Pamela Xaba and Alice Bhebhe reveal to HR Indaba how HR leaders can make a difference


The difference between good and a great HR leaders is a combination of innate and learned skills.

Speaking on the second day of the Finance Indaba, Alice Bhebhe, executive director for human resources at Pearson, and Pamela Xaba, head of human capital at Netstar, agreed that the best HR leaders are those who are motivated by adding value to the business. 

Pamela said that once you have identified some areas of potential impact, have the courage to introduce changes in an organisation, “but also work with executive management to get buy-in. Thereafter, empower teams at all levels so that your organisation is characterised by people who take ownership of their work and are active players in their own development and the performance of the company.”

Mastering the balance between completing day-to-day tasks with more strategic delivery is a key element in your efficacy. Bhebhe says: 

“HR teams should tap into the power of technology to free them from mundane tasks and invest more energy into activities with deeper impact. Even though technology can deliver a lot of computing power, humans have the edge over machines when it comes to strategy.” 

However, they will require that team members acquire new competencies in order to automate the workplace, and she emphasises that this another area HR should be instrumental in. “We need to instil a mindset of continuous learning and help our people embrace that we are in a new era where  the only constant is change.”

Being a caring company is ranking higher and higher on the consumer’s list of factors to consider when comparing competitors. The panellists said HR should be a key voice in the conversation around how to be an enterprise which cares not just about profit, but its impact on people and planet. 

Pamela says HR has great value to offer on the future direction and journey of their organisations, specifically, “How we enter into strategic partnerships with stakeholders, both internally and externally, how we engage the millennial workforce, and consumers who have shifting demands.”  

Alice says it is urgent for HR to participate in the agenda for upskilling and reskilling the workforce, which is especially urgent for South Africa with its high unemployment rate and youthful population. 

“We need to look at the skills development agenda with a future-driven view, but also equip people to meaningfully contribute because technology will do most of the repetitive work.” 

She says this about teaching design thinking, creativity and allowing people to thrive in different environments. Both panellists agreed that HR leaders and their teams have a crucial role to play in the design and deployment of an ecosystem that can effectively draw on the combined power of people and technology.  

As seasoned professionals, Alice and Pamela shared that some lessons can’t be learned at school, but only on the ground. Pamela says a key one is learning that: 

“To be effective, you must engage as a person. This looks like approaching a situation as a human being, not as a role. As well as leading from a place that is not fuelled by ego, but by humility.” 

Alice agreed and emphasised that you can’t lead or manage through policies, models or textbook solutions. 

“Be a champion for diversity and inclusiveness, not just of the usual labels such as age, race and gender, but also of outlook and experience. Having an environment where different points of view are honoured creates a far richer, dynamic organisation. And HR leaders stand to make a big impact in creating such an environment.” 


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