Robert Horsley says transformation will help HR to evolve


HR executive Robert Horsley believes the constant significant transformations in HR will undoubtedly redefine the HR agenda in businesses.

Recently appointed as the HR executive at prominent China-Africa online trade logistics service provider Buffalo International Logistics, Robert Horsley says that the recent transformations in HR will lead to an evolution of the people function in organisations.

“Propelled by the pandemic and significant shifts in the workplace and global landscape, the role of HR has undergone substantial changes in the past five years. It is without doubt that there will be more substantial changes that will persist in the foreseeable future. HR is compelled to actively participate in and adapt to the ongoing changes.”

He further highlights that the past five years have been challenging for HR professionals, but have, in the same breath, been helpful in moving away from administrative functions and more towards a strategic and people-centric role in the evolving landscape of work.

“Given where the people function evolved from, we can anticipate an increasing emphasis on employee experiences and satisfaction within HR. This shift is part of the broader transformation of HR, which must elevate its efforts and actively engage in the change process. To achieve this, we (as HR leaders) need to stay vigilant, continuously educate ourselves, and stay well-informed. This proactive approach will enable us to foresee and adapt to the upcoming transformation to the fullest extent.”

With more than a decade’s experience as a human resources leader in a variety of industries, Robert says he finds the logistics industry fascinating and different.

“The logistics industry is fast-paced, with extraneous long working hours. More than often, employees in our industry experience low morale, with both physical and mental health crises topping the challenges.”

A journey shaped by resilience

Born and raised in Pretoria during challenging times in the 1970s and 1980s, Robert constantly draws inspiration from his mother, whose guidance echoes through his career. “My mother used to say, ‘There is no sense in looking back; the past cannot be changed. Look forward to what you can change, propelling me to become the best version of myself.”

He notes that this period was a difficult time in the country’s history, particularly for people of colour, but he made a conscious decision to break free from the constraints of his upbringing, ultimately pursuing a professional career.

“Early in my life, I made the conscious decision to not be defined by the circumstances we grew up in, or the lack of money or resources, but to work on building a better future for myself and my loved ones.”

Quite by chance, he says, he enrolled to study chartered accounting at the previous Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) but then changed to industrial psychology and pursued a psychometrics honours thereafter.

“My first real HR position was as an HR officer in a trade union. This was a unique opportunity that I wish more HR professionals could be exposed to. Subsequent to that I completed an MSc in global HR management and, most recently, completed my PhD in organisational psychology.”

Crafting to perfection

Over the years, Robert says he has developed a specialty in creating positive workplace cultures and driving organisational success. He has noted that there are some challenges, but also believes there are solutions to these challenges.

“The constant challenges facing people leaders are talent management, diversity equity and inclusion, together with employee wellbeing. Whereas business leaders often prioritise financial growth, I believe that one of the biggest challenges is leading the table versus seat at the table: proving that the people function prioritises efficiency, organisational success and people management is important.”

He also highlights that the other challenge is women’s empowerment and specifically women of colour in leadership positions. “To address this issue and to showcase the importance of this, our organisation has set specific female employment targets at exco level and together with the strong commitment from the graduate programme, we believe that this can be achieved. Women in leadership is not just lip-service to us, but a critical business imperative.”

A personal touch: inspiration and volunteering

Robert’s inspiration lies in the pursuit of improvement and learning, both personally and professionally. He adds that knowing that his efforts contribute to the success and wellbeing of others fuels his enthusiasm and dedication to his work.

His commitment extends beyond the workplace, as he volunteers time for counselling disadvantaged youth, specifically troubled young men affected by violence and community pressures.

His words of wisdom to the youngsters are, “Trust the journey. This phrase encapsulates the essence of my story – a testament to perseverance, adaptability, and the continuous pursuit of improvement. Be patient, stay focused on your goals, and embrace the learning opportunities along the way. Success in HR often comes from a combination of knowledge, skills, and a genuine passion for supporting people and organisations.”

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