Founded in the 1880s in South Africa, Standard Bank is Africa’s largest bank by assets, employing a whopping 50,000 employees operating in 20 African countries and five global financial centers.
Talking exclusively to the UNLEASH Editorial team at UNLEASH World 2023, the bank’s chief people and culture officer Sharon Taylor shares that Standard Bank has recently been named one of the world’s best employers for 2023 by Forbes.
The Forbes ranking is based on a survey where 170,000 employees globally are asked if they would recommend their employer to family or friends, as well as to rank their company based on criteria like flexible working options, benefits, diversity, and work-life balance.
Standard Bank was ranked 130th (out of 700 companies) and is one of only seven employers on the African continent to receive this recognition – the others include MTN Group, Absa Group and Safaricom.
For Taylor, this is “a culmination of many years of effort – it is a wonderful affirmation of the priority the Group places on creating an environment that brings out the best in its people”.
The accolade also corroborates Taylor’s view that while many companies talk the talk on putting their people first, and leading with purpose, Standard Bank actually walks the walk.
She tells UNLEASH that if you asked the employees (particularly those with long tenure) what keeps them at Standard Bank, they would say “the meaningful work, the intellectual challenge, the deep connection to our purpose of driving Africa’s growth… and the amazing people”.
“At its core, financial services is a people business” – and because of Standard Bank’s global nature, “you’re working with a very diverse [set of people]. We’re in many different countries, [we represent different] cultures and nationalities. It is a true melting pot”.
Overall, “people all over the world are very attracted to that proposition”, adds Taylor.
From customer to employee experience with tech
It is clear that providing a great employee experience is top of mind for Standard Bank – and is central to that Forbes recognition.
Jaco Van Vuuren, People & Culture COO for the Group, shares with UNLEASH that the approach to employee experience comes from mirroring Standard Bank’s attitude towards customer experience.
Like most financial services organizations, Standard Bank is really focused on becoming more client-centric – aka working to meet their needs and doing so on the customer’s terms.
And technology is playing a key role here. Taylor shares “if you’ve been around as long as we have, you’ve got many legacy systems”.
But now there is a need to think about how to be “both truly digital and truly human” and to get creative about using technology to make banking easier for the customer.
Ultimately, “the digital journey for banks is at the core of how successful they’re going to be in the future”.
Taylor adds that over the past seven years, Standard Bank has been on a journey to leverage technology in order to really provide a consistent employee experience for all of its workforce, no matter where they are based in the world.
“We inherited a very decentralized set-up” – every country and every business unit were doing their own thing resulting in 80 different systems and more than 200 duplicate processes, which added risk and cost for no clear benefit.
Van Vuuren and his team worked on reducing this to ten people solutions that are globally deployed and fully in the cloud – enabling us to do “one-thing-once”.
This also created a “common gold standard” of how Standard Bank’s People & Culture team operates.
Data, analytics and Standard Bank
One of the ten solutions Standard Bank settled on was Visier and its people analytics platform – the pair have been working in partnership for the past four years.
Van Vuuren shares that Visier’s capabilities are essential to the success of the rest of the HR tech stack – “getting a single view of your employee is one of the first things you need to do” – without that visibility it can be hard to utilize other tech tools.
He adds that implementing Visier was tough, because there was an urgent need to get the quality of data up to scratch.
However, there were limited challenges in getting the business and HR teams to buy-into the need for a data analytics tool.
This was because the partnership with Visier was “born out of our business strategy”, explains Taylor – “the Group is on a journey to leverage data to add value to clients and our ability to win in our chosen markets.
“People are at the core of our competitive advantage, so we were very clear on our vision to add business value through the strategic use of our people data”.
For Taylor, “the role of HR is to understand where the business is going and to make sure that the people strategies are aligned”.
Another piece of the puzzle around HR buy-in is that Visier has been a real value add for the HR team itself, “we are saving them time and effort” – and the HR team is aware of the “exponential value that they can get out of the tech”.
Taylor continues: “With Visier the teams are not fiddling around with raw data but are working with actual insights and in some cases even predictive information that fundamentally shifts the conversations they are having with business leaders”.
Interestingly, to further transform HR into a true partner for the business, Standard Bank ensured that Visier was not just in the hands of the HR team, but extended access to its thousands of people leaders, at all levels of the business.
Van Vuuren states: “That puts a very different lens on how we look at this – HR is not the gatekeeper; we are not keeping this tech to ourselves.”
The future of HR and data
Taylor and the wider Standard Bank HR team work very closely with the chief executives, the chief strategy officer and CFO in order to “understand where the Group is heading to 2030, 2040” and beyond.
“Through the Visier toolset, we’ve got a wonderful ability to understand in depth” the organization’s growth trajectory today, “but we are also very clear about the things we need to be thinking through tomorrow”.
This helps Standard Bank to invest in the right areas, and to do “powerful modelling” in areas like skills, answering questions like, “have we got enough of a ’pipeline’ of talent and critical skills to meet our future commercial requirements?”
“Where have we got succession challenges?” “Have we got enough leaders with the right capability and future potential to take us to where we need to go in the future?”
Beyond skills, Visier also gives Standard Bank the ability to look at data in a different way and test itself on its progress in areas like diversity and inclusion.
For example, Standard Bank can perform multi-variant regression analysis on its compensation, to realize its intent of equal pay for work of equal value.
Ultimately, for Taylor, “HR teams are really responsible for… understanding and contributing to the strategy” and making sure that they partner leaders to make data-driven decisions to balance outcomes for their people, as well as the business.
“After all, people are at the heart of your business, and the decisions you make about the environment you create for them are going to be lead indicators of your ability to transform client experience, execute with excellence and drive sustainable growth and value,” concludes Taylor.
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