Advocating for the use of indigenous languages to enhance productivity and engagement

For Ndima Rawana, integrity, ethics and honesty are key to running a successful company.

Ndima Rawana, HR head at PPC, says in his travels he has discovered that most organisations around the world are not as diverse as South Africa’s are.

Ndima did a lot of travelling while he was working for Johnson Matthey as their site services director and has experienced different ways of tackling business problems.

“HR people in South Africa are consistently challenged and require a broader skills set in comparison to counterparts overseas.The understanding of the role of HR in most countries abroad is not generally proactive, but reactive,” Ndima says.

“Because we are a diverse nation and face complex risks in our lives, that gives us different perspectives on our approach to different problems in the workplace.”

Meeting other HR professionals around the globe has also helped Ndima discover the importance of being honest and straightforward with employees and this is what has helped him to create lasting trust relationships that go beyond the workplace.

“Honesty and acting with integrity go a long way and as an HR leader who understands the importance of this, the teams I lead tend to respond well in whatever strategies or business directions we undertake. I have seen this in the US where my counterparts tend to be direct and are quick to get to the point. In most cases employees just want to hear the truth and prepare themselves for whatever the situation they may face,” says Ndima.

He also found out that in some countries employees are encouraged and allowed to engage and discuss business matters in their own languages. Ndima says this is a huge, missed opportunity in South African organisations where we think employees can easily express themselves in English.

He points out that business leaders must spend time with employees outside of a workstation and engage informally in whatever appropriate language as much needed work-related ideas can come out of those conversations.

Before getting into HR, Ndima wanted to be a geologist. “I was good at mathematics and geography, but I went to a boarding school in the Eastern Cape that did not have good career guidance,” he says.

“I was walking with my mom in a small town called King William’s Town and we saw this new building, labelled ‘Human Resources Department’. It looked very nice among the old looking buildings. That’s how the seed was planted. I went to the then University of Port Elizabeth and I was asked what I wanted to do. I put down geology, human resources, and I can’t remember the third choice, but human resources it was.”

Choosing to do human resources was an opportunity for Ndima to make a difference in people.

“All the processes that are linked to the human resources function actually made sense to me, and are things I naturally navigated towards – such as recruitment and selection, talent management, transformation, organisational development and skills development. All the functions that are related to human resources made sense to me and I thought I could be a part of this profession,” says Ndima.

Getting a promotion to become HR manager for the Spar Group in KwaZulu-Natal is one the highlights of Ndima’s career and was an important milestone as he left his family behind for the first time, to be on his own.

He left Spar to join SA Breweries as an HR specialist for District South (Port Shepstone, Mthatha and Butterworth). He later moved to Johnson Matthey, an automotive company, where he worked as the head of HR.

This move, Ndima says, was interesting and different in that he was working for an international company that exposed him to different management systems.“After two years of joining them, I was made site services director, which was the first time for me to actually sit on a board,” says Ndima.

“Johnson Matthey gave me a different perspective. I managed to travel the world. I met HR colleagues from different parts of the world.”

In June last year, Ndima joined PPC. He and his wife Kutlwano, the chief of people at Rectron, started new jobs at the same time. “We both went through interviews at the same time. We never applied for the roles. We were headhunted,” Ndima says

With both of them working in the same industry, it is difficult to not talk about work. “If not managed properly, it can be exhausting to come home and still talk about work. We do work around it, but our conversations will always go back to HR,” says Ndima. “It’s an interesting dynamic, but it presents an opportunity to share ideas, to collaborate and advise each other.”

One of his main priorities when he joined PPC was to take the company’s HR back to basics for it to grow. “To improve things, it’s important for the foundation to be right,” he notes.

He has crafted a people strategy that focuses on putting HR basics in place, building critical skills and competencies, driving talent management processes, ensuring a future fit organisation through digitalisation of HR processes, and improving employee engagement and experience. This strategy is backed by a vision of becoming a trusted HR business partner and focusing on entrenching a purpose led performance driven culture.

His next career goal is to lead an HR function with a big group. “My current role also includes overseeing some group functions and broader HR scope, so I am on track with accomplishing this,” he says.

He also has plans to run a livestock farming business in the Eastern Cape. “I’m a part-time farmer. I just want to make sure when I get to the age when I do my own thing, I will be able to do that commercially. If I die doing it, I will die a happy man,” he says.

Ndima is currently working on some community projects to help the disadvantaged, especially in rural areas, and would like to do more for many young people in preparing them for a workplace. “I find a lot of young graduates get into a workplace unprepared and this is a huge gap in our education system,” he says.