Talent management features prominently on the agenda of most CEOs around the world. Once only of concern to HR, it is now among CEOs’ most pressing responsibilities. Strong talent management leads to greater workforce productivity and other benefits and companies are increasingly realising that they cannot be successful unless they have a good strategy for developing talent.
CAROLE KIMUTAI spoke to Seni Adetu, Group Managing Director & CEO, East African Breweries Ltd; on the role he plays in identifying and growing talent in his team.
There is a management cliche that business executives are fond of using: “Employees are our greatest assets.” Seni Adetu cannot agree more. Infact to him, talent is easily the most supreme of all assets.
“I have heard some multinational companies declare that their best assets are their brands. I have heard others say it is their reputation. There is nothing wrong at all with either of these except to emphasise that both (brands and reputation) are inevitably managed by people. For me, therefore, talent is the pinnacle of all assets that a company can ever hold on to.” Explains Adetu, who has been at the helm of the multinational beverage company for over two years now.
In today’s corporate world, the competitive battlefront is for the best people because they are the true creators of value. For organisations like EABL, talent management is among the top priority that is passionately driven by the CEO. This is consistent with EABL’s majority stakeholder Diageo’s global focus on talent.
A strategic activity
At EABL, talent management is a strategic activity. “From the employee proposition we aspire to deliver when hiring to the critical matter of retention and the ultimate outcome of long-term capability building, we ensure that the business is awash with quality talent to match our audacious ambition. Identifying, developing, and growing talent is a major focus area and in service of that, there are times we consciously recruit ahead of our needs, so that we can train or assign outside home markets strategically, without compromising the ‘business as usual’ deliverables,” Adetu says.
But who or what are these talents that organisations and CEOs world over are so keen on developing and keeping?
According to McKinsey, a US-based management consulting company, talent are employees whose contributions are vital to a company’s ability to produce its products or deliver its service. Excellent talent refers to employees who produce an above-average amount of product and poor talent means those who do much less than average.
For Adetu, the talent management agenda should be led by the CEO.
“I spend a lot of time with my executive management team talking about Talent. We do so in the context of succession planning and capability building. We do what we call “spotlighting” where we look at which talent within the organisation has the potential to grow and to what levels. We ensure they have mentors and we invest in their development. We also second staff to sister companies within Diageo. We invest time in really knowing our people, understanding their strengths and developments needs, and work with them to craft very specific highly customised career development programmes to suit those needs. The opportunity is really about spreading this activity more widely across the oragnisation,” explains Adetu.
Mentoring is important because it overarches immediate job challenges and helps mentees navigate the organisation. EABL has systems and processes that enable them manage how talent grow within the organisation inorder to fulfill their careers. “We want when you sign up to work for EABL, you sign up to live your entire career life as a “citizen” of EABL.
Our intent is always to ensure that people first know what career opportunities exist for them within the organisation so that we can then actively support them to fulfil their career ambitions.”
The leadership at EABL continuous to encourage employees to own their careers. “In the past, employees would think their careers would be solely managed by their line managers. A line manager obviously has a massive role to play in career management, but how one grows in their career involves consciously working at it and causing the organisation to support them to achieve those career ambitions. We support line managers to have one-on-one conversations with their people regularly.”
The organisation has a management process that enable the classification of all employees in the buckets of their levels of readiness for their next jobs. “So if they are ready today or in five years based on their skills, qualifications, and leadership capabilities, we classify them as such. Once that is in place, for those that we identify to be ready for new moves in a short period of time, we consciously lead the conversations to help them achieve that.
This has worked very well as, increasingly, we see our leaders moving out to take up senior positions across Diageo and in different parts of the world, a recent example being our former Group Finance Director, Peter Ndegwa, who is now leading Guinness Ghana Breweries Ltd (a Diageo business in Ghana) as Managing Director.”
Adetu is clearly aware that what most employees look for is the value they get from an organisation. “Employees will often look at value in terms of rewards and how they feel about the organisation.” He says retention is as a result of a combination of things. First is to make sure that EABL has the right reward proposition in place, the second is having a leadership team that continually shows that it values its employees. “We put in conscious efforts to engage our employees through engagement initiatives. For example, we have an annual all staff conference whereby we sit together, review business performance and celebrate successes with all our employees. In other words, reward and engagement go hand-in-hand as it relates to retention.”
EABL engages employees through connecting activities like annual staff conferences. During these forums they review the business and spend quality time on ways that make people feel engaged and connected. “It is always a unique opportunity to align all our people to the Company’s vision and future. Above all we celebrate our successes. This holistic approach strategy, Adetu says, has greatly helped EABL retain its staff.
Another EABL strategy is conducting an anonymous value survey annually. This is conducted online by an independent consultant to measure how employees are feeling. It acts as a barometer for the management to pick areas of challenges.
