Human communication

People and not products are at the heart of our business at Patricia Technologies – THISDAYLIVE

Chika Uluocha is Director of Human Resources at Patricia Technologies. In this interview with Nosa Alekhuogie, she talks about her role, her fintech journey, and shares her thoughts on what women are doing in the fintech space. Excerpts:

What is your role as Human Resources Manager at Patricia Technologies Limited?
The human resources manager oversees the company’s overall human resources strategy. I manage the strategy and processes related to the attraction, development and retention of Patricia’s human capital. In other words, I am responsible for designing and managing the employee lifecycle from attraction, recruitment, onboarding, development, retention and separation. On a day-to-day basis, my work involves strategic planning, employee communication, training and development, labor relations and labor law compliance, particularly as many of our employees are from outside Nigeria. In our industry, finding talent is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Retaining them is even more difficult given the dynamics of the industry; high-value employees are always in demand and constantly receive juicy offers. So my job requires me to make sure the workplace is conducive enough to support talent so that beyond financial incentives, there are other ways to motivate people that will attract and engage them. Because of the way we have structured the workplace at Patricia, many of our employees have refused to be hired away even when they receive tempting offers from other companies.

What is your priority as Chief People Officer?
Simply put, the right people do the right things at the right time, enjoy what they do, and achieve exceptional results in the process, from the leadership team to entry-level employees. It’s one thing to find the right people who are not only qualified for their role, but also fit into our culture. When we find such people, then it becomes our responsibility to keep them engaged and resourceful. This is a tricky question due to the fast-paced nature of our constantly changing industry. So we need to find people who are skilled, aligned and flexible enough to make the changes needed to stay on top. This is what keeps me up at night.

Why did you leave banking for fintech?
In a way, I think I was always meant to be in technology. For example, I did an internship at the National Center for Technology Management (NACETEM), where I worked with the IT team managing the network infrastructure and the maintenance of work tools. Then I worked with Fabrics.ng, a technology-based textile marketplace, where I was in charge of managing the supplier system and collaborated for many years with a community of enthusiasts and propagators of open source, free software and open source. Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA).

PATRICIA was my ticket to fintech. I’ve always enjoyed building and maintaining things and having the opportunity to do that while having a “seat at the table” was not something I was willing to pass on. When I joined Patricia, it was not yet a household name like it is today. In fact, it was barely registered when I boarded. And while it wasn’t immediately obvious to the casual observer, I could sense the potential and possibilities of the business. The huge opportunities were too huge to ignore, so I took the plunge. Honestly, I can’t say it was an easy decision. I mean, who quits their job at a formal organization and takes a nearly 50% pay cut to join a company that was barely registered? In hindsight, it was a risky decision that could have gone wrong if things went wrong. But I was ready to take the bet. Fortunately, it paid off.

What do you think of the nascent fintech space and female milestones?
The tech space, in general, is one area where women can easily have a level playing field. Fortunately, results drive growth in the industry, not age or gender or even years of experience. So seeing women doing their best here as software engineers, founders, product managers, etc. really inspires me. It is true that there are still challenges, such as the under-representation of women in leadership positions, which means little support and fewer role models, but the possibilities are still endless.

What major projects have you worked on as CPO?
I would say build the organization from scratch. When I joined Patricia in 2018 we were barely a registered business so I would say defining the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ of the business over the past few years has been my biggest success. I had no previous experience in human resources management, so I had to practically rely on my courage and determination, especially my vision, to achieve this. This is the hardest job I have done in my entire life because while there are benchmarks from basic HR training and studying startups that are built elsewhere, applying the Nigerian context to our situation is where the real work is.
We have grown rapidly and from less than 10 people when I arrived, today we are nearly four hundred people working in the group’s various businesses. This is no small feat and requires a different mindset and skills than working in a structured organization that has already defined procedures and guidelines. Looking back, I think not having a basic HR background helped me a lot because I was free to follow the conventions. However, growing at this rate also means that we also need to move to a more structured organization, and that is already in play so that we can adapt to future expansion and growth.

What do you do differently from other competitors and how have you managed to develop a profitable niche?
I would say I have a pretty deep understanding of the Fintech space and the roles needed to bring products to life. However, what I consider my greatest strength in Patricia is a unique understanding of human behavior. It is a combination of these perspectives that has allowed us to approach people’s functioning problems differently.

We make sure to manage each employee differently. Yes, we have policies, but a “one size fits all” approach is not an effective strategy for a company whose employees are largely Gen Z and Millennials. We try to approach each employee as a individual with unique needs and qualities. Promoting a shared vision is also something we don’t take for granted.
We have an open door policy that encourages communication, feedback and discussion of employee concerns at all levels.
Here we are big on a performance based reward system. We do not fail to recognize and reward individual initiatives. These various initiatives have resulted in us having a higher rate of job satisfaction than usual, which has translated into increased productivity and a more engaged workplace. Our annual employee turnover rate has remained below 6% for the past four years, even when our industry’s overall turnover rate is 13.2%. Obviously we are doing some things right.

What are the pillars of people operations at Patricia to which you attribute your low turnover rate?
Respect, collaboration, support and trust. We understand that people, not products, are the most important part of our business. Therefore, our core HR values ​​and processes are centered around values ​​that put people first. It is easy for people to recognize and stay in an environment where they are valued. We don’t just pretend to respect these values; we strive to live them every day.

What is your biggest challenge with managing people?
Honestly, people are both our greatest asset and our greatest handicap. With machines and codes you can predict the output, but not with people. It’s not uncommon to find a team member who is highly productive today and suddenly changeable tomorrow. That was the biggest challenge. Humans are highly unpredictable. Understanding that people are unpredictable has helped us better manage our expectations. We expect the best from our employees, but we also know that they are human, so we also make room for their idiosyncrasies.

CPO has been said to be the “worst best job” in tech because the role is coveted. What do you have to say about that?
Probably because, for the CPO, the stakes are higher. You are expected to have influence beyond the human operations team, including budgeting, technology and product deployment, marketing, and internal/external communications. You are the most prominent culture champion and must build and manage a team that thrives in a high growth environment while remaining an attractive employer brand in a rapidly changing hiring landscape.

What other projects are you working on?
I recently launched a travel brand, RoversKlub – which offers flight and hotel reservations, travel insurance, vacation packages, visa assistance, travel essentials, airport transfers, tours and a workspace in over 25 countries and a community of travel enthusiasts to ensure a hassle-free and satisfying travel experience. Our most important product is the Nomad project, which is aimed at remote workers who would like to work and explore new countries on the go. We’ve built a solution where professionals can incorporate adventure into their lifestyle while working comfortably in an inspiring environment. Our vision is to help professionals manage their time intentionally and achieve the perfect work-life balance by providing remote workers with a way to get away from it all, explore the world, and keep doing the job they love.

What impact has your experience in fintech had on your new business?
Innovation, automation and alternatives are the keys that my experience in the technology industry has passed on to me. Understanding the technology means our products are automated and require little or no human intervention. We can provide services that meet the needs of the new-age traveler who needs more than airfare and hotel reservations. People want options, and with technology they can pay however they want, including using cryptocurrency and digital assets.