CHRO Kutlwano Rawana is rebranding HR at Rectron
The energetic HR leader is using the people agenda to support business growth.
Kutlwano Rawana, the chief of people at Rectron, is trailblazing a new path to rebrand the HR function.
“Historically HR was a support function, focused on administration and payroll. However, the business has grown rapidly over the past few years and the people agenda has to be in place to enable this growth path. These conversations started before I joined, and the company had realised that there was a need to transition employees to be ready for growth. That’s how my role came into play,” she explains.
Kutlwano was headhunted for the role, fondly known by its acronym COP, which is the first executive committee HR role in the history of Rectron.
This was the result of the Rectron executive committee holding a strategic session wherein the topic of changing and transforming people was discussed. It was decided that the only way to achieve that objective was for HR to become a priority for the business – and for HR to have a voice at the exco table.
“I joined a team of leaders who understood the importance of the journey, and they needed someone to guide the business in terms of the people agenda. I spent two months thoroughly engaging and investigating, getting to know what has been happening, how business has been experiencing HR and what they think HR should be,” she says.
It was a considered approach to transforming HR, starting with an HR diagnostic to understand the employee landscape. This took the form of engaging with the existing HR team and the business, including one on one interviews with executives and senior leadership as well as a survey.
“The diagnostic revealed that the HR and business relationship was a distant one. Employees would interact with HR when they needed to apply for leave or query their payslips. This needed to evolve, as HR is there to facilitate the relationship and people development journey to enable leaders to do what they need to do, allow employees to be productive and the business to achieve its objectives,” she says.
The results informed the HR plan, which was built around the need to rebrand the HR function, getting all employees to understand HR, how it supports business and to move away from the concept of HR as a purely administrative function.
“That meant building a transforming HR business partnering function. I have been here for 10 months and we have already achieved a lot within a short time period,” she adds.
As with any change management initiative, the transformation has not been without its challenges, however the seasoned HR professional is handling those with aplomb.
“This was not my first experience in strategy formulation. Employee turnover at our company is low as we have a family culture and the leadership believes in looking after employees. The average tenure in senior leadership is 14 years. So, any change has to be sustainable from a talent perspective,” she says.
She adds, ““I am passionate about continuous engagement. You need to show the business the value add of the investment in people-related initiatives.”
Kutlwano landed in HR “by accident”.
“I don’t think a lot of people from my generation planned to study HR after finishing matric. I was the first person in my family to achieve a university entrance pass in matric and when my mom took me to register at Rand Afrikaans University, now the University of Johannesburg, I didn’t know what I wanted to study and the career guidance advisor said HR and I said okay, I’ll study HR,” she recalls.
She adds, “I believe a career like ours is a calling because it deals with working with people.”
Upon completing a bachelor’s degree in human resources management, Kutlwano started working for Morkels, which is part of the JD Group, in an entry level HR administrative role, which was the “best place to start”.
After a year, she moved to the Spar Group, where her real general HR exposure started. “I haven’t had any love for specialising: I’ve always been a generalist at heart,” she says.
It was here that Kutlwano had her first introduction to ”blue vs. white collar” employees and other aspects of HR and “I knew I was in the right space and right career”.
After a couple of years at Spar, she moved to the Edcon Group, starting at a regional level and being exposed to HR being a business partner, rather than a traditional paper pushing role.
“The business partnering phenomenon has always stayed with me,” she says.
After working at the Jet brand for less than a year, she was promoted to divisional HR manager for Legit, which was an all-female brand. “Here, I was introduced to issues around equality in the workplace and diversity for women as leaders in the workplace as this was an all female brand and team. I was very young so it was quite a journey for me,” she says.
Her next move was to Ster Kinekor theatres to take on the role head of HR, before being less than two years later to CHRO.
She was thereafter headhunted for Rectron, a subsidiary of the Mustek group. as Chief of People.
Interestingly, Kutlwano also has HR in her personal life – as she is married to an HR executive, Ndima.
“We met at work when we both worked for Spar and life happened. It’s nice to be married to someone you can share ideas with, and your day-to-day experiences, and they understand exactly what I’m talking about. He also plays that coaching role in my life personally,” she says.
She adds, “We are both passionate about the profession and strive to give our best. We also sometimes call each other out.”
The mother of an eight-year-old boy adds that she couldn’t imagine “going home to an accountant and explaining the importance of investing in leadership development programmes”.
Like many women in a similar position, Kutlwano also finds herself striving to balance motherhood, and being a wife and career woman.
“I go home late sometimes and still have to check homework. I try to navigate it and it is not easy. Sometimes my husband and I are both travelling at the same time. Fortunately, there is family support and my mom or my siblings help out,” she says.
Amid all of this, Kutlwano also still finds time to feed her other passion of mentoring young girls and being involved in community outreach programmes.
“We have just launched a CSI flagship programme to build tech labs for schools in previously disadvantaged areas. It’s not about building the lab and walking away though, we will have a continuous relationship with our beneficiary schools to ensure that the labs donated are put to good use,” she explains.