AT the heart of powerful Zimbabwean brands are business leaders who apply strategic HR principles, either wittingly or by happenstance.
The Human Capital Telescope with Brett Chulu
Strategic HR is how organisations answer to changes or drive changes in the business environment through well-thought out interventions in talent, leadership and culture.
This article samples the apparent practices of three wholly indigenous companies that have built powerful brands through strategic HR practices.
From the feedback we get, this column is followed by people with business and non-business backgrounds. As such, we will first define the concept of a brand in very simple terms. What a marketer calls a brand is what strategic HR calls organisational culture. Investors and the investment community at large refer to these as intangibles or confidence-drivers. Regulators and social communities prefer the moniker reputation.
A brand is simply what your organisation is good at (or bad at) and well-known for. More accurately, it’s what your employees deliver to customers, investors, regulators and social communities again and again. Strategic HR creates the substance of a brand. It also sustains that substance.
To build and sustain a powerful brand, business leaders deliberately manage their organisational culture. Culture is no longer how things are done around here; it’s now defined as the things done around here that the customers, investors and other key interest groups deeply value.
This kind of thinking is apparent in the trio of Trust Bank, Jericho Advertising and Econet. We would not expect these companies to be perfect, but, in what they have deliberately chosen as their desired brands, they qualify as benchmarks.
Trust Bank case
It is the Trust Bank of old we are talking about here.
The old Trust Bank culture lives on through its former employees who have either since opened their own businesses or are working as senior managers and executives in Zimbabwe and abroad. In fact, what prompted me to write this article is a shared pattern of behaviour among employees who worked for Trust Bank in its heyday that I have personally observed or interacted with. Strikingly, these individuals, regardless of gender, are open-minded, have a high penchant for quality, are customer-focused, have high regard for etiquette, are highly sensitive to personal and organisational reputations and are willing to try out new things, even if means breaking new ground. Being a strategic HR consultant, and culture being a major pillar of strategic HR, I quickly picked these shared traits. When you see similar behaviours being exhibited by employees working for different companies and you discover they share a common parentage, you sit up and take notice.
We will look at one cultural trait the erstwhile Trust Bank was good at and well-known for. Trust Bank, in its glory days had a reputation of being very innovative. This culture is continuing through its ex-employees who are scoring firsts in terms of financial innovation. An ex-Trust Bank employee is finalising the establishment of an African commodities exchange, a first in Africa. Locally, number never-done-before but successful financial schemes, some with have industry-wide impact have been quietly launched by ex-Trust Bank employees.
Not only was the Trust of yesteryear innovative, it was arguably the most powerful employer brand in the banking sector. Some of the ex-Trust Bank employees I have talked to disclosed that most employees of old Trust would put in extra hours without demanding overtime payment. One ex-employee mentioned that it was not uncommon to find employees hanging a bit longer after work.
That kind of took me aback. The explanation answer I got was that “People just loved being at work.” That speaks to a well-entrenched employer brand loved by both employees and customers.
Several factors contributed to this powerful brand. Among others, leadership quality played a critical role. Several ex-Trust Bank employees, independently point to Willie Nyemba, founder of Trust Bank’s high levels of emotional intelligence and a desire to benchmark business practices (including HR) with the world’s best.
Jericho Advertising case
Jericho Advertising is barely three years old and has already built a solid reputation locally and internationally for being a super-creative advertising agency. I prefer to call this reputation ‘positively outrageous creativity’. They have hoisted a reputation for churning out outrageously creative adverts.
The TV advert about cheap low-quality vehicle spare parts, in which a fake fan-belt turns into a snake, is testimony to this ‘outrageously creativity culture’. Jericho has been able to consistently live up to this billing with the advert on Gloria Flour having pushed the boundaries of ‘positively outrageous creativity’.
The Gloria Flour still-advert, where a man seems to be dandling from a billboard had me startled the first time I saw it, as I thought it was real person working on the billboard who had accidentally slipped. The gentleman I was travelling with the first I saw this cheeky advert had seen this advert before. He too had been startled as much the first he saw it.
Jericho’s brand is largely driven by its talent practices. They seem to have carefully recruited their creative talent who appear to have been licensed to let their passions and imaginations run riot.
From the style of dressing apparent in a photo of Jericho’s creative team, a trained eye can immediately pick that the creative team’s personality types fit well with a highly-creative environment. It is not surprising that Jericho has signed on blue chip accounts such as Old Mutual and continues to win more. Jericho recently won an account with Western Union to run international advertising campaigns.
What we learn from Jericho, who recently won a top continental advertising award is that excellence has nothing to do with being an indigenous company or not – a well-defined cultural identity, consistently hoven up is powerful enough to break into bloodied local and international competitive arenas.
Jericho, from a strategic HR perspective, seems to have resolved that “we want to be known by our prospective clients as being positively outrageously creative.”
Econet is well-known for its pioneering or first-mover culture. Econet , in the most recent past, has aligned its recruitment practices to signal that the first-mover culture will continue to be a pillar of its strategy.
On the heels of launching EcoCash, Econet recruited a former senior M-Pesa executive, Japheth Aritho, to form part of the EcoCash leadership team. Safaricom, the owner of the M-Pesa platform are associated with ground-breaking mobile phone-based innovations.
Early this year, Econet recruited Kwanele Ngwenya, a former senior executive with First National Bank (FNB) Botswana to head its banking subsidiary, TN Bank. Michael Jordaan, the recently retired chief executive of FNB, is nicknamed the ‘Steve Jobs of South African banking’, due to his positioning of FNB as an innovative bank. FNB pioneered SMS notifications for banking transactions.
Econet, by recruiting a senior executive from FNB, is signaling that TN Bank is embracing an innovation culture as a strategic driver.
Reflect on it
Strategic HR principles cannot be ignored in building powerful brands as these ensure employees first create the substance of the brand and deliver that substance daily.
Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in both listed and unlisted companies. — firstname.lastname@example.org.