Putting people first

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Jonathan Muthige is the human resources and transformation director for Coca-Cola South Africa.

"There are two sides to my role. First of all is the human resources function, which is focused on people management strategies, processes and policies in the company. It is essentially about creating an environment that inspires people to give optimum performance. It is for this reason that part of my role involves coaching and advising leaders and managers as their actions impact the most on employee engagement. I also ensure compliance with the labour legislation and company policies," he said. "The transformation side of my role encompasses the full spectrum of transformation inclusive of BEE.

"Employment-related costs should be viewed as an investment, and for some organisations this could represent over 50percent of the operating budget. You have to ensure that this investment is managed well and most importantly consideration needs to be given to ongoing development of employees in order to minimize costs that result from staff losses or low productivity."

Muthige's previous positions include human resources executive at Edcon and head of human resources at BP Southern Africa.

"I studied BA (Hons) in drama at the University of Natal and directed shows and worked with various communities. I trained in conflict resolution then moved into the corporate world. I enjoy making a difference and inspiring people.

Having a passion for people is essential for this field.

"Be passionate about human development, have the ability to think broadly, see the big picture, be principled as you are making decisions that affect people and be empathetic."

It is important to keep both the organisation and the individual in mind when making decisions.

"Finding a balance between organisational needs and sometimes responding to individual needs can be tough if the two are not aligned. But if you are passionate about your work you will find a solution. I stay in this field because it is a choice not because it is a job," Muthige said.

"We also face issues of staff retention. I am great believer in the notion that people join an organisation and leave managers. It is essential to invest in people, ensure you have the right tools for coaching and mentoring them. The job ought to provide the right degree of challenge for them," he said. "Also, how you reward and recognise them is essential. Development and growth opportunities are big drivers of an employee's decision to stay with an organisation."

The current economic pressures in the global markets have added to the challenges that human resources professionals have to deal with.

"If you are in an emerging economy where there is robust investment, there is usually higher competitive pressures for limited skills. Therefore, the need for good retention strategies including reward and recognition becomes very critical," he said. "Also, what drives a younger person in their career is not the same as what drives an older person. Companies are hence challenged with finding ways of getting the best out of the changing generations of employees. There is a lot written about the differences in the generations, which is beyond just theory in my experience."