Leading HR professionals discuss what changes need to happen for businesses to become more compassionate.
The CHRO South Africa Humane Capital Summit, which took place on 23 February at the Killarney Country Club in Johannesburg, looked at ways in which HR leaders can help their organisations regain their humanity.
Delivering the keynote address for the thought-provoking evening, Graeme Codrington challenged HR leaders to self-reflect.
“Look at who you are and what you bring to the future of work,” he said.
He took the attendees through three thought-provoking stories, which proved the reasons that HR leaders need to rethink and relearn.
Graeme further encouraged attendees to break down historical practices and to take the lead in guiding people into the wonderful future that is emerging.
“If we don’t, we will have wasted the last three years,” he said.
Graeme was followed by a panel discussion, featuring DSM Advisory MD Dolores Mashishi, Blue Sky CPO Themba Chakela, and Great Well founding CEO Tantaswa Fubu.
“We know that the role of the CHRO is impacted by global macro-economic factors,” Dolores said, explaining that in order to navigate these changes, the attendees in the room have to become T-type leaders, instead of V-type leaders.
“The V-type is when you are an expert in a certain field of HR. The T-type is when you are an expert in all the fields of HR. Organisations are looking for T-type leaders, who can integrate all the areas of the role at an expert level,” she explained.
Dolores encouraged the attendees to make sure they keep on growing and developing themselves, so that they are ready to transition when the world calls for change.
Tantaswa agreed, and noted, “The times we are in now call for humane leaders. It calls for a rethink and a transition away from being transactional leaders, to being compassionate leaders.”
She explained that compassionate leadership is understanding where there is pain and doing as much as you can so that people don’t have to go through it. “If you change the culture and leadership fundamentally to being compassionate, you halve what goes into your whistleblowing line.”
However, it’s not easy to mould the culture of an organisation, especially during times of uncertainty.
“The best way to stuff up culture is to tolerate the behaviours that are counter-cultural and counter-people. You need to address them,” Themba added.
Dolores shared this point of view. “We need to hold people accountable. But it’s easier said than done, because of power dynamics. When you are designing the values of an organisation, you also need to highlight the behaviours we expect, as well as the behaviours that are unacceptable. This empowers people to stand up and hold everyone accountable, even their leaders. And that’s how the momentum of culture shifts and builds,” she said.
Tantaswa added that, using dolphins, behavioural scientists have proven over the decades that, when you give someone recognition for good behaviour, the behaviour is reinforced and they keep on delivering great things.
Next up on the agenda was a “boardroom brainstorm”, during which all the attendees were split into groups of five and were asked to discuss some of the problems CHROs are currently facing, and to come up with practical solutions for each.
When asked how they tackled managing people in top senior management positions who no longer believe that they have to develop, one of the executives stated that top senior management need to be held accountable. “Leadership accountability is key. With great accountability comes responsibility. As senior management, they are responsible for efficiency in the company. We cannot be rescuers any longer: push it back into their court because they will have to answer for it."
Another attendee suggested that honesty and transparency were viable solutions. “In my instance, I had to tell an executive that at some point he/she will become irrelevant in the organisation and that is a reality. Roles are always transforming and so should the person responsible for that role.”
When the challenge of retaining talent arose, most attendees agreed that better structured exit interviews were needed. "There is definitely a trust deficit when it comes to employee exit interviews. In our business we had no exit interviews and that had to change. We first found someone who the entire company trusts who is outside of the HR department to conduct the interviews. As such, people were more relaxed and were able to be trusting and honest. Furthermore, we also asked managers to give report backs on one stay interview conducted per month,” an attendee said.
This, said the HR director, enabled the company to gather data on employee happiness and challenges and in so doing giving them the opportunity to circumvent potential resignations.
Remember you why
The final part of the evening consisted of another panel discussion investigating the motivations behind HR leaders’ passion for their roles, especially in a post-Covid-19 world. The panel included Adcorp CPO Vinolia Singh, Rand Refinery executive head of HR Unathi Sihlahla and Empact Group CPO Sphiwe Mayinga.
“Our priority this year and going forward will be on wellness and wellbeing,” Unathi said. “We’ve defined wellness dimensions and are in the process of developing programmes of work to support those dimensions.”
The pandemic was an interesting period for Empact, Sphiwe explained. “Empact is in the business of improving the quality of lives of people through our food catering and cleaning services. One of the industries we operate in is in the hospitals, so we had the privilege and burden of working throughout Covid-19.”
She explained that Empact realised firsthand the impact of the pandemic. “It has wreaked havoc on organisations, people and society, and has left economic and social depletion in terms of who we are as humanity.”
Naturally, the impact working on the frontlines had on their employees was profound. “Getting our staff engaged during that period and keeping them focused wasn’t easy, and it was further complicated by the fact that employees were working from our clients’ premises. This meant we had to lead from a distance. We had to find a way to engage with them in a meaningful way,” Sphiwe said.
At Adcorp, being in touch with employee trends and wellbeing is a top priority as a workforce solution. “After the pandemic, everyone was reflecting on their lives and rethinking about the things that mattered to them. Now there’s a passive aggressive move from the workforce asking for more flexibility,” Vinolia said.
Vinolia decided to rethink her HR function as well, realising that they have more value to add than simply being police officers, firefighters and security guards. “With the power of Workday and the data we have, I gave up this exhausting role we had been playing during Covid-19, and said it was time to change the function.”
The function embraced a more flexible working solution for its employees, giving them the freedom and accountability they needed to deliver on their roles.
“If we don’t start transforming, the passive aggressive movement in the workforce is going to cost us talent. And without talent, we can’t grow the economy again,” Vinolia said.
The panel concluded with a thought that Graeme had alluded to earlier in the evening: “If we start suffocating new, innovative ideas with traditional ways, we will never thrive as businesses.”