Last month, a survey report by Brighter Monday ranked Cellulant Corporation among the best 100 employers in Kenya. The quantitative report interviewed 3,448 respondents, a majority of whom were aged between 25-35 and 18-24, living in Nairobi and holders of a Bachelor’s degree on both intrinsic and extrinsic factors they consider important when seeking employment.
Following the announcement, I sat down with Samuel Gachwe Kariuki, our Group Chief People Officer and Rose Gichure, our Group Talent & Culture Manager for a chat. I wanted to congratulate them, but more importantly, to pick their minds on what it has taken for Cellulant to be voted as one of the best employers in a country where tech talent is hard to retain due to the competitive nature and the vibrancy of the tech and innovation space.
A People-Centric Culture at Cellulant
Cellulant Corporation has been ranked among the top 100 companies to work for in Kenya by a survey report from Brighter Monday what does this mean for you as the Group Chief People Officer?
This speaks to the quality of our Employer Value Proposition. It is also an endorsement by both our employees and prospective employees – that they value Cellulant and what we have to offer. There are many great things about Cellulant, from the People-centric culture, opportunities for career advancement, inspiring and transformative company mission and products and the quality of leadership.
As Chief People Officer, this is exciting as it positions Cellulant as an employer of choice making it easier for us to attract and retain top talent. It also means that our People and culture will continue to be at the centre of our competitive advantage.
According to the Brighter Monday report, the survey looked at the following 5 traits in each company; Strong relatable company values, open effective management, transparent performance management, flexible working hours, and the health programs offered. Could you take us through some of the policies that Cellulant has in place that espouse these traits?
Hiring for Attitude over Skill
Company values at the heart of our values is a “make possible” attitude. This is what we look for when making all-important People decisions – from recruiting to promotions.
Our recruitment philosophy is that we hire for attitude over skill, which means that we are looking for people who embody our values of trust, staying ahead of the game through a demonstratable past, creativity and agility. By doing this we are building a team of like-minded individuals driven by similar values who enjoy coming to work to solve problems for Africa.
Cellulant’s management style
We are a highly collaborative and open organization. Our leaders encourage dialogue and open discussions which fosters transparency in process and decision making. Everybody has a voice and our people contribute to the decision making the process. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities and our staff are encouraged to take risks that would grow our business. Information is shared freely right from the top where the Co-CEOs share their goals with all staff every quarter. At the heart of leadership is the value of trust which means we consider everybody in Cellulant a leader.
Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology
Performance management We have adopted the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology to drive alignment of goals and build rigour in our daily execution. At the beginning of every quarter, the leadership team including the Co-CEOs share their OKRs with all staff. This ensures staff have clarity on the business priorities and helps them develop their own OKRs.
We have a cadence of the weekly manager to staff check-in sessions to ensure everyone is on track to achieve set out targets. We have remedial management processes for staff who are struggling but do not hesitate to make tough decisions where below-average performance is sustained. We are currently reviewing our remuneration framework to drive a culture of pay for performance.
We are looking for people who embody our values of trust, staying ahead of the game through a demonstratable past, creativity and agility
A state of the art office with Gym & a Mothers room
At the end of the year, we will be transitioning to a state of the art office with a modern look and feel, with great health facilities (gym) and family-friendly facilities e.g. mothers’ room. Our current facility at the Twig Co-work space offers creative and colourful facilities and furniture including recreational facilities like foosball and pool. Our staff are provided with a healthy lunch every day. To enhance work-life balance, we have flexible working arrangements like telecommuting, flexitime and well-designed shifts to ensure our staff spend time with their families.
In terms of pay philosophy we target to be close to the 75th percentile of the market, but we appreciate that this will be a journey. Besides the competitive pay, we provide our staff with airtime, free meals, free parking and flexible working arrangements, life insurance and a comprehensive medical facility for staff and their families. Our new office facility will provide our staff with a modern gym and a place for aerobics and Zumba. We are reviewing our remuneration framework with a focus on variable pay/bonus and share options for some of our staff.
Our pay philosophy targets to be close to the 75th percentile of the market
Cellulant’s Interview Process is Intense
Cellulant is now in 18 countries in Africa. How do you spot and ensure that you recruit the best talent for each of these markets?
Our interview process is both rigorous and yet simple. Rigorous because we will use an array of tools, processes and interview stages to evaluate and select the best candidate. Some candidates will experience 360-degree interviews – from seniors, peers and direct reports.
How quickly you turn around a work sample, a case study, a technical assessment is a test in itself that speaks to how much you want the job despite whatever other commitments you may have at the time. To some, it may seem quite intense and may opt-out of the process altogether. To the ones who eventually get hired, it was simply a factor of their ambition and determination. Those are the people we want working with us.
Retaining over 400 talented staff in 18 Markets in Africa
Cellulant currently has over 400 staff members, what have been some of the challenges in recruiting and retaining top talent across the region?
We have recently gone into new 7 markets in West, Central and North Africa. One of the challenges we faced was language barriers, especially in French West Africa. Finding a great salesman is already difficult, finding one who is bilingual (speaks both French and English) is even harder. In addition, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to fill some roles which have scare skills in the markets including data scientists and developers. We have partnered with search consultants and other networks to help us build our talent pipeline across key roles.
The Brave 6 & One of the hardest things for any HR Professional
Finally, the start of this year was one of the toughest times for Cellulant, how was the HR department able to ensure and safeguard the mental and psychological well-being of all your Kenya staff?
This is one of the hardest things any HR professional would ever have to do. Dealing with the loss of staff members, with family members who have lost their loved one and a workforce that has experienced psychological trauma.
We put up an elaborate psycho-social support program. Counselling, both at an individual and team level, ensured that everyone was seen by a professional in the early days. This continued at group level for most teams now seeing a counsellor every quarter even with the pressures of day to day work. Group counselling allowed the team to heal together and enabled the counsellor, through a trained eye, to pick out employees who were struggling.
At Cellulant, we pride ourselves in being the best at what we do, we applied the same thinking even then. We realized what was important (recovery and healing) and focused on that. Our customers were equally sympathetic and understanding and allowed us the time to heal. Our staff in other markets were also brought in to hold down the fort for critical services thus allowing the Kenyan team to focus on grieving and healing.
We take pride at being ranked the top 100 companies to work for in Kenya and will continue to ensure that Cellulant is the employer of choice, for employees of choice.