•Counsels on how to motivate, retain employees for organizational growth

By Victor Ahiuma-Young

IN this interview with the Human Resource Director of Cadbury Nigeria PLC, Wole Odubayo, he speaks on among others, the increasing brain drain syndrome, the new ways of work relationship brought about by COVID-19, employees’ reward system and employees’ capacity- building.


Congratulations on your recent award of performance and exceptional display of practice. As an organisation, what is major driving force? 

Cadbury Nigeria Plc is a member of Mondelez International. We are a multinational organisation. One of our core values as an organisation is: Growing Every Day. We want to do better than we did yesterday. We want to do better tomorrow than what we have done today. So, it is our way of work. It is in our DNA, and it is the way the company is set up. If you look specifically at the HR People Magazine Awards, we have participated in the assessments for three years back-to-back. In 2020 for example, we won two awards, in 2021, we won four awards, but this year, we got seven corporate awards and one for our Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as HR Champion for 2022, which made it a total of eight awards. 

What we usually do is to continually appraise our performance. We checked the areas we did not do very well; we looked at our processes, tried to see what the other companies were doing that we were not doing, and learnt from them. That is the way we try to improve our processes and our systems, and make sure that we are doing better today than we did yesterday.  

The evaluators do a lot of rigorous assessments to look through our processes and get clear evidence to support our claims of what we are doing, including speaking to some of our employees to confirm if truly what we claim we are doing is what we are doing. You find that annually, we would try to participate in these assessments. The main reason why we are doing that is to ensure we are benchmarking ourselves against the best in the industry.

We take part in the Top Employer Certification/Award (Top Employer Institute is an organisation based in Amsterdam) annually. 

We consistently partake in the assessment and its processes are as rigorous as you can have it. We take part in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, CIPM assessment as well as the HR People Magazine Awards. We do these things regularly to check where we are, evaluate what the best practice out there is, and how we would compete favourably against the best of the best in the industry. You will also see the progression from two awards to four, and now seven for corporate, and one for the CEO, making it eight in total this year, with the HR People Magazine Awards. We have also received five awards from CIPM this year at the recent HR Oscars Awards which held in October 2022, at the CIPM conference in Port Harcourt, as well as a certification as a Top Employer, not just in Nigeria but in Africa, for 2022.

There is a growing trend of both working class people and students leaving the country in high numbers for either greener pastures or education. There are fears that in the nearest future, there will be scarcity of human resources. What is your take?

 This is not a new trend in Nigeria. We have all heard about brain drain at a time when many doctors in Nigeria were going out.  It has been happening. But recently, this is spreading beyond scarce skilled employees; students are getting out, even artisans. Canada, for example, I understand has a programme for artisans, electricians, plumbers and so on. So, it is a challenging period for the country. 

I will want to see the positive for me to say yes, the challenge is there, but the challenge is an opportunity for us.  It is a big challenge for HR professionals in the country to make sure that they develop a winning strategy to ensure that the talents available are retained.

For the government generally, I think the government needs to step in at this point. I was listening to the press one day, and the medical director of one of the big teaching hospitals says, he is losing nurses almost every day, that it is getting to a point where they won’t have any nurse in that teaching hospital anymore. I’m aware of what is going on in the UK, and how much they are paying these nurses. There are even agencies now that will foot your bills to take you to the UK. And they agree on payment terms with you. Somebody was telling me recently of a programme that they are doing in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, their focus is on pharmacists. So that is a new one that is coming now. We have read about doctors, read about nurses, and now they are focusing on pharmacists. Our government needs to step up now to ensure that at least, we retain these talents by ensuring their remuneration is reviewed and the facilities are also improved through public-private partnerships. We have seen this happen in different countries where visionary leaders have put in place mechanisms to build up the human capital and the infrastructure over time, and the results are there for us to see today. There is quite a lot that the government will need to do to help us. But within our own sphere of influence, all we need to do is to ensure that we are creative, innovative and flexible in our retention and reward programmes to attract talents and retain them.

