Attendees at CHRO Day hear why it’s time for HR leaders to rebrand


At CHRO Day under the theme Change Exchange, HR leaders attended a group discussion on reputation management, what HR can do to enhance its brand, and how all this feeds into ESG initiatives, too.

It’s no secret that HR has a branding problem: despite playing a crucial role in an organisation, the HR function is generally seen as doing the business's “dirty work”. However, a lively group discussion led by Dr Thuli Tabudi, Group CHRO at Spar, Lori Milner, director at Beyond The Dress, and Makhosazana Mabaso, Head of Reward Analytics: Remconsulting, Remchannel, sought to change that.

“We all know what employees think – HR is not your friend,” opened Makhosazana, to collective nodding agreement in the room. “To rebrand, CHROs need to take the lead and be part of the conversations that help the organisation move forward.”

She defined the HR rebranding process as being perceived as just an administrator, even sometimes within the C-suite, to being a strategic partner.

“I help companies translate their business strategy into people strategy so they can achieve their goals,” she explained.

Thuli added that this rebranding is a bit like load-shedding. She asked participants to think back – way back – to a time before the power went off. A time when you arrived home from a long day at work and put the kettle on, without even thinking. Like with electricity being a given, that’s how businesses have always looked at HR; it was a function assumed to handle the admin and onboarding – until Covid-19 hit, that is.

Take charge of the narrative

“We had a game-changer. We were catapulted into a leadership position, and as HR professionals we had to come out of our shells. It showed us that we can rise to the occasion and that we mustn’t wait to be invited.”

Thuli added that the HR function needs to build on that experience. “All of us were hired because of our credentials and expertise – that’s a given. But we must realise our contribution isn’t just HR, we should understand our businesses so well that we can make contributions or challenge ways of doing things outside our expertise. We're responsible for holding a mirror up to the organisation and we should be able to ask difficult questions. That’s how we elevate the function – remember, we are in charge of the most powerful resource in a business.”

She further emphasised that to rebrand, CHROs must know how to “speak the language of the business” to take charge of the narrative. “Marketing talks about share of voice, finance talks about year-to-date, logistics talks about inventory. Do we ever tell our company about the ROI from our training initiatives, how our learnerships enable tax breaks, and exactly how the graduate programmes fill the talent pipeline?”

Lori, who is a personal growth coach, speaker, and facilitator, pointed out that HR often deals with things beyond their control, but an HR professional can always control how they show up – and it's the same with a personal brand.

“For example, why do you go to a certain coffee shop?” Lori asked. “It's because the service and product are consistent. That's what trust is, it's credibility and consistency. Whomever I’m engaging with, it’s about bringing more deliberate intention to the interaction and what people expect when they engage with me.”

Lori added that research shows when we communicate something, only seven percent of the message gets across verbally, the rest is non-verbal (demeanour, body language, and tone of voice). “Think about when someone has a conversation with you, how are you coming across? You can be so happy but forget to tell your face. Do you make people feel seen and really listen to them? That's part of the magic of HR.”

Reputation management and ESG


The theme of elevating HR and showing up was echoed during a presentation, entitled ESG: What role should CHROs be playing and why?, by Celiwe Ross, Old Mutual’s director of strategy, sustainability, people, and public affairs. She began by defining sustainability and CSI (and how they differ), and where ESG fits in.

Celiwe explained that sustainability is the long-term value creation that combines an organisation’s performance with a positive impact on the environment and broader society; CSI is initiatives that contribute to positive socio-economic development in communities where a business operates; and ESG is the measurable assessment of sustainability and business practices (and investors and other stakeholders typically expect organisations to disclose these elements).

Referring back to the group discussion, Celiwe highlighted how HR leaders can create a closer link between sustainability and business strategy (after all, the CHRO rebranding is all about being a strategic partner, and not simply a paper-pusher).

Celiwe noted that sustainability goes beyond emissions and the environment – it now covers everything from a business’s stance on human rights and tax transparency. CHROs have a vital role to play here as these elements and policy positions shape an organisation’s reputation.

“As human capital professionals, we're now under pressure to disclose things like attrition at certain levels and the employment statistics of women; to tell an organisation’s story in a numerical but informed way,” she explained.
According to Celiwe, sustainability optimisation is not only about cost reduction and improving efficiency but it's also about increasing brand presence – and, she argued, CHROs have the most important role to play. That’s because reputation management can be seen as siloed into communications and PR, however, the impact of reputation can be felt across business areas, especially when it comes to employees.

“Everyone has a function they attend, whether it's a funeral or a braai, and when people find out where you work the matters of reputation find themselves in those conversations,” she said.

“During a reputational storm, talent can pull out of interviews or ask very pointed questions, but it can also be an opportunity for change and transformation. It’s about how we show up and meet people in a time of real need, for our employees and clients alike,” she concluded.

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