Knowledge, transparency and simplicity engender trust

20 July 2012 Investment Solutions

In the perennial war for attracting and retaining talent, Zanele Thomas, newly appointed Head of Human Resources at Investment Solutions believes knowledge, transparency and simplicity are key to managing the weight of expectations that comes with the res

As an asset management business “we are first and foremost a knowledge business - with our leaders themselves leading the learning game” says Thomas.

Conducting over 250 asset manager visits a year, for example, provides unparalleled insight into global markets. This is knowledge that very few South African, or even global, organisations have. “Using this knowledge to successfully manage the expectations of all those who have trusted their funds and assets to our care is how we deliver trust” adds Thomas.

In previous roles as both a corporate labour specialist and the executive director of a business Thomas learned the importance of trust in a businesses’ culture.

Since a key element of trust is transparency, learning is, again, paramount. Since simplicity, transparency and trust are essential to any business managing people’s investments, savings and pensions, Investment Solutions needs to use knowledge to empower, guide and enrich, creating simplicity out of the insecurity and confusion that, especially now, typifies markets.

As such, in this business, more than any other, adding value is trust based. Making the business approachable, both externally and internally, “needs to be achieved through clarity and simplicity if trust is to permeate the business and all we do” explains Thomas.

Yet “making simplicity a lived reality within a company’s culture is often anything but simple” adds Thomas who, ahead of her appointment and as a member of the Black Management Forum, took time to study and understand the existing culture of Investment Solutions.

Without doubt Investment Solutions is a knowledge-rich environment populated by highly passionate professionals contributing to an expert team. Attracting, retaining and developing this kind of talent is a challenge in itself. Yet these skills are not enough unless they are combined with a passion for improving people’s lives.

After all, “getting out of bed and delivering to the highest standards every day can’t happen without that glint of passion that you see in so many people’s eyes here at Investment Solutions” says Thomas who believes that maintaining and developing the high levels of passion and commitment that the team currently displays is the higher purpose in this role.

To this end, Thomas is focusing on “the often unnoticed woodpeckers that, chipping away at the Titanic, could cause it to sink.” Or, in another analogy, in a high performance environment where most tend to see themselves as the strikers it is important to make sure that the goal posts are manned.

That said, “there are no icebergs at Investment Solutions” adds Thomas. Often though in highly passionate and innovative environments it’s harder to identify and address the finer cracks and issues that, over time, develop into the kind of cultural weaknesses that, regardless of the best skills and expertise, can permanently hamper a business.

As such, finding the right skills and blending them into the right culture for Investment Solutions is larger than just recruiting seasoned players. “Being able to learn and grow in an inspirational trust-based environment can develop a culture where a business grows more effectively from within, rather than trying to import ready-made professionals” explains Thomas.

Given the current growth of the business this means planning now for succession and growth. Investment Solutions’ skills set largely includes chartered financial analysts and actuaries. These skills are not cheap, hence the business case to grow these internally, by developing a pipeline of skills to manage growth from within. This can only happen if the business places a strong emphasis on learning - reinforced by trust that the business will allow people to grow. This is one of Investment Solution’s strategic imperatives.

To this end Thomas is developing a talent attraction and retention policy based on the identification of key value roles that support business sustainability through succinct succession management.

In such a scarce skills market, the strategy, simply, is to lessen attrition, retain skills, and make the business self attracting as a key learning organisation in a knowledge industry. The human management costs saved in getting this right “can be used to grow more skills and knowledge, developing a virtuous cycle of learning and growth defined by trust and high engagement – the real key to maintaining a high performance organisational culture” concludes Thomas.

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