In the last few years, the issue of COVID-19 brought new dimensions to working relationships, what have been the lessons?

I touched on that earlier when I spoke about the hybrid work. Let me give you one interesting story. We hired some people during the COVID period in 2020. They work in the same department, they talked on Microsoft Teams, spoke on the phone, and worked together for two years. It was early this year when we did our return to the office that they met for the first time. They were standing next to themselves talking not knowing one another. It was when somebody called out their names, they recognised one another. What we have done now is hybrid. The way we rolled it out is we left it to the employees and the manager to agree on what works in terms of deliverables. We have set the framework for the number of days we work in the office and the number of days we should work at home. Three days to work in the office and two days to work from home.

But I will not prescribe for any department head to say you must be in the office on Monday Wednesday or on Friday. It is not my job. The departmental head knows that for three days he or she has to be at the office, and for two days he or she has to work from home. The departmental head decides what works for him or her. It is really working for us. We have a policy to that effect and as things are playing out, we will come back and look at it as we are a learning organisation. 

We have our ears on what is going on in the industry and what direction people are going, how can we import such? One of the federal parastatals, this year wrote to us to say they have heard quite several things about what we do as an HR function in Cadbury and that they want to come to spend a day with us, a kind of knowledge exchange and experience.  They wanted to see those things we are doing, so that they can learn from them. I spoke to the Managing Director about it, and she said it is alright, let us have them. They came and we had them for a whole day. At the end of the day, we picked something from them as well because no man is an island of knowledge. So, we have that relationship with our colleagues in the industry. We try to learn what they are doing, and we also share what we are doing. I have friends in many organisations, and if there is something coming, and I need to know, I pick up my phone to check. 

Talking about hybrid work and all of that during the COVID, about how COVID brought about new working relations, we knew that during COVID lockdown, the markets were shut. As an organisation, we are largely traditional trade. We sell in local markets. What we do in modern trade, your Shoprite, your Spars, is not that much. But that COVID period brought an opportunity for us as an organisation and today, we are doing very well in those channels. COVID also came with its own opportunities. 

Our salespeople at that time were going to estates, and door-to-door informing people about our products because people could not go to market. We got permits to move around. And we also used the service online, such as Jumia and all of them at some point as well. 

What is your thought about unions and unionism, and what is the relationship between unions and organizations?

We see our in-house Unions as business partners, that is the relationship we have with them. We run what we call an open-door policy with the unions, and we have our scheduled meetings. However, what we say to them is that you don’t wait till meeting day to come to me with a long list of issues. Let’s nip the issues in the bud as they come up. Let us know what the issues are and let us work on them. That is one strategy we use for the unions. The other thing we do is to keep them informed. We don’t leave them guessing. When you leave them guessing, that is when they will be picking half-truths, quarter truths, and fabrications and they come up with their own conviction and want to come and cause trouble. 

Once there is anything we are doing, they partner with us a lot in almost all the initiatives we are doing, you will find the union Chairman joining us, and you will find the secretary partnering us and talking to us. They are the ones in the factory. They are the ones in the sales field. They know what is going on. If you close that channel, you won’t get insight from them. We try to open that up and direct the relationship. Once a month, we meet to address regular conversations, sometimes on our agenda, you do not find anything to discuss. But that meeting must hold. The first thing we do is to talk to them about the state of the business. What is allowable is what they can know because we are a quoted company that if the report is not out on the Nigerian Stock Exchange or signed off, you cannot disclose it. What you can disclose are mostly operational issues. You just give them the state of the business. 

