CHRO Dinner reveals that HR had to take the wheel during the pandemic

Leading HR professionals gathered for dinner and discussions around navigating multiple crises.

Leading HR and business professionals gathered around a dinner table at the Saxon in Johannesburg on 8 March, for conversation and collegial insight into how they navigated the multiple crises they faced last year.

Sipping on delicious wines, the CHROs in the room agreed that HR had suddenly become the driver in the boardroom as people became the centre of organisations’ strategies during the pandemic and July unrest.

The dinner was attended by:

  • Athol Swanepoel, head of HR, Nestlé East and Southern Africa
  • Dumo Mbethe, Momentum Corporate CEO
  • Edwin Hlatshwayo, Glencore HR director
  • Joël Roerig, CHRO South Africa managing director
  • Masenyane Molefe, PPS group HR executive
  • Qinisekile Dhlamini, Momentum Corporate head of business development and key client management
  • Sungula Nkabinde, CHRO South Africa community manager
  • Tumelo Seaketso, Deloitte transformation head
  • Vinolia Singh, Adcorp Group chief people officer

Athol said that leaders realised what the HR professionals had always known: that “happy people equal productive people, and that taking care of people can unlock potential”.

Dumo added that the concept of employee value proposition (EVP) took on a whole new meaning, and organisations were compelled to look at the entire human more holistically in the design of their EVPs.

“Covid-19 has been an enabler for CHROs and has put HR back where it belongs – at the table with everyone else,” explained Masenyane. “HR was actually driving the agenda.”

And this continues today, she said: HR is still driving the agenda as organisations grapple to shape their future of work due to changing workplace requirements.

Edwin made full use of this newfound lead and wanted to create a home away from home at Glencore. He rolled out an interactive app throughout the organisation for employees to communicate with each other as well as their leaders, and it quickly became a way for them to hold their colleagues and bosses accountable. “Because of this initiative, we broke all our productivity and financial records last year.”

Qinisekile explained that, “When you look after people, the results will follow.”

Resilience was a common term used throughout the three-course dinner, which was made possible by Momentum Corporate. This innate ability to bounce back in the midst of a crisis was noted to be true of the leaders in the room – and extended to employees in each of their organisations as well.

Tumelo said that they also saw people taking initiative and stepping in when someone else needed help.

“It was inspiring to see the true spirit of humanity during this time,” agreed Vinolia. “People were caring for each other, cooking for each other and praying for each other.”

And in turn, leaders also became more vulnerable during this time. “The pandemic amplified the resilience in us,” Athol said. “And empathetic leaders rose from the challenge.”

The HR leaders stayed for more wine after dessert, continuing their conversations late into the night. They all left the Saxon with new advice and ideas from their peers around navigating the next challenge: what the future of the workplace should look like.