Attracting and unleashing workplace talent

Technology frees employees to apply critical thinking and use their expertise, creativity and interpersonal skills to bring forth innovation and transformation – Hope Lukoto, chief human resources officer at BCX.

You can also listen to this podcast on here.

JEANETTE CLARK: We’ve seen an interesting few years with regard to the workplace and employee attitudes towards work – the great resignation, quiet quitting and employees wanting a better work-life balance [where] remote and virtual work opportunities are the norm. It is a novel context for HR [human resource] practitioners, who need to empower employees and make sure that companies are staffed with the correct skills to future-proof their businesses.

Today we talk to Hope Lukoto, chief human resources officer at BCX, about these shifts and the technology that HR executives could employ to create positive and thriving workplaces. Welcome, Hope. My first question is, what are the key areas of focus for HR leaders in 2023, and why are these areas important for organisations such as BCX?

HOPE LUKOTO: Thank you, Jeanette. Two things are critical for us going forward in this digital economy.

The first is digital transformation – digital transformation of the entire organisation, of the HR function, and of the roles and skills that we have.

The second one is data – being data-driven so that you can make better business decisions and you can inform business of the trends, challenges and risks that you see coming up ahead for the strategies that you’re aiming to deploy for the organisation.

So those are the two critical things that we in BCX are driving.

JEANETTE CLARK: If you look at employee experience, why should it be an HR leader’s top priority, and what challenges are they currently facing?

HOPE LUKOTO: As consumer behaviour is changing, so is employee behaviour. People have a lot of options. They have a lot of technology and a lot of digitally enabled interface with their buying behaviour, whether it be retail or finance or lifestyle, with things like Netflix.

And that is the same seamless and intuitive experience that we must bring into the workplace to make sure that the gap between what you experience in your own life on a day-to-day basis is not far removed from what you experience in the workplace. Any employee experience delivers on that.

The other thing that makes employee experience critical is identifying moments that matter.

For instance, if we look at [the period] before you join an organisation, the recruitment process is a critical moment that matters, because how the organisation shows up and how it shapes its processes, its policy and interface with you will determine whether you join the organisation or not.

Once you are in the organisation other things take priority, based on our lifestyle and how we are developing and growing as individuals at different points in time. Certain things are more important than others and it’s important for an organisation to find ways to cater for different moments that matter for their employee group – your millennial employee segment, your talent employee segment, your critical employee segment.

And the more you are able to respond to their day-to-day needs – and the aspirations and the tools and resources that they need to be using to deliver on their work – the easier it becomes to engage them and to ensure that there’s alignment between the delivery of the strategy and the workplace experience.

The challenge in there is really identifying what those critical moments are for your organisation – curating offerings, solutions and platforms for people to get a positive and sustained employee experience from the moments that matter that you have identified for your particular organisation.

JEANETTE CLARK: You’ve spoken about the ‘moments that matter’, but also mentioned that employees, even in their experience in any company, still have aspirations. So how can HR executives combat the challenge or maybe even the perception by some employees that there aren’t any more compelling career paths within one organisation? And what role can automation and technology play in this process?

HOPE LUKOTO: People are so right in that it might be that to fulfil your career aspirations you’ll have to apply different skills and maybe apply them in different contexts.

I like the concept of ‘adjacent skills’.

Adjacent skills mean that you’ve got a foundational skillset and capability that has given you the excellence that you have already showcased in whatever environment, and use those adjacent skills to see how you can build onto other areas – either because they fulfil your aspirations or because there’s a demand for a particular skillset that you have learned in one environment and can import into another.

Therefore, as organisations, we are becoming more fluid about sharing knowledge, about sharing expertise, and about allowing people to work in a gig economy type of environment where ‘I could work for various organisations in a particular project or deploying a particular skill, and I am not solely employed by one’.

Automation is also enabling your mundane, routine, repetitive type of tasks that really don’t require critical thinking to be automated, and we can employ things like machine learning and blockchain to deliver those.

That frees people to apply critical thinking and really use their expertise and creativity and innovation, and more interpersonal type of skills, to bring forth innovation and transformation for their organisation without automation.

If I look at even HR as a discipline, you get bogged down with things that are really neither here nor there … things like payroll, the processes that we do in the back end of recruiting, training and retaining people – they are neither here nor there, the customer doesn’t see them. The customer, who’s the employer, doesn’t see them. They just want to know that those are running efficiently, smoothly, and at the lowest cost possible. Those are the things that we can automate.

The engagement of getting to a point of understanding what will shift the dial for me, what are my aspirations and how are you going to deliver against them, and if you going to source creative solutions to do that for the breadth of the employee segment that you have, requires critical thinking and innovation which are things that automation cannot solve. And therefore automation will free us up to engage with that type of work.

JEANETTE CLARK: Why do HR teams need to reprioritise recruiting strategies, and what role does technology play in adapting to changing talent demands?

HOPE LUKOTO: Since the pandemic – because we are now in the digital economy and borders have become talent borders and have become very vague – people can work for international organisations, regardless of where they’re sitting.

That has also exacerbated the war for talent. The market is ripe for talent … even when you are conducting an interview, as the employer you are interviewing the employee for whatever criteria you [require], but they are also interviewing you to see whether this is the environment where they want to see themselves; whether this is the company and purpose that they want to be associated with.

So that, in moments that matter, is quite critical because it’s your selling point.

It’s the biggest lever that you have to promote your employer brand, to promote your organisation brand, and leave people with a sense of being an ambassador, regardless of whether they join your organisation or not.

