Esther’s interview with Business Day-We are the first and only Nigerian Company to attain the Platinum IiP Certification
Investors in People Certification is a recognition awarded to organizations that constantly seek to improve performance and realize objectives through the management and development of their people. Recently, MTN Nigeria was awarded the highest category of the IiP certification, making it the first and only Nigerian company to achieve this feat. The Chief Human Resources Officer, Esther Akinnukawe sat with Businessday’s John Salau to talk about MTN Nigeria’s people management practices.
Q. Congratulations on your recent achievement as a IiP Platinum certified organization. What does this mean for MTN?
A. The full meaning of IiP is Investors in People.; Being awarded a Platinum certification implies that MTN has a robust Employee Value Proposition as an organization. IiP is an internationally recognized people management standard accreditation program and for us to have attained Platinum standard means that our Employee Value Proposition which I would subsequently refer to as EVP is strong and healthy. It attests to the fact that we are committed to supporting our employees in every facet of their lives. It also means that we are an employer of choice, it sustains the belief and understanding that we’ve had but with awards such as this, it cements the fact that indeed we are an employer of choice. These are some of the significances for us.
Q. In 2013 MTN got the IiP Certification for the first time, achieved Gold Certification in 2015, and now Platinum. Can you speak to this growth and how many other organizations in Nigeria hold this certification?
A. I am delighted to say that in Nigeria, we are the only organization that holds the IiP Platinum Certification. This is also a real testament to the fact that we have effective People Management Practices that have distinguished us. It might also interest you to know that internationally only 2% of organizations in 58 countries that IiP has assessed hold the Platinum certification. What it means is that internationally, including the United Kingdom and USA where IiP has a presence, we are in the top percentile of organizations with the best people practices. Continuous improvement is at the heart of IiP, it is the core of their philosophy so they do not just take your word for it, they interview employees; in fact, there are five standards within the accreditation beginning from Standard, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. We started from Standard accreditation years ago in 2013, we got to Gold in 2015 and are now Platinum. It shows we have consistently focused on improving and each time we are re-assessed, the results are clear that we have not remained on the previous level but have sustained that standard and built on it. When they speak to our employees, they are able to share their positive experiences with the organization. There are nine dimensions for the accreditation and each dimension has various elements. Another interesting fact is that to be able to attain the minimum Standard accreditation, an organization has to meet all the requirements of Standard, to attain Bronze one needs to meet all the requirements of Standard and about 95% of Bronze and continuous. For us to attain Platinum means we needed to attain all the requirements for Standard, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. We continue to meet and exceed expectations because of the doggedness and determination we have to make a difference in the lives of our employees.
The next time they are here to re-validate the accreditation, seeing as we have attained the highest level being Platinum, they may have to create Platinum Plus category for us because we are not resting on our laurels.
Q. Talking about Talent Retention especially with I.T Professionals who are known to be frequently on the move, how do you manage high attrition rates?
A. I must say that at MTN we do not find ourselves in that situation. Our experience is different from what other organizations in the telecoms sector or across the tech space generally encounter. I would like to attribute that to our EVP as well. Truth is, most employees want to work for an organization that doesn’t just give them meaningful work but also helps to sustain a challenging environment. Thankfully, we have been able to do that in MTN through the various propositions we put in place for our employees. It is commonplace to find people spend upwards of 15 years with MTN. We have people who have been with us for 18 years, from inception and they make up a large percentage of the organization. I joined the organization seven years ago and it does not occur to me to look for opportunities elsewhere. There are others as well who come into the organization and do not want to leave because the environment is conducive. I’d be lying if I said that we’ve never lost employees, however, we benchmark ourselves against what is known as the Saratoga Benchmark. The benchmark for our industry allows for about 5% regrettable employee attrition, for those employees that the organization does not want to lose. And we are currently below 1% so that that’s an indication that we have been able to retain people.
Q. Through MTN Foundation, MTN has invested back to its surrounding communities. What is your position on collaboration, industry collaboration?
A. As an organization, we believe strongly in the power of collaboration. Recently, one of our social impact activities was Yello Care, which we implemented in partnership with various organizations, including government and corporate. The mPulse summer event we had in August was in partnership with Access Bank and there are many of such initiatives we are executing in collaboration with other organizations. When there are industry issues to be tackled, we involve other organizations within the telecoms industry. Right now we have a campaign titled ‘We Are Good Together’ and we developed that campaign because we truly believe in it. We are confident that there is no single person or organization that can do it all alone and achieve desired success with their individual strength so when we collaborate within and outside our industry, with the Government, our customers, and different stakeholders, together we can go farther. When we decide to do it ourselves, it limits how far we can go but when everybody comes together to do good, then we can achieve a lot of mileage.
When you look at our MTN Foundation, since inception in 2005, we have spent about 20 billion naira on different initiatives. Whether on economic empowerment, health, education, arts, and culture, that is what we have committed back to the environment around us. So we are an economic enabler and are in this environment to work together, to do good together with the government, with different stakeholders and it is the same passion that we put into driving the people initiatives that we have adopted all the time ensuring our customer satisfaction is at the center of our decisions.
Q. Can you speak to the standard of MTN Nigeria’s Human Resources in comparison to global standards?
A. I am certain you are aware that MTN Nigeria is one of the OpCos of the MTN Group. We have about 22 operating countries within the MTN Group and our focus on best practices for people development in Nigeria is also very evident and clear at the group level. In fact, our strategy for the year is called BRIGHT and when broken down, B is Best customer service experience, R is Returns and Efficiency, I is Ignite commercial performance, G is Growth in data and digital, H is heart and mind and then T is technology where our network and technology would be categorized. The H is where HR comes in under Heart. We take it very seriously and are focused on creating an unrivaled employee experience and engagement. We want employees to wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work. We don’t want employees to keep thinking of excuses to run away from work and that is really what drives us and makes us do all that we can do to ensure that our employees are enabled to live their best lives whilst at the same time delivering value to the organization. It’s a symbiotic relationship and HR is at the heart of it. We have excellent, experienced, and highly skilled HR personnel, who keep their pulse on trends. We are trailblazers so even if there is nothing new out there, we come up with fresh ideas and have implemented some of them in recent times.
For instance, we have a talent incubation program which is our talent management program. We also hosted a Fireside Chat which is one of the bouquets of intervention under that talent incubation program. We brought industry captains such as Mrs. Sola David-Borha, the Chief Executive for African Region at Standard Bank and Mr. Leke Alder, President of Alder Consulting. They had a platform to engage with our Senior Management Staff, share from their experience and inspire our people. We are still receiving accolades till now for that event. In fact, this morning I woke up again to a lot of Kudos. Kudos are compliments on our internal MTN recognition platform called MTN Shine. If there’s anything that one has done for the organisation that is good and nice, people can go on the Kudos platform and send you some Kudos points and the beautiful thing about the platform is that it is public, allowing other MTN employees to see and recognise the individual. Under Beyond Work, we focus on health and what we refer to as Club 0803 where we give discounted products and services to employees. We also focus on work-life harmony by providing wellness and concierge services. There are a lot more that I am unable to list now such as financial literacy trainings but like I mentioned earlier, between 2015 and now we have implemented over 60 initiatives.