Sun International's Verna Robson says best practice HR models aren't always applicable

She says HR must find solutions that are specifically effective for the business and industry that it operates in.

“As a lawyer, you look at matters and situations differently. I'm very risk averse so I always assess the risk first and evaluate situations from that perspective. When a new project or strategy is being rolled out, I would have already thought about the risk and what the solutions to any potential challenges would be,” says Sun International HR Director, Verna Robson. She explains how being a lawyer has given her an edge over those whose experience has been strictly limited to the HR space. Although she worked alongside HR professionals for many years, as a labour lawyer, she has been able to influence HR from a different perspective.

Taking the legal route to becoming an HR executive, in her opinion, gives one a big-picture approach to the position as opposed to a siloed approach. She finds that an HR purist approach can at times lack the link to the business and cause business initiatives to disregard the involvement of the HR function.

She says that one of her most difficult tasks is to ensure that various HR strategies set across the business located in different provinces are not in isolation of the business. “For example, HR may come up with a fantastic learning and development initiative that supports learnerships. But there are times when the HR teams must be reminded of our core business and encouraged to find solutions for the core the business, which is 'Gaming', and does not necessarily have a recognised qualification. So a lot of what I've been doing is advising and directing HR to put the business at the centre of their ideas. Whatever the idea, it must be to the full benefit of the business.”

Best practice isn't always applicable
Although there is great literature available, Robson says HR professionals tend to push best practices that, at times, are not necessarily suited to the business. For some companies, it's simply about making sure the core business is functioning as effectively as possible.

“HR has become such a competitive environment over the years, everyone wants to drive a best practice initiative and be recognised for having done so. But, at the end of the day, the measurement of success is based on whether an initiative has had a positive impact on the business and the employees,” she says, adding that she spent 12 months trying to shift her team's mindset to one that puts the core business at the centre of all that we do. And, as much as it did frustrate them, they understand it now.

“I find that many HR professionals do not want to do the basics. They want to be innovative and introduce something new to revolutionise an existing system."

Limiting use of consultants
Robson says HR teams tend to spend money, whether it is for training or on consultants. They tend to doubt their own skills sets as professionals and will engage consultants who have exactly the same skills to deliver an initiative that could can undertake themselves. This presents a challenge when a business is a pure revenue-driven business. It is part of the reason why HR initiatives are often seen as wasteful expenditure as it does not add to the bottom line. 

Consultants often have a short period in which to carry out the delivery of a project and time to understand the company culture or analyse aspects of the business are limited. The result is the delivery of a project, at a cost, that is not well embedded in the business which is ultimately what the business remembers as your last activity that did not work.

Says Robson: “There are consultants for talent, for benefits, for training, for change management... and it's so easy to bring in a consultant because contrary to what most people think HR is not an easy job. It's not easy because you have an open-door philosophy. You have to be able to respond to and assist everyone whether it be the dealer and waiter to a director of the company on every aspect of the workplace from salary queries to succession planning to talent management of teams. And at times, it is so easy to outsource some of that work because there is simply too much to do and it can be overwhelming.”

“It's a huge challenge. I understand, as a lawyer by profession and have experienced, that you are only as good as your last matter and you will always strive to be better at your next matter. As HR professionals we need to believe in our skill sets and demonstrate the worth you add to the business." 

The trick is to do as much of as you can with the skills you have acquired, she says, adding that the one advantage HR has is that no one in the organisation knows the workforce better and that presents an opportunity to create value. There is nothing wrong with adopting a model and driving it within the business yourself as opposed to getting someone else to do it.