CHRO Day Community Conversation explores employer branding and EVP in the time of Covid-19

HR leaders shared insights around values-led leadership and communication.

The first-ever CHRO Day, during which HR leaders would spend the entire day together sharing fine cuisine and groundbreaking insights about the HR landscape, was due to take place on 3 June 2020. However, as the Covid-19 lockdown prevents large gatherings, 65 HR leaders came together online for a special edition of the CHRO Community Conversation featuring two keynote speakers and laughter-filled sessions with comedian Nik Rabinowitz. 

“Today was supposed to be a big day for the CHRO SA community. That said, this is still a pretty momentous occasion because I’m pretty sure this is one of the largest online gathering of HR leaders ever in this country,” said CHRO SA managing director Joël Roerig, who also thanked principal partners Workday and Momentum Actuaries and Consultants for supporting the community.  

The theme for the evening’s discussion was around ‘employer brand in the time of Covid-19' and Altron CEO Mteto Nyati delivered the first keynote address, explaining what they were doing to keep employees motivated and single-minded in supporting the company through the crisis. 

In a situation where costs have to be cut, Mteto said communication was paramount because “the last thing you want during times like these is for there to be an information vacuum that allows panic and rumours to thrive and spread throughout.” That is why the company hosted frequent engagement sessions in which every employee was free to ask questions about the state of the organisation and how it was planning to adapt to the crisis.

Communication and engagement

“When we said that people were going to have to make sacrifices, we meant every single stakeholder. Not just the employees and not only the leadership teams. Everyone in our ecosystem came to the party,” said Mteto, adding that the executive team sacrificed 50 percent of their bonuses, non-executive directors reduced their fees, and the dividend to shareholders was cut by 40 percent.

Read more: Mteto Nyati shares how Altron employees have been living the company’s brand

These decisions were taken while also asking employees to roll back salary increases through a process of extensive engagement. Furthermore, Mteto said that the company also had to ensure they were doing everything in their power to keep employees safe. 

Said Mteto: “Being a company that provides essential services, we have employees who are risking their lives by continuing to work. Providing PPEs was a huge cost to the business and ensuring that every employee had the tools and connectivity to work from home was a huge unplanned expense but it was non-negotiable. We opted to rather postpone other large projects like the R350 million Altron campus”

Reflecting on Mteto’s presentation, Capitec’s group HR executive Nathan Motjuwadi said they have had to make tough calls to minimise job losses.

“We've frozen all recruitment and looked at backlogs, projects that are behind, and have looked at how we can use people that are not currently able to function fully from home by moving them around in the business.”

On intensifying communication efforts FNB Wealth and Investment Management head of talent    Tshidi Khunou said they had done exactly that, building awareness and making sure employees pull together by running competitions with employees and having themed discussions about how they are coping during the pandemic to find out what kind of interventions they can introduce around psychological support and wellness. 

Employee value proposition

LinkedIn’s senior account director for Africa Chris Burgess delivered the second keynote, providing facts and figures to HR leaders about what the world’s talent was thinking about during this time. He said that the worst thing an organisation can do at a time like this is to not engage with the public about how it is managing the Covid-19 crisis. 

This is because there is a huge desire for information in the time of Covid-19. This included information not only about how companies were responding but also about how to remain educated around the latest trends. 

He said the spotlight had been placed on brands during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a  LinkedIn survey of 10,000 members done May 2020 reflecting that almost half (48 percent) of respondents agreeing that they’re noticing brand news more because they’re reading the news more.

In addition, over three in five (61 percent) strongly agreed that they care more about how brands are behaving during Covid-19 than they would have usually done before the pandemic.

Said Chris: “Forty percent of members are looking for inspiration and to see companies doing inspirational things. If a company is going to poor communities to provide food parcels, for example, it is bound to attract people that resonate with a higher sense of purpose. If you are not living your values, and acting in a manner that shows people that you care about what is happening to society, your company is going to suffer financially. Being authentic and transparent is the best thing you can do. Saying nothing is one of the worst things you can do.”

Read more: The worst thing you can do is nothing, says LinkedIn’s Chris Burgess

Marshalls World of Sport strategy and transformation executive Sameera Ahmed said they were taking a values-based approach to leadership in order to steer the organisation’s narrative and maintain the trust of employees. 

“One of our values is people over profit, and we place the most significant importance on this to protect the jobs of our employees,” said Sameera, adding that they were reviewing their reward strategy to encourage innovative thinking and reward “those that dare to colour outside the lines.”

“We made a decision to continue to pay increases to lower-income earners to reassure them of job security. We have also identified food security as a growing concern. To this end, we have identified a reward partner to get food vouchers to those in need,” said Sameera.

Butt of the joke

At the end of the evening, comedian Nik Rabinowitz wrapped up the discussion. He had been listening in on the discussion with the intention of summarising the highlights in his signature comedic style. 

He started by welcoming each of the HR leaders by title, mocking the endless variety of titles within the profession. 

“HR directors, chief people officers, learning and development managers, wellness executives, group organisational effectiveness executives, CHROs, as well as senior vice presidents and HR advisory specialists….How can you have 65 HR leaders on this call and over 93 different titles? What is going on in this profession?”

In a moment that drew roaring laughter from the crowded screen, Nik gave a special mention to Bongani Hlophe before sharing a screengrab of the Samela Holdings HR executive who looked as if he had fallen asleep during the breakaway session. Bongani, in stitches himself, replied saying he had been looking at his keyboard and was not actually asleep.

“You were not looking at your keyboard!” exclaimed Nik, as the group continued laughing. 

Nik then proceeded to poke fun at other HR leaders in attendance before the evening was wrapped on an extremely light-hearted and positive note.