Traits for becoming the great CHRO you deserve to be before you turn 40

HR Indaba Network reveals becoming a great HR professional takes passion and willingness to make mistakes.

A group of HR professionals examined what it takes to become a great HR practitioner before the age of 40, during a panel discussion at this year’s HR Indaba Network. All of them agreed – you have to start early to achieve this.

Cebile Xulu, HR director at Mondelez International said, “I started out as a tutor in my third year of university, tutoring honours students. I had to find a way to keep myself busy.” She added that she has always had a passion for teaching, mentoring and nurturing other people.

Kyle Chetty, an HR executive at Autoboys, said he was lucky to learn hard work and discipline at the early age of 13. “Having a job at such a young age shaped me and taught me so many,” he said. “I remember working with my dad in the school holidays and on weekends, and when I was legal enough to actually work, I started working for the Foschini Group.”

He added that working at such an early age took a lot of sacrifice and he remembers his friends enjoying the school holidays and weekends, while he had to wake up at 5am or 6am.

But working in customer service, dealing with people of different ages and backgrounds, helped him to gain the necessary people skills he would need at a later stage as an HR professional, something he is quite grateful for.

Philip Tshikotshi, STARTEK associate vice president and country HR head, started his career in what he calls an accidental career as a call centre agent. “I actually had no idea what call centres were all about, but I was under a lot of pressure during my gap year as my friends were going off to become doctors and still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he shared.

He worked himself up the call centre ladder and was promoted several times. His very first job in HR arrived with the opportunity to replace the HR manager who had given him his first job.

Tswelo Kodisang, group CHRO at Discovery, said he gained his first role at director level at just 28. He said he had to learn to be comfortable with being vulnerable, have the courage to learn new things, take failure in his stride, and learn from other people.
Philip told the audience that he goes to work every day and lies, but it’s not what you think. He relies on a strategy he put together to challenge himself and his team as to why they come to work in the first place: Learning, Improving and Empowering (LIE).

All of the speakers agreed that CHROs couldn’t climb the corporate ladder without pulling someone else up with them. If you as an HR leader are the only person growing within an organisation, that means you are not doing your job correctly, they said.

Tough part of the job
One of the most taxing and demanding parts of being a CHRO is having to tell someone that they will no longer have a job. Cebile believes that HR professionals should be allowed to express emotion, as they are human beings after all. People need to see leaders being vulnerable to show that they have some level of humanity in them, she added: organisations tended to expect HR leaders to be cold and the ones who deliver the bad news, which is not always the right way to go about things.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that it makes me sad, and I sometimes cry when I get home after delivering bad news. What comforts me is that I know that I’m dealing with another human being, so there is no need to be cold-hearted,” she said.

She added that having a dignified conversation with a fellow human being is important even when the conversation is a difficult one. That is the making of an awesome CHRO.