We also have our quarterly townhalls where the Finance Director, the Managing Director, all the heads of departments(HoDs), talk about the state of the business. The Unions are part of the meeting. You won’t find them being confrontational or necessarily agitated because they already have the idea of all the things. When we finish briefing them on the state of the business, we also ask them to brief us about what we don’t know. That is not to say that we don’t have issues. They are unions; they also want to fight for the benefit of their members. The unions are very reasonable because they are informed. I always say to them, yes, you are union officials, but you are first employees of the Company. All of them have their jobs, and day-to-day jobs and they are doing very well.  We let them see themselves as a business partner to us, not opposition. 

As an applicant that has several options, what will make me choose Cadbury Nigeria Plc (Mondelçz International)?

This is a great place to work. If you speak to any of our employees, you find they are happy doing what they are doing. Also, for most of the programmes and initiatives, we engage our employees to drive them. We have HR Champions and Influencers in every department. They are our voices on our social media and other professional platforms. We leverage our people to connect with the outside world sharing the message that truly Cadbury is a great place to work; we have got a name, we have got quality, and we have iconic brands.

To specifically answer your question, why would you choose us over others?  You will choose us over others because of what you know about us. We don’t just keep quiet, doing what we are doing here. Through our Employer Value Proposition (EVP),and in line with our strategic plans, we are visible on relevant social media platforms, career fairs and schools. We have been to several top universities and events to talk to the students and prospective candidates about our organization and teach them some basic interviewing skills. We also do a lot of profiling to deliberately position ourselves as the employer of choice to our target candidate pools, identifying what appeals to them, and ensuring that we have what it takes to attract and retain these talents.

When we talk about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), at Cadbury Nigeria (Mondelçz International), we are also very passionate about this through our different platforms such as volunteering by our employees, direct investments in school programmes and other donations to less privileged communities etc. We have our values, and these define our way of work and how we treat each other in the Company. From these foregoing statements, our people experience this every day, and they serve as our great ambassadors who sell the good gospel out there, and you will find people wanting to come and work for us.

As the Human Resources Director, how much support do you get from the top management and owners of the business?

The HR department does not operate in isolation. Whatever we do day-to -day, must key into the strategy of the organization. At the beginning of the year, we get from the business, what is the focus, what is our strategy and what is our direction. From this, we put together the people strategy to support the agenda of the organization because the business cannot be going south, we are going north. It must dovetail with the objective and the strategy of the organization. 

Talking about the support we are getting, I just mentioned to you that the Managing Director of Cadbury Nigeria, Mrs. Oyeyimika Adeboye, is the HR People Magazine, HR Champion for 2022. She is the Managing Director of the business, not an HR person, but she won the HR Champion award . This is because of the support she has given to us from a leadership point of view and being an advocate for many HR programmes and initiatives. She sees it as value-adding activities, not a waste of her time because it dovetails into her own strategy. She is always willing to partner with us, and willing to come along with us in everything we do.  

We receive the same level of support from the other Functional Leaders and key stakeholders. Right from the conceptualization stage of our initiatives up to the execution phase, we take inputs and feedback to get the needed perspective to ensure we are meeting the objectives of the business and supporting the employees as well. This is also in line with our Change Management Framework as a team. Twice a year, I also make presentations to the Board of Cadbury Nigeria. They are interested in knowing what this function is doing to support the business and how they can support what we are doing. The Company is putting a lot of investments behind a lot of things we are doing. We are investing so much in automation. We have an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool for people processes called ”Workday.” This ERP houses most of our HR processes from recruitment to performance management down to exit. Gone are the days when you want to do anything as little as your leave, and other minor things that people do day-to-day that you will have to come to HR. Today, due to our self-serve drive, you now sit at your desk, and you do it. You don’t need to come to HR. The business invested so much in all of these. They are putting money behind every of our processes. 

We are a learning organization, and we have our own Learning and Development portal, which we call the “Capability Hub.” In this portal, there are over 10,000 courses and programmes that employees can enroll for and take at their leisure. This is in addition to targeted development programmes we also run for identified talents, people managers, mandatory course etc. We also have several investments with learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Tiger Hall etc. These are all investments from the business to support the growth of employees which thereafter translate to business results.

