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Employee engagement is the responsibility of anyone responsible for a team


Frans Kutumela

“Employee engagement is of paramount importance if we are to find sustainable ways of partnering with our employees across levels as organisations. At a very basic level, employee engagement is saying the psychological contract between an employee and the employer is intact, meaning, my objectives are taken into account, while making decisions about the organisation in terms of the future. When you also start to unpack this, it means as a manager, I will be more consultative in my approach in discharging my responsibilities in growing productivity and sustaining morale and employee satisfaction. The approach is both, instead of either, or, in managing employee relations in the workplace,” says Frans Kutumela, Head of Learning and Development at MTN and Talenttalks Youth Lead.

The notion of management and leadership by objectives has led to a number of challenges, where there has been no inclusion for consultations on a number of decisions made with regard to employees’ careers: “Organisations will unilaterally say: ‘this is the way we are going; this is the way you can partner with us,’” Kutumela explains.

Millennials have challenged the status quo. The y generation perceive themselves as “me as an organisation, and me as a brand.” They take responsibility for their own careers. “Employee engagement becomes more prevalent and at the centre of how we manage employee relations in organisations,” he observes.

Organisations have come up with a number of strategies to look at how employees remain engaged: “If one looks at organisations from the top, you will certainly have your leaders setting the tone, mostly with senior executives, who will traditionally not be visible. In many instances when you look at industrial relations challenges, executive visibility has been one of the issues.”

Employees want to hear from their leaders directly: “Leaders need to be available if employees want workshop flows or roundtable sessions where they can ask questions directly about the future of the organisation and some of the challenges they see.”

Instead of events or interactions taking place quarterly, or annually, there is a need for more frequent updates and communication. Technology has enabled this. “Social media has taken off. Some of the organisational challenges are already receiving attention outside. This has created challenges for leaders because it is mostly responding to what has already been leaked or what is outside in the social media; these are things the internal employees may not know. It is also harmonising that and perhaps managing that sufficiently so that your employees are well updated with clear and relevant communication at all times,” Kutumela informs.

It is also about behaviour: “Our employees are saying managers need to be fair, consistent and employee focussed, meaning that if they contribute, meet all their key performance areas, the expectation is a cordial relationship with a supervisor, manager, or leaders, and relevant recognition and rewards. Employees are looking at benefitting from the revenue growth that they are contributing towards, year-on-year either in form of shares, bonuses and or 13th cheque. These needs to be fairly distributed among those who contributed to the revenue of organisation. This goes a long way as a compelling employee value proposition.”

Organisations also need to balance current and future talent requirements for sustainability. “Traditionally the succession list will be a secret, known by few individuals and kept under lock and key. The incumbents will be informed they on the succession list, but they would know nothing in terms of career opportunity or growth plans going forward. We have seen requests for more transparent engagement with those that are deemed successors and what the career experiences are available to take them to the desired career paths or positions. In terms of employee engagement, it is not enough just to say we have a plan for you, rather say- can we discuss the career path that you would like to take and how can we partner with you and help you realise that while you are here with us.”

Millennials are most often in a role for approximately eighteen months. They perceive a particular position as a project, a value proposition that meets their current needs: “When you really look at it, it says I am an employee with clear objectives and I would like to partner with organisations who can offer me what I am looking for and be transparent about it in an open partnership and relationship.”

The integration of the youth into the workplace is a specific challenge for employers in South Africa and Africa as a whole. A key challenges emanates from the fact that the majority of organisations still have older generation and task-driven leadership, which the youth often reject: “Managers have not really transformed in terms of their leadership style to accommodate more inclusive, participative leadership style, which is required by the younger generation that is a typical challenge.”

Problematic too is the fact that there are often no clear successions plan, particularly when you look at the top positions. While you would expect organisations to have developed a successor internally, they often look of a successor outside the organisation: “This causes a leadership vacuum in many organisations, leading to destruction and further erosion of value and morale, and indeed engagement being affected. Most teams are without permanent leader, but you have people in acting positions. We have a lot of this in government. This creates low morale and pressure for those who in acting positions.  By the time an external appointment is made you have challenging relationships in the workplace with those that were holding the fort and now have to revert back to their previous positions, and their expectations have not been met. There is a need to balance internal talent growth and mobility and bringing young and fresh blood into the organisation, especially for scarce and specialised skills supported by clear career and succession plans for continuity, for sustaining the organisation.”

The Board’s role is to oversee that there is no risk from a leadership vacuum, productivity or employee turnover. “When you look at some of the top brands, the one thing that they have done successfully over the years, is to retain their employees. Employee productivity, satisfaction and engagement levels are high. Employees in the organisation stay. They wouldn’t necessarily want to leave because they are happy.” he notes.

Kutumela has a special message for Talenttalks readers: “Engagement is the role of anyone in the organisation from individual employees to Talent/ HR practitioners and leaders within the organisation. It boils down to any leader, who is responsible for a team of people performing a particular function, or discharging a particular responsibility. They need to ensure that at an individual and team level, they have engaged and have taken to heart challenges faced by their teams and together work on finding solutions. Nothing is static: things change all the time.”  

You have the opportunity to meet Frans personally and engage with him at Talenttalks Africa 2017.

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