What gives Sigma Connected the South African X factor? A Q&A with Bevin Sandras
Our latest interview places the spotlight on the amazing work that’s happening at Sigma Connected in Cape Town, with Director of International Operations Bevin Sandras discussing why our team there are making such a lasting impact.
Q. We’re here to talk about our team in South Africa and the reasons behind their success. Perhaps we can start by briefly covering off the main reasons why you think we’re standing out in the Cape Town BPO market time and time again?
It’s great to be here and thanks for inviting me along, it’s a good opportunity to delve further into our Cape Town operation and provide more context into our success.
There’s a long list of internal and external reasons for why our team here is creating so much attention in the industry, and why we’re quickly becoming ‘the’ BPO operation in Cape Town to work for.
For me, it’s about the quality of our people, our culture, how we really do care for our clients and each other. It’s also about the depth of leadership experience, and vitally, our awareness of the wider environment when it comes to the community and making a lasting difference. You can also trace this back to our values which everyone lives and breathes.
Put together, that’s proven to be a hugely powerful offering.
Q. Why do you think our culture is so important?
I think a strong and winning culture comes in many forms. We are seen as a company that truly cares and that comes from the fact that we put people first, which has created a culture where everyone feels safe and in a happy place, where they can be their authentic selves.
We’ve created a culture where everyone enjoys their work and it’s come to feel like a second home for many, but also one in which their work is challenging and enjoyable, and where they are free to professionally challenge each other.
That’s rare but very special, and a big reason why we enjoy a reputation in the Cape Town area as the most people and customer centric BPO. We are brave enough to put our focus on our people rather than being driven by margins and unrealistic targets.
It’s actually summed up perfectly by a quote from Richard Branson who once said, if you focus on keeping people happy, the business will take care of itself.
Q. Does the structure our teams work within play a role too?
Absolutely, the set-up of our structure is a massive part of our success here in South Africa.
Like any business, we need a hierarchy to run things operationally and strategically, but we try to steer away from a sense of differing levels and have a flatness to our structure. This is right down to the smallest details.
Linked to the structure is management visibility. I will always make a point of meeting and greeting all new employees and a daily walk around the offices to chat to people which allows me to be accessible to everyone. This is same for our whole Executive, including Gary Gilburd, the Group CEO, when he’s visiting us.
Q. It’s been well documented across South Africa about our recent office move to the Cape Town community of Mitchells Plan. How has that helped our success?
It’s a positive point to mention as it’s very much part of our strategy. The location of our offices is key and we aren’t based where other BPOs are.
In fact, all our offices are deliberately based out of the CBD and into the suburbs where our people live. We have chosen to take the jobs to the people and into the heart of communities such as Mitchells Plain. It means people don’t have to travel so far, sometimes saving over two hours each day as their job is on their doorstep.
It gives them more quality time with their families, which is very important. Who wouldn’t want that?
Q. So we’ve talked about our culture, structure and even the strategic locations of our offices in how they play a role in our success. Now I’d just like to cover a little more about the role standards play, and in particular what sets us apart from other BPOs?
There’s lots we can cover when it comes to standards, but I would like to focus on some key areas which are based around our people.
You will often hear about the high standards we set in the BPO industry as many of the sector’s leaders tend to be process-led rather than putting people first. For example, if an advisor comes back to work having been off sick, you must complete a ‘return to work’ form explaining why you were off. This is a standard practice BPOs follow, but in our case the first thing our Team Leaders do is ask how they are and if they are safe and well, not worrying so much about the process. We specifically choose Team Leaders who look after people first ,and then the process.
Fundamentally, we are successfully running a growing BPO business whilst being a good, responsible employer. You don’t have to do one at the expense of the other.
Because we are building that strong reputation, the industry is looking at us and asking themselves what we are doing differently. We have almost become a force for good in terms of treating employees correctly in the industry. We are setting an example which other BPOs need to follow and that’s something we are immensely proud of.
More than anything, we are changing the norm because everyone at Sigma Connected genuinely cares about our people, including creating meaningful careers, proven as we have seen over 300 people promoted internally in the past 12 months, with more going through our Siggy School of Success to become our future leaders. This is an ongoing development programme which allows us the freedom to grow from within as we don’t want to just recruit leaders from other BPO’s because, as my earlier point covers, they come process trained and not people trained.
Q. How did we identify and fill hundreds of roles over the past year?
Before going into recruitment specifically, it’s important to cover our One Me, One Sigma programme, which is based around diversity and inclusion, and has been huge in terms of us attracting and retaining people. It’s having a big impact as we have very low attrition and 86% of our staff say they would refer a family member or a friend to work here.
Due to the programme, we have made many changes including non-binary bathrooms, holding Pride Days, celebrating different religions, most recently the Eid and Easter holidays, where we gave all our colleagues an Easter Egg together with a traditional Eid drink. Our people dress how they want to dress and not told to conform to a specific dress code. It’s been great to see that complete acceptance of all cultures and it doesn’t just happen by chance – it happens because that’s the way we’re driving things. We are very fortunate as it is also playing a part in attracting and retaining the best people.
Looking specifically at recruitment, a route which has been a success and has grown in importance for us is Impact Sourcing. Many companies talk about it but we really do embrace it and have shown it can be a positive game changer – proven by the fact that we have taken on 1,500 new staff in the past year alone. Impact Sourcing is a great opportunity to change lives for many South Africans.
However, having come so far down this journey what we have realised is that it’s our colleagues who have changed us as a business. We are now a more diverse and inclusive business, and far more open-minded than we ever were thanks to them. You must have a positive attitude to work here.
We want people first and foremost who genuinely care about supporting our clients’ customers and each other.
That’s especially important as we’re a company at the heart of its communities and really embracing the concept of making a difference.
Readers looking to connect with Bevin can check out his profile on LinkedIn. Alternatively, readers can email firstname.lastname@example.org