Making HR credible again: SABPP's Xolani Mawande tells it like it is

South African Board of People Practices interim CEO Xolani Mawande impressed at the inaugural HR Indaba.

Xolani spoke about how to ensure that the HR profession gets the credibility and recognition that it deserves. In a riveting session filled with laughter and applause, he said that the profession was subject to inconsistent practices that were experienced across different industries as a result of a lack of standardised approaches to HR management. He said it should not be the case, as it is in many organisations, that employees who fail in other roles can simply be deployed to HR as if it is the simplest and among the least significant within a business.

“It is not uncommon for you to have people whose only qualification is a matric that are HR directors in their organisations,” said Xolani.

“As an HR professional, you have one of the most complicated responsibilities. You have to get the best out of humans, and that is far from being a perfect science because no one person is the same.  You hire one person on a certain day, and then three months later, they are no longer the high-flying candidate you expected. They are being accused of low performance, they are frequently absent or they are being accused of sexual harassment. Our work is very complicated.” 

However, at the moment, Xolani said it seemed like HR meant different things to different organisations. A person can go from one company to another and often find a completely different approach and standard when it comes to HR. 

“It is almost as if HR can be anything you want to be as long as the CEO will accept it,” he said, adding that this was why the profession had the reputation it did. As an example, he reflected back to a time when he had been invited make a presentation to the executive committee and his boss, who was the HR director, fell asleep and started snoring during the meeting.  The CFO had to nudge her awake and, when she spoke, her only contribution was to provide updates on rudimentary information like sthe number of vacancies in the organisation. 

“How can you expect to be taken seriously when you can barely stay awake during such a high-level meeting. You need to familiarise yourself with the business operations so that you can add value in those strategic discussions. Furthermore, at that time, the company was discussing strategies on going into Africa but, instead of providing input with regarding to employee engagement, capacity development and the culture of the organisation, she talks about vacancies.”

Xolani said this was why HR had the reputation of being a function of instruction instead of making a valuable contribution.

“Some of you are guilty, because you get instructed to fire people and then you go ahead do that without explaining why it is not a good idea.”

Quoting former Alexander Forbes CEO Edward Kieswetter, he said HR professional to be an integral part of the leadership and the right hand of the chief executive. Not the messenger.  Because, by establishing and sustaining an ethical ethos the human resources professional must work closely with the executive leadership team to define ethics in HR management and promote the culture of the organisation based on the underlying values and then entrench the culture through all the touch points in the human capital chain.