New home for HR execs: CHRO SA launch a resounding success

Some of South Africa's foremost HR executives shared experiences, ideas and knowledge during the launch event of CHRO South Africa.

CHRO South Africa is the organisation that helps HR leaders boost their network, knowledge and careers. Supported by the HR management software specialists from Workday, CHRO SA will launch its website and magazine in May. There are also four more high-level events scheduled for HR executives this year.

Hosted by Vodacom’s CHRO Matimba Mbungela at Vodacom Park in Midrand, the group gathered on 9 March 2017 and broke away into separate sessions, which were led by CFO Enterprises CEO Melle Eijckelhoff and CHRO SA manager Didi Sehume, before enjoying dinner and some drinks while networking. Judging by the feedback from HR directors attending, the launch event was a massive success as CHROs feel they have found a new, safe home to swap notes about challenges and opportunities.

Here are a few highlights from the discussions.

Adding value
The typical HR director's discussion about having an equal seat at the table with other company executives of the past, has changed to HR executives realising that the onus is on them to make sure they are heard by the other executives and boards of the companies they run. In order to make sure that critical issues within their roles are considered by the top decision makers in the company, HR leaders have to equip themselves with knowledge about the technical aspects of the business and relay people challenges in a way that it relates directly to the impact they have on the business.

One of the executives said:

“We tend to shy away from numbers, but the business language is numbers. And that's why HR professionals often feel like their contributions are perceived to be irrelevant. They don't speak the business language. For example, one of the key things that we do quite well is thinking about how we drive efficiencies in the business and develop hard-core metrics of what an efficiency roadmap looks like."

The focus should be less on the "usual suspects of recruitment and retention", an executive added. Even though those are also important, CEOas and CFOs are more receptive when HR leaders speak in terms of quantifiable targets and achievements.

“When you do this, it is possible to go into the detail of what efficiency statistics should look like when the business looks at its long-term plans."

HR executives face many challenges, both operational and strategic. Their relationship with the CEO and the opportunity to discuss the course of action, succession planning, salaries and promotions are crucial for most HR executives, said attendants to the event. When it comes to HR, the business often has to make some very tough decisions and because you deal with people, you sometimes need a lot of courage to do the right thing.

High tech or high touch
All participants agreed that the future of HR is digital. Basic HR processes like payroll, employee benefits and sick leave are becoming more and more self-service concepts. The days that an HR executive was just there as a mentor - almost like family to the employees - are over. "This is creating a culture shock in some organisations that are just starting to implement technology for employees", one of the roundtable participants concluded.

There is also a deep understanding that the success of a business comes from its culture, the behaviour of the people and a feeling of empowerment and ownership. The discussion at the CHRO SA roundtable dealt with questions like: What can you do to create the right environment for talent to flourish? And: How do make sure that relationships with employees are sustainable and that high potentials stay onboard? HR directors have a tremendous responsibility to work on building the right culture together with the board and management. It is a huge challenge, especially in companies that work in a number of countries across Africa, where it is difficult to align the same principles.

Leadership credibility
Building a culture in an organisation starts with the leadership, the roundtable participants agreed. If the leadership is not doing what it is supposed to be doing, HR leaders will not see the right changes happen in the organisation. This is because any structural change needs to start at the very top level of the organisation. And, to affect that change, an organisation has to have "leadership credibility", as one of the executives put it. 

Participants included: