Photo by Mario Caruso

In the competitive arena of telecommunications, attracting and retaining the best talent available – not to mention keeping employees highly engaged and goal driven – can give any organisation a serious competitive edge. Such in-demand employees have their choice of employers in African job markets, where their skills are in short supply. Over the course of several months in 2018/2019, I was enlisted to help a large Sub-Saharan Telco implement a performance management system that would affect 4 businesses (the parent company and three independently run business units) and 900 users across South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe. Recognising the need for highly engaged employees with clear career paths before them, we aimed to implement a new performance management tool that would ensure higher, more goal-oriented employee engagement in the long term.

A strategy Intervention becomes a Tech implementation

I had initially approached the group HR Director of the parent company to discuss new ways of managing performance, having done much research into new ways of working for organisational agility and innovation. Traditional performance management systems are little more than databases that are dipped into at quarterly reviews – no more effective than they had been in the pre-digital age in terms of driving career advancement and maintaining employee interest. They do not allow for active goal setting and continuous employee engagement, and as such, they often fail to meet their potential in terms of developing talent and encouraging excellence.

Photo by Adli Wahid

Naturally, a digital solution would be the answer, and I had come across one that would do the job perfectly. SABA is a performance management system that makes the whole process engaging, social and impactful for an organisation. Rather than just setting-and-forgetting KPIs in our reviews and only re-visiting them in the next quarter, SABA encourages engagement between employees and line managers to actively set goals and drive a high-performance culture through career advancement and recognition from leadership.

An ADKAR-Led Approach to Training Implementation

As with any new technology in the workplace, we knew that understanding how SABA worked and being able to use it effectively from day 1 would be essential to its successful adoption. At the same time, we were aware that a cultural shift was just as necessary to success, and that both aspects would have to be led from the top of the organisation.

Our training approach sought to take on both tasks simultaneously, and involved:

  • Upskilling and education of HR department stakeholders on our approach, the philosophy behind the change, and their responsibility
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT) with up to 15 users under controlled conditions
    CEO Engagement and “Go Live”, including one-on-one upskilling with a senior change champion and a launch event for leaders and stakeholders
  • Manager upskilling on the performance management philosophy, how to set goals and perform reviews with the new system
  • Change champion upskilling on our philosophy and approach as well as their roles and responsibilities
  • Help desk activation and training sessions with the client-nominated lead system administrator
    Compilation of a list of FAQs to assist employees in using the system
  • Development of a fortnightly newsletter giving end users update and system rollout highlights

The Lessons Learned

Though successful, there were moments during the implementation when unforeseen obstacles threatened to derail our efforts entirely. The most valuable lesson of the experience is to gather as much context and inside-information as possible up-front.

Understanding the needs of the employees – the need to be in control of their career paths and setting their own goals – was only half the battle to getting the SABA system adopted. What turned out to be just as vital was the knowledge of the company’s internal problems and existing cultural weaknesses, and how those could affect our results. In retrospect, the timing of the project could have been more appropriate, and the overlap with existing restructuring in the organisation created less than ideal conditions for success.

We were also reminded of the top-down and iterative nature of change management. Getting buy-in at the right levels prior to go-live was critical to our success, and this implementation would doubtless have failed if we had jumped right into training without getting the entire executive tier on board with the how and why of the change. An implementation like this is never a once-off job. It’s a long journey, and it is only made longer if not driven by powerful sponsorship.