As a multinational company that has employees from various ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds. How do you manage them for better performance?

Diversity and Inclusion is one of the key focus and metrics for organizational culture today. We also have a unique era in which we have varying generations of people, from the baby boomer to the Gen Y – Millennials to the Gen Z in the workplace. We have a rich representation of these employees in our organization today. But the truth is that each of them bring their own uniqueness and strengths to contribute to the business successand it is our job as HR to make sure that we create an enabling environment to allow everyone to come to work with their authentic selves and be at their best at every point in time.  

We continuously check our processes, our policies, and our systems to make sure that they are updated in line with global trends and standards. Today, hybrid work is the way of work which appeals to the needs of talents, and organizations need to adapt to this.  Pre-COVID, we did not have anything close to this as an organization. It was a topic we were discussing, to say, let’s bring some flexibility into our ways of work and see how we can improve wellbeing while delivering on the business objectives. Then, it was a bit optional. However, with COVID, we rolled it out and for some time, we were fully remote for the corporate functions, and it worked. We have recently returned to a hybrid system of work where colleagues can agree with their line managers a flexible 60 -40 work schedule in line with our policy.

Wellness is top of the mind of every employee today. We have also invested so much into this as an organization. In 2020, we engaged a service provider to provide a wellness service for all of our employees, which is called our ”Employee Assistance Programme” (EAP). The impact of COVID and the additional strain from all the socio-political crisis on employees has been immense over the last two years. So, we had to look for a means of creating that support for employees. We have this employee support tool where they connect with counsellors, and they can share whatever is troubling them without any risk of confidentiality breach. This is also available for employee’s spouse and direct dependents. We also have our wellness programme that we tagged “The Right You” which has pillars across mind, body, and connection. Within these pillars, there are several activities and programmes that employees can key into such as physical fitness routines, healthy eating, etc. We also get consultants to speak to employees every month around a selected topic from financial management, work life balance, managing depression etc. 

These are just a highlight of the ways we continue to drive optimum performance for our employees while supporting their wellbeing. 

What are the developmental strategies for your human capital to ensure that you don’t lose them to competitors in this current reality?

Outside the Capability Hub that we spoke about earlier, we have other developmental programmes for our employees depending on the developmental needs and growth opportunities identified. We have our focus mentorship that provides interested colleagues with opportunities to be mentored by senior leaders in the organization. Every September of each year, we have a two-week programme called “Growing Here Weeks.” It is our dedicated learning and development period when we have a very robust learning session. It is a time I personally say to people, please be ‘selfish’ for once because it is for you. Whatever you learnt during that period is for you. You learn it, digest it, use it and develop yourself. Also In our supply chain, manufacturing, for example, every Friday, from 8 o’clock to 12 noon, they have a session they call “Stop for Learning” in session for four hours, where you look at your Standard Operating Procedures(SOPs) and everything you think you need to help you in your job. So, we have various learning opportunities.

In relation to talent retention, it all starts from the point when you are applying to work with us, that is where we start building a relationship with people. We aim to create a great candidate experience. You need to respect people, you need to give them reasons to say, I want to work for this organization and not any other. It starts from that first contact they make during the application. Of course, most of the things we do are online. Gone are those days when you find people bringing an application to the gate, it is now online. Any vacancy we have today, now, right on your phone, you can see it, and you can apply for it, send or submit your CV, somebody is looking at it. The moment we get it in, we are responding to you to let you know, yes, we got your CV, we are looking at it. It is the beginning of the process; we will update you as it progresses. When we get to that point where we want to move further with your application, we link up with you again, to let you know, and congratulate you on your progress.  We will also let you the panel you will be meeting for your interview. This helps the candidate prepare further. Our talent acquisition team stays very close to the candidates to land them in as an employee, once they come in as employees, we take a different strategy. 

