Interview with HR Person of the Year 2015
Usen Udoh Group Chief Human Resources Officer Dangote Group
What makes the Dangote Group an employer of choice? Why should I work for Dangote? First of all, we need to recognise that the entrepreneur and the brain behind this organisation, is Aliko Dangote himself. He is the one who is determined to make sure this is a world-class organisation in every respect. So, whatever aspect of the business you are looking at—our risk practices, our finance strategy, our technology strategy—he is very much interested in making sure every single element of this organisation is world-class, and HR is definitely one of the systems. I am just lucky to be part of the great team, and that is probably one of the reasons anybody will want to work in our organisation. I always argue that the kind of employee you want is somebody who seeks meaning in his work and not just a take home pay. There are many people out there who would gladly belong in an organisation just to be paid a salary. But we are looking for people who are willing to put in their best in our organisation.
Dangote is one of the largest conglomerates in Africa. We have a hard-earned reputation for excellence in all that we do. Our diverse range of products are household names. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that kind of team? That is why people come to Dangote. They know they will find meaning here.
What is in it for the employee coming to work in Dangote? If I were to answer in one word, it would be ‘growth.’ You want to work in an organisation where you can grow. If you join an organisation that has been plateaued, and you are making good money, your chances of growing in that kind of organisation are limited. But like the owner of this business would say at every opportunity you have to engage with him, “if you are lucky to be employed in Dangote you have a life time opportunity.” A life time opportunity to maximise your potential, and the reason is simple. This organisation is growing phenomenally. The growth has been sustained year after year. I am not talking about five years or 10 years.
From inception, the organisation has been growing in double digits year on year. Even through recession, it has been growing, and it is not only growing in terms of revenue and market share, but also in terms of portfolio. Every single product that Dangote produces, essentially touches the lives of people, by meeting their basic needs. Now, because we have a rich diversity of employees from across the world, the opportunity for growth is endless. The only limitation is an individual’s creativity. Therefore, the one thing anybody joining Dangote will get is growth. As the organisation is growing, there will be opportunities for career growth. It is the people who work in the company that are likely to benefit the most from these opportunities. Of course, for you to fully exploit these opportunities, we have to prepare you. How do we prepare you? We expose you to highly talented colleagues who are working side by side with you. We expose you to world-class equipment and plants. We also expose you to world-class training. We have our own training academy called the Dangote Academy. We expose you to top-notch training that takes care of not just your technical skills, but also your professional skills. We do not just give you the opportunity; we prepare you to take advantage of the opportunity and you can only have access to these things, if you are working in here.
Where does Nigeria stand when it comes to Human Resources and People Development? What should we be doing to be outstanding?
You will agree with me that things have changed dramatically from the early days of people admin, which is what it used to be called, to the modern era. You now have a lot of multinational companies in Nigeria. These foreign companies have brought along with them, expertise. In addition, we have had a lot of people who have come out of core consulting, into HR, to practice. More importantly, we now have a lot more professional HR practice in Nigeria, with bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) coming up. These bodies have also served to institute standards that have helped to grow the profession. So things have changed. I think we should be proud of our growth. We should be proud of the transformation that is happening within the practice. But, of course, there is always room for improvement. I would say for us to play globally and for us to continue on that path of growth and improvement, the first thing is for us to make sure that professionals practice human resource management. If you want to come into practice, it should be because you want to practice, and if you are going to practice, you should get registered with the appropriate regulatory organisation. You should also get recognised for the fact that you have the skills to practice before you practice. That is the first thing. If we have set standards, we need to maintain those standards. If you are coming to practice personnel management in Nigeria, you must make sure you are cleared by CIPM, where ever you are coming from around the world. For instance, the fact that a doctor has a certificate in Medicine obtained in Nigeria, does not mean he/she can go to the United States and start practicing immediately. That person has to go through a professional body, sit for exams if need be, before he gets a certificate to practice. The same thing should apply if you are coming to practice personnel management in Nigeria. You should get certified to show you can practice. I think that is one of the things that will continue to keep us on the growth trajectory. The second thing, obviously, is to ensure that we share ideas. This can be done through attending conferences, where HR Professionals exchange ideas and learn from one another.
