Standard of success: Sharon Taylor's multifaceted approach leads to triumph at Standard Bank


Sharon Taylor, chief people and culture officer at Standard Bank shares the secrets behind creating a future fit team, in an organisation that spans across 20 African countries and five global financial centres and has 10,001+ employees.

Sharon attributes Standard Bank's people success to having a multifaceted approach centred on employee engagement, board and leadership support, and a cohesive people strategy.

As the winner of three awards at the 2023 CHRO Awards CHRO of the Year Award, the Learning & Development Award, and the HR & Technology Award, she has deep experience in this approach.

Reflecting on the achievements, she emphasises that these are the result of the consistent execution of a clear strategy over a number of years by her dedicated team.

“I’m surrounded by an excellent team of leaders, a team I have hand-picked and built over my time in the role. The recognition by CHRO South Africa, which is essentially your peer group in the industry, gave us cause to celebrate and confirmed that the work we do is making a difference,” she says.

“In this profession you need to make sure that the strategies you put in place have relevance for your business and having that affirmed by the profession more broadly was very humbling for us. We ended the year on a real high as a result, having also been named by Forbes as one of the World’s Best Employers for 2023. This has inspired my team to stay true to our purpose in people and culture, which is to enable our people to become the best version of themselves to drive Africa’s growth,” she adds.

When building a team, Sharon says she was very clear on the operating model and very selective about who was hired to join her team.

“We have capable generalists and specialists and value our roles as strategic partners to the business – my team has a strong commercial focus and are very data-driven in their approach. Financial services is a people business and our people are our greatest source of sustainable competitive advantage. We impact the business strategy by ensuring our 50,000 people are highly engaged. As a result, our wide-ranging and strategic people agenda delivers real commercial value,” she explains.

Over and above that, the organisation’s people and culture strategies and initiatives are not only aligned with business goals but also contribute positively to the communities it serves.

“We are fortunate that Standard Bank’s purpose, Africa is our home, we drive her growth, is deeply ingrained in our DNA. This is a workplace where people get to live their purpose every day, and my team is very focused on how we can make a positive contribution in the communities that we serve. I am personally deeply passionate about the continent’s youth, and we place great emphasis on the employability and growth of young talent. It’s been very rewarding to see how the decision to join Standard Bank on our various young talent programmes has fundamentally changed the lives of so many young people, both personally and professionally,” she says.

Learning and development

Developing the future workforce is not only important to Sharon but it is embedded in the ethos of the organisation she works for.

“Growing our people is a core value and in 2023 we invested more than R1 billion in their development. Our approach to learning is broad and offers our people access to an entire ecosystem of opportunities to grow and develop their knowledge and skill in order to remain future-fit as the workplace and market demands evolve,” she says

She notes that the other focus areas are fit-for-purpose learning to enhance core capabilities, building skills for hard-to-fill jobs through academies as well as building a strong young talent pipeline.

“We have an incredible 26-year track record of providing talented young people with their first opportunity to break into the job market, building a sustainable long-term talent pipeline in the process. We do this through our graduate, internship and learnership programmes,” she says.

She adds that the bank has made great strides in developing future talent noting that on average Standard Bank people invested 60 hours in learning in 2023 of which 58 percent is spent on developing future skills.

“In 2023, over 60 percent of our vacancies were filled by current employees and 11 percent of our people were promoted into bigger roles, which is testament to our internal bench strength and the ability for our people to grow their careers with us,” she explains.

Together with learning and development, diversity and inclusion emerge as central themes for the organisation.

With the organisation’s headquarters in South Africa, and on-the-ground presence in 20 countries in sub–Saharan Africa and six international markets including the UK, US and China, the organisation embraces the richness in thought, custom and heritage of their employees, says Sharon.

“All our people related policies and practices are underpinned by our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. We drive five focus areas to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace including promoting gender equality, ensuring employment equity and black economic empowerment (in SA), youth development across the continent and ensuring the inclusion of people with disability and members of the LGBTQI+ community,” she says.

Diversity is also a main focus within leadership, which is often a challenge for many organisations.

“Succession planning is a key agenda item for our People Days across the group. Identified successors have personal development plans in place to enhance their leadership competence, technical abilities and other individual development requirements. Our board chairperson hosts an annual People Day during which the board is able to assess the adequacy of our succession pipelines for key senior leadership roles across the group,” Sharon explains.

Championing HR and technology

When quizzed on the organisation's successes with technology, Sharon emphasised that Standard Bank’s HR technology journey has focused on employee experience, streamlining processes and integrating people systems.

“When I took on my role, I inherited a very immature and fragmented systems landscape. Because of the decentralised nature of our business, we had country and even business unit localisation, resulting in hundreds of duplicate processes and systems,” she says.

As a result, the landscape was very inefficient and resulted in high cost, high risk, poor data quality, inaccessible information and an inconsistent employee experience.

“We set out to align our core HR processes across all of our countries – to do one thing once – you can’t tackle your systems until you’ve done this, otherwise you simply automate your existing inefficiency. As a result we were able to reduce over 80 systems to less than 10. We now have a globally deployed technology stack across all our businesses and countries of operation, which is available to all employees on any device with single sign-on, available 24-7/-65.”

This overhaul not only optimised efficiency but also empowered leaders with real-time insights into their teams.

To the future and beyond

The organisation now has accurate data on all people elements and a single view of the employee, which means leaders can access data relating to all aspects of anyone who works in their team. “We are data-driven and insight-led in shaping our people strategies and my entire team, together with over 6,000 leaders have access to this platform, which allows them to see their people's data in real-time. This means that my team spends their time helping leaders to understand what this data is telling them, rather than spending their time generating the information and being the bottleneck to people's data. Last year we were internationally recognised for our ability to democratise access to people data beyond the HR function, which is viewed by global thought leaders as a significant step to deliver workforce insights at scale,” she notes.

Looking ahead, Sharon anticipates the key trends shaping the HR landscape will include the integration of AI, talent mobility, and hybrid work practices. She further underscores the importance of leadership effectiveness and the organisation’s approach to sustainability in navigating the evolving demands of the financial services sector.

“The acceleration of AI will have a significant impact on many aspects of organisations and how they work, and will influence how we think about and configure our workforce and the capabilities they need in the face of these changes. We are also going to need to think about the ethical application of AI in our own functions, to drive up our effectiveness and efficiency as an HR function,” she says.

“The demand and supply dynamics of scarce skills on the African continent will remain a challenge, as will the ability to seamlessly move talent between countries. Leadership effectiveness remains key – my experience has taught me that people will join a great organisation and leave a bad leader. Equally the limiting factor in any great strategy is the ability to get it well executed. Leaders have a crucial role to play in creating a culture and environment for their people that enables this,” she concludes.

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