Disebo Ramonyalioa “still in shock” at how the world of work has changed

Ntiyiso Consulting Group’s HC director took an eight-month sabbatical before joining the firm.

Ntiyiso Consulting Group HC director Disebo Ramonyalioa was on a sabbatical for eight months last year before taking up her new role in December. A week after leaving Unilever, where she was the HC director for Functions Africa and the transformational lead for South Africa, the country was on a national lockdown.

The sabbatical was initially meant to last for three months but she extended it because organisations were putting out fires left right and centre. The national lockdown and constant uncertainty around Covid-19 meant it wasn’t the right time to be taking a new HC leadership role. She joined the firm with the expectation that the country had stabilised somewhat and she would be able to steer the organisation’s people agenda without the turbulence of 2020 to worry about.

“I think it was the right choice to wait. I am still in shock at how much the world of work has changed in such a relatively short time frame,” she says.

“I was busy with our annual HC budget the other day and being new to the role, after a year like no other in terms of the business environment, I didn’t have much to compare 2021 with. I, however, picked up that wellness was not only at the top of the strategic agenda, but also that it needed extra focus and planning because of the shift to mental health and wellness caused by the year that was.”

Whereas in the past, most organisations would have taken a holistic approach, leaning more towards physical than mental and financial wellness, Disebo has noticed that mental wellness is now a very big factor when it comes to employee engagement and performance.

“Having to homeschool young children, particularly those who are still learning to read, has been an immense source of frustration for our employees trying to juggle this with work,” she says. “The challenge is to keep people motivated and performing amid these exigent conditions.”

Her priority since joining Ntiyiso Consulting has been safety. Most of their employees are based at clients’ sites, therefore, beyond ensuring the safety of employees at head office, she has also had to introduce protocols that must be observed whenever their employees are not well.

Monday reflections

Eight months may seem like a very long time to not be working but Disebo says the extended sabbatical could not have come at a better time. She started journaling every week, writing down her ‘Monday Reflections’ based on lessons from her grandmother, which she posts on LinkedIn.

Says Disebo: “If I didn’t take that sabbatical, I would be a very different person from the one I am today. It was the most re-energising eight months of my career because I had an opportunity to really reflect on the kind of a leader that I had been and the kind of a leader I want to become given the challenging times we operate in. I think that because we often get caught up in the midst of getting things done and delivering value to the organisations we serve, we sometimes forget to ‘stand on the balcony’ and take time to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t and what’s next.”

In addition to that, she also took the time to do the things she enjoys, like reading. Whereas before she would only get around to reading two or three books a year, Disebo read eight books, reconnecting with her love for fiction, inspirational autobiographies and business reads.

She also did courses on LinkedIn Learning, preparing herself for the new world of work, and helped those who reached out to her looking for jobs by reworking their CVs, helping them to prepare for interviews, etc. She spent a lot of time with her family, having deep conversations with her 83-year-old mother and bonding with her 14-year old son, Oratile.

“I have a passion for cooking and I used the time to try out new dishes and sharing recipes on social media with family and friends. I know it’s very clichéd, because everybody and their mother seems to have taken up baking as a new hobby during lockdown but that’s not my forte, so I stayed away from the ‘magwinya’ (vetkoek) crew, unashamedly so,” she laughs.

Family values

On why she chose Ntiyiso Consulting Group, Disebo says she was drawn by the culture, which is rooted firmly in family values. During her interview, which was so long they had to take a recess, Disebo was asked if she could stay for lunch afterwards. She could not take the leadership team up on their offer as she had a prior engagement, but it was when they gave her a s’khaftini (lunchbox) – and warned her to make sure she didn’t return it empty – that she knew it was the right company! The firm’s purpose of empowering institutions that enable Africa’s development resonates with her love and passion for our beautiful continent.

“You know how companies always say they are a family and they live by African values? This is the first time I’ve actually felt that kind of energy throughout the business, from the leaders to the lowest-level employee. One really feels the spirit of ubuntu as a member of the Ntiyiso family,” says Disebo.

“Look, the leadership did not lie to me about the amount of work that needed to be done. But I love that it’s a black-owned firm that has been around for 16 years, and has a zeal to bring people along on their growth story.”

Disebo says she was also encouraged that the leadership understands the importance of having HC playing a strategic role in all facets of the business. “They already understand the ‘why’ when it comes to the people agenda, and that’s going to make my job much easier, enjoyable and impactful,” she concludes.