Think your job is difficult? Now imagine what it’s like being responsible for the happiness and success of a workforce that stretches across the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and India. As Global Head of People at Wasoko (formally Sokowatch), that’s the challenge facing Carolyne Mwaura every day.
Let’s put that into context. Sub-Saharan Africa alone covers around 24 million square kilometres. That’s two-and-a-half times the size of the USA, and roughly 50% bigger than Russia. Then imagine all the different countries and cultures that SSA comprises. And we haven’t even begun to talk about India.
Fortunately, Carolyne has 18 years of hard-won experience. Ten of those years were spent in the USA, before she returned home to Kenya. Prior to joining Wasoko, Carolyne was the Group Head of HR for SSA at Ringier One Africa Media, overseeing over 400 team members across eight African countries. Prior to that, she was the East Africa Talent Manager at ALN/Anjarwalla & Khanna.
It probably helps that, along with a Law degree from Western State College of Law (California), Carolyne also holds a Psychology degree from California State University Long Beach. But as well as understanding people, anyone in charge of such a disparate team also needs to embrace technology — and that is now fundamental to Wasoko’s success.
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Tell us about your role at Wasoko…
I am the Global Head of People at Wasoko. I am responsible for driving the strategic direction of the people team. As a team, we are responsible for the entire employee lifecycle from recruitment to exit.
Post-pandemic, what are your thoughts on remote work trends and how do you think they’ll shape the upcoming years?
Covid introduced the world to new ways of working, to what seemed impossible from a remote working perspective has now become mainstream. I believe that 100% remote working may not be the best approach, and this is determined by the nature of work and the phase of growth of an organisation. Collaboration is a big part of the growth phase, for example. I have found that people work better with people they have met face to face and the speed of collaboration is improved by physical presence.
In addition, culture which as we know is a strategic advantage is also strengthened when people come together. Based on this, companies will have to strike a balance between remote working and in-office working to harness the benefits of both.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and how has it shaped your career?
Prepare for all meetings whether big or small, and know your stuff! I still carry this advice with me every day. Believe it or not, my natural inclination is to be an introvert, however, my job sometimes requires me to speak in front of large groups of people. When I prepare, it makes those moments so much easier, multiplies my confidence levels and helps to build credibility in my professional capacity. So whether I’m presenting one slide or an entire deck I take the time to prepare.
What are the top three challenges HR professionals face today?
- The tension between remote, in-office and hybrid working styles
- Talent attraction and retention: issues around quiet quitting, managing uncertainty etc
- Employee mental health and well-being
Can you give us an example of how your team leverages technology and how that has helped the company?
As a team, we engage with technology in all we do. We have three key systems: our talent management system helps us with performance management, creating feedback loops, Pulse surveys and career development tracking. This is supplemented by our learning management systems, which then take up the learning needs retrieved through our talent management system and help us develop individualised learning paths for our employees. The final system supports our payroll and leave management.
The systems help in several ways. First, they help with compliance and transparency which is essential for any HR department. Second, they help us get a pulse of how our employees are feeling and thinking — we pick up trends that help us make strategic decisions to support the business.
What do you think has been the most significant way in which technology has impacted HR?
When I think of technology, I think of automation and improved efficiency. Technology has freed HR professionals from spending a lot of time on administrative tasks and allowed us to be more involved in the business as strategic business advisors and partners.
Many HR departments continue to digitise more and more of their processes and workflows – has this been the case at your company and what has that experience been like?
Yes, it has been a gradual process, and we have prioritised based on risk mitigation and urgent need. We are currently in the process of setting up a ticking system that will enhance employees’ ability to self-service. If an employee has a question that has been previously asked, they will be redirected to the answer as opposed to having to open a ticket with the People team.
Has your company leveraged data to personalise employee experiences – including in recruitment – and if so, can you talk us through what that was like?
Yes, we run monthly pulse surveys that give us a sense of our team’s health. We use the data we collect to course-correct or come up with new initiatives. For example, you may find people in Kenya appreciate a particular benefit but people in another country do not. This allows us to adapt our rewards and benefits to the extent we can to the different countries.
Another example is that we noticed our engagement scores for new joiners were lower than employees who had been with us for 1+ years. This prompted us to go back and look at our onboarding experience to see how we could enrich it to provide a better experience.
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