How to be an employer that wins – explained through 7 African proverbs

Good employers produce better workers, and better workers produce better work – isn’t rocket science is it?

The list of “Best Employer Singapore 2015” also includes American Express International, Microsoft Singapore, and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Even McDonald’s was crowned the “BEST OF THE BEST” employer by global HR management and consulting firm Aon Hewitt.

The NTUC also has its own way of recognizing model employers through their “Mayday Model Partnership Awards” – through the celebration of companies who have achieved success in bringing about better wages and enhancing productivity (in order to bring about better wages).

So, what’s the formula to becoming a model employer?

There is no gospel truth but surely the focus is a lot on PEOPLE.

And because we’re so cheem, we’ll explain all this through the medium of African proverbs. Through this wisdom, we wish you success.


Proverb 1: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Be people-centered

People want to have meaning in their work and in their lives. Embrace a positive business model and you will have fulfilled, satisfied workers.

Always keep in mind that your employees are your most valuable asset. Happy workers would mean delighted customers. Happy workers are also more productive.

You should also improve service processes and other operations. Don’t make us waste effort in stapling hundreds of booklets especially if it is not core to the business! Invest in technology or outsource to assist us. Our work will be less tedious and we can do more meaningful things!

Customer delight will come with better operating strategies. A delighted customer will then empower us! This empowerment will translate into more profits and greater company value.


Proverb 2: “He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk.”


Lead by example

Ever had that employer who doesn’t practise what he preaches? Employees give respect only to people who walk the talk. Be committed to your company’s vision as much as you like employees to be. This can lead to a top-down effect.

Be down-to-earth, nobody likes to associate themselves with liars or poker faces. We prefer to work under bosses who are humble and good-natured – people who show us mutual respect.

In the Eastern culture, the issue of “face” (reputation) holds a heavy weight. The last thing we want is to have a relative asking, ‘Your manager is in the news for fraud? I read that he bought a private villa overseas using company funds!’ or “Your company actually operates sweat shops overseas? What are your thoughts on such business ethics?”

We would much prefer to have it like, ‘Wow, your company is so kind, donated $50,000 to the Presidents’ Star Charity!’ There we have it, corporate social responsibility. Beyond superficiality, we feel empowered when our company gives back to the community. It does not always have to be in a cheque. Organising company community service projects to nursing homes would do the same or even more.


Proverb 3: “He who receives a gift does not measure.” 


Give recognition and commend good works, however small. 

Don’t be slow to shower compliments. Your encouragement can be a huge impetus to our performance. We will work harder to earn our next commendation.

Recognition is a basic human need. We are not cash cows who work tirelessly just to help your companies generate higher profits. We don’t want to see it only in the form of monthly paychecks. Give us frequent and verbal encouragements!


Proverb 4: “A happy man marries the girl he loves, but a happier man loves the girl he marries.”


Don’t despise your employees, develop them!

In this case, ‘man’ refers to an employer while ‘girl’ refers to an employee. Don’t dispense an employee to menial work just because you deem him incapable upon unveiling his ‘true colours’. You may blame it on ill fortune for picking the wrong person from the interview, but don’t grumble for too long. Impart the skills!

Whole Foods Market made it in FORTUNE magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”. FORTUNE lauded its “commitment to professional growth and development opportunities as well as the freedom and encouragement of personal passions”. Celebrate diversity and provide all employees with career progression. You just might unleash hidden potential.


Proverb 5: “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.”


The need for constructive criticism

Don’t be quick to criticise. Listen, don’t just hear. Of course, we don’t expect you to spoon feed us. At least give us a direction to work on improvements. We don’t like you to reject all the proposals that we have painstakingly crafted.

It is a waste of time and we will feel horrible. If you are displeased, be sure to let us know the reason.


Proverb 6: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.”


Know what’s happening on the ground

Maintain a good working environment. If you can’t be on the ground personally, hire a manager! Conflicts in the workplace should be mediated early. An intense atmosphere will not help with productivity and company culture.

It will also affect the mood of other employees who are not in the position to handle. Why aren’t the higher-ups stepping in? You surely don’t want your company performance to be inadvertently affected by ‘office politics’.


Proverb 7: “Do not forget what it is to be a sailor when you become a captain yourself.”


Be reasonable, don’t exploit

Be caring and understanding. Put yourself in our shoes. Just like you, we have a family and we need to spend time away from work as well. Be flexible in job scheduling. Do not expect us to be at work the next day after the wake of a family member!

OT all day, everyday? No go, boss. However, do not be a Mr Nice to the extent of a pushover. We will also lose our respect for you. Master the ‘tao’ of employee empowerment – it is all about balancing the yin (receiving) and the yang (giving).

Bonus proverb, an icing on the cake: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” Only when your employees are pleased with you, then can you pit yourself against your competitors.



Good luck!







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