How smart tech’ has changed HR & People Management for the better!

Hi5 Industry Thought Leader Interview: Fahtima, HR Business Partner (Regions, South Africa), Financial Services Sector

Fahtima, tell us what you do & who you do it for?

I’m a HR Business Partner at Telesure and I’m responsible for the Regions in South Africa. Our Head office is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. We have regional offices in Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Cape Town — all of which are in my portfolio. We also have companies in the UK and Australia. At Telesure, we have approximately 3,300 staff in our Group of companies in South Africa. My team and I are responsible for end-to-end HR services to the regional operations in South Africa.

What other HR roles and industries did you work in before your current role?

My career has been in HR, but I’ve worked across a wide range of sectors. Previously, I worked in the retail sector, at Cape Union Mart. Before that, I worked for KFC and, before that, at MaccSand CC, amongst other brands and sectors.

How did you first get started in a HR career?

I enrolled for a Charted Accountant degree, at Stellenbosch University. In your first year of this degree, it’s compulsory to study Industrial Psychology. That’s when the HR ‘bug’ first bit me. After the first year, I changed courses to study a BCom: Economic & Management Sciences degree. And now I’m a HR Generalist!

Do you think it matters for employee engagement if employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s goals and targets?

At our organization at the moment, we working on building our organisational culture in order to develop a more customer focussed culture and one that really speaks to all our employees and involves them in our brand’s mission.

It’s being led from the top by our new CEO, who’s very hands on in helping to drive this change in the culture, including his attending ‘roadshows’ for management and employees — where he’s been meeting all the managers and all the staff across the company. These ‘roadshows’ and meetings support a drive in the Group to create a more open and collaborative culture of communication, including: suggestions from staff on what we can do better, direct communication by the staff with the CEO and all levels of management, 360 reviews, etc. And part of this communication campaign has been sharing the vision for the brand with all the staff and what we need to do to reach it.

In just the 3-months that this drive in our culture and communication has been happening, already it has really made a difference to all our staff and how they interact with each other and with managers. Now, our company seems a more open culture and a more energised culture — one that staff really want to be a part of. And it’s already improving the numbers for our staff attendance at work and staff retention, even as we head into the festive/holiday season!

What sort of employee feedback systems/processes do you use? What’s the balance between formal & informal feedback at your organisation?

We have a range of different tools and channels, whether it’s emailing any manager (even the CEO) directly, as well as there’s a general ‘feedback’ email-address for staff suggestions and queries. We have an intranet platform, which includes an App where staff can make suggestions to the company on ways to do things better (and, if your suggestion is implemented, we recognise its value with a monetary reward).

We have what we call ‘Telesure’s Got Talent’, where managers or colleagues can nominate someone who’s either a top performer or goes out of their way to make a real difference; then every quarter everyone in the company votes for one of these top 10 nominees and the person with the most votes gets a BIG cash prize! (And the top 10 nominees also get smaller cash prizes too.)

Also, we do an annual Employee Engagement Survey, which is anonymous and done through an external provider — every employee in the company participates in it. We use the findings from these annual surveys to zoom in on areas of the business where we need to work harder to improve our employee’s experience of working for us. Happily, we’ve seen big year-on-year improvements in our employee engagement survey scores, between last year and this year. One way we achieved these improved scores was to start to segment our employee demographics in order to better provide benefits that are suited to the relevant demographic.

For example, one regional department (where we saw a triple digit improvement in their employee engagement score this year, compared to last) we realized that the department is made up of older employees and that the benefits we were offering them were more suited to younger employees — so we made the necessary changes to our offering in this department and they are much happier and more engaged ever since!

It’s good to remember that not all employees are the same and they don’t all want the same thing. Our employee engagement surveys have helped us learn this lesson and provided the data for us to action this sort of change effectively.

Is there a link between employee engagement, organisational culture and staff retention?

I think there is. Sometimes, as much as you think you’re listening to your staff, actually you’re not — because you don’t understand the message they’re giving you.

For example, in past years, we actioned some things we picked up in employee surveys, but we never checked in with the staff as to whether what we were actioning actually addressed the issues that they had raised. Now, we’re continually checking in with staff for feedback, both on what we can improve or change and if the response/action that we take for any particular suggestion is the correct one.

This continuous communication loop and feedback system with our staff has made a big difference in how we work and the effectiveness of what we do for our employees. And I think that it is this sort of thing that actually makes the culture at a company (and makes the culture better)!

It’s all about making the staff feel heard and making them feel involved.

Do you think the administration work involved for HR in employee engagement and survey work is too transactional and too much of a resource burden?

I’ve worked in a number of HR roles, in a number of companies, and in a number of industries. So, I’ve experienced lots of different ways of working and lots of different systems.

I want to say that I think self-service tools are amazing and the way to go!

For example, VIP’s self-service software-tools (through SAGE modules) is excellent and really helps in the administration work needed to be done by HR (and stops HR having to be the ‘middle-man’ in all this transactional work).

As much as possible, I think it’s good for HR to move toward a paperless office, with documents being captured and stored digitally.

I’m definitely an advocate for smart technology helping the work of HR become less transactional and more effective!

Thanks for sharing, Fahtima!

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