Talent optimisation in the spotlight at CHRO SA Community Conversation

HR leaders discuss how they made the best of a bad situation talent-wise during Covid-10 lockdown.

This week’s CHRO South Africa Community Conversation was about talent and how HR leaders can make the best of a bad situation by optimising their most important resource in a time of social distancing, lockdown, and working from home.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, the conversations, which are sponsored by Workday, have served as a safe space for top HR leaders to discuss the challenges, frustrations, and ideas for dealing with the virus. 

During the first half an hour of Tuesday’s CHRO Conversation, Capitec executive for HR Nathan Motjuwadi shared the journey that the bank took after Covid-19 reared its ugly head. 

Nathan spoke about how the managing executives decided to safeguard all salaries and bonuses and how Capitec reshaped its workforce by allocating people from branches to call centres. When the national lockdown was first implemented some of their people couldn't carry out their usual roles, Capitec introduced a talent optimisation project whereby the company enabled individuals to move across functions and divisions to enable those stuck at home to continue adding value. 

“What we had to figure out what skills we had in the organisation to get a sense of who we could shift to different business units. Our call centre was inundated with a flurry of calls, with incoming traffic increased fivefold to as much as 500,000 calls per day and our call centre teams were struggling, even though they were working remotely,” said Nathan. “We decided to support them by setting up temporary transfers whereby, for three-to-six months we moved people into that division to assist with the workload. It was something that had to be done with quite a lot of consultation. We had to be fair to say, those who were not interested in being transferred to the call centre did not have to go there, and would be presented with alternatives.”

During the breakaway sessions, HR leaders shared their experiences in the context of Nathan’s presentation. 

Working from home

Tsebo Solutions group CHRO Elanie Kruger said they approached the national lockdown in three phases. The first phase happened the moment when the lockdown was announced the companies began implementing work-from-home (WFH) protocols. This included initiatives to accommodate jobs not normally be deemed suitable for working from home. The second phase was managing the period of people solutioning. That is safe deployment, wellness, communication and compliance, in which they harnessed the talent and capabilities of the employees. And the third phase was the business solutioning phase, where they leveraged skills sets and workplace solutions aimed at the employee and client experience.

The second priority was to enable as many people to WFH and set them up appropriately even though this was an unplanned expenditure.  They also had to look at roles that were not able to work remotely due to the nature of the job and redeploy those employees in a meaningful way into other areas of the group.

Momentum Metropolitan's acting group human capital executive Dieter Veldsman said that their first port of call was to decide on which principles would guide the interventions they wanted to put in place during the lockdown and decided that their first priority should be to keep as many of our employees gainfully employed for as long as possible.

Said Dieter: “Every organisation will be measured by how they treated their talent during the crisis. This will have an effect, not only on the loyalty of your current employees but also on your employer brand in so far as how it is perceived by talent you would like to attract in the future. After the pandemic, there will be a period of accelerated talent mobility that will be based on economic factors but also non-tangible aspects that influence the psychological contract and trust between employee and employer.”

On re-skilling 

On managing employees working from home, Imperial Logistics chief people officer Judith Nzimande said their line managers who had never dealt with managing employees working from home found it challenging.  

“We took advantage of free online training from institutions like Havard and Duke that gave our line managers the tools for managing people when working from home,” said Judith. She also said that some people could not balance working from home, working long hours at night because there were too many meetings during the day “so we needed additional support from services like ICAS to help employees cope with that work-life imbalance.”

Nathan said that when it comes to working from home, some people are simply better suited to it than others.

“There are actually a few who might not have been performing well in the office environment but are now performing at a very high level because they no longer have to deal with distractions and interruptions in the office. I actually have someone in my team who has said they don’t want to come back to work for that exact reason. On the other hand, there are people who can’t wait to come back to the office because they miss that social interaction,” said Nathan.

On re-skilling employees, Google’s market HR cluster head for UAE, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria said they had to maximise the skills based on the interests employees had. 

“We try to keep it very fluid and this allows them to gain experience cross-functionally or regionally,  as well as take on additional projects which would ordinarily have been out of their scope of work. What is your interest, and what value can you add to the company?” she said. 

Nathan wrapped up the conversation on an inspiring note saying that, as long as companies acted with integrity and prioritised the health and wellbeing of employees, they couldn’t go wrong in reacting to the raft of challenges they are facing.