HR Indaba Africa 2019: 54twentyfour helps create employee experiences younger generations will appreciate


Founder Julia Makhubela started the company after experiencing outdated working cultures and people management practices.

With over 3,000 attendees, close to 50 exhibitors and numerous knowledge-sharing sessions, the inaugural HR Indaba was arguably a resounding success. In this article, Julia Makhubela, the founder of 54twentyfour, speaks about what their company is about and why she is looking forward to being a part of this year’s conference.

What does your company do, how long has it been around and what was the reason for starting the company?

54twentyfour is an employee experience design start-up, founded in 2018. We help leaders to transform their thinking and their organisation’s employee experience so that inclusion is not left to chance. The employee experience has always been something that’s left to chance. That has meant that people with less power, based on their position or group identity will experience inequality, discomfort and a sense of anxiety in the workplace. 

I founded the company after spending 10 years of my career job hopping, unable to find a company where I could fit in. As a black female in the technology and creative industry, I struggled to find a workplace experience that was both comfortable and inclusive. 

I was seeing and experiencing companies that were stuck using outdated ways of working and people management practices. This often led to younger workers changing jobs faster than the previous generation. It was clear that there was a mismatch between what modern day workers wanted versus what they were getting. 

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In 2017, I became an operations director where my core responsibility was to enable a high-performance, customer-centric culture and to transform the digital agency I worked for to be diverse and inclusive. It was in this role that I had an awakening, realising that great organisations intentionally design their employee experience, which influences the culture, performance, creativity and excellence. 

Knowing that engaging with modern, diverse workers was a challenge that most organisations faced, I founded 54twentyfour. 

How do you differentiate yourselves from other competitors in your space?

Designing the employee experience is a new discipline. Most of the companies that are currently in the space specialise in offering technology solutions or helping organisations adopt ways of working that are key in the 21st century. We design the employee experience to primarily enable inclusion, and we do incorporate technology solutions and modern ways of working, but we primarily look at employee experience design from an inclusion lens. 

54twentyfour has a network of young, talented, individuals and small businesses that it partners with to deliver modern, holistic and personalised solutions. My career in the technology and creative industry allowed me to help organisations reinvent how they think about business and to transform to a technology culture i.e. one that is customer centric, with a bias for speed and continuous learning. 

During that time, I helped organisations create compelling and enjoyable customer experiences that are key to customer attraction, satisfaction and retention. Taking the lessons learnt during that time, I am now on a mission to help leaders create inclusive employee experiences that enable people to feel psychologically safe, happy and productive.

That is what 54twentyfour is all about.

Why have you signed up for the HR Indaba and what should attendees look forward to seeing from you at the event?

We have signed up to HR Indaba to share insights on how HR professionals can design the employee experience to effectively engage a modern and diverse workforce. At the event, I will be sharing my personal journey of job hopping and being nable to find a company where I could fit in as a black female in the technology and creative industry she struggled to experience workspaces as inclusive.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the HR profession?

The biggest challenge for the HR professional is to learn and embrace modern practices of organisational effectiveness, and to let go of practices that are no longer constructive.

During the industrial revolution, employees added value through physical labour and their contribution was measured by how much one could produce in an hour. People were referred to as resources. Workplaces were guided by order, rules and a hierarchical structure. The HR profession today is still largely focussed on administering these resources.

But in the VUCA world of work, modern day employees add value by being creative, sharing their ideas, continuously improving things, admitting to their mistakes and learning from them. People today need to bring their whole selves; their heads, hearts and hands. Workplaces need to be guided by phycological safety, values and culture.

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