Finally—and this is very important—HR professionals must become business professionals, because the days of administration or admin functions are gone. HR professionals are business professionals and we need to grow into that space where we are required to have a seat in the board room. We are required to have a say in the board room. We are sought after to make our input, to know our insight to business decisions that are happening. That is where we need to go, that is where we need to be.
How is Dangote shaping Africa and the world in the area of human capital and industrial development? In terms of how we are shaping Africa in the area of human capital and business practices, I think the biggest evidence of that is when your peers tell you that you have done a great job. That is the biggest recognition, and as you know, we emerged as the African Company of the Year at the African CEOs Forum in Abidjan, earlier in the year. This is a clear recognition of our contribution to the economic growth of Africa. We are among the highest employers of labour in Africa with well over 26,000 people. We have presence in about 18 African countries. So, not only are we providing sustainable income for people, we are also giving them opportunities for growth to improve their standard of living. More importantly, we are also giving people the opportunities to realise their potential. The best gift you can give to people is an opportunity to express themselves. That is how you grow a community. That is how you grow human capital.
Now, if you want to talk about HR profession, all of these businesses need professionals to manage them—to manage those people. Every single business line we open is an opportunity for professionals to manage. So whether you are looking at the customer out there; the community in which we work and deliver our goods; our employees who are stakeholders; and our investors who have an opportunity to invest in every ramification, we are positively influencing the African narrative and we are creating opportunities for growth across the world.
What should HR leaders be doing to support the business and what should the business be doing to improve employee engagement? If you want to be relevant in the HR profession, and in the practice of personnel management, going forward, you have to move from the days of thinking it is an administrative role, to the realities of today, which is to understand that you are a business partner in delivering value. You are a partner in ensuring that you deliver on the company’s objectives. You are not an administrator that just sits down and administers after the event. To do that, HR professionals must think like businessmen. This cuts across identifying an opening in their organisations; the selection of credible candidates to fill vacant positions; managing these candidates while they are with the organisation; retiring the candidates, either they leave on their own or they retire, whatever means through which they leave; and even what happens post-exit. All of these must be seen as business.
HR professionals must manage the staff to ensure that they continually create value for the organisation. But that is not where the key is; the key is in ensuring you can actually measure and track their value. Therein lies the challenge. For a very long time, the reason the accountant has been very relevant in the boardroom is because they are able to tell you directly the financial impact of every decision you are about to take; the risk person is able to tell you immediately, the financial impact of the risk you are facing; and the IT person is able to tell you instantly, the financial impact of the presence or absence of the technology you are investing in, what you stand to gain and what you stand to lose.
The HR professional should also able to tell you the impact of filling or not filling a role; training or not training people; and retaining or not retaining your workforce. What is the business meaning of 1 percent increase in staff engagement? Until you can translate it down to the business meaning, the financial impact, then you can really engage the CEO. So, the job, going forward, for HR professionals is to begin to make their conversation more business related. For instance, if I go to my CEO and tell him that increasing staff engagement by 2 percent is going to translate to a 1 percent increase in profitability, it might make business sense to him.
If I am going to spend, for the sake of argument, say N100million to increase staff engagement at 1 percent, all of that is going to translate into 0.05 percent increase in profitability, which is probably just N10million. It doesn’t make business sense but if I can illustrate that in perpetuity, the 1 percent increase over a five, 10 year period would translate to X amount, my CEO can suddenly see why he needs to invest N100million on people. And I can show you that by investing N100million in training—just the simple act of training people on how to maintain a piece of equipment better—I am going to save you N500million in damage. Of course, it does make sense to invest N100 million, if you are going to save damage to equipment. Aside from the fact that you are going to increase their engagement and prepare them for the next role, if I can show directly, a correlation between the cost of maintenance and the skills level of my people, the conversation changes.
For example, it makes far more sense for you to invest N100million in training your staff and getting them into senior positions, than going out to spend N200million in hiring cost, to bring in somebody from outside who probably doesn’t have legacy. If I can show you that I can skill up my internal staff who have legacy, who have the interest of the company, who are engaged already, to take up these senior positions, at a cost that is far less than what it will cost you to go the market to hire somebody—if I can show you that kind of numbers very clearly—then it makes sense for you to make that investment. When HR professionals are able to show with tangible evidence, the business reason for whatever proposal they are putting forward to management, then their ability to impact the business will change.