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Interview with a Leader - September 2021

Francesco is now celebrating his 20th year in Vodafone; he is a true example of an internally built career.

Always, focused in HR roles, he moved from a country to another, horizontally and vertically to land in his current position, managing global strategy, policy and standard for all HR process: organization development, culture, leadership, talent management, recruiting, employer branding…

On top of this, he has the privilege to sit on the board of Safaricom and Vodacom group in Africa: this brings him a complementary perspective of how the group operates around the world.

Francesco is so proud to have a such intense international career and being able to raise two kids with the same open-minded values is one of his greatest success!

Vodafone is a leader in the telecommunication industry. The group is undergoing a huge transformation: from ‘just’ a leading telco company to a new generation telco company not only focused on connectivity, but able to offer digital services.

Vodafone’s ambition to always evolve in this very competitive and transformative market is supported by an organizational culture. This purpose driven organization, learning from its presence both in Europe and Africa, is what makes the change possible: diversity is powerful!

How do you evaluate Leadership, in a context where this has become one of the most researched candidate qualifications? What are a true Leader’s skills you are looking for?

The last 18 months certainly accelerated trends but 3 pillars are redefining the role of a leader within a company:

- Employee expectations have changed: we witness an increased desire for a purpose for work (and we are not just talking about a ‘brand’ or financial targets), people are keener to operate in diverse environments. Furthermore, they look for autonomy (opportunity to self-determine how and when they work) and are more interested in their own work life balance: not so keen to trade life for work as they were in the past!

- The “need for speed” also increased: leaders must make quick decisions and empower their teams to do so. Innovation is a driver too: leader shall keep in mind their obligation to foster an environment for innovation, teaching their teams to cope with stress and learn resilience.

- Work is turning more hybrid and disperse: a leader needs to create a psychological safety and keep a team together even if they are dispersed. Ensuring teams and people connections is crucial to obtain great results!

In Vodafone, those expectations have been translated into "leadership standards" and new process assessment procedures are built around it. Yearly leaders’ evaluations were readjusted to the new world and now quarterly assessment cycles are in place to be able to constantly assess, reprioritize, recenter… And a wide panel of learning offer for leaders is designed to accompany them through their career.

Leaders should lead and role model ‘the spirit of Vodafone’, which are the believes and behaviors shaping the Vodafone organizational culture!

What’s Vodafone talent development process? How do you retain the best talents worldwide?

Vodafone’s talent process is based on three traditional blocks:

- Define and identify talents: whether it is inside or outside, the aim is to create a process to make sure that the business has the right capability to achieve the strategy.

Both for talents pools and succession pools every critical role must be clearly defined to receive a proper concrete answer. This can be achieved by a combination of bottom up and executive discussions.

Those cross organizational discussions are also a great tool to reach a global company view for the mobilization of talents and avoid expectations and frustration on the talents’ side.

- Deploy and develop talents: Top management regular involvement makes sure business and individuals are clear on which type of people to deploy and where and can match a talent pool to a company need.

It is key that the talents feel properly involved in this process but also that the diversity of the talent portfolio is managed consciously (gender, race, ethnicity, experiences, backgrounds, …)

- Careers and experience: understand how to empower talents to build a career in Vodafone.

Senior level profiles are generally expected to stay in role not less than 3 years: Vodafone believes that people should leave a legacy and build something before moving to the next challenge. Talents are now more willing to accept to take lateral steps before taking a step up as they are moving to a more long-term view of their career. This also allow them to build more depth in their leadership skills.

Also considering the evolution of the industry where Vodafone operates (from a phase of aggressive growth to consolidation), opportunities have become less available and therefore talents are expected to deliver more and longer before accessing to the next step. This is also true for international movement: even if international mobility is very well supported, an international move goes forward only if it has a strategical sense.

And in the end, the main retention tool is having exciting jobs: leaders must make sure this is true!

