The value of open channels

Anglo American Platinum media relations manager Mpumi Sithole

Anglo American Platinum media relations manager Mpumi Sithole

There is no doubt that the South African mining sector is having to work harder than most to deal with the challenges facing this industry, but Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is meeting these challenges head on, both externally and within the company. Maintaining standards and effective employee relationships is a top priority for the company, with its long-term strategy aimed at developing peaceful industrial relations.

“Internally we are rebuilding relationships with our employees to establish and maintain a constructive and peaceful climate,” says media relations manager Mpumi Sithole.

“We have implanted proactive employee relations programmes, central and pivotal to which are communications in key relationships.

“During strikes we saw the crucial need to take the right communications back to management, and relaying concise information back to all stakeholders. We recognise the need for robust, layered communication to address any situation where employer-employee relations are strained.”

Although there are no significant retrenchments on the table, transparency following Amplats’ June announcement that the company is to redesign the organisation and support structure, with the redirection or cutting of 420 mainly management and supervisory positions, makes it vital to communicate during the process.

“The chief executive has direct communication with the top 100 in management and speaks about the financial situation facing the company,” says Sithole. “These executives are then expected to cascade information, with the help of the communications department, through from the top to general managers, union leaders and department heads and to filter through the wave from top to bottom and from bottom to top.

“There are also feedback channels where employees can communicate back to the chief executive.

“A second aspect is communicating with the number of unions representing employees in the business, and trade union stakeholders. We need to work tirelessly here to have a collaborative approach — a sound and meaningful union relationship environment.

“We are training union leaders and shop stewards and capacitating them to have the skills to assist to filter communications through. This is a critical part of the business and by capacitating unions within our space we manage to address a whole lot of issues,” says Sithole.

“We are also providing counselling and financial support to those affected by change. A service provider takes them through financial planning and a career guidance company helps them explore career options and opportunities in other directions.

“Zimele is Anglo’s enterprise development arm and we have a number of people coming to sit down to look at business opportunities in the company through developing in other areas.

“This is all part of the strategic approach and part of coaching leadership skills to enable these people to engage with the staff on the mines from a different perspective.”

Resilient business

OneLogix does not face the same challenges as the mining industry, and this niche logistics provider continues to enjoy steady growth. However, it still places huge emphasis on retaining and developing its team.

Explains Hein Swart, group human resources manager: “We run a resilient business, with an emphasis on business efficiency and we are very protective of our human capital. People grow with us.

“We do stress efficiency, but this must not be to the detriment of our employees. While we are a large company with 2 000 employees across 12 different divisions, we strive to retain a family value-driven philosophy, alongside the stress on understanding the values, mission and goals of the company.”

Swart says OneLogix’s relationship with its employees is very good, as it has various platforms for engagement. Employee Value Proposition is one of the company’s annual employee engagement surveys, through which it bases a comprehensive offering to employees in return for the contribution they make.

“We are active in employee development through various training and development interventions, which extends to bursary schemes for all group employees and their children. We believe that without a proper education, career choices for our children will be very limited. We help our children map out a strategy and set goals. In 2015 the OneLogix group awarded 53 staff members bursaries and 148 staff dependants bursaries.”

Another company objective is to diversify the workforce by creating opportunities to further develop and create skilled and professional staff through business administration and management learnerships. OneLogix has also embarked on a Business Practice Disabled Learnership, comprising 350 learners, with the aim to add skills and assist them to become a part of the economically active population.

Company training is implemented through an online eLearning management system, which Swart describes as highly effective, convenient and flexible, and effective at increasing productivity. The system also allows the company to conduct skills gap analysis, competencies, job profiling, assessments, tracking and reporting and is part of the OneLogix quest to remain an employer of choice.

Being a stakeholder goes a long way to employee relationship management and every employee participates in the OneLogix share ownership scheme, OLG Esizayo. These shareholders enjoy only the benefits and none of the drawbacks of being a shareholder.

“The continual, constructive performance of each staff member has a positive influence on both the OneLogix share price and the

wealth of the individual shareholder,” says Swart. “Further wealth by implication comes through the group’s company-wide health and safety initiatives with its wellness days, free medical checkups, blood drives and care group.”

There is a top-down approach to communicating, from exco level through divisional heads and line champions. The company also places value in its Driver Imbizo programme. These Imbizos encourage sharing of views with management as well as brainstorming, team building and social opportunities with colleagues. Imbizos identify operational issues and find possible solutions, communicate company policies and procedures and provide updates on critical performance areas.

Village culture

Another company enjoying a growth environment is global medical technology company Becton Dickinson. It has no intention of dropping this ball and according to its human resource manager: Africa, Catherine Karue, there has to be transparency, communication and ensuring that you remain committed to the talent you have.

“Our managers are key in managing relationships,” stresses Karue. “Our talent is our major resource and when we train or hire our management, we ask them to have high engagement levels with their team and an understanding of talent development and career progress.

“There are regular leadership meetings to review talent and from corporate level there is the mandate to conduct mid-year and annual reviews. We have action plans and we create teams made up of managers and employees to be part of project management.” 

The company has a village-orientated culture and holds quarterly “Town Hall” feedback meetings on action plans to obtain updates on how the company is doing. The country general manager is present at these and any questions can be raised and addressed directly.

Probably the most disruptive factors that bring uncertainty and strain between employer and employee are mergers and acquisitions — and Becton Dickinson has recently acquired healthcare company CareFusion.

“While the acquisition brings employee uncertainty, there is constant engagement and communication around where we are in the process. 

“It is about being honest and about encouraging the team to continue bringing value to the business, bringing the business forward. We must never forget to celebrate the good, together as an organisation.”