How Heléne Smuts turned passion into purpose using transformative HR


Leaving her travel job behind, Heléne Smuts founded Credo Growth to help companies enhance team dynamics and tackle HR challenges. Despite her career shift, her passion for travel remains a significant influence.

Tired of worrying if traveling pillows were correctly plumped at their accommodation, Heléne Smuts left a company she loved working at Go2Africa and started her own company, which helps build and grow teams by teaching companies how to deal with issues such as conflict. Yet, travel still runs through her veins and inspires her downtime, as well as a recent new venture.

Heléne founded Credo Coaching in 2007 and then, just more than a decade later, formed Credo Growth. She spent lockdown writing a book, Ditch Mediocrity, which was published in 2021, and helps companies bring out the best in their teams. She also served as the Learning Chair for the Entrepreneurs' Organization Accelerator programme in Cape Town for five years and teaches on popular online platform Udemy.

When it comes to helping companies with HR aspects and focussing on execution planning, Credo Growth assists them with a structured template of how to roll it out within teams, starting from management or from top down, says Heléne. She explains that there are few different templates and tools that Credo has designed to assist companies.

Credo Growth also helps implement job scorecards, which includes aspects such as a job’s purpose, what success looks like in six and 12 months, KPIs used to measure success, core skills required and core skills and characteristics that are required for that role, says Heléne. “We also help map out the top five responsibilities in detail.”

Heléne adds that the organisation helps companies understand what structured one-on-one meetings look like. “It’s not just meeting a person one-on-one in the passage, but having a regular rhythm of one-on-ones with a structured agenda.”

Heléne started out studying a Tourism Management degree, and worked part-time at Go2Africa while she was at university. One of her majors was industrial psychology, which fascinated her because her parents, as pastors, often counselled people.

“I became intrigued with psychology, but I didn’t want to do clinical psychology because I knew it was a bit too much for me. Instead, because I was working, I decided to learn about psychology in the workplace.”

Having founded the travel company’s HR unit and implementing the coaching certificates she had earned after her Honours at UNISA at Go2Africa, Heléne worked out that generalised HR wasn’t for her. “I decided to resign, and it was a tearful moment.”

She went into career coaching before it became a common offering by specialised practitioners in South Africa. “I really wanted to be on the development side of working with people,” she says.

“I started my own coaching practice and never thought it would grow into something bigger, and that’s how I got into where I am now.”

Heléne went onto found Credo Growth servicing the tech and manufacturing industries and Credo Travel, targeted at the tourism sector, where both businesses support clients in leadership and culture development, strategic and execution planning and sales training.

Heléne also uses her coaching and consulting skills to help the youth and entrepreneurs, both areas for which she has a soft spot. She also serves on the board of Entrepreneurs' Organization Accelerator Programme, which helps kickstart young companies so they can scale.

For those with ambitions who are younger, Heléne helps Generation Schools with their Juniors to Giants programme, which runs in three month cohorts and teaches youngsters to build business plans and then pitch them. “I help with some of the softer skills, such as professional skills development.”

Another area in which Heléne provided support, is a company called Cleaning Fix, which is a non-profit association that aids cleaners get full-time positions. Her contribution here is to make short videos on aspects such as negotiating increases for their services and other important life skills.

Born in Pretoria to a family of pastors, Heléne had a strong grounding in ethics and morals from a young age. A “laatlammetjie,” Heléne had brothers and sister who were between nine and 12 years older than her and there was quite a bit of banter in the home, which taught her not to take things too seriously, or personally.

“I’m very grateful for growing up in a Christian Afrikaans family because of the values it taught me, which have helped me in the business world.”

Something else Heléne learned from her parents was how to be a solid worker in a company environment as an employee. “I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial home. My having started with three businesses already, in my opinion, is a complete fluke.”

Based in Cape Town, Heléne and her husband have twin daughters who are eight, and they spend a large amount of time camping, travelling around the world as much as possible, especially to East Africa, which ties in with her first love of travel, and having being a junior consultant for the East African business unit at Go2Africa before forming the travel company’s HR department.

“I’m an absolute sucker for travel. I just got back from Uganda. Our family is very close, and we camp often. I’m also into scuba and free diving and just being outside.”

For Heléne, it’s all about helping people improve themselves and their chances of success, while simultaneously helping companies grow and improve productivity in a socio-economic environment where small and medium companies continue to be the economy’s future.

“The company definitely has a responsibility to create a safe environment for people that is conducive to improving work and productivity, but every single person in that business has a responsibility to show up and help companies to do that. And that’s also a lot of the work that we do with our clients.”

Related articles

The rise of the greats sparks transformation in the workplace

The post-Covid landscape has changed the world of work significantly, as companies adapt to the Great Resignation, Great Reawakening, Great Reshuffle and Great Unretirement. It’s all the more prudent for HR strategies to evolve and adjust to The Greats.