Put your hands together for people, culture managers

Paul Ngugi is the director, People and Culture, at Greenpeace Africa. PHOTO | POOL

Today’s employee is the most empowered in many generations. This employee has a big say in the development of guidelines that apply to them. As organisations slowly depart from policy to culture, there is more emphasis on the people and their needs. This has created the need for people and culture managers in organisations.

But what specifically do people and culture managers do?

Paul Ngugi is the people and culture director at Greenpeace Africa, an international non-governmental organisation that campaigns against climate injustices.

‘‘The responsibility is to design, develop and implement strategies that attract, engage and improve employee experience. They are also responsible for developing and enhancing a high-performance culture within an organisation,’’ he explains.

‘‘Without culture, there is no strategy and there is no organisation. Understanding employees’ culture helps in putting people at the centre of the organisation,’’ he explains.

Jane Mbati, the people and culture manager at Zamara Group, a financial services company, regards it as an element of compliance. ‘‘We provide strategic advice that improves business performance by ensuring policies and strategies are up to date with regulations and legislation,’’ she says.

Jane Mbati is a People and Culture manager at financial services company Zamara. PHOTO | POOL

Culture, she adds, is an invisible element within an organisation that guides how things are done, how people relate, and what drives performance. ‘‘To achieve a productive culture, we have to be intentional about creating a good culture. We create what we want,’’ she says.

Mr Ngugi says that more than ever before, people are keener to know about the reputation of a company before coming on board.

‘‘Culture is now being used to brand organisations. People also want to be sure about career mobility in that organisation, both within a role and in other units. This is a more progressive and proactive [approach] than having to wait for policies to be developed.’’

Wellness of employees, he says, is also driven by its culture. ‘‘People need to be happy so that they are eager to come to work and engage with others in the organisation. You can feel the warmth when you visit such an organisation.’’

At what point do the roles of HR and people and culture overlap? Ms Mbati says they are not very different, noting that while HR was more focused on procedure and policies before, people and culture is more holistic.

‘‘It is about working more with people and giving them a productive environment to work in and thrive. It is also about teamwork and making sure the employees are happy and meaningfully impacted. People are people. They are not resources to be used,’’ she explains.

But does one need to be a human resource practitioner to play this role? Mr Ngugi says HR qualifications are key, although not mandatory. Some professionals in this role have backgrounds in engineering and finance.

‘‘What matters is the passion for people and culture. This is what drives this role. Some individuals start from any direction and acquire the salient qualifications,’’ he says.

These salient qualifications include social and emotional intelligence ‘‘to understand the behaviour of people’’ according to Mr Ngugi.

On why it is necessary for the modern organisation to engage the services of a people and culture manager, Mr Ngugi notes that growing consciousness around equity, diversity, and inclusion are compelling businesses to approach their human resource differently.

‘‘The type of talent you bring in and retain must meet the threshold of diversity and inclusion,’’ he says.

For Ms Mbati, people and culture managers serve the needs of both the internal and external environments. ‘‘People want to do business with the best organisations that align with their values and expectations. The work of a people and culture manager is to help the organisation to attract the best talent, to maintain and manage it for this.’’

Is people and culture simply renaming of HR? Ms Mbati does not think so. ‘‘It is a new way of managing people in an organisation. People and culture is where the discipline comes in. We need structures, standards and agreed behaviour, but we also need strategies, which did not gain a lot of attention before. We are not kicking out HR.’’

The era of HR being an administrative role ‘‘and pushing papers’’ has been overtaken by time, and as both professionals agree, people and culture is now the centre of strategic thinking and the enabler.

‘‘For many years, organisations have spent time and money on conferences to design strategy only to realise that things were not moving. This is because there was no culture to anchor the strategy in. Peter Drucker says culture will eat strategy for breakfast,’’ says Mr Ngugi.

There has been an evolution in the last four years in terms of how organisations view their personnel and their needs. ‘‘My role before was human resource director. Today, most organisations while recruiting are calling the role people and culture,’’ he says.

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