You can't have great products, juicy profits without people

Titilope Olajide, Associate Director -People and Change at KPMG. PHOTO | POOL

Employees want more certainty about the work they do and employers want solid productivity growth, especially post-pandemic.

To understand how employers are designing work that employees love, Elizabeth Kivuva spoke with Titilope Olajide, the KPMG East Africa associate director (transformation, people and change) whose role is to help companies in anything people-related including recruiting, compensation, training, and making them more productive.


In which areas are companies seeking help from advisers such as KPMG on people management and transformation of workplaces?

We are increasingly finding a lot of requests around organisational redesign and structuring, a lot of calls on venture capital compensation, benchmarking, and reviews.

There are also many requests around recruitment at strategic levels, companies that want to review their HR policies in line with unfolding trends, and people wanting to make sure their jobs are well structured like job evaluation and grading.

Can East African companies afford to focus on people at the expense of profits and shareholders?

For a while now, businesses have become aware that you cannot have a product without people. It is like a three-strand cord — people, product, and profits. If you remove one of them, the others will collapse.

The truth is if you do not focus on the right things to make your people productive, you will pay for that in another way. You pay for that in loss of productivity. So, do you want to spend that money wisely upfront in a way that supports what you are trying to do?

What are the gains of focusing on people?

The focus for most organisations has been on shareholders and finances.

There are a lot of statistics and research that show the direct correlation between a good people agenda, people plan, having the right framework for recruiting the right people, productivity, and business results.

If you look at the biggest companies in the world that have been around for a while, it is very unlikely that you will find that they have no people plan, no strategic resourcing, or talent management. It means that you cannot separate being deliberate about the type of people you want and what you want them to learn so they can deliver.

Are there metrics for measuring employee love for their work?

Some are direct and some indirect. One of the best measures if people love it here is how well we are doing as a business, if we are doing well effortlessly. If our efficiency ratios are good, it means we are doing something right.

Sometimes it is cost. You are so mindful about costs that your results look good. But if you take that equation away, all things being equal, and still be highly productive and efficient, that could mean that you doing the right thing.

If you have a low turnover, it means people love it here. It can also mean there is nowhere to go, but many times it means people love it here. There is also the employee net promoter score in which people say in surveys whether they would recommend this as a place of work.

What challenges have you seen with companies implementing the modern workplace model and modern employee who chooses not need to be micromanaged?

During the pandemic, leaders and supervisors had to move from managing their teams because of their position and presence. It meant that you had to manage people remotely, hence the need for clarity on work and expectations.

Some people didn’t think their work could be broken into just outcomes. They were used to processes. On the part of employees, they struggled with self-regulation, self-monitoring, and self-reporting, and focusing for a long time.

Which sectors are setting the pace in modern workplace model?

Telcos, technology and fintechs, financial sector particularly banks, some insurance firms, and consulting firms.

Why is it necessary to hire People and Change directors? Are they replacing HR managers?

It is not that people directors are replacing HR. It is the same thing. It is all that whole shift for making HR more customer-centric and moving into employee experience, people implication on strategy, process, and technology.

What key questions should employers ask to signal if an employee is engaged about work?

In the last few years, especially a certain generation, when they go to work you expect that they will stay for three years and if you are lucky, five.

So it’s just figuring out what can you do with the person while they are with you, what sort of experience they can have, and what they can learn and be part of the story of the business. I don’t think you can ask one how long you are going to be here. One of the things that help is recruiting people that love to do what you are doing.

What skills or work traits do employees lack?

We did a survey on critical skills that are cross-cutting and it revealed agility and being able to learn new things, critical thinking, innovation and resilience. These are the skills that employers should look out for: how easily one can learn new things? How deeply and wide can they think?

How can they synthesise different types of complex information and how well do they know themselves? Employees said they want to learn skills like strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving.

How can SMEs retain talent as they compete with big corporates?

Depending on the resources you have and the stage you are at, try and match with people for whom all you have to offer still meet their expectations. As the business grows, you can do more and expand in terms of the people you attract. That is why most SMEs, when starting, use family members. Therefore, be realistic.

What are the expectations of job seekers from employers?

When we were coming out of the pandemic, people said they wanted their leaders to be authentic. They wanted leaders who could relate with them as humans who don’t say ‘I am perfect and never fail’.

What are the trends in the job market?

A lot of trends we are seeing have been driven by the pandemic. The biggest one is how work is delivered. Work was a place you went to, but now it is an outcome that you deliver.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.