By Charndré Emma Kippie
Cape Town-born client relations and communications specialist, Lizelle Solomons, Operations Manager at Sanlam Global Investment Solutions, joined the company in September 2018 and is a member of the executive team. Her main responsibility as the operations manager is to manage all operational tasks of the business. After onboarding the Sanlam Group in 2007, Lizelle became a client service specialist and has undertaken a variety of client relations and communications roles within the company, which has given her unique insights into honing her craft and passion as an operations manager. To date, Lizelle has received numerous accolades for innovation, client experience, and was awarded a CEO award for her dedication and always remaining performance-drive.
Lizelle has obtained a Bachelor of Arts – Communication Science, from UNISA, and a Prince 2 Practitioner qualification from Torque IT. She is currently pursuing a BA Honours degree in Integrated Organisational Communication through UNISA. She also previously took part in the Sanlam Business Executive Management Development programme, via Stellenbosch University.
What are your main career objectives? How do you hope to make a difference?
As an operations manager, my main career objectives are to continuously increase my knowledge and skill set, allowing me to be more adaptable and agile in an ever changing world, giving my team, organisation and personal brand a competitive edge.
Change is the only constant. We will always be faced with a new obstacle or benchmark, so I hope to make a difference in my pursuit of building a resilient culture, through inspirational leadership, leading change effectively and influencing others to embrace change.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
I was born in Cape Town and am the youngest of four children. My father was a principal and my mother a teacher, so education was deemed important in my family. After school I, however, decided not to go ahead with furthering my studies and instead opted to continue working my summer job as a restaurant floor manager.
Three years later, in 2007, I started my first corporate job as an administrator at a division in the Sanlam Group. Little did I know at that point that this was the start of a flourishing career! As the years flew by, I jumped at each and every development opportunity the Sanlam Group afforded me, and quickly grew my skill set and knowledge. I held numerous client relations and communications positions across the Group, and in each role shared and absorbed all the knowledge I could. In 2018, I joined the Sanlam Global Investment Solutions team, as an Operations Specialist and a year later, was promoted to my current position of Operations Manager. As part of my career development, since January 2021, I joined our senior managers as a member of the Executive Committee.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
Two days are never the same, working as an operations manager, and there is always something new to learn! I get to wear many different hats, from marketing to project management, compliance to product implementations, which affords me exposure to all facets of our business. I have the pleasure of working with partners and clients across the globe on a daily basis, learning about global businesses and experiencing multiple cultures. Working in a smaller business within the Sanlam Group also allows me the opportunity to gain unique insights into strategic conversations and projects.
What 3 tips do you have when it comes to implementing operational solutions in your field?
- In order to fulfil the organisation’s strategic vision, understand the existing enablers in your business that creates success and alignment, and continuously improve on identified gaps in business capability to ensure that you provide your clients with the best product or service.
- Be adaptable and agile. Understand that events on any day can change a decision which results in utilising your teams’ time and resources. Respect your time and that of others by ensuring that any change in direction is thoroughly thought through before acting.
- Implement proper change management programmes. Initiatives are only as successful as the adoption by your business, users and clients. Change management is therefore an essential component to ensure that their needs have been properly catered for.
What advice do you have for performance improvement in organisations? How can companies do better?
In this new normal that we’ve found ourselves in, managing performance has become increasingly more difficult, let alone driving performance improvement.
Employee engagement is now more crucial than ever, to ensure that the organisation maintains its culture and vision, and considers the mental health of employees working from their home office silos. Organisations need to adopt a culture of inclusivity where employee engagement, collaboration, psychological safety and flexibility are valued.
Understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Ensure that you are utilising employees’ strengths to your advantage and view their weaknesses as an opportunity for growth.
We live in a technological age and organisations should embrace this. They should seek to implement more automation, especially for recurring tasks, which can free up employees to focus on more value-adding activities.
Encourage knowledge sharing. Put good measures in place for the proper distribution of knowledge, which can lead to great benefits for the organisation, such as capitalisation on knowledge-based resources, reduced production costs, increased team performance and innovation capabilities.
Recognition and Reward play a big role in performance improvement. Organisations should reward employees more openly for excelling. This will most likely inspire others to want to experience that same form of recognition.
In your opinion, what are the key elements of an effective operations strategy?
- Continuously monitor market trends to take full advantage of new opportunities and avoid possible threats. Understand the needs and desires of those you are servicing and ensure that your existing capabilities can meet those requirements, as well as be adaptable to ever changing environments.
- Maximise your organisation’s intellectual capacity. Develop the core competencies – strengths and resources – of your organisation to improve customer satisfaction, develop innovative products and build relationships with your stakeholders.
- Adopt a forward-thinking approach. Know who your future clients are and use market intelligence to evolve your service or product, to ensure your organisation remains relevant in future.
- Focus on continuous process improvement. Continually review and set goals for improvements to your system, capacity, workflows and cost efficiencies.
- Build a learning organisation and implement an effective knowledge management system. Ease of access to organised information, data and lessons learnt from past research and experiences, can make it easier to drive future decisions.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?
The Victor Within by Victor Vermeulen
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The One Thing by Gary Keller.
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line?
Achieving success and driving results have always been strong motivators for me. I find it quite thrilling to complete a task before a deadline or exceeding an expectation.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
Although not completely outside of work, I’ve recently joined the Sanlam Investments Group Mentorship Programme. This programme offers its members a chance to grow their mentoring skills, while mentoring a mentee through the National Mentorship Movement – a non-profit organisation aimed at building a movement that allows every South African to prosper and grow through Mentorship.
What advice do you have for young women who aspire to work in your industry?
- Be so great at what you do, no-one can ignore you! Always make sure of your facts, be confident in yourself and appropriately challenge the status quo.
- Be inquisitive and never stop developing yourself. Keep an eye out for opportunities, sometimes they are disguised as hard work that no-one else wants to take on. Opportunities won’t always present themselves, don’t be afraid to create your own.
- We are often our own toughest critics. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Failing is part of the learning journey – but make sure you ‘fail forward’. Turn those mistakes into stepping stones for success, in the words of John C Maxwell. Be resilient and learn from your mistakes. Accept that you won’t be great at everything, but play to your strengths and surround yourself with people who have differing ideas and perspectives to yourself.
*For more insightful interviews with leading business women in South Africa, check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.