Old Mutual’s human capital powered by new-age tech

Read time 6min 30sec
Celiwe Ross, Director for Human Capital, Old Mutual.
Celiwe Ross, Director for Human Capital, Old Mutual.

Celiwe Ross, Old Mutual's Director for Human Capital, has never studied human resources or industrial psychology. But when you have all the traditional HR processes and practices in place, you can either rest on your laurels or look to what is going to empower your workforce in the future.

A mining engineer by training, Ross started off her career at BHP Billiton and went on to spend almost a decade at Standard Bank, which saw her completing her Masters of Business Administration and spending four years in Accra, Ghana in West Africa. This, she says, made her rethink what she wanted to do with her life. “I became passionate about the leadership space and helping leaders transform the way they think, themselves and their teams.”

Ross joined Old Mutual in the run-up to the company's re-listing in South Africa, as Chief of Staff to the CEO and Chairman. Two months before the listing, the post of Human Capital Director came up, and the role ticked a number of boxes that worked for Ross. As for Old Mutual, the company was not looking for a traditional HR leader and Ross fit the bill.

“Old Mutual had been rated Top Employer in the year that I was appointed; but I felt like there was a bit of a dissonance with our employees. Winning Top Employer told us that we work for a company with great HR policies and processes that are well implemented. What we didn't have was the employee experience to match. As a company, we were undergoing a fundamental transformation in technology, digital and data, and in our customer interfaces, but we had not yet translated that transformation into the people space, and that was my mandate,” she explains.

"A key enabler to deliver the Truly Mutual strategy at Old Mutual is the use of technology. Customer, advisor and employee expectations have shifted fundamentally, and have been influenced greatly by technology. The maturity of the cloud, machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, etc, have all changed the art of the possible. “We were completely transforming our advisor proposition to benefit our clients, but enabling employees was significantly behind. I started doing some research in terms of what was happening in the HR tech space, and I visited Silicon Valley with Ian Williamson, who was our COO and is now our CEO, along with our CIO, Johnson Idesoh. We visited a number of start-ups, and clients of two separate vendors,” she reveals.

Workday stood out for a number of reasons. The first element that spoke to Old Mutual was the fact that it is a native cloud company and had started out as a human capital management (HCM) solution.

“They were always built to integrate into other systems. We loved that, because we had 67 HR systems that we were running across Africa – from leave management to payroll to administration systems. We wanted it all to live in one place in a way that made sense. And we needed to integrate with other existing systems,” explains Ross.

The second attribute that stood out for Old Mutual was Workday's focus on customer satisfaction.

“They say they're customer-obsessed and as a customer, you feel it. We had Workday as our implementation partner and had a really successful journey where we had to keep each other honest. It wasn't always easy, but we got there in the end and the partnership continues,” she says.

Lastly, there’s constant innovation, which is driven by Workday's customers. This means that Old Mutual can give input into what it needs and why it needs it a certain way, alongside other global customers. “They're constantly innovating, and the [Workday] community is quite powerful globally. There's a thriving and growing South African community, because our requirements are unique,” says Ross.

Taking to the cloud

The Workday deployment fits into Old Mutual's digitalisation imperative. Ross explains the company is looking at digitalising the core and then thinking through different journeys –the customer, advisor and employee.

“Our technology strategy at Old Mutual is centred on rapidly digitalising customer, advisor and employee experiences, built on these cloud-based solutions.

"This gives us a level of business agility and a level of reach to customers, advisors and employees hitherto not possible with prior generations of technology. We can achieve in days what previously would take months. In a rapidly evolving world, this is a competitive advantage,” she says.

At the moment, 30% of Old Mutual South Africa's IT is in the cloud and it is rapidly moving to get the rest migrated by next year.

“It's a big investment for us, but one that's critical to us achieving a number of our strategic objectives. We deliberately seek the world's best technology partners, as we believe this is mutually beneficial. This is why we have established strategic partnerships with companies like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Workday – these are all leaders in their specific spheres. It's exciting times for us,” she says.

Winning the war on talent

Ross believes the definition of talent has changed, and COVID-19 has meant that geographical borders don't matter anymore. Younger generations also see traditional HR practices as somewhat paternalistic, and are demanding different options from companies.

“I think you continue to do things the way you've always done them at your peril; you need to listen to what your most talented people are telling you. They want optionality; they want to be able to make decisions quickly; and they want to be able to determine what their success and destiny looks like.”

Workday has helped with a lot of that, says Ross, mainly because of its constant innovation.

“It has forced us to rethink our practices and processes. We've got 30 000 employees split across 14 countries, so we need to think about making sure the solution works for them. It's also forced us to start thinking about new innovations that are coming, and whether we're ready. You just can't get complacent.”

Old Mutual’s investment in Workday was significant, admits Ross, and the exco and board keeps her accountable for the value case. In the initial stages of going live, this meant measuring utilisation: how many people were logging on and what transactions they were doing on the system.

Currently, they are looking at value capture in terms of simplification by reducing the people-related IT applications that live outside Workday. The last piece of the journey will be around insightful people data and analytics. This will help Old Mutual drive decision-making.

“It's part of our data maturity journey in moving from basic dashboarding to insights that drive decision-making for line managers. We measure things like psychological safety, engagement levels and the level of inclusivity. We would like to demonstrate how these dimensions drive performance. Eventually, we would like to nudge line managers on strategies to shift performance, engagement and well-being within the team. That's the journey we are on."

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