Zain believes that HR is best done by heart, with heart.
Zain Reddiar, HR director for Africa at Samsung Electronics, believes his life skills were seasoned during his upbringing, and equipped him with the finesse to lead people from all walks of life. Having spent a considerable period outside of South Africa, Zain has brought his talent and experience back home.
“I learnt that people are at the centre of everything,” says Zain of his upbringing. “And if, as an HR head, you genuinely see your role as nothing more than being the servant of the people, that sets the tone for everything else.”
When it comes to employee engagement, he explains it’s crucial to remember that employees are multi-faceted and have unique needs. Understanding and addressing these needs in this spirit is what builds an emotional connection to the company and brand.
Communication is key, he says, as are creating dialogue and engaging in meaningful conversations.
He also emphasises the importance of doing regular pulse checks, “We are only as good as our last change. Human psychology is fascinating. Knowing what makes people tick and being able to respond adequately to that is powerful. Regular pulse checks, therefore, not only highlight areas for improvement but also test alignment of strategies.”
The winding road into HR
Zain’s path into the HR space was not by intent, but he believes that it fitted into a greater design. He started out in the field of emergency medicine where he worked as flight medic and first responder.
He spent some time working alongside medical fund managers doing medical case management in various call centres. A change in career led him to HR, and he later joined the MTN Group where he retired from his career as HR director after 17 years.
Zain is very proud of the MTN brand and praises the organisation for its dedication to the people agenda. He recognises the role leaders and mentors play in honing the skills of talented people, and counts it a rare privilege to be part of such a vibrant HR community across multiple geographies.
He has vast experience with diverse cultures, languages and organisations, and is a transformation expert who believes that when working across borders that language is a crucial part of optimising the HR function, echoing the words of former South African president, who said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Zain’s early career highlights in HR include staffing National Treasury with economists, a role of critical national importance during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.
Opportunities disguised as challenges
But being an HR professional does not come without challenges, he notes. And organisational challenges create unique opportunities for HR. The most recent example, he says, is the Covid-19 pandemic, “which has shifted so many paradigms and fast-tracked age-old boardroom discussions like the work from home concept”.
He adds that when the pandemic hit, everyone turned to HR for a response. “In addition, HR has also been pivotal in shaping business continuity. As the pandemic draws to an end, we hope that a unique opportunity will again be presented to HR professionals, where they can take the reins and partner with the CEO as organisations are steered into the ‘new normal.’”
Zain has experience in crisis management and has over the years navigated business through political turmoil, civil unrest, earthquakes, floods, employee strike action, health threats such as the ebola, malaria and cholera outbreaks and even air crash disasters.
Zain is of the opinion that to be able to move forward, HR has an obligation to guide leaders and employees to look to the future with optimism.
“The African continent is alive with possibilities and living life looking in the rear view mirror could be detrimental,” he cautions, “without discounting the travesties of the past through invasion and colonisation, coupled with the need for true transformation.”
He believes that this can only be done through a side-by-side strategy. “A divided society is easy to conquer, so concerted efforts must be made to build a united front to mitigate the possibility of another invasion in future as we advance into the digital era and tip-toe into the fourth industrial revolution.
“All efforts must be channelled towards building sustainable societies and this requires authenticity and commitment from all players. The HR fraternity is entrusted with the transformation agenda. There is no greater task than one that allows innovation and co-creation. HR practitioners should weave the transformation agenda into the talent strategies in a life- giving way. If it can be done in a way where everyone feels valued, then we will have exceeded the expectation.”
Diversity and inclusion
The complexity of the topic must not be underestimated, he says. “Diversity, equity and inclusion remain the order of the day, but much work needs to be done as the employment equity statutory guidelines in South Africa are now outdated. In its current form, it is exclusive of the new identities people rightly have to opt for. Life is about choice.
“We are more alike than different!” he says, explaining that he is a multilingual and culturally sensitive individual who is passionate about protecting the rights of employees and believes in creating a safe and equitable working environment.