CHRO Dinner explores employee retention in today’s economic climate


HR execs gathered to discuss retaining talent, superpowers and leading with intention.

HR execs gathered to discuss retaining talent, superpowers and leading with intention.

On 8 June, CHRO South Africa, in partnership with ServiceNow, hosted leading HR executives for a CHRO dinner at the luxurious Saxon hotel in Johannesburg. Their purpose? To discuss a number of issues relating to retaining top talent in today’s economic climate.


The night started with an icebreaker, where guests were asked to share what they think is their superpower as well as what they wished for as a superpower. One executive, who had joined an organisation just six weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, said that even though she is able to relate across multi-generational gaps with ease, she longed for the ability to transfer kindness. “It was the best of the worst times and I really wish I had a magic wand that would touch people where they needed more kindness. I think the world needs more of it.”

Another saw her superpower as the ability to connect with people, the ability to be comfortable with silence and calmness under pressure. To accompany that power she said, would be the superpower that would enable the ability to read minds. “In our work we often deal in environments where there is parallel occurrence, i.e., what is said versus what is being felt. Sometimes people do not have the ability – or, rather, courage – to tell you what they really think, so this superpower will be an enabler and amplify how one connects with people.”

Talent retention

The conversation quickly moved to how organisations can give employees the career development journey they desire and support managers to get the best out of their teams.

One executive explained that their organisation is faced with the mammoth task of talent retention in a business rescue context. “We have had to grapple with the concept of retention via financial reward. We have had to adopt an approach of total reward.
We were unable to give executives incentives due to our situation. Shareholders were not happy that we didn’t have skin in the game, and our execs weren’t earning comparably to their peers.”

One of the guests, who joined an organisation just three months back, said they have a very different talent retention issue, “The organisation is a very family orientated business and the culture is built on trust and loyalty. As such, we have too many people and duplicity of roles.

“There are also too many manual processes. For instance, I am running payroll off a spreadsheet. The legacy challenges and old ways of doing things are becoming a problem in talent retention. At this point we don't even have recruitment processes and we don’t have reward governance.”

A resonating question among the diners was whether financial remuneration was enough to retain talent.

One CHRO was very vocal about people moving merely for better packages and offers. “My view is that money is a temporary sweetener and the novelty wears off very quickly. Development opportunities, culture and overall employee experience are equally, if not more, important.”

Another said the traditional way of working has changed and people are now being forced to take offers they wouldn’t usually take. “There are times where you can’t keep people. We have an associate who was offered R400,000 more than what we are paying her, but we couldn’t keep her, even though she was very clear about wanting to stay. We could have promoted her to a level where people earn that amount, but she didn’t have the requisite skills and you don’t want to create a culture where Africans are promoted into roles they are not ready for just because we want to keep them.”

One diner said their organisation has had to be creative in their salary scales, “We are continually having to review our salary scale because we are competing globally.
Our EVP is comprehensive and has helped a lot when it comes to keeping people.
There are also opportunities to work at our offices abroad and the ability to earn in US dollars, which is very appealing to our people.”

Flexibility and purpose

Another highlighted the need for flexibility from employees. Many agreed that this is becoming a norm, where their organisations have to rethink policies around giving people leeway to have ‘side hustles’.

“This whole thing of side hustles is becoming more real because people need more money and we have to be understanding. In this day and age, the younger generation will literally walk away from an employment offer if such flexibility is not given.”

Another HR leader added that their organisation is leading by example on this front as people have to declare their side hustles when they join our company. It’s part of their onboarding process. “Luckily we haven’t had a case where side hustles interfere with performance or lead to disciplinary issues.”

Purpose is another key factor that was agreed upon as a key metric for employee retention. One guest said she has noticed that with Gen Z in particular, purpose keeps them engaged.

The biggest takeaway from the evening was that HR leaders have to lead with intention and create environments and ecosystems that individuals can thrive in despite the eco-social environments. “Retention is a very individualised approach and what we need to remember is that people will join a great organisation and not leave a poor leader.”

Those attending the CHRO dinner were:

Malisha Awunor, CHRO at EOH
Elanie Kruger, Chief People Officer atTsebo Holdings
Kerry Littlewood, Head of Employee Experience & Engagement at Deloitte
Hope Lukoto, CHRO at BCX
S'ne Magagula, CHRO at Tiger Brands
Sungula Nkabinde, Community Manager at CHRO SA
Reabetswe Rabatji, Managing Editor at CIO SA
Celiwe Ross,Human Capital Director at Old Mutual
Sungeetha Sewpersaad, CPO at RMB
Vinolia Singh, Chief People Officer at Adcorp
Bess Skosana, Regional Talent Leader at MTN
Sharon Taylor, Chief People & Culture Officer at Standard Bank
Nolo Thobejane, Chief People and Transformation Officer at KFC
Daniel Wilks, VP - ServiceNow at ServiceNow


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