Group senior HR manager at Naspers Sameera discusses her fervour for people and adeptly navigating the dynamic landscape of HR.
Sameera Balkissoon, group senior human resources manager at Naspers, embodies a blend of strategic insight, passion for HR, and a profound appreciation for diversity. Her journey from Durban, South Africa, to the helm of HR leadership within a global tech and media organisation is a testament to her dedication and vision.
Early beginnings and foray into HR
Born and raised in Durban, Sameera’s academic journey led her to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she studied industrial psychology.
“As the youngest of two children and the only daughter to my parents, I was given the freedom to pursue any career of my choice. My academic journey led me to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where I delved into the fascinating world of industrial psychology.”
Her pivotal entry into HR was through a chance internship at M-Net under the MultiChoice.
“I was captivated by the idea that many of us spend over 80,000 hours in our careers. An enormous chunk of our lives is dedicated to working so how do we learn to use that time wisely? My background in industrial psychology laid the groundwork for me to enter the corporate world and help organisations examine identity and behaviour in the workplace and be a trusted bridge between management and employees.”
Sameera’s career trajectory paints a vibrant canvas of growth – from an HR intern to navigating the complexities of being an HR practitioner, and eventually assuming the strategic mantle of an HR business partner. Reflecting on her career, Sameera cherishes the opportunity to collaborate with a global team, a melting pot of cultures and ideas, the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people along the way and build long-lasting relationships. “Seeing the tangible impact of our work is a feeling that never gets old,” she notes.
She does, however, acknowledge that navigating the corporate landscape as a young professional posed its fair share of challenges. “I often find that I am one of the youngest people in the room, particularly in high-level meetings or strategic discussions. In a corporate setting, it can be intimidating to speak up, particularly when you are young and surrounded by more experienced colleagues.
“Over time, I have learned to articulate my ideas confidently and constructively and to seek out opportunities to contribute to the conversation. Indeed, being young has presented unique opportunities. I bring a fresh perspective, a willingness to challenge the status quo and a natural affinity for the digital tools that are transforming the HR landscape. Over time, I not only earned a seat at the corporate table but also became a valued voice within the organisation.”
Outside of that challenge, she recalls another particularly challenging time in 2019, when she led the human capital aspect of one of the largest company unbundling processes in South Africa. “This was a complex project that involved significant changes for our organisation and our employees. It was important that we communicated the changes transparently and effectively, supported all of our employees through the transition and maintained morale and productivity during a period of significant change.”
She notes that the project also presented an opportunity to reassess and realign the organisation’s HR strategies with the new structure.
“This involved reviewing our talent management practices, reassessing our compensation and benefits packages, and redefining our organisational culture and values. Leading this unbundling process was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a chance to demonstrate the strategic value of HR in managing change and supporting our organisation through a significant transition. It was also a powerful learning experience that has informed my approach to HR and change management.”
Evolving HR dynamics
Speaking on the evolution of HR, Sameera emphasises the transformative impact of digital technologies. She adds that at Naspers, embracing AI and digital platforms stands at the core of their strategies, utilising data to steer insights into actionable business strategies.
“The HR industry is standing at the crossroads of a digital revolution. The rapid pace of technological change is both a challenge and an opportunity. The key is to embrace this change, to harness the power of AI (more recently generative AI) and digital platforms to transform HR processes and strategies.”
She touches on how the face of HR is being reshaped by the rise of hybrid work and digital technology which was not visible, even, five years ago. She adds that within the tech and media industry, her organisation’s HR strategies adapt proactively to technological advancements.
“We use digital platforms to enhance collaboration and communication more than ever, and we are shifting to utilising data analytics to add depth and detail to our HR strategies. Like the use of virtual collaboration tools, digital learning and development tools as well as making data-driven decisions. We are increasingly using data analytics to inform our strategies and decisions. This involves analysing data on employee engagement, performance, and turnover to identify trends and make informed decisions.”
A word or two for aspiring HR professionals
Sameera’s advice to HR professionals aspiring to excel is twofold. Firstly, she encourages them to embrace change and diversity, “The tech and media industry is characterised by rapid change and diversity. New technologies, trends, and business models emerge all the time, and companies often have teams spread across different geographies and cultures. As an HR professional, it’s important to embrace this change and diversity.
“Be open to new ideas, be respectful of different perspectives, and be adaptable in your approach. Like a tree, be rooted in your core values and principles, but be flexible enough to bend with the winds of change.”
She also encourages them to adapt and thrive as the tech industry is a dynamic landscape that requires HR professionals who can adapt and thrive.
“This means being proactive in anticipating and responding to changes, being strategic in aligning HR practices with business goals, and being innovative in finding solutions to HR challenges. It also means being resilient in the face of setbacks and being persistent in pursuing your goals. Remember that HR is not just about managing people, but also about driving organisational growth and success. As an HR professional, you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on your organisation. So, strive to be a strategic partner, a change agent, and a champion for your employees.”
Life after 5pm
Outside of her professional life, Sameera finds solace in her father’s legacy of dedication and commitment. “My father, who gave more than 45-years of loyal service to his company. His dedication and commitment are my daily motivation to wake up, get at it and be more.”
She is also an avid traveller, having visited more than 20 countries, and enjoys attending music festivals and concerts around the world.
If she isn’t travelling, she is often found curled up with a good book and a cup of tea. “I’m currently reading Indra Nooyi’s My Life in Full. It was a gift from a colleague a few years ago but my TBR (to be read) pile was so huge that I only got to reading it now. It’s a fascinating cultural insight into the life of one of the most influential women in business,” she notes.