Employee engagement key to successful digital transformation, says Nedbank's Deborah Fuller

"Gone are the days when command and control are the way to operate," she said at a recent HR conference.

Digital transformation was at the top of the agenda at Duke CE’s Davos of Human Capital 2019 event last week, where Sophia the humanoid robot was among the attendees. In a panel discussion, Nedbank CHRO Deborah Fuller shared thoughts on what they were doing to navigate the transition to a new world of work. 

Sitting alongside Nestle ESAR HR director Tania Hector, MTN CHRO Paul Norman and former National Union of Mineworkers General Secretary, Frans Baleni, Deborah highlighted one central theme around the work that Nedbank has been doing to ensure they are able to adapt to the evolving world of work - employee engagement. 

"The way companies are going to have a competitive edge is by tapping into the power of diversity," she said, explaining how they had set up a youth advisory forum whose ideas had challenged the executive leadership team on the direction the company should be taking.

“60 percent of our workforce is made up of millennials and what we hear from them should challenge our leaders to act differently. Because, if organisations are going to attract and retain the best talent, they are going to have to evolve in terms of culture, Gone are the days when command and control are the way to operate.”

Address the fear

It is accepted that digitisation is going to lead to a loss of jobs as various roles become obsolete and Deborah noted that organisations have a responsibility to address employees’ fear about what that means for them and their ability to provide for their families

“There is a real fear and I think we have to start the conversation around the need to keep skills relevant,” said Deborah, adding that they had already observed changes at the bank through direct engagement with the workforce around what they think will be the likely reality in the future.

Many organisation have shifted towards digital learning as a being key to their approach, but Deborah said they have found success in ensuring that learning is something that is led by leadership by is owned by employees. Based on their view that employees are best placed to understand their current skill gaps and can be given responsibility to ensure identify the skills they need for career advancement and the best way to acquire them.

Said Deborah: “In recent times, we have also invested in something we refer to as the agility centre, which has a number of elements to it. The first is about, how do we make better use of the people we have and reskilling them. This is where we, as the organisation, take a more proactive hand-holding approach to the redeployment process, which starts with the identification of the roles are going to be impacted by digital transformation efforts and having a lead time for reskilling those individuals.”

“We have also invested in external partnerships, some of which help us identify opportunities for our people outside of Nedbank. Because the reality is that not it will not always be possible to keep every employee in the organisation.”

When it comes to the notion of allaying people’s fears and dealing with the impact of things like automation, Deborah said Corporate South Africa could do a better job of being aligned in order to around finding external opportunities displaced employees instead of simply giving them a package and letting them figure out their next move on their own.