MTN – setting the standard as an Investor in People

The impact of this company culture has culminated in MTN being awarded the Investors in People Platinum Accreditation by the United Kingdom-based Investors in People (IiP) International;
Amma Benneh-Amponsah, Chief Human Resource Officer, MTN Ghana

People are the most important element of any organisation; that is a given. Despite the universal acknowledgment of this truism, not many organisations translate it into action. From lax national labour laws to apathetic company culture, reports abound of people being treated as disposable pawns, at best, or modern-day slaves, at worst, with little regard for their welfare and development.

This comes, despite studies showing the immense benefits of employee development, even to the firm. For instance, a report by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), showed that companies that offer comprehensive training programmes have 218 percent higher income per employee than companies without formalised training. Additionally, these companies, on average enjoy a 24 percent higher profit margin than those who spend less on training.

Whilst a long-term research project commissioned by Middlesex University for Work Based Learning found that from a 4,300 workers sample, 74 percent felt that they weren’t achieving their full potential at work due to lack of development opportunities.

In another, 70 percent of the respondents indicated that job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job. 87 percent of younger persons cited access to professional development or career growth opportunities as being very important to their decision of whether to stay or go

MTN is acutely aware of these and more. With evidence from academia but more importantly, its own experience, it has developed a people-first approach, that has seen it set the bar for how employees (and other stakeholders) should be engaged.

The impact of this company culture has culminated in MTN being awarded the Investors in People Platinum Accreditation by the United Kingdom-based Investors in People (IiP) International; a rigorous, fact-based testament to its commitment to people development within (and outside) its organisation. The company implemented business improvement initiatives proposed following the initial assessment and subjected itself for further assessments resulting in Gold accreditation in 2015 and 2017.

A four-year plan to deploy specific initiatives were put together in readiness for the company’s August 2021 assessment. MTN Ghana has been accredited Platinum which is the High Performing Accreditation on the IiP performance model and the highest level on the IiP Standard.

“MTN Ghana has most definitely matured in the IiP context in the last 3+ years since my last visit but importantly, not because you just wanted to get on the next rung of the ladder, but because you identify with the continuous improvement IIP brings to the business. To achieve a ‘straight’ Platinum accreditation is no mean feat, and this is what you have done. You are Number One in the Production and Services Telecommunications sector organizations in your category, exceeding the organization in second place by 47 points; and Number Two against all industry sectors in your category. This is a fantastic result,” Gill Brown, IiP International said.

On the occasion of this enviable achievement, the B&FT’s Bernard Yaw Ashiadey and Ebenezer Chike Adjei Njoku engage MTN’s Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), Amma Benneh-Amponsah (ABA) to find out what informed the company’s approach to people and how this has helped the company grow. The interview also inquiries about the IiP accreditation – the processes, impact, and expectations, as well as the MTN’s CSR initiatives, amongst others. Enjoy the read.

B&FT: What is the Investors in People certification?

ABA: Investors in People is a standard for people management, offering accreditation to organizations that adhere to the Investors in People Standard. Investors in People is one of the world’s leading people management standards and it is a business improvement tool designed to help organizations attain sustainable performance through their people.

B&FT: Why is it important?

ABA: The Investors in People accreditation has been proven to be essential in delivering sustainable results for organizations whose people practices adhere to the nine Investors in People performance indicators. Enabling a sustainable organization is important for our valued customers, employees, shareholders, partners, communities and other stakeholders. Platinum is the highest level of accreditation possible to achieve and is something only 2% of organizations achieve globally. This provides assurance that we are on the right path and focused on continuous improvement.

B&FT: How fact-based is the process? Is it not entirely subjective? 

ABA: The process towards accreditation includes an extensive assessment of our people practices through a series of strategic reviews, employee surveys, context discussions, employee interviews, observatory and documentary evidence to establish consistency of people practices across all employee touchpoints.

From 2014 to date, our people management practices have been assessed against all the Investors in People Indicators. The latest 6th generation standard framework focuses on three key areas: Leading, Supporting and Improving. Within these sit nine performance indicators based on the features of organizations that consistently outperform industry norms.

IiP assessments prioritize latest workplace trends, leading practices and employee conditions required to create outperforming teams.  The outcome is based on consistency across all the assessment touchpoints.  Evidence is required for every initiative shared as part of the assessment and an employee survey and interviews conducted to confirm practices shared.

B&FT: Prior to investing in persons under your employment, how crucial is recruiting the right people?

ABA: MTN Ghana’s Recruitment & Selection philosophy is to attract and retain high performing talent who buy into and believe in the business’ purpose, strategy, values and vital behaviors.  MTN Ghana’s recruitment and selection process ensures that the candidate with the closest fit to the role from both a technical and behavioral perspective is selected. In ensuring that the right candidate is recruited, MTN uses different types of selection criteria and tools.

Both internal and external assessment tools are adopted before the final candidate is selected. This is to ensure objectivity, fairness, consistency and an overall l fit to the role. Candidates who excel at the interview stage undertake an Independent behavioral assessment that is web-based. This assesses their behavioral and leadership qualities required for the role. Each assessment is specifically tailored to the role and the level of the role.

B&FT: How important is a company’s culture around the value of people?

ABA: In MTN we prioritize culture as an important enabler for overall organizational success and sustainability.  A conscious effort is made to create an employee centric culture and leverage every employee touchpoint to promote the required culture. Continuously souring employee feedback and gauging the employee pulse help us assess the employee experience and to cocreate culture with employees.  In the past 24 months we have enhanced our focus on employee wellness, mindfulness in the workplace and benefits that matter to employees.

B&FT: Is it not prudent to invest in the more ‘glamorous’ employees – who drive revenue, than investing in all employees? 

