Frank conversations about leading digital change in the digital workspace at the HR Indaba


HR executives Brigitte da Gama, Elaine Kruger and Dennis Khanye discuss digitisation successes and failures.

Meant to be the virtual complement to the physical office space, the digital workspace is a broad term that includes any device, software or platform that employees use to execute their jobs. 

Providing this digital environment is core to many corporate projects to improve financial performance and customer satisfaction. 

Speaking on a panel discussion at on leading in the digital workspace at the 2019 HR Indaba, Brigitte da Gama, chief people officer at McDonald’s said she believes that every digitisation effort starts with organisational culture. 

“If your organisational culture isn’t right, employees will resist change. We introduced a new scheduling system at McDonald’s, but we failed to change manage the implementation adequately. It doesn’t matter how great the new tool is, without proper communication and acceptance, digitisation will not be embraced.” 

Yet, while this is a business imperative, HR practitioners grapple with how to implement these digitisation projects successfully with buy in from both employees and top leadership.  

Elaine Kruger, CHRO at Tsebo Group, understands that habits are hard to change. 

“People like the idea of digitisation, but actually prefer to do things like they’ve always have done before.” 

Tsebo Group has offices in 28 African and Middle Eastern countries with a staff complement of over 40,000 staff over 5,300 client sites within this operational footprint. The company has seen its head count grow from 10,000 to more than 40,000 people over the past ten years. This rapid growth has meant an increased reliance on efficiencies that digital tools unlock. 

Elaine refers to a digitisation project that reduced the admin burden on mangers – connecting the rostering system to the HR and payroll system cut down on almost 10 days of paperwork.

She believes that digitisation and innovation go hand in glove. “Much of the work involved in digitising the workplace includes doing the groundwork to ensure that policies and procedures are standardised throughout the operation first. Poor systems are not suddenly transformed through their digital application,” says Kruger. 

Dennis Kanye the director of human capital from Motus Group believes that senior management, with the average South Africa executive being 55, tend to resist automation. Here the business case, including the financial incentives are key to winning over the C-suite. 

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Motus Group spent between R2.5 to R3 million on recruitment annually. By introducing a new online application process Dennis was able to shrink costs while shortening hiring times. The implementation process wasn’t seamless, but it was worthwhile. 

Dennis said: 

“There was some pain to implement this new process. My colleagues wanted to work with the recruitment agencies they’ve always dealt with. But they quickly saw the benefits in terms of hiring people within weeks or even days instead of months. They were not able to track the application process and draw reports in real-time." 

Much employee resistance stems from the fear of being replaced. While this is sometimes the case, automation and digitisation do not automatically lead to job losses. 

While McDonald’s is rolling out self-service kiosks, this new channel of ordering means that new employees need to be recruited to prepare the food. McDonald’s SA has been a net job creator in the last three years, and that this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

Brigitte believes that there will always be a place for the human touch. McDonald’s is has a young workforce that enjoys technology and the ‘license to introduction fun’ that is offers. The company recently introduced a culture app where employees can earn points for actions that match the culture or catch colleagues in the act of exceeding customer expectations. This translates into cash and rewards. 

Brigitte concluded: 

“Who would have thought that you could create a digital experience for a culture project? But we’re seeing great results. Often the perception is that because we’re in Africa, that we are somehow behind in digitisation. When our international colleagues visit, they’re amazed at the level of sophistication and how our workforce embraces technology. In many ways we’re leading and not lagging."  

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