Deborah Fuller on making Nedbank's high-performance culture more agile

Having calculated every move in her career, she is now focussed on implementing the banking group's People 2020 strategy.

Every move in Nedbank HR group executive Deborah Fuller’s career has been an intentional building block in her career. Now she brings her twenty-four years of building blocks to Nedbank, where she’s focusing on making the high-performance culture more agile and implementing the banking group’s People 2020 strategy.

If she was asked to offer career advice, Deborah Fuller, the human resources group executive at Nedbank, recommends: “Take ownership for the direction and growth of your career, don’t wait for other such as employers and colleagues to decide your next steps. Be clear about what you want to achieve and look for experiences that will stretch you.”

This is something that she has applied in her own life, in which she says her best decision has been avoiding getting stuck in one place so that she can keep climbing the career ladder. “I put myself firmly in the driver’s seat,” she says.

This meant that she was very mobile in the earlier part of her career, but says every move had an intention behind it and each transition to a new company or new position has enriched her and been a building block for the future. Her job at Deloitte and Touche, as HR Manager:  Audit and Advisory gave her exposure to working on a Pan-African level, the travel involved taught her how to work with people of diverse backgrounds, in markets with their own particularities. And her tenure at General Electric in the UK for 11 years taught her about the European business landscape and managing large teams through transitions such as restructures and downsizes.

She points out that in the context of today’s changing marketplace, it is especially important for individuals to be more deliberate in directing the trajectory of their career. She highlights that every step of the journey may not be perfect, and success is very often not a linear process. “Any missteps or poor choices along the way are beneficial if you look for the lesson in them. It’s important to ensure that when the going gets tough, you maintain a critical focus on the opportunities on the horizon.”

It is believed that having multiple careers in one’s lifetime will soon be the norm and Fuller believes that curiosity and humility are the cornerstones of a long, successful career, which these days demands that we embark on a journey of continuous learning.

“Being teachable and staying open to growth starts with a mind-set of being aware that none of us have all the answers and the best outcomes are achieved when we are open to new ideas and concepts. Moreover, new scenarios are constantly presenting themselves and with each, we have an opportunity to invent new solutions if we are willing to think differently.”

Fuller’s vision of success is to grow and deliver great value and meaningful impact on the Nedbank Group. In her eyes, this looks like improving the bank’s competitiveness, successfully infusing a high-performance culture which is more agile, more digital, more client focused, and making Nedbank an employer of choice and industry leader as the banking group continues to embed its purpose of being financial experts who do good for individuals, businesses and society.

She has been in her current position at Nedbank since June 2018. She brings with her 24 years of human resource experience and a proven track record of building high-performing teams to her role at the Nedbank Group.

Among her accomplishments is holding a number of European and global HR specialist and generalist roles, including Global HR Manager: Marketing and Communications at GE, Head: Human Resources, Global Enabling Functions at Standard Bank, and, most recently, Barclays Africa Group Cluster Head: HR, Retail and Business Banking, leading the people agenda across 13 African countries, all of which have equipped her to thrive in the multi-cultural, multi-tier environment she is leading in now.

In heading the Group HR unit that works in partnership with all Nedbank clusters, Fuller is tasked with creating a transformed and equitable work environment, which in turn should enhance the performance of people to achieve Nedbank’s business objectives.

Her work is at the heart of the Nedbank People 2020 strategy, which was launched in 2015 and has now reached a pivotal stage, as it is coming into fruition next year. Deborah is putting in place systems in line with the strategy, and is proud of being able to harness her prior experience into realising this vision.

The building blocks of success

Tasked with developing and driving both the business and HR agendas on an ongoing basis, Fuller is continuously faced with a multitude of decisions, judgements and choices with far-reaching consequences. “On a daily basis I spend a significant amount of time in meetings, engaging leading executive bodies, excos and forums to review solutions and make pivotal decisions for the bank.”

Since she has so many decisions to make and factors to consider on a range of matters, she bases her conclusions on a system of gathering as much information or data as possible, evaluating its contents and merits and weighing up the potential impact. Thereafter she assesses a range of possible solutions and chooses the one that meets the strategic intent of the organisation. She asserts that this is not a solo effort, and says, “as a leader, I value collaboration and tap into the diversity of talents and capabilities we have to foster excellence.” 

Thriving in the age of digital

Similarly to its competitors, Nedbank has embarked on a journey that aims to put the bank at the forefront of technology under its ‘Digital first, first in digital’ focus. This pivot requires a mindful, yet dynamic approach to aligning the human capital needs to a new, evolving environment and its demands. Fuller draws from her experience in leading significant instances of people change including restructurings, acquisitions, integrations and dispositions to drive the current shift to a more responsive, digital, fast-paced, client-centred and competitive organisation.

Fuller shares that the disruptions brought on by technology and social behaviour are challenging the bank to adapt to a new world of business, and by extension, the way people work. The organisation is responding by adopting an agile mindset, which is people-centric and not solely process driven. The changes are characterised by an ever-changing, dexterous and innovating approach which views employees as thinkers, and uses techniques such as design thinking which combine creative and critical thinking.

With this in mind, they are teaching employees to adopt a more entrepreneurial outlook to their roles by encouraging them to experiment, seek continuous learning, and adopt a “fail fast” approach to projects. As an expression of this, they will deploy minimum viable products (MVPs) to get early iterations of products out into the market faster and test their viability quickly.

They have also flattened hierarchical structures and invited professionals at all levels to collaborate and work across functions.  

“Excellence and performance are important to us and we are always looking for ways to offer our people the autonomy and security to be their best and operate in a way that enables teams to cope with continuous change. It is important to empower staff to become as nimble as possible in the rapidly shifting context in which they find themselves.” Says Fuller, further explaining that, “what it is forcing us to do is respond as innovation and culture collide and do a great job of creating an environment where employees can be stretched and challenged in this state of flux.” It’s a mind-set focused on dwelling on solutions and not the problem.

All these factors have to be addressed in tandem with attracting and retaining top talent while leading employee engagement.

Contribution

Fuller welcomes the opportunity to play a significant leadership role in the organisation, as this allows her to interrogate the impacts of group decisions on their people and seek the most positive outcomes in whichever scenario leadership is confronted with. She’s mindful of the responsibility to craft incisive, original strategies that help retain the right skills, and as the war for talent heats up, to make the bank an employer of choice.

With running such a dynamic portfolio, one of the most rewarding aspects has been the opportunity to champion the bank’s people agenda which spans six countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where it owns subsidiaries and banks in Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Working across these markets has allowed her to use her diverse global background and she is particularly enthusiastic to lead the current agenda of equipping teams to create the right culture – one of innovation, creativity and problem solving – to unlock value.

As she drives the design and development of a new strategic workforce planning practice and methodology, she says “one of my biggest priorities is to guide the bank’s evolution to the workforce of the future. In order to do this effectively, we need to be more innovative, client centric and foster an enabling, high-performance culture while ensuring we preserve employee health and wellbeing.”

Top of mind is the goal to stay competitive, and tackle complexities and opportunities resourcefully.

This article was originally published in CHRO Magazine, available in airport lounges around South Africa now.