There's no doubt that poaching is an important part of business worldwide, Pulse.com.gh business journalist Emmanuel Quist looks at the power, and downfall of business poaching.
Yes, the employers enjoy it too, even though they are essentially the ones forking out loads of money and enticements in the chase, primarily because it can be a status booster for them.
For instance Airtel's status in Ghana, in their first year of operations, took a giant boost when the company poached the head of marketing at MTN at the time, George Andah. Andah had just been nominated as Marketing Man of the Year, and snatching him from their biggest competitor definitely turned the head of Ghanaians towards Airtel as a shrewd and formidable brand.
Ben (name withheld to protect his business) who is the Human Resource Manager of a reputable multinational company operating in Ghana, tells Pulse Business an interesting story about how an initial team of ivy-league- educated professionals ended up in a corporate disaster.
" My company came to the Ghanaian market with high hopes of success, and the resources to back a big ambition of grabbing [the] majority of the market in the shortest possible time."
So they headed to the labour market to get the most experienced and best educated talents from their competitors.
" We were ruthless. We wanted nothing but the best. And if they were from our competitors the better. In a short while, we were able to assemble the best of what could easily be described as the best in the country. We had two executives from Harvard Business School, a head of marketing from the London School of Economics and a head of treasury from Yale."
With all this and an average of experience of 8 years, Ben's workforce was ready to kill targets, or so he thought.
" We had high hopes. We were convinced that we had assembled the right team to take over the market, or so we thought. Only for us to find out that we had put together too many liabilities than resources."
Ben's company were meeting their targets to an appreciable level, but not smashing them as was expected with the workforce they had assembled.
" We realized that we were not quiet building the brand in the minds of customers that we had hoped for. Internally, we also realized that it was difficult agreeing on a singular, well- driven culture. And it was surprising for me, because I felt I had highly qualified professionals to achieve a powerful culture for our organisation."
Ben's employers already had an international culture, but needed a Ghana-market- specific culture, something that was proving difficult to achieve..
Meanwhile, Ben realised public impressions about the bank were in contradiction to the brand image they were trying to build. At this point the company had spent close to a million dollars on marketing.
" We found out to our utter dismay that the banking community saw us [as] an SME- biased bank. At the same time, SMEs felt that we did not have enough products for them. To them we were not an SME bank".
According to Organisational Psychologist and HR lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School, Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah, Ben's company had put together highly qualified professionals who had been tainted with the cultures of their previous employers.
"These professionals come with their idea of how things should be done, based on the culture and values of the companies they were working for, making it difficult for them to agree on a singular culture for their new company. They all are indoctrinated with the way things were done in their previous companies."
Ben's analysis of the conundrum in his company attests to Dr. Amponsah-Tawiah's assertion that the team was not coherent enough on what the company's culture must be.
"We found out that whereas the head of marketing and banking products believed that individual customers must be the company's target in the Ghanaian market, the brands communications manager was selling to SMEs. Ironically, there were also complains about how systems in service delivery were not SME friendly. It was a catastrophe for our image and brand."
This, on the face of things looks like a juvenile mistake to be made by ivy-league educated professionals, but it is very common to multinational companies who easily resort to poaching corporate leaders instead of training them.
Companies have not been intuitive enough to the phenomenon over the years even though they probably have been suffering the repercussions of this mistake.
A typical example is the increasing amounts of funds being spent by companies on team building, according to Amponsah- Tawiah.
"Have you wondered why companies are spending more on team- building? Our research shows that companies who poach more spend more on team- building. This is a fundamental consequence of excessive poaching. It gets so bad to the extent of professional bickering like little children, and will not see eye to eye."
" It is far better to recruit young talents out of school, train and indoctrinate them in the values and culture of your company and help them grow into it."
This may be the reason why some upward looking companies are resorting to graduate trainee programs.
One of such companies which has racked in the full benefits of an effective graduate trainee program is Vodafone.
And this is something Ben's company realised so were able to become one of the earliest companies in the Ghana's financial sector to roll out a world- class graduate trainee program.
The program has been able to turn the situation around over the years, and is currently on the path of phenomenal growth championed a generation of executives from the graduate program.
" Don't get me wrong, our ivy-league educated executives did a great job at the end of the day. We were able to build a strong culture after some time of trying, and most of them form the board of our company. Under their leadership our current management have gone on to drive the company to the top of the industry. But of course we learned a valuable lesson."
The lesson here is for companies to invest in graduate training because it offers vast benefits. The other lesson is that a good mix of poached stuff from competitors and otherwise will always be necessary, but your company must have a strong culture in place before the highly egoistic professionals come in.