Accsys, winner of the Management of People Award in the medium enterprise category
How to keep morale up in a lockdown
Here’s a Covid-19 lockdown feat that’s hard to beat: 101 consecutive days of messages to staff and 175 days of LinkedIn posts. If there was one thing Accsys staff and LinkedIn followers could count on in those most uncertain of times, it was that each new day would bring a message from then Accsys CEO Teryl Schroenn.
Don’t think for a moment these messages were the product of a team of ghost writers working feverishly behind the scenes to script the daily message. On the contrary, each and every note was personally written by Teryl herself.
“Communication is a big thing for me,” says Teryl, now a director at Accsys. “With all of us working from home, it was important to keep everyone connected and morale up.”
Sometimes external events would offer an easy entry into the message of the day to staff, such as the President’s latest speech or the first time she heard the term “new normal” being used; sometimes it would be about what the different teams in Accsys were working on, or nuggets of staff news mixed with business updates; and sometimes the daily post would be inspired by something completely different, such as the fact that the Virginia opossum can produce 16 babies in only 12 days.
“I tried all sorts of things to keep morale going,” says Teryl.
It worked, apparently.
“We all became dependent on that daily email from Teryl,” says Leigh La’Fember, PR and Marketing Manager. “It must have been really difficult to think of something new to say every day, but she did it, and we all felt connected, even though we were all over South Africa.”
The virtual meetings that Teryl began hosting added to the bonding process. “At the first meeting, about 90 of us dialled in and a lot of us were teary-eyed. It was a very good feeling,” says Leigh, adding that she had started viewing her colleagues, including senior management, differently during lockdown. “We always saw Teryl as the CEO – our boss – but she became like the head of a home, keeping us together. It calmed me and made me less anxious.”
While Teryl stopped writing her daily staff messages at the end of July 2020 and her LinkedIn messages in September, the closeness staff felt during those early days of lockdown has not dissipated. “I had a call with the sales team last night, and they say they’ve never been closer,” says Teryl. “That ability for everybody to talk to everybody else has been very positive.”
It all comes back to communication – 101 staff messages and 175 LinkedIn posts, to be exact.
Mochocho IT Consulting, winner of the Management of People Award in the small enterprise category
No free lunches for this black-owned business but its employees don’t go hungry
For a 100% black-owned company that has come up the hard way, there are no free lunches, nor would Jozzler and Lulama Mochocho want any. The exception is when they are the ones providing the lunches and the people eating them are their own employees.
“To deliver a good service, our employees need to be in a good state. Because we know our employees on a personal level, we know that some people might sometimes come to work without eating, so we make sure they all have food,” says Lulama, Chief Executive Officer of Mochocho IT Consulting.
“Then they can go back to work with energy. We don’t ever want our employees working on an empty stomach,” says Jozzler, Chief Technology Officer of this Midrand-based IT and telecoms infrastructure company, which opened its doors in 2010 and specialises in providing connectivity in rural and underserved urban areas.
It’s not just employees’ physical wellbeing that is important, Lulama adds. “We realise that frustration and depression are real and we want to make sure that no employee suffers depression under our watch.”
This means knowing and caring about what is going on inside and outside the workplace. “We ask after employees’ children and we like it when people talk about their families,” says Jozzler. “People are people before they are employees. Sometimes you realise there is something wrong at home that is affecting the person at work.”
Taking the human factor into account is only one side of the people management philosophy at Mochocho’s, however. The other side, perhaps a surprising one for such a small company, is its structured approach to policies and procedures.
Induction is an example. The office manager, who has HR training, takes every new employee through an induction programme so that they understand the company culture, dress code, and workplace etiquette, as well as the various policies that apply to employees.
“A policy is a roadmap,” says Jozzler. “It tells you where to go, what to do and what not to do. A policy speaks for the company. For example, we have an internet policy that explains what to browse on company computers. If somebody browses content that is irrelevant, we show them the internet policy.”
Humanity and structure sit comfortably together in this small company that has a heart for employees and a head for business.
