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Covid-19: A Reflection

As the pandemic took its toll on many businesses and industries across the globe, few were able to emerge unscathed. One such example is Yum Restaurants International which is made up of some of the world's leaders of the fast food category including; KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and recently, The Habit Burger Grill.

In this second instalment of our series, Tadiwa Mandivenga virtually interviewed Akhona Qengqe, the Chief People and Transformation Officer for Yum! Brands based in South Africa. She has had an illustrious career which has included roles as the Director of Transformation and Diversity as well as Director of African Franchise Development at Yum! prior to her current role.

In this interview, we get an understanding of how the food industry was affected, what Yum! has learnt and what their future looks like.

What are some challenges that Covid-19 has presented for Yum! this year?

Like most companies, we had to navigate an unprecedented global pandemic which was closely followed by lockdown restrictions that saw our business come to a standstill for 2 months. As a result of this, one of our biggest challenges has been trying to recover lost sales.

On the people front – adapting to new ways of working, such as remote working and specifically working from home for our Restaurant Support Center teams was quite a challenge initially, but our teams quickly got accustomed to the virtual environment.

Work-life balance was another challenge as we found that most people were working around the clock and hardly taking any time to rest and recharge.

Our other big concern was around the health of our restaurant teams as lockdown restrictions were being eased, since they have to work in a confined restaurant where social distancing can be very difficult.

How did you and your team overcome these challenges?

We supported the Restaurant Support Center teams by;

- making remote work easy and accessible

- providing extra data and any other tools of trade that were required

- providing wellness solutions

- providing additional support to people that live alone during lockdown

Can you shed light on the employee experience at Yum! this year and the kind of support employees have needed?

Employee engagement has been high on our list of priorities. Recognising that people are social beings and thrive when they connect with others – we had a whole comms plan for the teams, from communication focusing on Covid, to Townhall sessions, aptly dubbed ‘Dial Thru’s, we keep our team informed and engaged as this is a 2 way communication platform.

What initiatives have been put in place to effectively manage and support employees during this time?

For our restaurant teams we set up a Fund to support through Covid and beyond- the KFC Care Fund, fully funded by KFC Africa employees, over 4000 team members have benefitted from this already. We also introduced a scholarship for our restaurant employees’ children called ‘Ikusasa Lethu’ in partnership with Curro Group of schools to provide access to quality education for the most deserving of employees’ children as well as children from some of the beneficiary organization we support through our Add Hope program throughout various communities in South Africa. Through Add Hope alone we provided over 5 million meals during level 5 lockdown where access to food was a challenge for the most vulnerable in our society. The support we have provided to our teams and communities in this time is not just limited to what is happening now but it is also designed to be sustainable into the future, Add Hope alone has been around for 11years and it is our wish that all these programs will also have longevity.

How has the company culture been kept alive while working remotely?

For us, our people come first and as a result, their wellbeing has been of utmost importance to us. Maintaining some of our existing rhythms and processes during this time has been very helpful in sustaining our culture of driving high performing teams.

In addition, our Individual Development Cycle, coach check-in, team check-ins, team meetings and project meetings have all been kept running with even greater levels of intentionality.

In your view, how has leadership and management changed and how has this informed the way it will occur going forward?

There has been greater connection with the teams as a result of more frequent communication and a lot of cross-functional work so, leadership has had to provide greater clarity and direction to our teams.

Leaders have also had to drive a lot of accountability. When you are working remotely and cannot see the people your work with, the only way to manage high performance is by giving people the autonomy they need to carry out their tasks effectively and efficiently as well as remain motivated while holding them accountable.

What would you say are some of the positive things that have come about as a result of what has become the “new normal”?

Some positive things to come out of the pandemic are;

  • our teams are more effective

  • there is a higher speed of project execution

  • there is greater collaboration across teams

  • as an organisation, we are more efficient with our resources

In your opinion, what does the future of working in the restaurant industry look like and where do you think the best opportunities are/will be for current and prospective African professionals?

Whilst we do not know what the future holds, given what has happened this year, what I can say is that this industry will always be about people at its core. If you are someone who is interested in understanding and contributing to how businesses can evolve to meet even the most basic human needs such as eating and connecting – the opportunities are abundant.


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