We have been wanting to do a recap post about our working experience in Angola for a while now. After almost 5 years working for an Angolan company, first from Portugal (with several visits to Angola) 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 to improve my technical skills, but I wasn’t really 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, 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 gives you the opportunity to master these skills faster and better.
2. Cope with responsibilities
Coming to Angola, I had the responsibility of creating and leading something completely new in the company but also that was uncommon in Angola – a credit and collections department.
After one year I was invited to lead the Finance Department in Angola and becoming a legal representative of the company. I had to learn to cope with this increased responsibility and if it wasn’t for Angola I probably wouldn’t have 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 itself has become a melting pot of cultures and that is great. 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 given me the opportunity 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 which will reflect in better people and employees.
I believe that this diverse experience has given me an opportunity to learn and grow that 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 current 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 very much, with new laws and a small revolution in the fiscal system.
Unfortunately, in Angola these new laws and fiscal system 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 are reacting to the new requirements, the best for you and your company.
5. People have their own priorities
Inside a company, there are many forces playing and the result of this game of power many times defines the direction of a project or company. Each person has its 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; others although they have some pride in the work, it’s just a way of earning money; And there are others who just 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 number 6 & 7 are so important.
6. Recruitment is the most important thing
I believe that a company’s biggest resource is the human capital and good recruitment policy is the first step to create a great work project, department, and company. In a country where the Human resources are very scarce, recruitment becomes even more important.
Despite needing people with experience, very early I came to the conclusion that in the long-term it would be better trained and develop our human resources. So, the most important characteristic I look in a potential employee is his ability to learn and his commitment to work, not their current technical skills. After realizing this, we were able to find some excellent employees, which grew internally and contribute to having a working department.
7. Train and develop Human resources
If recruiting is the most important thing, training and developing the recruits is the close second! There has been a huge effort by Angolans to take and finish a degree, even while working and taking care of the family. But, unfortunately, education in Angola is still very poor, therefore one of the biggest 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 get the job done, an expat must show how the job is done and create conditions for the job being done without him.
Finally and to wrap it up, I really grew as a person and as a 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 for sure be changed by it. This experience has changed me and has changed the way I perceived the world. It has prepared me for more adventures, in Portugal or anywhere else. On the other hand, I hope I was able to somehow return this by improving the skills and abilities of my colleagues that will be useful for them in future.
I am sure that some of them are now more efficient, organized, aware of problems and ways of solving them by themselves. As I say many times (sometimes misunderstood), I want to be unnecessary. If I am not needed anymore my job was well done 🙂