ABA: We believe that every employee has the potential to grow if inspired by a purpose that advances the employee, the organization and our communities.  Skills development is integrated within our business strategy and blended learning opportunities are made available to employees to explore innovative aspirations, acquire future skills and bridge performance gaps.

We ensure that employees have access to learning content 24/7 and in different formats.  We partner with local and international learning content providers who can deliver content that is applicable to everyday work. Measurement of learning impact is prioritized at both the employee and company level. Overall, we champion investment in our people.

B&FT: How crucial is how people are treated for the concept of business as a going concern? 

ABA: In MTN, people are our most valuable resource. Our aspiration for our employees is to “Live Inspired”.  This is operationalized in our value proposition to employees to “Work with Meaning”, ensure they are “Connected to Develop”, Allows every MTNer to “Grow with Purpose” and promotes an environment to “Thrive in Positivity”.  Our employee value proposition (EVP) has evolved, and major changes took place in quarter one of 2021 to make it relevant to our organization today and into the future.  Wellness, a positive experience, flexibility, agility, growth, ownership, genuine inclusion, meaning and fairness underpin the finer details of our EVP.

B&FT: What does this certification imply, and MTN’s treatment of employees indicate about its CSR initiatives, which critics say is often just for the camera? 

ABA: As a business we value all our stakeholders be it our customers, regulators, media and communities in which we operate. We value our staff and put in equal measures to support them just as we support our communities. Supporting both internal and external stakeholders are key to the sustenance of our business, and we don’t engage in them for the optics but an integral part of our purpose as a business.

B&FT: Is it not economically prudent for firms to use low-cost, easily replaceable labour?

ABA: We promote what we call the one MTN Experience for all categories of Employees in the MTN Ecosystem.  This means a seamless experience once you contribute to the delivery of MTN Ghana’s products and services.  This philosophy and principle underpin how we enable a positive employee experience for all categories of employees.

B&FT: What would you say to companies with high rates of employee attrition? 

ABA: People spend most of their adult lives at the workplace and a conscious effort to enable work life balance, promote a meaningful workplace, emphasize psychological safety, have in place benefits that matter and create an environment where people can grow and learn. The workplace should be a human centric environment to not just retain talent but also to get the most out of our talent.

B&FT: Some employers are concerned about employees leaving for competitors after they have been equipped. Won’t people hold their employers to ransom? How best can this be addressed? What steps has MTN Ghana taken in this regard? 

ABA: The priority for every organization is to retain its talent and MTN puts in a multipronged retention strategy that focus on both the immediate and long term.  Key to retention is the company’s position on enabling an ownership culture. It is work flagging that some level of attrition is healthy.

B&FT: Has the pandemic influenced MTN Ghana’s view of investing in its people? 

ABA: The pandemic has had a positive effect on learning as we have increased our virtual learning options which allow as to scale. A conscious effort is made to simulate the physical learning experience for majority of our programs. The priority is on “bringing learning to the learner”. We adopt a more “push-content” approach to help employees easily access suitable content for their development. More bite size videos are deployed to facilitate easy and fast learning consumption.

B&FT: Should employees be afforded an opportunity to own a portion of the company they work for? 

ABA: Ownership in a company is good for both the employer and the employee in many ways. This does not only align the interest of employees with shareholders but also motivate employees to be more productive whilst understanding the fundamental business realities and basis for short- and long-term strategic positions taken.

B&FT: Shouldn’t companies invest more per capita in capital expenditure than on its people? 

ABA: A balance is required for the long-term sustainability of any business. Both are assets worth investing in for value and the most important aspect is to ensure that related investments deliver impact to the business today and into the future.

B&FT: When we are all finally able to safely return to office spaces, what measures can employers put to make the return more comfortable for their people?

ABA: Until COVID is fully eradicated, enabling awareness round vaccinations, investing in technology that allows employees to work anywhere and anytime based on their role requirements, maintaining an interest in employee wellness and overall workplace safety is critical for reintegration.

B&FT: Is MTN Ghana investing more in women? If so, how? 

ABA: As part of the organization’s efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace, the Women-in-Technology Programme has been in place since 2018, to build readiness for leadership roles for women in areas of the business where women are underrepresented.

The programme is aimed at deploying bespoke development to help women to effectively manage their careers and navigate their way in the workplace. We believe in pipeline development on this subject, and we partner with tertiary institutions and organizations to identify and grow female talent via internships, the national service programme and our graduate development programme.

B&FT: How expressive should employees be? 

ABA: One of our vital behaviors as an organization, is Complete Candour. We believe in enabling and encouraging all employees to speak up – openly and candidly share their views regardless of the level of the person being addressed. This is operationalized in our ways of working, company polices and initiatives,

B&FT: Does high rate of employee attrition have any bearing on a company’s reputation? Can there financial/business implications based on a company’s reputation and goodwill as a result of how it invests in its people?

ABA: Attrition of talent is expensive not just because of the investment in the person but also the potential contribution lost.

B&FT: In what areas should companies invest in their people, regardless of position? 

ABA: People development should be holistic, with a focus on making employees future-fit. People should be supported to perform, enabled for decision making and equipped to be agile.  Employees should have access to resources and programmes that help to enhance both their technical and behavioural skills and competencies.

B&FT: Whilst this award is laudable, it is also a responsibility. What standards should people – inside and outside of MTN Ghana – hold the company to?

ABA: We are keen to maintain this accreditation by upholding global best practices and people standards which is a key enabler for a great place to work, an inspired workforce and a superior employee experience. We plan on reviewing our assessment report with Employees across the business to map our next steps together.

It is important that we continuously look for ways to sustain and improve the HR experience for productive outcomes. This accreditation should have a direct impact on our product and service offerings to our valued customers, impact the bottom line for shareholder value and enable our communities positively.


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