NWK’s Dennis Coetzee is nurturing HR in the heartlands

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Building a strong employer brand and getting it noticed is one of our highest priorities, says Dennis Coetzee.

Dennis Coetzee, group executive for human capital at NWK Limited, is a man who is not shy to face a challenge.

Ploughing through the then almost non-existent HR field in Litchenburg, Bloemfontein in the early 2000s, Dennis says it was extremely difficult to normalise HR best practices in the area.

“When I started in my career I had no access to mentors, so I needed to cast my path on my own. I later got to meet some brilliant mentors to access great sounding boards. Staying relevant when you are far from other like-minded individuals is challenging. Thank heavens for Zoom, internet, podcasts, online learning and networking with international players,” he explains.

Dennis started his career in 1998 at SA Truck Bodies in Bloemfontein, where he was appointed as an HR officer and was later promoted to HR manager. In 2000, he completed his master’s in industrial psychology. In 2003 he was appointed as the assistant human manager at NWK, one of the country’s largest agricultural businesses.

“In 2005 I started the training and organisational development section at the company, contributing to its evolution into a Top Employer for three consecutive years. In 2011, I secured the position as the group human capital manager and in 2014 I was promoted to group executive human capital.

“My career highlights include implementing psychometrics, restructuring HR practices, and developing a Leadership in Agriculture programme. I’ve also been involved with SIOPSA, SABPP, and mentored emerging industrial psychologists and HR managers.

“One challenge is our town that is always in the news for all the wrong reasons - which is sometimes discouraging.”

Bearing the fruit of his hard work

Despite the ongoing challenges, Dennis continued to plant the seed of successful HR best practices all those years ago and they are finally beginning to bear much needed fruit.

“We have been working hard to build a stronger presence for our company and brand; trying to develop succession funnels and talent pipelines through schools and universities. I am proud of the way our company invests in the community and also tries to lighten the burden by making water available at our offices for employees and other community members struggling with water. We are also embarking on a few other projects to get the community involved and make the lives better for our employees.”

With women and minority groups being traditionally underrepresented in the agriculture industry, Dennis says NWK has embarked on strategies to curb and/or mitigate this challenge.

“We have developed deeper talent identification and development programmes in our organisation, started career coaching initiatives to assist talent with developing the skills and focus needed, and rolled out learnerships in our organisation for our employees to build internal talent pools. What we have also done, is work closer with the career centre of the Department of Labour, rolling out Wamly (video interview and skills assessment platform) as a start.”

Using technology to address social ills

Dennis adds that outside of the usual policies and procedures, NWK is looking at innovative HR technologies or practices to streamline processes and enhance the employee experience.

“We are developing our own human capital HRIS system internally with our in-house IT development team, to incorporate our practices and processes, which no other system has been able to do to date. We also incorporated talent interviews as part of our talent identification practices.

“We have people in different development phases within each section. We will invite some of them that are on a specific development level to advertised position interviews to gauge their growth and other development needs. They get more exposure to structured competency interviews, as well as access to management levels they are not accustomed to – multirater input is extremely valuable. We then provide feedback to them as well as amend their development plans.”

He adds that the organisation is also looking at incorporating more AI in talent acquisition processes.

“We are also using data analytics, personalised learning platforms.”

Living a life of impact

Being a human capital executive in a niche sector has been more than just a job for Dennis. He describes it as his life’s purpose, “I am a generator – developing individuals, teams and organisations to reach their full potential. This has been my direction for 15 years now. I measure everything I do against its intention, and also look at it every year for relevancy of the focus.”

Behind the scenes, Dennis has a very green fingers – at the moment he is growing salvias that he imports from all over the world. “I have my own nursery and also grow mushrooms and make our own kefir.”

He also, as a part time hobby, provides mentorship and coaching to his community for free. “I have a handful of coaching licences and am also the owner of Life’s Locksmith Coaching. I am able to use my coaching skills, whether for creativity, NLP and life, global strategy coach, happiness and executive coach.”

His advice to upcoming HR leaders?

“Develop your professional skill set, invest in your personal growth and embrace the human aspect. Remember, it’s about people: our field revolves around understanding and supporting individuals. Always focus on the human element behind the data and processes.”

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