Happiness is a cement factory

Happiness is a cement factory
Published: 01 October 2004

Pretoria Portland Cement Cement manufacturing giant PPC is challenging the perception that employee satisfaction is limited to the service industries.  With the majority of its 3000 employees engaged in heavy industrial work, having to cope with the stench of cement-making chemicals and the loud noise of plant machinery, PPC has found success with its people-based management approach (reports The Financial Mail). The group claimed a top-10 position in the 2003 Best Company To Work For competition and this year has moved up to second in the rankings.

"Given that we are not in a sexy industry, to be competing out there with the banks came as a pleasant surprise," says PPC MD Orrie Fenn. "But the amount of time and effort we put in to ensure the happiness of our people means the rating is well deserved." A large share of the credit goes to the 1999 introduction of the value-based management (VBM) programme, which was inherited from parent company Barloworld. The programme seeks to ensure that every activity in the operation is aligned to value creation: value for shareholders, customers and employees.

In adopting the VBM, PPC fused the programme with its 112-year-old history, a tradition represented by the elephant in its logo. The group named its management approach after a famous elephant of the Kruger National Park, Kambuku. PPC was to use the qualities of the elephant - strong, tough, durable and reliable - to develop a rich corporate culture.

The results are visible in the group’s operating performance over the past six years. There has been phenomenal margin improvement every year between 1999 and 2004.  PPC experienced difficult trading conditions just before 1999. The group then conducted an employee survey to establish the mood of its workforce. The survey was designed to ascertain employee satisfaction in relation to the group’s vision and strategic direction. Results showed a confused workforce and low morale.

"The survey told us we needed to improve communication and focus more on our human governance," says Fenn.  The survey also showed that most employees’ concerns were related to the way things were being done in the organisation, and not operational. What followed was a complete rethink. The HR function in its traditional form was culled and replaced by an organisational performance manager (OPM).

Creating value for employees is not only about financial reward, says PPC’s director of organisational performance, Rod Burn.  Instead, he says, value for employees is delivered by creating challenge, recognition and satisfaction. PPC’s invocoms have so far produced about 6000 suggestions for doing the job cheaper, better and faster. A significant number of these suggestions have been implemented and individually realise annual savings ranging from R1000 to R1,5m. PPC’s new people-based management approach seems to have filtered through to the blue-collar workers. Shop steward Simon Malatji, who has been with PPC for 25 years, says: "Having been with this company for so long, I have observed the changes in management attitude. I cannot claim that there are no problems facing the workers but I am impressed by the mechanisms put in place to deal with workers’ grievances. The company’s communication systems ensure a fair platform to deal with difficulties." PPC’s latest financial figures once again reflect the company’s improved working methodology, and the group continually claims a bigger share of the growing cement market. According to the Cement & Concrete Institute, SA cement demand rose by seven per cent last year. PPC’s domestic cement sales recorded double-digit growth.