How do you put in place and manage an efficient and concrete diversity and inclusion policy? How do you manage local cultural differences?

Vodafone shows a broad approach for diversity; and in a tech environment that is unavoidable, from board to down. As a leader in Europe and South Africa, Vodafone can count on very diverse and multi-cultural teams to exchange points of view and experiences to build up a more inclusive company.

Latest events have certainly accelerated ongoing trends in a company that already had a strong awareness of gender and ethnicity diversity need.

Gender representation is a key topic in the tech industry and Vodafone is rooting itself at the earliest stages in a career: graduates and schools with programs like “code like a girl”, designed to bring young girls closer to technology.

Vodafone also embraces LGBT+ agenda and is deeply recognized for its true involvement.

Still the question of measurement stands. In order to measure progress on diversity beyond gender, across the various organizational processes (hiring, promotions, pay, etc.) organizations need data! Nevertheless, data and fact are not easy to gather and study as not every criterion is disclosed and available for all to know. The current challenge is to build tools that will make people feel safe and comfortable sharing this type of information. Only then, it will be possible to fully evaluate how mature is the diversity policy of the group (firing, promotions, salaries, access to roles, …)

Let’s talk about inclusion: for Vodafone, it is all about how you embed inclusion in all the internal, and how to create an environment which is inclusive by design...

Every year a global initiative is launched and broadcasted throughout the group: this year it is about menopause, last year, it was about domestic violence and abuse, and the year before, it was about parental leave. The aim is to inform, educate and to make people understand that inclusion is in the hand of each and every one of them.

Flagship policies are vital to articulate what a company stands for, what and organization wants to be. Vodafone believes that those policies should be applied everywhere…. With two considerations:

- Avoid the risk of applying minimum standard to everyone just to be compliant.

- Provide a safe environment for employees adapting those policies for countries where they might be in discordance with the local law.

Besides the local adjustments to be considered, the main goal of obtaining better equality remains strong and Vodafone is displaying and providing all the necessary support to achieve this core objective.

Smart working is now at the core of every HR strategy: how do you manage to keep your collaborators engaged and motivated? What is the ‘new normal’ in Vodafone?

It was indeed a massive social experiment: in 2 weeks, 95% of the work force was working remote!

Vodafone knew they had to collect data to understand how this could be working at the end of it all.

Now it is the time to read the data:

- Yes, people like the flexibility and they expect remote working to stay.

- The level of engagement and connection between team members is very variable: some connected stronger, some less.

- People were not very keen to change job during the pandemic and now this trend is massively going up.

- The productivity went up both for operational and office-based roles.

However, that productivity increase comes with a cost: no more social interaction nor mental break, a mix of professional and personal life, a lack of proper onboarding. Those facts must be managed for a long-term projection.

The conclusions are being officialized in Vodafone, and among them, smart working is part of the ‘new normal’. Hybrid work is going to stay, and companies must prepare now at the cascade impacts it will have on recruitment, onboarding, talent pool management… One thing is sure though: this ability to provide talents with flexibility is a tool to attract and retain them, and appeal to a wider and more diverse set of talent!

Once again, data is the only way to ensure that those new policies are viable on the long term and will be scrupulously studied before taking any irreversible decisions both for the people and the organization. Of course, offices will always be opened and a safe place to be if needed!

Last but not least, those past events have been a tremendous opportunity to engage and work with customers on hybrid work solutions: what are the best digital tools to facilitate that remote work, how to manage effectively a meeting, how to keep it straight, how to improve productivity, …

A final word of wisdom, Francesco?

Leadership and having opinions are an important part of the journey but then again data must remain a pillar of the decision-making process for an organization: your personal belief as a leader is not necessarily what the broader organization believes in, and data are key to provide leaders and decision makers with a balanced view!

Being able to not just replicate personal beliefs and instead understanding from inside what the organization needs to be engaged before taking any decision is a critical quality of the leader of tomorrow.

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