Last week, I attended the East Africa HR Symposium conference in Naivasha, Kenya. The conference was hosted by Rise & Learn at the Enashipai Resort and was the first of its kind in the East Africa region.

The theme of the conference was “The Future is Now… Gaining the Edge in HR” which recognised that the new generation of workplace is very much digital, and it is happening now. Emily Kamunde-Osoro, Founder & Director at Rise & Learn passionately stated in her welcome address that “technology is what will shape the future.”

I was delighted to be featured as one of the speakers, along with some very highly regarded thought-leaders and industry experts, including the world-renowned Dave Ulrich – the “Father of HR” as the keynote speaker.

The full line up of speakers was impressive:

The Symposium was immensely inspiring for me and I took away many insights, both directly from the other speakers as well as through discussions with delegates. During my flight home, I had some time to digest and reflect on what I learned from last week and wanted to share some of my own thoughts plus some recommendations for HR within the region.


The Future is Now… Embrace Technology

As Dorcus Wainaina, Executive Director of the Institute of Human Resources (IHRM) Kenya stated in her opening speech, “the future is truly now; we need to prepare for what is to shortly come…we must prepare for a more dynamic workplace and as HR professionals, we must gain the edge.”

During day one, Stewart Samkange, LinkedIn’s new Talent Services Director for Africa, talked about the impact of technology on talent acquisition. Using a personal example of how he landed his jobs at SAP and LinkedIn, by being actively engaged through social media, he set the tone for the next three days by saying “let’s embrace it [technology], let’s not fight it.”

There is now more to HR technology than the traditional HRMIS systems. Whilst it is still important to get the fundamentals right, social media, cloud-based applications, artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data are just a few examples of technologies that are rapidly disrupting the market. There are many new ways to incorporate technology into the workplace for a variety of purposes. For example, in my session “Creating the Ideal Workplace through HR Technology,” I used the concept of gamification to demonstrate to the audience how technology can be used to engage people in the workplace.


Re-imagine HR; Focus on Adding Value to Gain the Edge

Enosh Bolo, Managing Director of Maxworth Associates posed the question: “Is your HR function transactional or strategic?” The reality is that many HR functions like to think they are strategic and partners to the business yet often, they lack sufficient knowledge of the business and their day-to-day priorities are administrative tasks, such as processing leave forms. Technology now makes it easy for routine & administrative tasks to be automated and control placed in the hands of people outside of HR, allowing HR the opportunity to become more strategic.

HR is the heart beat of an organisation but unless the function is adding value to its customers, whether internal or external, then there is a danger that they will become less relevant, compared to other functions. HR must step up and outside of its comfort zone in order to drive the right conversations, implement the right strategies and tools to add value to the organisation and continue to learn, unlearn and then relearn in order to to attract the right talent, become more strategic and develop a strong work place for the future. As Stewart stated “we [HR] are not being seen as relevant, as we are not driving conversations about data and how it can be used to support business decisions.”

Value Defined

Dave Ulrich gave an inspiring presentation and suggested that “value is defined by the receiver not the giver; we don’t impose our wants on someone else. Ask what the leaders want, then connect that want to HR and how they can help to deliver it. Can we create value for somebody else? That is adding value.”

How Can HR Add More Value?

HR’s job is not to do HR. This may sound counter-intuitive but actually, HR has evolved well beyond being an administration centre and leaders have different expectations from the function in today’s world. Dave proposed that “HR is not about HR but about its customers.” He continued by stating that “our [HR’s] job is to value the leader; make them feel valued and understood… listening doesn’t mean that YOU understand but that the other person feels understood.”

According to Dave, “80% of data is in observation and 20% is in analytics; but HR are afraid to rely on observation and experience. In HR we like to be comfortable; to be successful, we need to get out of that comfort zone.”

“Don’t look in the mirror, look out the front window to the outside world” ~ Dave Ulrich

Hiring & Developing the Right Talent for the Future Workplace

By 2020 there will be up to 5 generations in the workplace and millennials will comprise up to 50 percent of the workforce (view source). Millennials are demanding much more flexibility, have high expectations and are driven by different things. There are more contract workers and a higher degree of entrepreneurial spirit, both inside and outside of work. The business world is becoming much more competitive and technology is having an increasing effect in all areas of our lives. Having a job for life is now a thing of the past, with many people moving around in their careers much more freely. All of these factors call for a new approach – we cannot just continue doing things the same way, or we will become less and less relevant in the marketplace.

Susan Githuku highlighted the reality of this unprecedented pace of change by quoting in her presentation that “52% of the Fortune 500 firms since 2000 are gone.” Statistics like this force us to sit back and think. Susan highlighted that the new industry leaders are increasingly overtaking existing leaders unexpectedly and operating differently to traditional companies already in the industry, e.g.