D22 IT Solutions, winner of the Management of Innovation
Award in the emerging enterprise category
Above all else, keep it simple
Doing maintenance is a lot like
paying for insurance: their value only becomes clear when something breaks.
With government service delivery infrastructure crumbling after years of
neglect, South Africans are starting to develop a healthy respect for the
virtues of good maintenance.
One company that probably saw it coming is D22 IT Solutions. After all, its business is creating dashboards that, among other things, enable clients to see at a glance what predictive maintenance they need to be doing.
“A simple thing like maintenance can save you a lot of money in the long run,” says Delesh Kanjee, CEO of D22, which is based in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, and first opened its doors 17 years ago. It has an extremely loyal client base, consisting of mines, farms, and factories that run machines with lots of moving parts that can break down at the drop of a hat if you don’t keep a very close eye on them.
“Some of our clients have been
with us for 11 years, 15 years … I am very proud of that,” says Delesh, who believes
the secret of D22’s success in innovation is simplicity.
“People like to overcomplicate
things,” he says. “We like things to look very simple, but with deep technical
In other words, what the end-user
sees is on the screen are colourful, easy-to-read graphs that tell them what
moving part is next for maintenance or, in the case of clients with other
priorities, such as eliminating wastage or cutting energy costs, where the
Behind those simple graphs is an intricate web of sensors, software, and data readers that are incessantly busy with the calculations and computations needed to translate complex live data into sensible indicators for good decision-making.
Simplicity also runs through D22’s
own business model. It has learnt, for example, to break large, long-term
projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces with tangible goals. These tend to be
more palatable to clients than big, open-ended projects, Delesh says.
“We also underpromise and
overdeliver, use the ABC principle to prioritise and aim to make money on an
ongoing basis to keep our cash flow consistent.”
Ventso Group, winner of the Management of People Award in
the emerging enterprise category
Let your people do the talking
One day, when Ventso Group is a
household name, it will still be doing at least some of the things that its
employees like so much about it today.
“It’s the culture,” says Nomtha
Gobe, CEO of this fledgling corporate identity and branding company. “It’s a
warm environment and we’re very close knit. The word ‘home’ comes to mind but I
don’t want to create the idea that it’s just this comfortable space.”
She pauses, then makes up her
“Okay, I’m going to go ahead and
say home. It’s a family culture. There’s the brother you always fight with and
love, and the annoying cousin who always calls you out on your outfit so that
you always make an extra effort to look good… It’s the kind of place where
you get support if you need it, or a push if you need it.”
One of the people management
practices that make Pretoria-based Ventso Group feel like family is its caring leadership
“Zwanga is the kind of leader who
knows what’s going on with his people. If he sees you’re not smiling like you
normally do, he will check,” Nomtha says, referring to Zwanga Mabaya, a BCom
law student who co-founded Ventso with Luther Mochabe in 2013, when they were
both 20 years old and had barely enough money to register the company.
“We all check on each other,” says
Zwanga, popping into the conversation briefly before deferring to Nomtha again.
“I prefer Nomtha to talk,” he says. “I don’t want to blow my own trumpet and
she says it better anyway.”
Nomtha continues talking about
what makes Ventso so special in her eyes. “We’re a company of young people –
that’s number one – and we have always felt that we can’t move without people,
which is why we are always checking in with each other. Everybody’s wellbeing
is really important.”
This checking in goes beyond
ordinary, day-to-day “how are you doing?” conversations and includes weekly
check-in meetings, a formal company meeting once a month and, last but most
definitely not least, the annual teambuilding retreat.
Every year (except for 2021 when
Covid-19 got in the way), Ventso takes off for a camping weekend. “We go all
out – we glamp,” says Nomtha. “From the Thursday to Sunday, we go to another
province for team-building and self-building activities to connect as a team
and understand each other better.”
This annual retreat is definitely a tradition that Ventso plans to keep no matter how large it becomes, says Nomtha. And it has big plans; very big plans.