“We get people to express their feelings about EABL and look for things such as; why they love working for EABL, if they would recommend the company as an employer to their friends and family, if they would sign up to work for EABL “forever” and also measure the percentage of people who say EABL is the company they will work for ‘all their life.’ ”
For Adetu, the most important thing for him is when employees say that some of the issues that came out of a previous survey have been addressed by management. “The more we can do this, the more we see our engagement growing because an employee will for instance say, ‘Last year, I said I didn’t like something about the company and I am happy that that has been resolved. I love this company, I love the leadership.’ ”
The EABL executive team is measured on how they improve the survey scores annually. “Our year-end performance appraisal takes into consideration the performance from the value survey. So if a line manager who has delivered on the numbers but had an awful value survey report, could have his ratings compromised as a result.”
Complementing the role of HR
Even while taking the lead in talent management, how does Adetu complement the role of HR? “In the past we thought that HR was completely responsible for talent management. The new thinking is that the accountability for hiring quality talent is as much the responsibility of HR as it is that of the the line manager. Building long-term team capability for the future of EABL is, for each function, dependent very much on their line manager. HR is there to facilitate but they are by no means solely accountable for performance in this area.”
Adetu has realised that since the CEO is accountable for the delivery of numbers, the tendency is that the persons closest to the CEO are usually the commercial people, which he says is not always right. “What I do is to raise the profile of HR and HR leadership where I can and ensure i give them adequate voice during executive management meetings. I also tend to have more meetings with HR than I do with most functions these days. It is people who deliver numbers so if you are a CEO who does not recognise how numbers are delivered, you miss the boat.”
He says as a CEO, he supports HR to have them engage more with the line managers to provide systems and processes and capability to enable people manage their teams effectively. “Every line manager is the MD of the people that work for him/her because that is who they see every time and not necessarily the CEO or the HR. Engagement cannot be done by HR only. It is these types of conversations that the line manager should have with his team to help in talent management.”
According to Adetu, each function head should have the responsibility for managing their teams. “HR is a resource point. They facilitate, share best practice and cascade learning from other markets.”
At EABL, each business unit has an assigned HR business partner. “The thinking behind this is that for every team of say 10 people, there should be a person assiting from a HR standpoint. But that does not take away the responsibility of the line manager managing talent in his or her organisation. The line manager would typically be clearer on what skills he/she needs more than what HR would ever know. That is a paradigm shift!”
Other than the cultural differences, the consumer trends, behaviour and lifestyles are largely the same. The East African market is very dynamic and highly competitive.
On the other hand, when I think about East Africa these days, challenges such as increased regulatory frameworks and economic volatility are of concern to me, even if those headwinds are more than balanced by the headroom opportunities from increased GDP growth, an emerging middle class, regional integration, and geographical expansion possibilities. T
he West has its opportunities too. The large populations like Nigeria would continue to attract business investment. At the end of the day, East or West, as businessmen, we are paid to craft strategies that enable us to win, and to execute them flawlessly.
Productivity in an organisation is dependent on a highly-motivated team. What role do you play as the MD in motivating your teams?
We have learnt to celebrate over time. We celebrate our achievements, successes and provide recognition to people. All that tends to motivate staff. However, most important to me as a leader is to provide inspirational and authentic leadership as it elicits trust, generates transparency, and respect for equity – “what people sow is what they reap.” If people trust the leader and know that in the company practically everything is given and done on merit, that is by far the best motivation a leader can give his team.
How do you inspire Generation Y?
I see myself as a member of the Gen Y group. The most important thing in managing this new generation of workers is to understand them – they are very mobile – they potentially want to change jobs every few years, they don’t want to sign up for the conventions in the organisation – like hierarchy, wearing suits to work, they just want to be who they are.
They are socially connected, every time they are out of the office they are actually in the office in terms of communicating with each other and there is therefore little wonder they are growing advocates of virtual offices. Once you know all of that, the ideal thing would be for you to leverage that to get the best out of them. This means ensuring the organisation has a well-defined work-life balance strategy.
For this generation it is not about quantity but about quality, not about time spent in the office but about how they spend their time. At EABL we employ on average 25 graduates every year on our management trainee scheme. We create the mobility that they seek in their careers. We rotate them in roles every few months giving them the excitement they want, developing their minds to become more generalists and ensuring they are engaged.
Do you have a mentor? What role does he/she play in your professional life? How often do you consult him/her?
I have two mentors (and I hope they know). They are – Nick Blazquez, Diageo President for Africa, and Alex Cummings, Executive Vice President, The Coca-Cola Company; and my former boss – great friend and confidant. I speak to both whenever I need to – my relationships with them enable that. I have learnt immensely from these two gentlemen, both professionally and in the way they balance their work and family lives. I immensely lucky in that sense.
By: CAROLE KIMUTAI
Photo By: EMMANUEL JAM BO
Management Magazine February 2012