more. We suggest a massive upskilling of everyone (new and existing) on the changing service delivery models and be able to make decisions when it matters and more importantly execute at the local branch, shop floor, department to ensure that the overall strategy gets cascaded across and downward till it touches the lives and businesses of the customer. I spent time developing and publishing a high-impact online course on Service Excellence that can be a starting point for your Managers.

3. Our Processes and Technology – this is the very interesting and tricky one. As a trained Business Process consultant, I have supported companies in appraising and reinventing their process architecture. We have one of the most positively acclaimed Business Process Essentials Masterclass which we have delivered across multiple companies either as standalone or embedded into other programmes. The cases and challenges of these businesses are usually not far apart –

  • How do we balance the new with the old, speed with security, customer service with internal policies?

  • How do we ensure that team members are not becoming too bureaucratic by our processes that they fail to respond to client changing needs or business model?

  • How do we ensure new recruits don’t get brain stagnant by the processes we have created that they conform rather than produce new ways of thinking?

  • How frequently should our processes change?

For the new leadership recruits, this is very fundamental to how they land into their new roles and make immediate impact. Again, it’s in the capacity building – training, online and eLearning resources, impact projects and refreshers.

4. Our Product Development Model – usually everyone resumes and meets a set of products designed by a group of few persons in the Head Office and will have to understand the features, benefits and how the customers will use them. That is still fine except that the customers out there are benchmarking us to other brands in other industries that have simplified their offerings. Being able to understand your business from first principles, and design new products as if the company was just founded, is one of the hallmarks of workplace creativity.

Using the stage-gate product development as well as other innovation management models, you need to develop ALL your middle level managers and leaders (new and old) on the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship and linking the business to the customers through products. Product development goes way beyond just products and services. It is actually a way of business life being practiced by all of us unknowingly but when harnessed appropriately should lead to better results.

5. Our Sales & Marketing Model – Nigeria has been in and out of recessions in recent times with the effects still lingering on, and businesses and households learning to survive under new conditions with some shutting down and others not able to meet up expenses. Beyond surviving, generating revenue and converting to profit should be the focus of any business – be it a large business or just an SMEs. The country needs the collective growth of its businesses to propel it towards economic development.

Challenge is that most existing employees are not familiar with exactly how to harness the power of web, social media, mobile, and digital strategies for marketing and sales. The new recruits, similarly, struggle to make the transition from personal digital branding to the corporate digital management. Both groups need help – the latter being easier to support – otherwise the CEO and a few people will struggle to translate digital strategies to efficiency and financial results.

As we prepare our new recruits to assume higher responsibilities, a critical area is how to utilize digital platforms for reaching out (marketing) and more importantly convert leads to customers and earn profits.

Conclusion - From Boss Babies to Effective Leadership

We have established that every business and public institution needs to make the generational transition in order to stay relevant. We have also given some insights into the strategic elements that can drive a complete capacity building needed to produce the new generation of young and talented leaders. The next phase is institutionalizing the new leadership culture and being able to translate them into daily actions across the organization.

CEOs, HR Directors and Senior Executives can design a LearnPath with a good blend of depth and breadth and multiple perspectives covering the 5 elements mentioned above that sees synergies between new leadership recruits and existing structures and people. Your overall goal? – build capacity at the middle of the organization, after all, this is where strategy gets translated into daily actions and where sustainable profits are made. The Babies will someday become your adults and face the same challenges with the next generation. The Leadership Continuum must always bring sustainable value.

-A Sapphital/ Star Sapphire Original

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