Tech can't replace the human touch

Nyasha Mutsai, the head of human resources for BAT Southern Africa Markets

Nyasha Mutsai, the head of human resources for BAT Southern Africa Markets

British American Tobacco (BAT)has been certified in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe thus earning the Top Employer Africa 2015 certification.

According to Nyasha Mutsai, the head of human resources for BAT Southern Africa Markets, technology has played a pivotal role in nurturing and developing talent throughout all levels of the organisation. 

“Technology is playing an increasingly significant role as far as career and succession management are concerned throughout the BAT Group,” she says.  “All BAT employees are able to manage their careers via the group’s integrated online talent management tool called the Talent Portal. This portal is a key contributor to our succession planning process - performance, career, leadership and development data contained within the portal is fed into the succession planning process.”

Mutsai describes the portal as a one-stop shop. “(It) has the functionality to (allow employees to) do the following: manage and track their performance; identify and communicate preferred career paths; assess and refresh their functional and leadership capabilities; and identify opportunities for development and training.”

Both internal and external recruitment are managed through BAT’s online career portal.  “The information on the site is structured in way that enables job seekers to learn more about our employee value proposition while navigating their areas of interests to find the right role to suit both their qualifications and experience,” she says.  “As a business whose brands are sold in over 200 markets worldwide, prospective employees will immediately understand the international scale of our business as well as the opportunities that this presents.

“Additionally, social media is becoming an important part of our recruitment process. Job seekers looking for opportunities at BAT can easily navigate the various updates on our LinkedIn.”

But Mutsai stresses that while technology has indeed played a crucial role in career and succession management for BAT, it can never replace the human touch.  For starters, there are challenges attached to accessing technology. “Infrastructure and a lack of access to technology on the African continent remain a challenge we are acutely aware of. As such, we supplement our online efforts with more traditional methods,” she says.

However, logistics aside, technology should never replace direct engagement with the work force, she cautions. “Instead, technology serves to complement the extensive engagement we do with our employees to ensure alignment to our strategy, our collective roles and responsibilities and finally to the mutually agreed performance objectives that each individual will be working towards. This mix of engagement and technology has worked really well in our business and has helped to foster a high performance culture.”

According to HR professional Kazim Ladimeji, writing for HRlab.com, “it’s now clear that talent is becoming a scarce commodity and savvy businesses are coming around to the fact that in order to maximize the value of their own human capital (and secure their internal talent supply chain), talent must be nurtured and developed through effective succession planning and supported with succession management software deployment.”  

Research supports this claim, Ladimeji tells us, with evidence suggesting that succession management software will actually improve a company’s performance if used to develop internal talent.

“Succession management software is an HR application which provides both the structural processes and technology automation to enable businesses to build and maintain a cadre of world class talent,” he writes.

According to him, there are several business performance signs which indicate that a company may need to start using succession management software sooner rather than later: turnover trouble, promoted role failures, high external position filling and population under-representation

“Organisations should consider closely whether the abovementioned signs apply to their companies; and, if so, should begin a measured and diligent process to ensure that succession management software is selected, implemented, and maintained,” he concludes.  

Dr Shaun Ruggunan, a senior lecturer in human resources management at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says that most South African companies he has worked with or encountered rely on paper-based tools, with some using a combination of paper and software and a tiny minority using only software or paperless systems. 

“Succession planning tools are still relatively novel globally and nationally though companies that take succession and career planning seriously are more likely to adopt novel technologies to ensure their continued survival and success,” he says.

“They would use mainly software to identify talent, provide career pathing information and in some cases engage in psychometric testing. The software can also assist in goal setting and serve as a conduit for mentoring relationships to facilitate career progression. In South Africa the focus is very much on talent management and succession planning of designated groups as defined by the employment equity act.”

One example in South Africa is Sasol. Central to the company’s career and succession management ethos is the empowering of employees with skills and experience to enhance the company’s competitiveness, the company said in response to emailed questions.  

“In 2014 alone Sasol invested R937-million in skills development, across the spectrum from basic literacy to advanced scientific and technical competencies.  The company has also accelerated its focus on artisan learnerships, bursaries (for Sasol and non-Sasol employees) and leadership development.,” the release says. 

“Sasol also runs one of the largest bursary schemes in Southern Africa.  Graduates from this scheme are placed on a structured professional development programme for a specified period of up to three years. Currently, 382 students are being trained through this initiative.”

Through its “Learning, Experiencing, Accelerating, Potential (LEAP) programme, the company is working on developing a solid pipeline of diverse senior leadership talent, in line with its goal to promote diversity and transformation across the organisation”, the company says.

Empowering women is also a strategic priority of the company. “In 2012, Sasol launched its women empowerment strategy and Sasol Women’s Network to accelerate the representation and inclusion of women at all levels of the organisation. The women empowerment strategy provides networking, learning and career growth opportunities for Sasol’s female employees, while the Women’s Network gives Sasol’s female employees an opportunity to be mentored by Sasol’s leaders over a 12-month period.”

This article is part of a larger supplement which can be found here.

The supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers and the content has been vetted by the Top Employers Institute.