If they do, they start on such a high note that productivity is almost a given, and sustained employee engagement is also a given. It’s very important that you start off well.

Again, it’s also an area where automation and machine learning play a critical role. Recruiting en masse is something that requires a lot of people on the bench. Now you don’t want an organisation that is people-heavy, because that is costly. Where you can use technology to do some of the groundwork until you get to a point where you now have to engage with the people because you have to assess interpersonal-type behaviours that you wouldn’t be able to get from the automation. But automation is your crutch in recruitment in this digital era.

JEANETTE CLARK: Why is it important for HR professionals to create a future-proof strategy, and what are some of the factors contributing to the need for such a strategy?

HOPE LUKOTO: I think for any organisation to sustain its growth and revenue upliftment in the economy that we are in today, as HR people we have to think about talent management more – it’s about mitigating risks and it’s also about making sure that you have the workforce, the right workforce with the ability and the willingness to go the long haul with your organisation to deliver against its priorities.

We all have the same challenges, so long-term thinking and sustainable solutions are what are going to enable one organisation to thrive against another.

JEANETTE CLARK: So let’s talk about that workforce. What are the employee preferences regarding remote work, and how might HR departments actually need to adapt to accommodate those preferences?

HOPE LUKOTO: It’s almost like we opened Pandora’s box. People tasted remote work, and they’re not going to go back to fully on-site.

I know a lot of organisations have said ‘We have brought our people back in the office’ – but if you check their stats and the data, you’ll find not exactly. People now are probably just voting with their behaviour of not coming into the office on a daily basis. And it’s quite accurate, because, before the pandemic we were all driving to the same place at the same time, we were all stuck in traffic. We get there and the workplace was like a destination.

The workplace should not be a destination. The workplace should be an experience. Work should be done where best required. We should get outputs and productivity from people in the best way possible. There are certain jobs that are neither here nor there.

If you’re not going to engage with other people, if you’re a systems engineer, for instance, nothing precludes the organisation from saying that your particular job is fully remote. So as HR professionals we actually need to redesign jobs and redesign how we measure productivity.

There are certain roles that can be fully remote, there are certain roles where you need engagement and collaboration with others, and there are certain roles where we actually need to see and interact with an individual on a day-to-day basis. That’s the value proposition that we must sell. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s where we get the most output for this particular role, what makes more sense for our particular organisation; build that into your value proposition.

With one-size-fits-all we are definitely going to fail because global organisations are offering our people jobs while they’re sitting in South Africa to deliver for international. And that is working.

JEANETTE CLARK: Redesigning job descriptions and your idea of a certain position is definitely, in my opinion, part of having a clear ‘future of work’ strategy for HR professionals. Do you agree, or do you see a future where Pandora’s Box is ever closed, or will we always have remote and hybrid work factor into the strategy?

HOPE LUKOTO: We will always have remote and hybrid in the strategy. Chances are we had it in the past as well. It was just not something that we spoke about widely, and something that we wrote particularly in the policy to advocate for most people to adopt.

So evolution will happen. We came from the industrial era. There was a certain workforce requirement at that time, and we’ve evolved to the digital era and we are definitely not going back.

If you look at consumer behaviour, if you look at the solutions and products that are coming out of the market for every aspect of life, they’re adopting more digital solutions. And that means the economy and the workforce and the workplace policies and procedures have to adapt accordingly.

If we talk about the future of skills and jobs, I think where we need to be thinking is that, similar to adjacent skills, we need to be thinking about skills and capabilities more than job roles and job descriptions. As it is, what people deliver today is more than what we are able to put in a job description.

What are the outputs that we are looking for? What are the skills and capabilities that we need to drive with that particular role? The qualification that you have is a foundation for you. Being able to do something from start to finish and complete it, gives you a methodology to apply to problem solving. It gives you a framework to approach your work. From there, your talents, your skills and capabilities should be utilised where they are best suited. And that is now talking more to the future of jobs as compared to the boxes that we had in the past.

You studied psychology, for instance. All you can do is work in HR. However, if you are more digitally inclined, you could be on the sales side of selling digital solutions and so forth. If you are more finance inclined, again, there’s digital finance, there’s digital transformation in every aspect of the spectrum in corporate.

JEANETTE CLARK: I want to jump to HR processes quickly. You’ve mentioned that that is also an important element to consider. How do automation and cloud technologies help HR professionals monitor the success of HR processes and assess long-term targets?

HOPE LUKOTO: In there, I would say one of the technologies that is helping with policies and procedures is AI [artificial intelligence].

AI is playing a big role there because where we want to get to is for policies and procedures to become intuitive. They must be intuitive, they must be as closely aligned to human experience as possible, which talks to design thinking.

The empathy that you apply when you do design thinking will enable us to change policies and procedures to really deliver on the human experience and not on the fact that it’s a transaction. It’s not a transaction, it’s an engagement.

People work for people, people buy from people, and AI is enabling that human experience when it comes to policies and procedures. Cloud technology enables us to store data in a more efficient way. It enables us to scale on the work that we are doing and enables us to democratise data such that everyone is able to have access to the relevant data that they should have about themselves and their work career.

JEANETTE CLARK: It is evident that businesses that want to excel need a clear future-of-work strategy and the right tools to make that happen. Who knows what our workplaces will look like in 10 years, but with attention to what employees require, the skills that we need to have in place for a world of AI, and processes that work, it is bound to be very exciting.

That was Hope Lukoto, chief human resource officer at BCX.

Brought to you by Telkom BCX.

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