My colleague Jane Kiringai and I have been visiting Kenyan companies every 2-3 weeks. These visits have convinced me that Kenya can indeed make enormous progress and prosper. The strength of these companies and their peers is one reason why, after four waves of shocks since 2008, Kenya is still standing. Just imagine of how the country would prosper if the bottlenecks facing companies and individuals were removed!
We have been visiting companies producing cut flowers, textiles, dairy, consumer goods, telecommunication services, and most recently, an up-and-coming brewery. Despite their differences, the most impressive companies were similar with respect to two related management principles:
- Empowering the “factory floor”. All strong companies empower their employees. The most memorable moment was at BIDCO , one of the largest consumer product company in East and Central Africa. At the central part of their Thika factory outside Nairobi, Jane and I climbed several ladders and, in the middle of many huge pipes, we met the “factory floor manager”. He was responsible for keeping the machine room running. With great pride he showed us his reporting sheet which documented the pass-through of a substance in 15 minutes intervals, including the measures he took to correct any errors. The mid-level manager who guided us through his company told us: “We managers need to follow the 20/80 rule – 20% routine work and 80% strategy. We should not interfere in the day-to-day running of the operations”.
- Performance culture. Most of the companies we visited measure the performance of their employees on a regular basis. The cut-flower company Oserian in Naivasha impressed us all. They recognize the most productive worker on a daily basis. The worker– typically a woman–receives a salary top-up and a flag that everyone can see from across the factory floor. Another good example is Kencall ,which we visited when World Bank Chief Economist Justin Lin and Africa Chief Economist Shanta Devarajan came to Nairobi in December 2009 (see picture below). Kencall was voted the best call center outside Europe in 2008.
I wonder if we could introduce these management methods in other organizations, including the World Bank.
Picture: Justin Lin taking a call (with, from right to left, CEO of Kencall Nick Nesbitt, Shanta Devarajan, Celestin Monga, and a Kencall employee)