Anne Grunow does not believe in applying a one-size-fits-all approach to her job

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When she is not working, the HR executive enjoys reading, cooking and spending time on the coast.

After starting her career as a teacher and spending three years in the profession, Anne Grunow decided that she wanted to pursue a career in HR.

Fedgroup’s chief human resources officer initially studied to be a teacher. “I always wanted to become a teacher, however after completing my degree in English and Industrial Psychology, and teaching English at a high school in Durban, I decided to consider human resources as a career.”

After spending some time travelling overseas, she moved to Johannesburg and applied for a job at the head office of the OK Bazaars. Anne was lucky to get the job with no previous experience in HR. Her role initially focused on recruitment for the head office and running the bursary programme and it grew from there. “I loved working there. I loved the people and the work, and I learnt so much,” she recalls.

Anne spent four years at the company and left to have her first child. She was then asked to set up the HR department at a smaller company, where she continued to work for about 17 years. “This was a fantastic learning experience as I was able to grow along with the company.”

It was time to spread her wings and she joined Fedgroup as HR manager. “I was promoted to CHRO about four years ago and joined the executive team. Even though I was managing HR prior to the promotion, being involved at an executive level offered further opportunities and challenges, which was a great step up for me.”

She describes her journey at Fedgroup as “amazing” as she has learnt a lot and grown so much as a person. “When I joined the company the HR function was mostly administrative, and I was given the opportunity to implement various initiatives, programmes, and processes so that HR became an integral part of the business. These initiatives have evolved as the staff complement has grown and diversified.” The company has about 150 employees which means she gets to know everybody – something she really enjoys.

She admits being in HR can be challenging at times, but she enjoys the variety and the fact that no day is the same. “As we are all about people, the focus needs to be on people, and this includes such a diverse range of things. I could not see myself being in any other profession. I am exceptionally lucky that I changed careers when I did, as I would not want to be doing anything else.”

For Anne, it is the people aspect of HR that drew her to the profession and the difference that can be made to people’s lives. “I’ve learnt so much from different people. I love engaging with people and hearing their stories. We spend a lot of our lives working, and I continually strive to make our company a great place to be every day; where our staff have purpose, can contribute and be productive. It has been exciting to be part of the journey of the evolution of HR from a mostly administrative function to a fundamental aspect of the business,” she says.

How the pandemic affected HR

Anne shares that the business went through some tough times and several important decisions had to be made. “As an executive, it was essential that we maintained a sense of stability and that we took care of our people. We were very mindful of the impact of any decision we made, and we were careful to ensure that staff were not adversely impacted.”

Anne had not previously believed that it was possible to run HR from home, but was amazed to see what could be achieved with technology. Being in contact became more important than ever, and the company kept the lines of communication open to ensure that people were constantly connected, particularly if they felt isolated at home.

Hybrid work vs. being at the office

Anne says at Fedgroup they like to be together. “We recognise the benefits of being at the office, but we have always had flexible working arrangements so that people can balance their lives, and this practice has continued now that we are back.”

She says initially people were reluctant to go back to the office because of the advantages of working from home, however, as soon as the staff were back, they realised the value of being able to collaborate and communicate in person as well as being able to interact with their colleagues and friends.”

She believes that the impact of Covid-19 will stay with us for a while, which is why mental health is essential for their staff. “Employee wellness is very important to us, and we pay particular attention to mental health. We ensure that we provide this support for our staff through the wellness programmes we have implemented,” says Anne.

Challenges facing HR

According to Anne, skills shortage is a major challenge that requires companies to do whatever they can to upskill their staff. “We are very committed to education and training, and we encourage our people to study further and to attend appropriate training courses. The recruitment of suitably qualified people for our business is essential, but more importantly, we focus on finding people who align with our culture and vision.”

Anne does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. “‘People are not the same and their experiences and circumstances are not the same. It is important to recognise these and to adapt accordingly.”

Anne is a mother to two sons who are both working now, one in the medical profession and the other, accounting. “I grew up in a very small town on the north coast in KZN and early on I appreciated the value of family and friends and so I try to spend as much time with them as I can.” Anne is an avid reader and enjoys cooking and spending time at the coast whenever possible.

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