Africa’s Top Employer tells us how it’s done

Things are looking up for Old Mutual Namibia, having obtained the ‘Top Employer in Africa’ status 2012, according to the Corporate Research Foundation (CRF) Institute.

“This is an achievement that is humbling, an achievement we can all be exceptionally proud of. This is an achievement which is the direct result of the culture, team work and immense energy we put in to serve our customers,” remarked Johannes !Gawaxab, the Managing Director of Africa Operations, Old Mutual.

The Top Employers methodology was developed by the CRF Institute which, while based in The Netherlands, operates in thirteen countries on four continents. The Institutes operates in the areas of Human Resources, Leadership and Strategy, following objective research into Human Resources polices on reward, benefits, cultures management, and career development and working conditions.

This award comes as a surprise and early Christmas present for Old Mutual Namibia. “For us it was a big pleasant surprise that we competed and we were certified as a top employer, I didn’t expect it because it was the first time that the survey was done in Africa and when I looked at the criteria used for certification, I thought we would probably make it in year three,” reveals Patty Olivier, the Human Resources Executive.

The process involved a thorough review of the key drivers of HR practices and policies such as pay and benefits, training and development, career opportunities, working conditions and company culture. In all these OMN excelled.

“The research involved all critical areas of the HR Management of the participating organisations. Only the Top Employers that met the standards of excellence in HR policies were certified,” Patty emphasises.

OMN was pitted against several African countries outside of South Africa namely Kenya, Mozambique, Mauritius, Nigeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, DRC, Malawi, Zambia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Ghana.

This award, according to Patty, has several implications on the HR function in the organisations as this function is surely being pushed to the forefront.

“The time is long gone where HR was regarded as a department whose employees spend 80% of their time on routine administrative tasks as and when they feel like it. HR has evolved strategically and it is showing results now in terms of the competitive advantage that a strong happy workforce delivers,” states Patty.

“For Namibia it is exceptional because it means you can come to Namibia and find very good working conditions comparable with the rest of the world because if you don’t comply with international standards you cannot be satisfied as a top employer,” she adds.

This award comes at a time when HR is playing an instrumental role in blue chip companies because employees working in them have become about the only competitive edge in this fast changing and volatile business environment.

Decanting from her experience, Olivier says that these days, an HR executive needs numerical and statistical skills as well as strong managerial and leadership skills to drive the HR portfolio because at Exco level you are required to put full input in the business, one cannot just sit there and be quiet.

Olivier adds that the whole HR Value Chain has become much more analytical than in the past. In areas such as in Recruitment and Selection for example, it is no longer just about interviewing people and making a decision on who might be the right candidate.

“There is much more rigour in the process; the interview process, based on different competencies for the job, is but one of the selection processes. Assessments are often done in addition to get an indication of whether prospective employees have the right aptitude and potential to do what is required in the job,” Patty stresses.

According to Patty, traditionally remuneration was and probably still is the main attractor of employees to companies. But trends are changing as people are increasingly searching for more than just money. The working environment and conditions together with professional and personal development have become key factors in attracting and retaining top talent.

OMN currently employs over 600 people and their recruitment is geared towards a wider scope, thus giving people mobility and a competitive edge in the international market.

Already OMN has been able to obtain special skills over the years, recruiting 13 Chartered Accountants (CAs), 3 Chartered Financial Analysts and 3 Actuaries to date.

“These are highly skilled people, but we manage to keep them here,” said Patty.

Besides OMN Namibia is making inroads regionally, currently two Namibians, the DN //Hoabeb CEO of Swaziland and Nangula Kauluma the Marketing Executive for Africa based in Cape Town are both holding very senior portfolios.

“Surely we are entering the international arena and this is something we are proud of,” quipped Patty.

Patty stressed the importance of maintaining and active entrepreneurial culture as the company grows in size and scale.

“It will always be part of the business because what is acceptable today, is outdated tomorrow and with our strategy of “Customer first”, we need to remain entrepreneurial to satisfy their needs.”

Patty acknowledged that it remains a challenge to retain that innovative edge in today’s Business World, due to the continuous and rapid changes in the environment. The solution lies in adapting to the changing environment and stay abreast of one’s environment.

OMN seems to have an immaculate job in creating a conducive working environment to an extent that some people have taken salary cuts to join OMN as they see it as a good working environment.

As OMN is still basking in the glory of their award in looking into the future their short term focus will remain to build an environment that attracts, inspires, develops and retains talent to deliver on our promise to our customers, employees and the community within which they operate. While the short to medium term focus is to take Talent Management to a higher level since the war for talent is fought fiercely in this environment.

“We are in the process to establish a Talent Pipeline within the organisation locally and internationally that will ensure sustainability within the organisation for years to come”, she concluded. PF