  • MPESA, which has changed the face of digital banking in Kenya was developed by a telecom company, not a bank
  • Uber – the world’s largest taxi firm owns no taxis
  • Air BNB – the world’s largest hotel company owns no real estate
  • Netflix – the world’s largest entertainment company makes no movies and lays no cables
  • The world’s largest social media companies create no content

None of the companies above existed 20 years ago. We cannot ignore such examples and should not get complacent, however successful we are today. There is always a potential competitor ready to overtake when we take our eyes off the road or stop to look at the scenery.

The new world of work is more focused for purpose, meaning and impact. People want to be recognised for being involved. They will therefore, assess a company and ask questions such as does the company align to my personal mission, vision and value? The company must also understand and ensure it helps the process of finding the right alignment. Nicol Mullins of Mercer, South Africa, stated that “people who are not aligned with company mission, vision and value, will not want to stay long.”

One of the most important aspects to foster in the workplace today is a digital culture. Developing a digital culture and DNA from the inside out should not be underestimated. This must start within the company with the current work force; inspire them by the vision of the future, allay fears, find ways to engage them with digital and develop their skills. Equally, when hiring new talent, consider those who already have a digital footprint and can see the future vision of the digital workplace.

“We live in a digital era, so we should be looking for digital natives when hiring for the future” ~ Stewart Samkange.

My Final Thoughts & Recommendations

These are 7 recommendations for how companies in East Africa can start to embrace technology and prepare for further change ahead;

  • Develop a HR strategy, in line with the business goals and objectives and consider the changing needs and demands of the future workplace.
  • Embrace technology, do not fight it. Organisations that try to resist inevitable change will be left behind and overtaken rapidly by their competitors.
  • Create a plan for how HR can support the business objectives using digital solutions.
  • Start small; focus on utilising technology to solve 1 or 2 key challenges first. Tie the results to demonstrate actual business benefit.
  • Get the basics right – focus on getting the core HR data and processes robust first. Without a strong foundation and accurate data, it will be difficult to build an effective digital HR infrastructure; if data is inaccurate, it will also have a detrimental effect on HR.
  • Enhance the employee experience to increase engagement and retention. Hire and develop the right talent and skills needed for the future.
  • In the words of Tony Robbins “knowledge is not power; knowledge is potential power.” Attend training to learn but create a way to ensure you take consistent action to realise the results. Carla Benedetti spoke about the importance of coaching as a way to ensure that knowledge is applied effectively, and you have support needed for the journey ahead.

Are you based in East Africa and want to know how to attract, acquire and keep the best talent in a changing digital world?

I am hosting a one-off FREE workshop in Nairobi on 15th August, 2018 (FREE for a LIMITED PERIOD Only). You can find out more and register here.


Photo credits: EstudioCamouflage.


  • Beatrice says:

    interesting insights. I would like to attend the 15th August 2018 workshop in Nairobi

    • Ayaan Chitty says:

      Hi Beatrice, thanks for your comments. It would be great to see you at the workshop – don’t forget to register via the link above, as it is only free for a limited period (up to 20th July 2018).
      Best regards,

  • Arnold says:


    Excellent article. Looking forward to meet upbwith you in August

    Arnold Ogema
    HRIS Manager, KCB Bank

    • Ayaan Chitty says:

      Hi Arnold, appreciate your comments It would be great to meet you in August – if you register for the event through the link above with your contact details, I will be in touch. All the best.
      Warm regards,

  • Catherine Wamwangi says:

    Dear Ayaan,
    You could not have put it any better in terms of the discussions and deliberations that took place last week at the HR symposium. The future is now and HR must fully align to ensure they support the business by embracing technology in their processes.

    I look forward to seeing you again in August as we discuss all things Talent!

    PS – what are your thoughts on how a medium size company in the telecommunication industry leverage on its HR processes especially using technology given the fact that the rate of change is at the twinkle of an eye?


    • Ayaan Chitty says:

      Hi Catherine, thanks for your comments. I am glad you found the Symposium and my summary helpful. It will be great to see you again in August!
      You raise a very valid question re: adopting technology; with things moving so quickly, it can be difficult to know where to start. I would need to understand a bit more about your company and where you are in your digital journey to be able to give a detailed answer (let’s chat more in August on this). However, the main thing is that you make a start – technology will only pick up pace more and more, so you don’t want to be left behind. Start out with ensuring you build solid foundations (such as core processes and clean data), then focus on aspects that are business critical and will demonstrate value to the business – implement tools to help with this. Another recommendation is not to try and do everything at once. Building a ‘digital culture’ within the business is also key. There’s lots to think about but I’m here to help! 🙂

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