ENSafrica's Lebitso Mokgatle on finding the HR sweet spot 

She says society's culture of immediate gratification has had negative consequences on human behaviour.

Very few people grow up knowing, from a young age, that they want to have a career in HR. ENSafrica HR executive Lebitso Mokgatle is one of those people. She vividly remembers her father’s reaction when she told him that she wanted a career in Personnel as it was then called. Why on earth would she want to do that? She was still in high school at the time and was intrigued by the idea of being able to understand how the mind works when it comes to the world of work.  That’s why she studied Industrial Psychology at university.

Lebitso says that the sweet spot for all HR professionals is to understand what motivates people to give everything they have to add value in their role and to come back to work every day with that same energy i.e. employee engagementWhat makes HR so complex is that the answer is different for every person.

“You need to be able to tap into what makes sense for that individual. Because, when you are able to connect with people on a human level and genuinely get a sense for what their aspirations are, it is easier to motivate them by showing how the organisation can help them achieve those goals. That is why it is always better (but not always possible) to do that than to have a conversation that is only about what is expected of them as an employee,” she says. 

However, Lebitso has grown wary of human nature because, with more than 25 years in HR, the nature of the job means that she has often been exposed to people when they are at their worst . HR is often  called in to consult on cases of underperformance, discipline and misconduct. And, because people’s self-worth is invariably attached to the work they do, they tend to reveal a less attractive version of themselves when it is threatened 

“I do believe people are inherently good and that most people want the best for themselves and the people that they manage, but we can’t underestimate the rise in behaviour driven purely by self interest,” says Lebitso. 

Societal culture of immediate gratification

“People will stay with a company as long as it makes sense for them and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to do that but, as one grows within this profession, you increasingly see cases of people whose self-interest comes at the expense of others and sometimes even the organisation.“

Admitting that she might expecting too much and be too idealistic about human beings, Lebitso says that society’s culture of immediate gratification has intensified people’s inherent need for the WIFM (What’s In It For Me).

“Whether you want information, a meal, a dress, a taxi, or even a boyfriend, you can literally go to your phone and get it. So naturally people start to expect that kind of immediacy from their working life. “

Whilst it is natural for people to look after their own self interest “There tends to be anunderestimation of what it takes to achieve success so you tend to find very few who are in it for the long haul. Getting the best out of people within this context is where the real challenge lies,” she says. 

Knowing yourself is key

For Lebitso, self-knowledge is of key importance when it comes to finding the aforementioned sweet spot in talent management and harnessing the WIFM for positive results. When a person knows exactly who they are and what they want, they are in the best position to know where and how they can deliver the most value. It then becomes up to the organisation to create an environment that is conducive for them to achieve just that.

However, what tends to happen in interviews is that people want to put their best foot forward by saying what they think the prospective employer wants to hear rather. Once they are in the role, the problems then arise once the novelty of the new role wears off.

“Those kinds of things show up very quickly when a person hasn’t been honest with themselves about their reasons for wanting to join an organisation. You see it within the first month,” says Lebitso, adding that it’s not always a case of a candidate being dishonest but rather one of people sometimes not knowing what they really want and need out of a job and as a result not asking the questions that will help them make a good decision.  It’s important for candidates to remember that the interview is as much a decision making process for them as it is for the employer.

When a candidate is honest from the onset but then realises later on that what they thought they wanted is not what they expected, it can become more complex for both the individual and the organisation. Because, on one hand, the employee has to admit disappointment because they will have worked very hard to get into that role only to find that they are not happy in it. On the other hand, the organisation might not want to lose a valuable employee.

Help employees find their way

“Within weeks of bringing in our new graduates, you often spot the ones that are thinking ‘oh my goodness, what have I got myself into’. And, because we normally recruit students who are at the top of their game, that’s normally the first time in their lives that they are not excelling at something, so we have to find ways to get them excited about their chosen career again.” 

Lebitso says that, in those instances, it is best to have an open conversation between employer and employee about expectations and aspirations with a view to retain and continue to develop talented individuals although it sometimes  results in the person deciding to seek alternative opportunities. 

Whilst these types of converstations are not easy or simple if they are successful, they can lead to greater retention or even if the employee ends up leaving the organisation, they can leave with a positive experience.

“If someone would be better suited to a different environment, it’s better to help them find what motivates them even if it’s outside your organisation because they will leave on good terms, which keeps the employer brand intact and can even enhance it,” says Lebitso.