Into Africa – how to overcome the complexities of sending assignees to a fast-evolving continent

When companies consider what it means to do business in Africa, the answer is often: “It’s complex.” But as a continent on the move, Africa has huge growth potential – so developing strategies to cope with that complexity is now crucial.

plane landing in Africa
Africa's economy is growing fast and research shows corporations are increasingly investing across the region and moving employees and their families to support their business intiatives. But it is still seen as a complex place to do business. Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader in Consulting Services at Crown World Mobility provides top tips for companies sending staff to work in Africa:In our survey in which 20 organisations across a range of industries took part, the top destinations were revealed as Accra in Ghana, Lagos in Nigeria plus Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa.That's not surprising. South Africa recently made it into the top 50 most competitive world economies for the first time in the 2015-16 Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum.The report also suggested Africa's middle class – now more than 315 million people – is the fastest growing in the world and consequently generating a consumer boom.

So, the incentive to do business in Africa is huge. But what are the challenges?

In our research the biggest ones highlighted were security (94 per cent), the ability of the employee and their family to adjust to the local culture (56 per cent) and the employee's willingness to accept the assignment in the first place (56 per cent).Additionally, the complexities for the region continue to be driven by inconsistent infrastructure – whether it is the electrical supply, telephone lines, transportation networks, quality education and training, high unemployment figures or challenging government regulations.Meeting those challenges, however, is increasingly important as investment in Africa continues to grow.

Here are five things to consider to manage and improve the success of assignments into the region:

Getting started: Ask yourself what the biggest challenge for your organization is when moving employees into or within Africa, and what support can you provide or improve to address that challenge?Security: If "internal security briefing pre-departure" is your company's primary approach to addressing security preparation for employees and their families, try and find one more way to improve this support. Reach out to current and past assignees and ask for their input. Ask team members on the ground to brainstorm quick wins and next steps.Bribery and corruption: There's no getting away from the fact that bribery and corruption issues still exist across Africa. Seventeen per cent in our survey said assignees had encountered a need for local 'fixers' to facilitate movement through bureaucratic situations in their host country, for instance. How will you prepare employees for these issues? Begin a conversation between your risk and compliance specialists. You may want to include local HR and business leaders in key assignment locations or the assignees themselves. It is important to understand what else would be useful and what the company's position is on dealing with what some of the employees and their families will encounter. "Don't ask, don't tell" does not sound like a strong policy.Adjusting to the local culture: This was cited as a top challenge for both assignments into Africa and assignments/transfers within Africa. It is not uncommon for managers of assignees and employees themselves to undervalue cross- cultural training support. Settling-in services, especially for regional moves, are often eliminated or not offered in the first place – despite the fact that getting up and running in an environment where the local infrastructure is not consistent or familiar is challenging. Some companies are developing welcome packs, orientation support in the new location and formal on-boarding processes for assignees. What else can your program offer?Immigration: It is clear that no company has found an easy route for the immigration challenges that occur in many African locations. The findings indicate that improving communication, expectation setting and the accuracy of the paperwork process, are good steps to managing the unavoidable requirements and addressing employee limbo. But a long-term strategy for some companies with long-term investments in African is to become known for their local recruiting and development programmes. By focusing on training the next generation skills gaps can eventually be met. Is this possible (even on a small scale) for your organisation? It is one thing to meet a requirement around local hiring quotas, but it is another to become highly regarded for your strategy and outcomes in the local communities.
Clearly there are still challenge ahead for any business sending assignees into Africa. But since the possibilities there are enormous – and visible progress continues to be made – these complexities need to become part of the strategy. It's time to embrace complexity.

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