CHRO Njabulo Mashigo on the hot topics facing business today


The 2022 CHRO of the Year and Vodacom executive director looks at inclusivity, load shedding and mentorship.

Having been in the profession for more than two decades, Njabulo Mashigo, Vodacom SA’s executive director of HR, has observed various changes in HR over the years, but most recently, what stands out to her is the power dynamic between employers and employees.

“I think that in the past, employers had more control over employees, but now that has shifted. Nowadays, employees have more say in how they want to work and what kind of workplace environment they want to be in. In addition, because the job market is so competitive, employers are doing everything they can to make themselves attractive to potential candidates by offering flexible work schedules or other perks and benefits,” Njabulo explains.

She notes that even though the power dynamic has shifted towards employees and talent, people still have a victim mindset. It’s a point of view that sees the system as the most powerful player. She says the best outcome is achieved when there can be ownership on both parts.

“We have to be flexible as employers, but talented employees have to decide how they own their destiny much more.”

She says employee experience matters more than ever before. “Just as companies have traditionally given attention to customer experience and investing in understanding what the customer wants, the same needs to happen on the employee experience front.”

For HR leaders, this means “going beyond a generic EVP and being creative and innovative about what you offer”.

Njabulo says that lip service is no longer going to cut it: the EVP must be meaningful. “At Vodacom, we have a saying: Further together. It applies to everybody. For example, people with digital and technology skills sometimes require a different kind of flexibility or a proposition to appeal to them. And then for companies like us in the ICT space, we still don't have enough women, particularly in the right levels, so what is our proposition then?”

Truly inclusive
She says another big topic that needs to go beyond slogans and platitudes is the issue of diversity and inclusion. This issue includes race, gender, disability and sexual orientation.

“Sometimes, South Africa tends to be very racially charged and sometimes we talk about gender, but diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is about so much more. Everybody has a role to play, not just the person who’s affected.”

The level of ownership among Vodacom employees when it comes to disability issues has been amazing, Njabulo highlights, adding that that in other organisations, she has had to drag people into participating in forums and discussions, but at Vodacom it’s the other way around: people are really pushing forward with their own agendas.

The Disability Network and LGBT+ community are examples of this: they have an agenda and they’re writing articles, collaborating with marketing on how advertising represents people.

“I think the conversations have been eye-opening and have resulted in some much growth and appreciating differences. It has also made what could be theoretical, practical and tangible in real life.

“For example, I think that the broad definition of allyship has crystallised. Allyship is really important to me, because then we understand that we all have some privilege, and when you look at it from a different perspective, how do we use that to be an ally to try to support other people in the organisation?”

One of the things the charismatic HR leader has learned is that no single person has all the answers. “As a leader, what is more important is how you build a support structure or networks so that people are more than willing to solve problems and get involved in issues that affect them.”

One of the key outcomes of the pandemic was removing the stigma and the shame around issues of mental health, burnout and stress.

“I think we need to continue with the spotlight that we’ve now put on mental health. But to now drive it a level deeper in a way: it has to be much more holistic in terms of what wellness, health and burnout mean for employees. And I think to an extent even still dealing with long Covid. We don't always label it that, but long Covid manifests in different ways that we are still learning about.”

More than HR
As a director, Njabulo’s remit goes beyond people issues and she is involved in a variety of complex operational matters as well. One of the biggest headaches the company, like other businesses in South Africa is grappling with, is power outages.

“We’ve been very badly affected by loadshedding, to the point that we basically run the network on back-up power. And the current impact for us is quite extreme, because in terms of costs, our diesel costs have gone up to be able to keep the network running. We also have some networks roaming on our network when it’s load shedding.

“Fortunately, we do have the back-up capability to carry the other networks, but again, nobody has ever planned for this level of loadshedding, so it’s deteriorating the network; it is making it sometimes difficult to even carry other networks.”

The impact on employees has also been taken into consideration. “Because we use a lot of back-up power and also recently installed a huge solar system for our campuses, we use that leverage to negotiate benefits for employees so that they can have reduced solar and generator back-up. We are also working with Vodalink, which is part of Vodacom’s financial services business, to access funding for employee benefits. We are definitely having big conversations around power supply, both in the business but also in how we can try to support employees.”

Giving back
Since winning the CHRO of the Year Award last year, Njabulo has received even more requests for mentorship than she normally does. And, although she is passionate about mentoring and coaching, her schedule does not allow for all that she would like to do.

However, she knows there is a deep need for people to get help and advice from those who have succeeded in the field. “I am considering starting mentoring circles or groups that meet regularly to discuss issues related to their work. Such groups may be particularly useful for young people entering the field, and also for more experienced professionals who want to keep up with current developments in their fields.”

Now at a point where she holds board responsibilities, Njabulo can justifiably look back on her career thus far with a sense of pride.

And, if she could offer advice to her younger self, it would be to trust herself and believe in herself.

“In those early days, I remember seeing all these HR managers and executives and wondering how they just seem to know things instinctively. But now I know that comes with knowledge, experience and exposure. So as I've grown, another key piece of advice would be to trust your own judgement, because as your career evolves, it’s about learning and the experience, but then at a certain point, it becomes about translating that knowledge and experience to be able to discern and judge.”

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