Dieter Veldsman on the 5 ‘Rs’ that shaped MMH’s response to Covid-19

In an upcoming webinar, Dieter will share lessons from their return-to-office future plans.

Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH) group human capital Executive Dr Dieter Veldsman will be the special guest in this weeks CHRO SA webinar about how organisations should facilitate the getting back to the office and provide the principles to bear in mind as we shift beyond Covid-19.

Hosted in partnership with Oracle, the webinar will lift the lid on key considerations on how to normalise the workplace into the future and how business strategy and culture become key considerations on how to think about Return to Office practices. Getting your workplace back to some semblance of normal after the Covid-19 lockdowns is a complex and challenging task and HR is once again at the forefront, balancing operational needs with employee safety and wellbeing – and there is no playbook or best practice for how to achieve all of this.

Dieter joined MMH in April 2018 as the executive for people and organisational effectiveness with the task of building a people advisory function for the group. Essentially the division would become an in-house people advisory consulting business that sits within the group human capital structure and formed a part of the overall turnaround strategy for the business from a people perspective.

Once his predecessor left, he was appointed into the acting position to lead group human capital and has been playing a dual role for the last year or so.

“When Covid-19 began our very first challenge was to balance business continuity with employee safety and well-being. We were classified as an essential service so within a few days of the national lockdown we had to figure out how to shift our workforce to operate remotely while balancing the need for some on-site employee requirements,” says Dieter, adding that the organisation made the call very early on that the solution needed to be one that could be sustained in the long term.

“Instead of digging in for a week or two, we needed to do something that would enable us to be agile in our response to the impact of the pandemic. We didn't know if the lockdown would last for a month or a year and wanted to be able to weather whatever storm would come our way. Similar to other organisations, we faced immediate challenges beyond physical infrastructure and connectivity as we focused on getting our employees to work remotely. Leadership was a critical focus for us, as we had to quickly shift our approach towards leadership to be virtual.”

At the same time, the company still had a lot of people that continued to go into the office environments due to the nature of their work and as such we also had to rethink how we keep these employees safe and support them from a physical and mental well-being perspective.

“Managing that balance of taking care of people working on-site while navigating the immediate and unplanned transition to remote working was a big challenge. Our culture is very informal and as such a lot of decisions get made by people connecting physically with each other, leaders being visible to team members and checking in on them regularly to support. We also place a strong emphasis on collaboration and this was difficult to do in the remote working environment.”

Because MMH employees were also confronted with new challenges in their personal capacity, Dieter says family became part of the equation. It is now commonplace for employees' kids to pop into a meeting, hearing dogs bark in the background or getting to meet their cat in the middle of a meeting. Leaders had to learn to have grace with each other in this new way of work as their employees found a new rhythm.

“Some people were home-schooling for the first time. We had to think about how this would impact our expectations in terms of output and how we had to ensure that employees remain motivated, encouraged whilst dealing with a sense of being overwhelmed," says Dieter.

The framework, which MMH used to help focus their effort and guide priority during the pandemic, was broken down into five phases - response, reassurance, recovery, realignment and reinvention.

The 5 Rs

1 Response

This referred to MMH’s careful consideration regarding what our initial response was going to be, and how the company would help people understand what its plan was.

Says Dieter: “We agreed on a number of principles during this phase which helped us make fast decisions regarding the way forward. For example, we immediately stated safety and transparency will be our first priority and we will make all business decisions in a way that will never compromise the safety of our people. Continuity and sustainability was our second principle and this helped us to review every decision in terms of its relevance to our immediate needs but also the potential impact that this could have on our longer-term plans. We communicated frequently with employees during this phase, openly shared how Covid had impacted us and what we were doing to address – we were also very open to where we did not have a solution but was working on possible answers”.

2 Reassurance

This phase aimed to empower people in their new working situation, whether this was through physical tools or support on managing boundaries, adapting to change or self-care. Dieter says they wanted to reassure their people and meet them where they were in the sense of being empathetic to their individual circumstances and concerns around how the pandemic would affect them.

“We also wanted to give them the tools to enable themselves to manage themselves during the transition to working from home,” he says. 

3 Recovery

It was important to consider what would be required in order to recover from the initial shock to the system that the pandemic caused. This phase entailed a shift towards starting to think about productivity and ensuring that MMH kept people focused on what they needed to deliver. During this phase, they also focussed on shifting perspectives to the future and solving for what we would need to post the pandemic to be successful.

4 Realignment

"This phase, which we are currently in, is about aligning our workforce to our future story and ensuring that all our employees know how instrumental they are to the success of our business. Given the impact of Covid, our business priorities have changed, so we have adapted how we work and this phase is about ensuring that our employees find routine and rhythms that enable them for the future," says Dieter.

5 Reinvention

MMH's last phase will be about reinvention and crafting what their future focus and long-term goals will be as an organisation.

Says Dieter: “The five Rs gave us a high-level framework to shape their thinking in our response to Covid,19. The plan itself went into a lot more detail but that was how we outlined our approach to bringing people along the journey and also what we expected from leaders and employees to deal with at each phase."

Dieter will be providing a little more detail in Wednesday's webinar, where he will also share some learnings from his journey, addressing questions around whether people should come back to the office, how Covid will impact the long term view of work and how traditional spaces (such as offices) will change. He’ll also speak about MMH’s approach to figuring out what to do to adapt to this new normal and how it influences practical considerations such as office space and developing a new talent development strategy, now that he can hire from anywhere.

He will be joined by Queen Mokonoto, HR director at Oracle, and Rob Bothma, master principal consultant at Oracle, who will provide knowledge and insights that attendees need to make your transition into the new normal easier.