Culture, leadership and legacy systems

HR execs gathered on September 14 to share ideas around HR tech and the challenges that come with it

The best technology in the world won't help your business become more flexible if the culture, strategy and leadership of your organisation are not properly aligned. This was one of the key takeaways from the HR Tech master class, which was held at the Inanda Club on Thursday evening. In a sometimes hotly debated session moderated by Graham Fehrsen, MD of CFO South Africa, HR executives sat down together to share ideas on how to be adjusting to a technology-driven world of work. Duncan Hardcastle and Sean Masterson from CHRO South Africa sponsor Workday were also in attendance and were able to share insights about their on?demand financial management and human capital management software.

Barclays Africa Head of Organisational Effectiveness Sthembiso Phakathi said that culture, leadership and strategy of an organisation had to be in sync in order for a company to be able to derive any value from new technologies. Because, without a fundamental change in the approach to core processes, technical changes will only make a superficial impact.

“In terms of culture, we are thinking of creating a post for a Chief Culture Officer in the organisation. It will not be a full-time position but the person's role will be to ensure that the culture drives the corporate strategy and vice versa. Because HR alone cannot be responsible for culture. HR can provide enabling capabilities in terms of running services and unlocking opportunities with architectural service providers, but the responsibility lies in the hands of the leadership collective,” said Sthembiso. “We are also challenging all our line leaders every day to ask them, 'how are you fine tuning your day-to-day processes to make your team more efficient?'”

Tiger Brands CHRO Tswelo Kodisang agreed, saying that technology would only be an enabler of good performance, but that true performance improvement had to be driven by strategy. As an example, he referred to LinkedIn, which was established as a platform using people to endorse each other and inform people about job vacancies and good candidates, and disrupted the recruitment field.

“For us, it meant we needed to understand what this meant for our recruiting functions and changing our practices in order to leverage this new platform to improve our own recruitment activities.”

Legacy Systems

All the executives in attendance expressed frustration with the relatively slow rate of adoption of HR tech in their current or previous companies. Some felt that, while CFOs would seldom hesitate to sign off a new system for the finance or operations divisions, they tended to be more lackadaisical when it came to HR systems. It is a sore point for many HR leaders like Tswelo who, until last year, was still working with Excel spreadsheets to keep track of data.

“My CEO used to ask me, how many people work here and I would have to get on the phone and call leaders of different divisions and y the time I got that information, it was already outdated,” he said

Pam Maharaj, Director at Deloitte Consulting contrast the approach of individuals, who are often very quick upgrade our smartphones and laptops, with that of companies who take much too long.

“Our view is that we are so hung up on the millions of dollars that we pay for the ERP systems, whether it is SAP or ORACLE, but we don't think about the change in mindset that comes with going into the cloud and what that means from an employee and customer experience point of view. “

What’s the value-add?

Cebile Xulu, HR Director for Southern & Central East Africa at Mondel?z International said the problem sometimes lies with HR executives, who ‘want a Rolls Royce system’, but not able to demonstrate to the business what impact it will have on the bottom line.

“I often find that we tend to think more about what brings pain to us as HR professionals rather than what brings pain to the business as a whole and try to understand how does this nice-to-have HR solution do for the business,” she said.

For example, she referred to the usefulness of having a bulk SMS system, saying it was not a high-tech solution, but that it improved communication immensely and saved the company a lot of money because putting everybody on a company email would have been too expensive. But, with cell phones, every single employee has one.

Said Cebile: Today, I wonder why many companies are still printing pay slips and people say that you won't find shop-floor employees that want electronic payslips. But I have had an experience where 90% of the employees have said, fine, send it to us on our cell phones. Alternatively, assist us with setting up Gmail accounts, which are free and don't cost the company anything. We were able to cut the cost of printing the payslips and sending them to the shop floor. Secondly, the payroll team went from one of five people to a team of two people. Because, before, there would have been a person whose job it is to sit and print all the payslips, getting them folded and distributing them to people on the shop floor.”