Interview with Ola Ehinmoro

Interview with Ola Ehinmoro

Ola Ehinmoro, Director of HR and Corporate Affairs Suntory Nigeria.

1. What would you advise HR professionals and Heads of HR in organizations in Nigeria do to support business profitability and processes during recession and recovery?

HR Professionals need to get close to the business to understand the drivers of performance especially at this time of recession. We have to be seen by our CEO and colleagues as versatile enough to contribute to resolving delivery challenges in their areas and courageous enough to challenge performance issues arising from their team. This is also the time to focus on optimizing discretionary spends and avoiding the emotions usually associated with that… general and administrative spends put a lot of pressure on a company’s profitability and HR professionals have to lead transformation in this respect. In a nutshell, HR Leaders exhibit an owner’s mindset, exert themselves as enablers of business performance and drive process and cost transformation.

2. What is your view about the export and emigration of talent from Nigeria and Africa to the western world?

When Nigerian/African talent is exported for the right reasons, it is welcomed. The world is a global village now and the opportunity to experience other geographies is always a great idea as this gives people an opportunity to enlarge and enhance their worldview. I personally always encourage talented people with reasonable ambition to seek international experience. It has helped me personally to grow my career and sharpened my views. Being an expatriate in the western world gives African talent the dual experience of underdeveloped and developed societies where both creativity and process decorum are respectively mastered. The part we should watch out for is when Nigerian talents only want to emigrate because they think the grass is greener on the other side and don’t think of ploughing back his/her experience to impact Nigeria sometime in the future – that may be the brain drain syndrome.

3.What are the best ways to manage and retain talent?

In my experience of managing talent at the highest levels both in the western world and in Africa, having a simple, consistent and practical process to differentiate talent is the foundation. Defining business needs, talent requirements and matching people’s aspirations to the needs of the business create a symbiotic relationship. Once there are relationships between business needs and the resources driving it, retention of key talent is done through focused and transparent engagement. Talented people want to be clear about the expectation and ambitions of the business and how they fit into excellent delivery. If these are not clear, they will walk away. What this means is that there must be reliable engagement touch points for understanding employee ambition and creating the appropriate opportunity to live that experience and in some cases manage their expectations. There is therefore a limit to how far you can keep talented employees, once they have outgrown what your business can offer; don’t fight their wish to leave

4.Could you share an experience that shaped you during your professional HR Journey? 

 I started my career over two decades ago in a bottling company, my first Head of Department said to me during my induction, “If you want to make a successful career in this profession, you have to be courageous and strive to do the right thing at all times.” This coaching experience was the best gift I received early in my career and it has shaped my evolution. To be courageous was to be good at what I am expected to do, to be on top of my game and deal with issues with confidence, transparency, fairness and candour. It takes courage to be courageous. Leveraging on this persona, I took every opportunity to experience new responsibilities in different industries – FMCG, finance and banking, building materials and in different countries around the world. This global experience and working in different industries gives me the required exposure and reinforces my courage as the bedrock of my career evolution.

5.What steps and processes should a new HR Head put in place in a new job in his/her first 100 days?

In every company where I have led the HR function, I have spent time building the foundation for success and regardless of the circumstance of the organisation the following steps can be helpful

  1. Spend quality time with the CEO and management team to understand the company’s aspirations, their impression of the HR function and what they think you can do to help drive step change in people’s performance and engagement.
  2. Spend a lot of time understanding the products and services of the company so you can talk about it end to end to a potential customer. By doing this you have an idea of the complexities and resources required.
  3. Pay attention to the existing HR processes, policies and key stakeholders including the unions and clearly imagine where gaps and opportunity exist.
  4. Spend quality time individually with team members, peers and a sample employee population to understand their high and lows.
  5. Work with your team to articulate your insights, define ways of working and align yourself with the management team.

But above all do not be in a rush to impress, but ensure you don’t waste too much time before delivering results.