Winner of the 2018 award for Excellence in the Management of People, category for large enterprises

Our adjudicator Ann Naicker shares with us their experience of Netstar

Why face time is so important in this digital era

In this age of digital communication, there is less and less need for face-to-face communication. More accurately, perhaps, there is a perception that there is less and less need for it.

Not at Netstar, where management by email or app has not replaced good, old-fashioned face time.

At least on a quarterly basis, the company’s MD and other senior leaders participate in “employee townhalls” at their head office in Midrand and conduct “leadership roadshows” in their regional offices across South Africa with their  1 200 employees with the objective of keeping employees aligned to the company’s purpose and strategy. 

“It is the way of life where employee engagement is concerned”, says Pamela Xaba, Head of Human Capital at Netstar.

While Skype or the like would be easier, quicker and cheaper (and is used for other types of company communication), feedback from employees is that the roadshows and the quarterly townhall meetings are enormously popular and make a meaningful difference in the company’s efforts to deepen employee engagement.

“People can see what we look like and sound like; it makes us approachable and human as senior leaders,” Pamela says. “As senior leaders, we need to tell employees what the strategy is and why decisions are made so that they don’t hear it from others. If people aren’t sure of the strategy, they don’t know where you are going. People shouldn’t second-guess the company. They should know what it stands for.”

While keeping employees abreast of company strategy and direction is a prominent part of the townhall meetings, Netstar’s senior leaders do as much listening as talking at the townhall meetings, she adds.

“If you ask people what they think, and if the environment is open and transparent, they will come up with solutions – really good ones, too – and get excited about being part of the journey,” says Pamela.

Just as important as listening to people’s ideas is, following up and seeing them through is also key.  “So at the next townhall meeting, we will give feedback on the input that came out of the previous round,” says Pamela, adding that this is part of putting the Netstar values which include openness, honesty and  integrity, embracing diversity and inclusion, getting things done and enjoying doing it   into practice.

So even in this digital era, face time matters, and is here to stay.



Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for medium enterprises

Our adjudicator Abe Wakama shares with us their experience of Accsys.

Rule number 1: get feedback and act on it 

What works for a 50-year-old might not work for a 25-year-old. What works for a computer programmer might not work for a human resources practitioner. What works for an introvert might not work for an extrovert. What works today might not work next year. With so many variables in the people management mix, there is only one hard-and-fast rule for Teryl Schroenn, CEO of multiple award-winning Accsys.

“Constantly ask people for feedback and when you realise that something is working well, make sure that it happens on a regular basis as opposed to by accident,” she says. “If the feedback shows that it isn’t working or no longer works, adapt.”

This very morning, while having a breakfast session with nine new employees – only one of whom was under 30 – Teryl asked what was working for them and what wasn’t.

“They gave very positive feedback on the culture we are trying to put in here,” she says. “One of the things they commented on was that ‘the CEO actually knows our names’.”

Accsys has about 90 employees, which means quite a few names to remember, and Teryl goes beyond that if she possibly can. “I try to remember how many children people have and what their interests are. People are not resources. It’s important to me to connect with the people here.”

What people do sometimes find surprising, she says, is her preference for an office with four walls and a door.

“Some people say management should get away from the ‘corner office’ and make everything open plan. I’m not a fan because we work with a lot of confidential documents. I do spend a lot of time in the open-plan space, though, and also going out with my salespeople on appointments. That’s always a good time to strategise with people about what they are going to say. We try to empower rather than manage.”

Something new at Accsys is the mentorship programme that was recently introduced. “We’ve been doing mentoring all along but this is a bit more structured,” says Teryl.

In fact, the mentorship programme is the perfect example of what she means about turning spontaneous or sporadic successes into a regular process or procedure. “In business, sometimes good things do just happen and they are lovely but informal, so they create pockets of excellence without spreading. People management and agile leadership are about picking up on those good things and making them happen regularly.”

Air Blow Fans

Air Blow Fans

Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for small enterprises

Our adjudicator Kenneth Mabilisa shares with us their experience of Air Blow Fans

How to use people’s strengths and avoid unproductive personality clashes

It takes different personalities and talents to build an effective, cohesive team but if the individuals in the team don’t understand each other’s differences, tension can result. Air Blow Fans has found a way to get the most out of a diverse bunch of people so that they complement rather than frustrate each other.

It starts with recognising the value that different personalities and viewpoints bring and, conversely, the dangers of attempting to stamp a culture of clone-like uniformity on business, says Gavin Ratner, managing member.

“If everyone was like me, the place would fall apart. It takes all types to be successful,” he says, explaining: “I’m not a detail person at all but my sales manager is extremely detailed. He knows it’s not personal and that he has to make sure I give him everything he needs to do his job properly. We understand each other.”

That understanding is not based on telepathy or even years of working together. It stems from the conscious effort that Air Blow Fans makes to ensure its people are aware of each other’s different personalities and how to work together productively despite – or perhaps because of – those differences.

The company uses professional personality profilers to interview each and every team member and then consolidate the results on a group graph that shows the team’s collective strengths and weaknesses, as well as the personality dynamics at play.

“We also use profiling before we hire anyone to make sure there is the right fit between the person and the position. If the position needs detail, then the person filling the position must have detail,” says Gavin. “As Jim Collins said, you must get the right people on the bus in the rights seat before you decide where the bus is going.”

With the right people on board, in the right positions, they tend to get on with the job – and with each other. “It means you don’t have to manage people,” he says. “Technology is simple and intuitive and growing the business is the easy part. People management is the hardest thing in business. It takes just one bad apple to create turmoil and dissension.”

The company doesn’t claim to have all the answers but, judging from its staff turnover, it’s doing something right. “We lost one person two years ago and we have grown, gaining three people in the past year,” Gavin says. “Understanding each other’s personalities helps me and others to interact well. It makes things a lot simpler.”



Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2018, category for emerging enterprises

Our adjudicator Dr Mthandazo Ncube shares with us their experience of Passion4Performance.

Free to make mistakes and accountable for fixing them

On a good day, the only person you can control is yourself, so attempting to control anyone else is futile. Rather let people manage themselves, have the freedom to make mistakes and be held accountable for their actions and decisions.

This is the essence of people management at online learning assessment company Passion4Performance – and while it might sound simple, it’s anything but.

“Our culture limits us in terms of who can work for us. It’s really difficult to find people who can work this way. At school and in their studies, people are not taught to think. Then they come here and have this freedom, and it’s very uncomfortable,” says Darryn Van Den Berg, founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance.

The uncomfortable part is that there are only two golden rules for the company’s employees. “First, you must be able to ask if you don’t know. Second, you must know if you are about to drop a ball,” says Darryn. “Our culture is that if you drop the ball, you have to pick it up.”

In other words, it’s all about consequences and accountability. “We have lots of conversations about our culture and we tend to dive into the consequences, and this is causing the uncomfortable conversations to become closer to the norm.”

Darryn recalls the time he and a young developer went to pitch for a large contract from a prospective client. “This youngster saw me as the boss and he would never say “no” if I asked him to complete a task. He said he could do the job we were pitching for and we took the risk that he could. On the pitch day, we took him with the potential client but the work was not completed and the pitch fell apart. Holding him accountable in front of the client to fix the challenges – as we were experiencing them.”

After the experience of having to explain his misjudgement to the client, this particular employee was no longer a people pleaser. “Immediately, he started saying no,” says Darryn. “Micromanaging is easy but I’m a firm believer that people must manage themselves. As far as possible, we try to create an environment where people set their own goals and targets and make their own decisions. We like people to be free from fear to make mistakes, ask for help and pick up the balls they drop.”

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