We have been wanting to do a recap post about our experience working in Angola for a while now. After almost 5 years working for an Angolan company, first from Portugal (with several visits to Angola) and then living in Luanda, this experience changed me.
It made me improve my soft skills, my social skills, and, most importantly, my ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. On the downside, I didn’t have the opportunities for formal training and improving my technical skills, but I wasn’t expecting to.
So what can you expect to learn if you work in Angola as an expat?
1. Leading people
Coming to Angola, I had little experience leading people, and my first job was to create a collections department from scratch.
I had complete freedom to organize the department and recruit the people I wanted. As the department naturally grew, I became more able to set goals and persuade, inspire, and motivate others to achieve those goals.
A leader has to develop a strategy, provide training, communicate clearly, listen to feedback, monitor the team’s performance, and create relevant reports. Although most of this wasn’t new to me, working in Angola allows you to master these skills faster and better.
2. Cope with responsibilities
Coming to Angola, I was responsible for creating and leading something utterly new in the company, which was also uncommon in Angola – a credit and collections department.
After one year, I was invited to lead the Finance Department in Angola and become a company legal representative. I had to learn to cope with this increased responsibility and if it weren’t for Angola, I probably wouldn’t have had these opportunities so fast.
3. Multi-ethnic society
Before coming to Angola, I never realized how many different ethnic groups and nationalities there are in Angola. Luanda has become a melting pot of cultures, which is excellent. Besides the obvious Angolan and Portuguese, I have met Brazilians, South Africans, Americans, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italians, French, etc, etc, etc.
Working in Angola has allowed me to work with people completely alike, with different beliefs, habits, and expertise. Being exposed to this kind of multi-ethnic groups gives people a “cultural awareness,” tolerance, and knowledge that will reflect better people and employees.
I believe that this diverse experience has allowed me to learn and grow, which will be an edge for the rest of my life, personally and professionally.
4. To adapt to an ever-changing environment
In Angola, everything changes very quickly, and with the oil crisis, it’s even faster. I’m amazed by the number of things that happen in a week. There’s always something happening, something that needs your quick intervention. The economic environment has changed dramatically, with new laws and a small revolution in the fiscal system.
Unfortunately, these new laws and fiscal systems in Angola are put in place without much (and sometimes any) notice, so you will need to be alert and ready to adapt your teams’ work processes to answer these challenges.
With the current currency crisis, this is truer than ever, the faster you react to the new requirements, the best for you and your company.
5. People have their own priorities
Inside a company, many forces play, and the result of this game of power often defines the direction of a project or company. Each person has their own agenda, and sometimes they are concurrent, but other times people just have different priorities.
For some people work, and having a job well done, is really important, and they are even willing to take from their personal time to achieve their goals; for others, although they have some pride in the work, it’s just a way of earning money; And there are others who don’t care about the job and if they work as little as they can.
Unfortunately, I have met too many people in Angola that just don’t like their job or don’t have any pride in having a job well done. Fortunately, I have also met many that do, and that’s why points #6 & #7 are so important.
6. Recruitment is the most important thing
I believe that a company’s most significant resource is human capital and a good recruitment policy is the first step to creating a great work project, department, and company. In a country where Human resources are very scarce, recruitment becomes even more critical.
Despite needing people with experience, very early, I came to the conclusion that in the long-term, it would be better to train and develop our human resources. So, the most important characteristic I look for in a potential employee is his ability to learn and his commitment to work, not their current technical skills.
After realizing this, we found some excellent employees, which grew internally and contributed to having a working department.
7. Train and develop Human resources
If recruiting is the most crucial thing, training and developing the recruits is the close second! There has been a tremendous effort by Angolans to take and finish a degree, even while working and caring for the family.
But unfortunately, education in Angola is still very poor. Therefore one of the most significant contributions of expats in Angola is to help with this education issue.
It’s part of the job of any expat (and even more if he is in a leading role) to transfer his technical skills. Usually, I prefer an on-the-job training approach to this, so I usually teach the basics, and then as doubts occur, I try to teach and explain the more complicated stuff.
Again, I do believe that more than getting the job done, an expat must show how the job is done and create conditions for the job to be done without him.
Finally, and to wrap it up, I grew as a person and professional in Angola. The opportunity I got to work in Luanda made it possible; whilst the day-by-day sometimes is difficult, it just contributes to the experience as a whole.
Each person will learn new and different things in Angola but will undoubtedly be changed by it. This experience has changed me and changed the way I perceive the world. It has prepared me for more adventures in Portugal or anywhere else.
On the other hand, I hope I was able somehow to return this by improving the skills and abilities of my colleagues, which will be helpful for them in the future.
I am sure that some of them are now more efficient, organized, and aware of problems and ways of solving them by themselves. As I often say (sometimes misunderstood), I want to be unnecessary. If I am not needed anymore, my job was well done 🙂