HR execs valued more now than ever before, says Prof. Shirley Zinn


Shirley Zinn reassured leading Mother City executives of the value HR brings to the exco table.

Keynote speaker at the CHRO South Africa Art of Business Summit, Professor Shirley Zinn spoke candidly about the changing expectations boards have of HR leaders.

Shirley, who is an author, non-executive board member and strategist, spoke to 40 leading HR professionals at the exquisite 180 Lounger in Cape Town on 18 April, giving them a birds-eye view of the various qualities boards are looking for from HR personnel.

As a person who has sat on numerous business, NPO and academic boards, Shirley said there is a paradigm shift now, where boards are looking at HR for business solutions.

“Boards now, more than ever before, are more interested in humane capital,” she said. “Boards are seeking equitable work structures, culture and environment. As a result HR executives need to be more strategic, as many businesses are starting to realise that without people there isn’t much strategy.”

She added that with much scrutiny around the role and function of boards and their members, boards are also mindful of what they do and need guidance on how to navigate this uncharted territory.

“Most boards are painfully aware of the challenges society faces and want to make a difference in a profound and different manner than before, so this shifts the conversations into a different space,” she said. “As HR practitioners we need to bring authenticity and volume to some of that work, because we can make a huge difference in the lives of people.”

Revising VUCA

Shirley suggested that in order to stay relevant HR leaders to relook and redefine today’s VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym that commonly stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity -- qualities that make a situation or condition difficult to analyze, respond to or plan for.

Quoting an adapted definition, Shirley said she agrees that VUCA should stand for something different, “Let’s say V for velocity, U for unorthodox, C for co-creation and A for awesome. Velocity because as professionals we are moving at very high speeds in terms of changes in the workplace, unorthodox because we have to be creative and break the very traditional and old policies in order to move with the times, co-creation works hand in hand with collaborate as well – we need to ask ourselves how we can implement these soft skills to be future fit leaders. Of course, lastly, but most importantly, how do we remain awesome in all we do?”

She noted that understanding how to successfully implement these qualities can greatly improve the strategic abilities of a leader, and lead to better outcomes, especially as HR tries to make valuable input and impact in organisation boards.

Moving forward, Shirley said, HR executives should be cognisant that their seat at the table now means they are the ones that get to connect the dots and are obligated to tell a narrative that people as well as the board understand.

“There has been a paradigm shift and now we don’t need to validate our value or even prove our worth within exco. What we need to do is be purposeful, and priorities on things that matter, which are people-driven solutions, opportunities and meeting business objectives.”

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