We have a very thorough onboarding system. Our onboarding unlike what we have in other organizations is 90 days. But that is not to say we are locking you somewhere for 90 days because we are hiring you to do a job, but while you are onboarding, your job is continuing. In the first one or two weeks, you spend the time doing a general onboarding with the different departments across the business, which will give you a wider perspective of our business, our essence, what we are doing, where we are, our strategy etc. After this, you are assigned your functional onboarding plan from your line manager which will run for the remaining 90 days. Those areas you need to be exposed to, if your job requires you to work with the sales people , there will be some level of connection with the sales people where you go on the field with them to learn. We expose you to everything you need to be exposed to.  You are also assigned a ‘buddy,’ who acts as your friend and contact for the 90 days, as well as a Go-To Manager that is a senior person aside from your manager, who you can connect with on an ongoing basis for advice and support.

We have a very robust succession plan. This is a conversation we have twice a year with about all our people. And we also need to know what the employee’s plan is because we need to link this plan with the plan of the organization. What you are looking at may be different from what the person wants for himself or herself. I have seen it here where we have a particular direction for a candidate and we spoke to the person, he said, sorry, this is my interest. So, we tailored that. Because we are part of a multinational organization, we have had instances, where we move our talent from here to Eswatini, which used to be Swaziland, we move talents to South Africa, and Dubai and we have people coming from those areas to here. Today, we have one or two who are not Nigerians, currently working here today. When they are here, part of the things they will do is to make sure they groom people from within who would take over from them. 

Our performance management system is also top-notch. At the beginning of the year, you set your goals. Your goal is not dumped on your laps; you have a conversation with your manager. Your goal will cascade from your manager’s goals. If there is any support you need from your manager, you state it, and it goes like that. By the middle of the year between June and July, we have what we call Mid -Year conversation. It is a check to be sure you are on track or off track. If you are on track, you know, if you are off track, you know, and your manager will let you know that you are off track. It does not stop there. Once you are off track, then there is something called a performance improvement programme that will be set for you. It is to help you get back on track. We do that and you have a monthly conversation with your manager. The most interesting thing is that your manager will not run after you. It is for you, to own it because it is about your performance, it is about your development. You will review monthly with your manager until you are out of it. But for us, the developmental conversation starts from January to December; every other thing within our performance cycle has periods. 

In all this what matters to the individual is the reward system. How is your reward system and how do you motivate your employees to command their dedication?

The truth is money would not be sufficient for everybody. But we have our reward philosophy as an organization. We have where we want to be in terms of percentile vs the market. Some organization position themselves to say they want to be 100 percentile, some say they want to be 75 percentile, and some say they want to be 50 percentile. But trust me; we are up there because it is our strategy. We don’t want to make that public in terms of percentile, but we are ranked up there. I will say we pay people very, very fairly, and we are very competitive. You can pick that from the array of people that we recruit into the organization. I’m not sure if there is any organization within this sector that we cannot attract people from as of today. We compensate them very fairly. 

We are also a unionized organization. Our people belong to union according to their respective cadres and they have their statutory collective bargaining. Beyond the monetary compensation, there are several other welfare and well-being packages that we also have for our people. As I have explained, all the tools you need to do your job form part of your remuneration. For example, if your job requires you must have a car, you have the car, which is well maintained, and properly fueled. If your status requires you have a driver, we do that. 

Every year, we do our benchmarking. And we do not do that personally because there will be limitation or subjectivity to it if we do it personally. So, we outsourced it to some leading organizations, KPMG or Mercer, which do that benchmarking every year. Once they do the benchmarking, they pick our data, they pick the data of other big organizations in our category, and come back to us to say, in this area, you are middle, in this area you are top, and in this area, you need improvement. And once we have that, we adjust accordingly because every year we do our budget, and we get this feedback before we go into the budgeting process. And we factor that into it. So, in terms of remuneration, we are doing very well.

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