Meet Deji Ishmael – Managing Director, Afrissance Limited


Deji Ishmael is the Managing Director of Afrissance, an enterprise transformation consulting firm offering services such as Organisational and Leadership Development, Change Management, Digital Transformation and related capacity development.

He is a versatile executive consultant with over 20years of management and leadership experience and has held leadership positions in a number of successful organizations across Europe, United States and Africa with experience in the following sectors; technology, financial services, oil and gas, government agencies and other private companies.

Deji serves as the Region Mentor (Africa) for the Project Management Institute and the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) based in South Africa.

Leading Change in the African Environment Introduction

  1. It is obvious that Change Management is important to African organizations but there are not many Change Management Professionals in Nigeria. How did you get into the profession? 

Well, It started with “Why” 

At some point, something would have to change. It’s very obvious that there is a fast-growing need for the change management profession especially now that the political landscape and business space is evolving. I was one of the few champions of the project management practice in Africa when the profession of project management was a bit new and fresh. One of the few things I did aside being a consultant to leading organizations and government was to also mentor the different chapters of project management across Africa. I guess that really prepared me for the conversation of change management. You know, we all grew up around this place and growing up, it would be a big surprise to see an African brand in the news or on the Forbes list. We wanted to change that trend, and our mission to first ensure that projects are managed according to standards and adoption level increases. 

I work with many international organizations and I see their processes and how these organizations adopt best practices; compared to what we have around here, we seem very far. We hear of many projects with great potentials led by African companies and government- yet they fail primarily because of poor or no change management strategy. 

I wanted that to change the perception of Africa failing and the best approach for me was to engage the private sectors. I have a hunger to inspire organizations to be better and bigger. African organizations can become global.

  1. Can you tell us what Change Management really mean?

PROSCI, the international organization with about 20 years research experience in change management defines it as “the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt the change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.” 

Basically, it is a process to successfully transition individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. 

Change is an essential part of an organization for it to survive competitively and grow as a business. One of the reasons why change efforts fail is the lack of attention to the people side of change. In many African organizations, high power distance poses as a hindrance to successful planning and implementation of change. To tackle this, change sponsors have to develop and encourage honesty and openness in the organization. 

So you have this wonderful new process that you know will help the organization grow and have a competitive advantage but your employees and managers are not buying into it. Or there is a merger and you underestimated the negative effect on the employees. You spend resources to get them trained but still, they are not buying into it, the process is going downhill. That’s money gone that you are not getting back. It might even lead to the demise of that organization. 

The African business environment is very unstable. Nigeria has announced the biggest economy in West Africa but the opposite is the current state. South Africa occupied the top position but sadly also followed us into recession. Growth is good but it is obvious there is something Africa might not be doing right. 

  1. You mentioned a phrase earlier, “people side of change.” What does that mean? 
Read Also:  Meta Makes Its Political Ad Targeting Data Available

There are two ways to view change management: Organisational and individual. Organisational change is from the top-down (business leaders looking down into the organization), while individual change is driven from the bottom-up (management of change from the employee’s perspective looking up) 

An effective change management process should consist of an individual change management model that describes how a single person makes a change and an organizational change management process that describes the process and tools practitioners use.

The individual change management model provides the outcome-orientation to change management. The Prosci ADKAR Model describes what you are trying to achieve when you work to manage the people side of a project or initiative.

On the other hand, the organizational change management process provides the activity-orientation and lays out the actions a practitioner must complete a project or initiative. The Prosci 3-Phase Process describes what you will do to encourage those individual transitions required by your project.

Managing change without both points of view is ineffective. The Prosci change management methodology integrates both the individual change management and organizational change management.

In this context, ignoring the people side of change simply means, lack of attention to the individuals in the organization – this includes the responsiveness to the socio-cultural environment and how it affects them. Ignoring the people side of change often lead to major resistance thereby causing projects to stall or project to fail.

  1. How do you plan to make local African organizations develop into global ones? 

For Change Management, you can’t use a one size fits all approach, we have partnered with an American based organization called Prosci, to use their methodology, processes and tools to coach managers and leaders to successfully lead and manage change. They have become known as the world’s largest body of knowledge concerning the art and science of managing the human aspect of effecting change management. Their methodology is a proven, practical, approach based on 20 years of best practices research with over 4,500 participants globally and is endorsed by the PMI, AIPM and Change Management Institute. Unlike other Change Management approaches based on theories, Prosci’s is based on real-life research.

  1. What are the opportunities for Change Management in Africa? 

Change Management is an untapped competitive advantage for organizations waiting to be discovered.

In Africa, many managers are not aware of the importance of change management.

Every year, Prosci conducts a survey to compose information which turns into the Best Practices in Change Management”, a guide that has become a mandatory read for leaders in human resources, six sigma profession and project management and other management fields. Last year, only 4% of the entire practice in West Africa contributed. We consider this quite low and with more participation, Sub-Saharan Africa can be best represented. 

  1. How does Change Management fit into government strategies and project implementation?

Government policies and administrations are always changing. Plus the turbulent economy, there is a need for an equilibrium. For example, how does the new Petroleum Industry bill affect the entire business of oil and gas especially NNPC? Something is changing and people need to be prepared for it. Before that bill is implemented, an elaborate and integrated change management approach should be adapted to guide the leadership through this change. Failure to properly manage the process might lead to marketers resisting the change, employee disengagement, and consequently result to inflation in prices of crude oil and its products.

  1. Finally, what advice you would give to organizations going through a change process or thinking about adopting a Change Management strategy?

Managers need to think through the key decisions to be made in planning and executing change. This includes preparing for the change, managing the change and reinforcing the change. Another advice is to pay great attention to people in the organization.

Change management is used for one reason – to ensure business success. Without it, organizations lose productivity, risk missing project objectives or total failure of the project, all which can jeopardize the future of the organization.