Get to know your people on a personal level, says Four Seasons HR Director Nokuthula Kamwendo

Nokuthula explains the importance of connecting with employees emotionally.

"As an HR person, you are the sounding board for employees. If you don't engage with them regularly, you will miss things that relate to the mood of the organisation. You won't be able to realise when people check out or are no longer putting extra effort into their work. You lose track of the level of happiness within the organisation. That filters through to the working environment and the execution of whatever tasks they are doing. In our industry, that filters through to the guests that our employees are speaking to and can have a very bad impact on our brand if it is left unchecked," says Four Seasons HR Director Nokuthula Kamwendo. She adds that the toughest part of her role since she joined the company three years ago was gaining trust from employees and third parties. 

She says that getting people to understand the brand was critical and, because they had a different model from their competitors, she had to put a lot of work into building trust among employees. She believes this is something that is important for every HR leader if they want employees to fully buy into the organisation's business values and strategy. 

Employees need consistency and transparency because that's how they know you're authentic and that you are not doing something simply as part of some box-ticking exercise but rather because you care about the impact that it will have on the people involved, she says.

"One thing that we do as a business, which fits in very well with my personal values, is that we put people first. I have over 300 employees and I know every single one of them as an individual before I think about their role in terms of the process they execute. I know what is happening in their personal lives because I engage with them on an emotional level. At any time if you had to ask me who a particular person is, I would be able to tell you in detail. That is very important because, if you are emotionally engaged with every single individual, you are able to be involved in their growth." 

Genuine interest

If an employee is given a development plan as an individual, Nokuthula says she engages with that person at least once a week over that period. Whether they have a five-minute conversation over the phone, a one-to-one conversation during lunch, or a quick chat via Facebook messenger, she will make sure to check in with that person. That way, she will always know how people are progressing and will be able to be alerted quickly to anything that they are struggling with. 

That takes a genuine interest in human beings and, for Nokuthula, it comes down to whether your interest comes from the heart or not. Many of her colleagues think she's crazy to invest so much time in getting to know every employee on a personal level but she believes that is the only way to treat people and she can't imagine doing things any differently. 

"In every profession, people have a lot of deadlines and boxes that just have to be checked because we all have monthly targets and reports to do but you cannot work like that in HR because you are dealing with humans." 

"If I was overseeing three or four hotels, I would never able to reach every employee but I would still need to make sure that the people who report to me have the same approach to employee engagement and that their reports do the same. That way I would know that every employee has someone that is impacting their lives in the same manner that I would," she says.

Fitness fanatic

Nokuthula describes herself as a fitness fanatic. She is very passionate about health and exercise to the point that she insists on getting all the employees involved in exercise as well. 

The company runs a fitness competition for the employees every year, which runs for three to four months and culminates in a wellness day before the beginning of Spring. 

"We normally have 60 to 70 employees who take part and compete to see who can build the most muscles or lose the most weight. We have weigh-ins and team exercising sessions after work every day where everybody goes for a walk or a run together. Every Wednesday we have a fitness trainer from Virgin Active who gives a class and everybody gets involved," says Nokuthula. "At the end of the end of the day, it's for their benefit. And you know what they say: a healthy body creates a healthy mind, so it all ties in with making people happy and engaging with them to help them become the best version of themselves that they can be."