It’s about the boss.

I have just returned from some consulting work in South Africa, where there are huge opportunities for IT business growth. The World Cup has delivered incredible infrastructure benefits and smart entrepreneurs are trying to ride the infrastructure Gautrain all the way home.

The numbers are looking pretty good for South African businesses – many of whom see themselves not as a South African business based in Johannesburg but as an African business based in South Africa.

And with good reason. The latest stats are staggering, showing that the potential across Africa is huge.

South Africa currently has a population of 49 million with Internet penetration of 9.4 percent. Compare that to Australia’s 22 million and penetration of 79.6 percent. Growth in South Africa over the past nine years has been 91.3 percent, compared to Australia’s 156 percent.

When you look at Africa in its entirety though, you start to understand why South African businesses are excited.

Africa’s population is 991 million, with only 6.7 percent having access to the Internet, but growth over the past nine years sits at 1359.9 percent – admittedly from a low base.

This growth is not just in internet connectivity. Computer sales are growing at a similar rate and Africa is the fastest-growing area for mobile phone connections. MTN (Mobile Telephone Network) alone has 130 million mobile phone subscribers and its infrastructure is improving. The last time I visited South Africa, I was convinced that MTN stood for Mountain, as it seemed that on top of a mountain was the only place you could pick up reception. That has now improved dramatically.

At the root of South Africa’s problem is a massive skills shortage – 70,000 jobs in IT alone – combined with an unemployment rate that hovers around 15 percent. Employee turnover in IT sits at 25.4 percent annually, with an incredible 40 percent of the current population contemplating emigration.

Statistics clearly show that low staff turnover equates to higher client satisfaction (which in turn is linked to higher profitability), so it is no wonder a common comment I heard was that South African IT businesses are good at winning clients but not winning clients over.

Many of my discussions therefore focused around strategies to retain employees. A statistic that stumped many is one that stumps employers the world over: 90 percent of employers say ex-employees have left to chase more money, while 90 percent of ex-employees say they left because their boss was a jerk!

I went on to explain that people leave their employer when they feel belittled, when their boss lies to them, is condescending or intimidating or micro-manages them. Most employers find this news a bit of a shock – with some of my audiences complaining that their employees HAVE to be micro-managed as they are so hopeless! These are the guys with 35 percent-plus employee turnover!

It is relatively easy to deliver what employees want in the workplace. Firstly they want challenging, exciting and meaningful work. They want a good boss who gives them recognition and a career path. Flexible conditions help and, to most employers’ amazement, their pay is only number six on the top seven list of reasons to stay with a particular employer.

Number seven is the old chestnut of job security. Grandmothers the world over used to tell their children to get a government job because they would be employed for life. The modern employee rates six other items above job security.

If IT businesses in South Africa can manage to retain their employees, I see huge growth throughout Africa over the next twenty years. I left them with this thought: forget about conducting exit interviews when employees leave. Start conducting stay interviews with the employees they want to keep and see what it will take to keep them. Any IT business in SA that can dramatically reduce employee turnover will have a huge competitive advantage – and I would argue that Australian business can learn from that as well.

Send me your retention strategies at

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