CHRO Day: HR minds explore effective change management


Under the theme “the Change Exchange”, South Africa’s leading HR professionals gathered on 16 May for CHRO Day at The Leonardo in Sandton.

Networking and learning were the order of the day when CHROs gathered in Johannesburg to discuss how best to manage change whether it is with regard to technology adoption, restructuring, M&As, leadership changes, shifts in legislation and policy, or culture transformations for their companies and the country.

The day was made possible by principal partners Mercer, Old Mutual Corporate; executive partners Sanlam and Workday as well as associate partner Ayanda Mbanga.

First on the agenda was an engaging Q&A facilitated by Abdullah Verachia, CEO at The Strategists who had a frank conversation with Jeanett Modise, CPO at Absa Group on how best to instil a culture with a growth mindset as the key to driving change.

Abdullah asked Jeanette for her advice on how best to drive functional excellence.

“CHROs firstly need to understand where the business is going and as such are then able to partner properly with the business and bring more value from a people perspective. Secondly CHROs need not confine themselves to the human capital function. CHROs should not operate in isolation - it is important to have a global perspective in order to create a high performing team. It is extremely important to partner with the CEO and C-suite to create further environments to create exceptional work environments.”

Lee Naik, CEO of TransUnion Africa, and one of SA's leading digital and technology transformation experts, was next on the podium exploring how real diversity and inclusion require an entirely different conversation.

Diversity and inclusion are crucial for business success, he noted.

“True diversity isn't just employment equity stats, it's understanding fully what diversity in our people gives us to be truly inclusive. A clear vision and purpose are necessary to drive engagement and create a culture where everyone has a voice. In your role as CHROs, you may have the greatest ability to make real change,” he said.

Lee emphasised the importance of taking bold actions to drive systemic change in organisations, sharing personal experiences of breaking down towers that prevented growth and creating a new team with like-minded individuals. “Leaders must be clear on their endgame and instil that vision in their team to drive meaningful change.”

Boardroom brainstorm

During the event, CHROs split into two groups to contemplate significant shifts occurring within organisations.

One group focused on how HR leaders can support employees facing mental, physical and financial struggles, while the other group talked about the risks of promoting individuals to leadership roles too soon.

Carla Daniels, Mercer Africa's head of consulting, Nzwa Shoniwa, managing executive at Sanlam Umbrella Solutions, and Kutlwano Rawana, group HR executive at Rectron, led the talks on mentally, physically, and financially unwell workforces.

Nzwa explained that his organisation has seen an increase (from 11 percent to 16 percent) in mental health claims between 2020 to 2023, and it’s clear that Covid-19’s lasting impact has resulted in people struggling mentally across the board. “We’re in a mental health pandemic at the moment, the numbers don’t lie.”

The group’s participants agreed that during Covid-19 a lot of investment went into well-being, but many organisations have taken their collective feet off the pedal. Investment in holistic wellness that goes beyond EAP, underpinned by a culture where people feel safe and seen, is key to enabling a workforce that can give their best.

“Remember that EAP is just a tool,” added Kutlwano, “as HR professionals it’s important that we drive initiatives that promote an inclusive and caring culture. I call myself and other HR practitioners ‘influencers’; we keep businesses conscious that their employees are people.”

Dr Liziwe Masoga, CHRO at Mr Price, Deb Fuller, CHRO at Nedbank, and Rahab Matebane, director: human resources and facilities management at Mekan group, led discussions in the second group.

“You also must have an objective metric for certain behaviours that you want to see in the business. Usually, what gets people to succeed at levels below leadership is not the same as what makes them successful at a higher level. EQ is as important, if not more important, than IQ. The problem many organisations face is that most people are promoted because of their IQ and, in the time taken to develop EQ, they can do a lot of damage. This can happen when they are resistant to feedback on how to improve the way they relate with stakeholders,” explained Liziwe.

To ESG or not to ESG

After a scrumptious lunch and some networking, attendees got a chance to engage with current director for strategy, sustainability, people & public affairs at Old Mutual Limited Celiwe Ross, who tackled the hot topic of the role of the CHRO in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters.

Oftentimes, people confuse sustainability, corporate social investment (CSI) and ESG, she said. “Sustainability is about long-term value creation for an organisation while CSI is really about how a company contributes to inclusive, transformative and impactful development of the communities in which we operate. ESG, which is our main topic today, is actually a quantifiable assessment of the impact of sustainability on our business practices,” Celiwe explained.

“There are a number of things we can do as CHRO executives to propel the agenda forward. In my opinion, CHROs have the most important role to play here. We need to encourage investment in sustainability skills building, like formal engagement with educational resources, outside consultants or experts, etc. We also need to ensure leaders are prepared to explain and demonstrate the organisation’s sustainability initiatives to employees and more so, we need to increase employee engagement on sustainability goals,” she added.

Her talk was followed by further networking opportunities and later attendees joined breakaway sessions which featured industry heavyweights such as Dr Thuli Tabudi, group CHRO at Spar, Lori Milner, director at Beyond The Dress, Makhosazana Mabaso, head of Reward Analytics: Remconsulting at Remchannel, Dr JJ van der Walt, senior associate at Baker McKenzie and Mamcy Letuka, HR director at NCR Atleos.

During the branding and reputation management breakaway, Makhosazana pointed out that rebranding means being part of the conversation. “It’s about rebranding from the perception that we’re just administrators; I help companies translate their business strategy into people strategy, yet some still deem the HR function as purely administrative, even in the C-suite. HR needs to take the lead, but if you’re kept out of the room you can’t make an impact. However, when HR is a strategic enabler, it moves the conversation forward.”

Looking at the impact of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill on big business, Mamcy told attendees that many businesses are already struggling to meet targets even under the current policy framework, so the amendments are going to make it even more difficult. “Big businesses are not going to be happy about the sectoral targets. It will be easier for small businesses where turnover is high.”

Taking the baton to the finish line was Tswelo Kodisang, CPO at FirstRand group, who wrapped up the day with an overview of how the role of the CHRO will evolve over the next decade.

“Pre-2015, the CHRO role was not seen as a partner and leader to the CEO and CFO, around 2018 the role then pivoted towards a strategic role within many organisations and as a result what you find currently is that the CHROs report to the CEO. In 2024 and beyond is that we find ourselves in a position where there is an expected next evolution of the role. This is an exciting time for the HR function as it is uniquely positioned to take our people through the transformation journey. My call to action to you is to be bold in experimenting with new things so we can leverage people to deliver value to our business.”

He went on to say that there are a number of factors that CHROs should consider when redefining their roles.

The night ended with CHROs networking over drinks and canapes on the 45th floor with breathtaking views and enriching conversations.

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