As part of our CEO Roundtables, African Business sat down with a number of private sector leaders from East Africa to discuss strategy and talent management during the recent Careers in Africa Talent Agenda Series. Below are excerpts of some of the key discussion points raised.
Chair: There is a debate as to where HR sits within the organisational structure. Martin I'd like to start with you as a former CEO who oversaw the transformation of a bank, KCB, and who is now a professional coach and adviser. Is HR a strategic or an administrative function?
Martin Oduor-Otieno: That sounds like a trick question. The obvious answer to that is that HR is a strategic resource, very much so. It is there to help the rest of the functions to think about the future, and how they can support that through their own expertise. There are obviously functions related to operational performance, and in any structure, their function is to make sure that the admin bits are being performed at the leadership level. But if it's not performing a strategic function then there is no point.
Vimal Shah: I think HR in five years' time is going to be obsolete, because AI is coming in. There's a lot of artificial intelligence, there's a lot of virtual reality coming in, augmented reality coming in. All the servicing you do for your employees will be automated. There'll be self-service desks everywhere where people serve themselves and it gets sorted out. So, that's why it's got to move to a strategic area where you start saying, "Okay, fine. Now, how do we handle the business and what do we do?" Going forward, it's not going to be that a HR person can't become a CEO. An HR person needs to be all-rounder too. I think this is where complexity becomes more simple.
Susan Maingi: Right now, you are obsolete if you're not a businessperson first and then an HR person second, because if you don't understand the business, how are you going to contribute to the strategic discussions of the business? If you don't put yourself in that space, you're obsolete. If you come with the prospect that "I'm an HR person" and you're not talking from the business, revenues, operational data, understanding what is going on from the macro inside the organisation and also the macro externally, you are going to be obsolete. Or you are obsolete.
You have to understand your business and how HR can support, in terms of the skill sets or whatever engagement that you need, and make sure you're resourcing the organisation for the future.
Martin Mugambi: HR is a strategic function that is actually front and centre of how you manage talent as an institution. If I talk from the financial services space in terms of what's happening, there's a little bit of an issue, there's radical disruption. The way we've done business traditionally is not the way we'll do business in the next, five to ten years. So, the skill sets that we tend to look for now in financial services tend to be around data, around data analytics, around predictive engineers and the like.
HR is not only strategic. They have to be a business partner for every part of the organisation, front, middle and back office. We view HR essentially as a business partner. A business partner that should understand the environment in which we're operating in, a partner that understands how the environment is evolving, and more importantly how to resource the organisation, because your most important resource is actually your people. How you manage that is what differentiates who will actually be sitting at the table as you go into the future. So, for us as a bank, and more increasingly as a digitally focussed financial services organisation, HR is very strategic, and driving that resourcing is very important.
Chair: Martin Oduor-Otieno, you mentioned that the role of the CEO is changing and it's a lot more complex than it probably was ten, fifteen years ago? What are the skill sets that you need?
Martin Oduor-Otieno: Today's CEO, the way I see it, is very different to yesterday's CEO, who was barking orders at people and telling them what to do. They knew exactly where the company was going, and they knew where it should go. What I see today is a much more conservative CEO. One that is using a lot of these partners that Martin is referring to, getting people around the table, pulling strategy together and consulting on how their strategies are going to deliver the outcomes that are required and focussing very much on talent. So, I see a lot of CEOs spend a lot more time on what you would call a people agenda.
Chair: Ory, many tech companies grow exponentially. To go from managing an organisation of 100 to managing an organisation of 10,000 is a completely different mindset. How do they manage it in terms of HR?
Ory Okolloh: When I went to work for Google, it fascinated me that every office that you went to, in Warsaw, in Nairobi, in Helsinki, in Tokyo, was the same, not just in looking nice and funky, but in terms of the culture and the people who work there.
When I joined, Google was about 20,000 employees, but Larry Page still signed off each and every hire. This is how central people were to the company. I think maybe he stopped at about 50,000.
It didn't mean he read everything. There was a packet. Sometimes, he just signed it, but the work that went into putting together that packet meant that, because you didn't want to go all the way there and have him not sign, everybody took the hiring process seriously. Hiring was not an HR function. Managers were rated on their ability to hire. It was a committee and there had to be consensus, and people could block and give a reason why.
You were rated on how quickly you turned around your feedback. It was such an important part of the culture and the team, the people you brought in. If you're hiring, you don't want to be the person who brings someone who messes up the...