Metropolitan Life’s Lyn Muzondo describes the process of fixing the organisation’s DNA

Lyn says allowing the wrong DNA to foster can lead to organisational deformities.

For a financial services company such as Metropolitan, there is a delicate balance between the business imperative and the people that it serves. Too often, what is overlooked are the people who sit as the conduit between these two poles, namely the employees.

For Lyn Muzondo, the head of human capital at Metropolitan Life, this is at the heart of her day-to-day work, namely finding the balance between acknowledging the needs of the human and the needs of the business, its clients and its shareholders.

In these uniquely trying times, it has been the work that she, with her exco colleagues, were able to do pre-pandemic that has put the organisation in a position of preparedness for the challenges they have faced in the last year. The starting point, a couple of years ago, was developing and defining the strategy of the business and, by extension, the organisational structures and competencies required to deliver on the strategy – and then reverse-engineering the evaluation process of both new hires and the internal team.

“Employees are the DNA of the organisation. You can’t afford to have mediocre DNA, because down the line, with all the mutations, you will have deformities. Fixing our DNA was very critical. Have the right role profiles and hire for exactly what you are looking for. Don’t compromise. It is tough. It was hard because we were changing the culture, but you need to know the talents you want and hire for those competencies. We are very particular about how we hire,” Lyn says.

It has been the focused work on the calibre of Metropolitan’s DNA that has made the difference, but it did not happen overnight, nor were there any ‘sacred cows’ who were untouchable. The organisation was looked at from the senior level down to the advisers and where there wasn’t a fit, they had to make tough decisions to part ways, and solid talent was brought in. The transformation started with the advisers and Project Y, in which the right profile for advisers was developed and articulated because, as Lyn says, “We had very high turnover, which led to low productivity, low engagement levels and low commitment.”

For talent within the business, there was also a drive to both upskill and reskill teams. For example, Metropolitan partnered with Sales Guru to provide sales leadership skills to the provincial executives and regional executives. She adds, “We took that programme, Metropolitanised it and filtered it down to our branch managers. We shifted the language. We spoke of minimum acceptable standards and guided sales leaders in how to lead the advisers. Now, it doesn’t matter where you go across the country, everyone speaks the same language and is aligned.”

Managing change

With change always comes a certain level of uncertainty and anxiety. As people are leaving and new people are coming in, it can be difficult to deal with your work, when you are concerned about your own role. Obviously, for Lyn and Metropolitan, there were key people that they didn’t want to lose and, as a result, the change management process that the business went through in 2018 and early 2019 was critical. Communication was key. Lyn says, “There was a lot of communication from the CEO, from myself and from the executive leaders to ensure that there was clarity and understanding.”

Metropolitan used the Prosci ADKAR Methodology of change management to guide leaders and teams during the change process. The five elements of these include Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

While Lyn feels that this change management journey has contributed to how the organisation has navigated the pandemic, leadership, amongst other factors, is absolutely critical. In addition to equipping leaders with the tools and skills to lead during such a difficult time, the Human Capital team started running various experiences and interventions across the organisation. These include a weekly Human Capital ‘People’ newsletter, which initially focused on mental wellness and building resilience, regular sessions in partnership with leaders across the country, and a weekly email from the CEO

“The pandemic has challenged us significantly. We lost employees and had people falling ill. It’s an emotional strain and, rightfully, it can impact productivity and engagement. It’s not rocket science. People are not machines. People must be treated as human beings,” she says.

The human capital team further partnered with mental health and wellness providers Wise and Well, who were already in place prior to the pandemic, “to set up debriefing sessions, particularly for employees dealing with loss and anxiety. The human-to-human relationship is important for us. We have spent time bringing in the right people; we need to build those relationships.”

Lyn goes on to say, “When we talk about ‘your growth matters’, we must mean it for our people to believe it. Growth is not just about climbing the corporate ladder. There is social, wellness and financial growth; it’s really multidimensional for us.”

The employee experience

The idea of “Your growth matters”' was co-created with the employees of Metropolitan. This people belief is anchored in the business’s culture, which is said to be a high performance, inclusive culture. From this people belief, Lyn says, “We then agreed that, as the human capital team, we create a magnetising employee experience. Firstly, we want to attract you to Metropolitan by creating this magnetising employee experience, and then we want to retain you through the moments that matter.

This focus on moments that matter ensured that onboarding and the learning journey could evolve when the pandemic hit. Because there was no face-to-face human interaction, Lyn and her team became laser-focused on how to look at moments that matter differently and make the onboarding very personal, even with just phone and video calls and the odd coffee chat.

“Pre-pandemic, advisers were onboarded face-to-face over a five-day period. When the pandemic hit, it took us less than two weeks to shift our onboarding to digital and the programme now runs for 14 days,” she says. “When a comparison was done between face-to-face and virtual training over a period pre and during pandemic, it was found that the productivity of those who had been onboarded virtually had shown a significant improvement.”