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‘We are the first and only Nigerian firm to attain the Platinum IiP certification’

Investors in People (IiP) certification is a recognition awarded to organisations that constantly seek to improve performance and realise objectives through the management and development of employees. Recently, MTN Nigeria was awarded with the highest category of the IiP certification, making it the first and only Nigerian company to achieve this feat. Esther Akinnukawe, chief human resources officer, speaks on MTN Nigeria’s people management practices in this interview with SEYI JOHN SALAU. Excerpts:


Congratulations on your recent achievement as an IiP Platinum certified organisation. What does this mean for MTN?


The full meaning of IiP is Investors in People; being awarded a Platinum certification implies that MTN has a robust ‘Employee Value Proposition’ (EVP) as an organisation. IiP is an internationally recognised people management standard accreditation program and for us to have attained Platinum standard means that our 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.



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 organisations in Nigeria hold this certification?


I am delighted to say that in Nigeria, we are the only organisation 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 2percent of organisations 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 organisations 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 organisation. 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 organisation has to meet all the requirements of Standard, to attain Bronze one needs to meet all the requirements of Standard and about 95percent 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.


As someone who manages MTN’s Human Resources team, overseeing the company’s EVP and staff strength, what does this say about you as a person?


Truthfully, my personal and leadership vision is to create an environment that inspires greatness in people while helping them unleash their own potential. However, I am not able to release the potential an individual carries, they are the only ones that can do this for themselves, but when I create an environment that enables them do so it means that we will be able to do superlative things collectively and the results will be awards such as this IiP Platinum certification. I am delighted to be leading the team but I am not completely in charge, I work with an amazing team. I also consider it a privilege to serve and to be able to lead the team, together we cascade the vision and mission required to move the organisation forward for the rest of the employees, it is really amazing and a great privilege.


Talking about Talent Retention especially with I.T professionals who are known to be frequently on the move, how do you manage this?


I must say that at MTN we do not find ourselves in that situation. Our experience is different from what other organisations 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 organisation 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 organisation. I joined the organisation 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 5percent regrettable employee attrition, for those employees that the organisation does not want to lose. And we are currently below 1percent so that that’s an indication that we have been able to retain people.


We can’t talk about talent retention and EVP without the reward system: what is the reward system like in MTN?


The reward system is highly competitive, there’s a system in place for increasing employee benefits on an annual basis. However, we don’t just wake up to say we want to increase salaries; we carry out a benchmark survey. What that means is that there are comparator organisations within and outside the telecoms sector that we benchmark against. Some of the industries that we have put within our pay bracket to see what they are doing include banking and manufacturing amongst others, we check how they have moved in terms of salary and reward systems and we make sure that we are competitive. If at any point we find that we are lagging behind in the market or we are not at the level that we ought to be, we quickly make adjustments. But the fact that we do annual increment gives us the opportunity to keep tabs on the trends in reward and then quickly cause correct if there is any need to.


As the HR Head, what would you say is the most important policy in management of people?


It would be difficult to pinpoint one for an organisation such as MTN and I say that with every sense of humility. Between a few years ago and now, we have implemented over 60 initiatives and these are all impactful initiatives not just ticking the box. They are initiatives that our people have found enabling. What I would say is that the guiding philosophy for us is whatever policy or process or practice we put in place has to really achieve the set objectives and we carry out what is known as a post-impact assessment. Here, we check with our people and ask questions to find out if what we deployed is working. Should we continue or discontinue? If we should continue, how frequently should it be? That way we are able to work with the information from our community to decide on the initiatives that are working and the ones to be discarded. Continuous improvement is at the centre and at the heart of the IiP programme, it is equally the norm for us.


Can you speak to the standard of MTN Nigeria’s Human Resources in comparison to global standards?


I am certain you are aware that MTN Nigeria is one of the OpCos of the MTN Group. We have about 22 operating companies 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 categorised. The H is where HR comes in under Heart. We take it very seriously, and are focused on creating an unrivalled 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 organisation. 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 Sola David-Borha, the Chief Executive for African Region at Standard Bank and 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.

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