Tsebo Group's Elanie Kruger has mastered the art of influence
Elanie had to learn early on in her career how to make her voice heard as a woman in business.
Having worked predominantly in organisations where HR wears a commercial hat and is involved in business solutions, Tsebo Solutions group organisational effectiveness director Elanie Kruger had to learn very early on in career how to be tactful and make herself heard as a female business leader. She started her professional career at Eskom Duvha Power Station as a graduate in training where she was thrown into the deep end of industrial relations. It was a time of transformation and she specifically recalls the change management required with the abolishment of the Separate Amenities Act and Group Areas Act, working closely with trade unions and community leaders. She cherishes her time spent at Duvha as a ‘period of learning and developing an understanding of the inequalities in the workplace and the need to create an environment where all employees were given the opportunity to grow and prosper’. She was only the second female graduate to work in what was then an extremely male-dominated environment. That said, she was still able to develop good relationships with her colleagues and the trade unions.
“Although I was cautioned that men will not accept guidance or leadership from me as a young female, I decided that I would simply treat everyone with respect and dignity, listen to their issues and concerns and provide high standards of HR service delivery while clearly communicating the challenges that the business was facing,” she says, adding that she believes it is always important to be sincere in everything that one does.
"People trusted me and I built good relationships with them because they realised that I am a solutions-driven person. I tried not to approach my work based on theory but rather on a desire to make life easier for the managers and employees at all levels in the organisation. I would sit with shop stewards and tell them, 'this is the situation that the business is in, this is what the law says, and this is the likely outcome of the dispute with management. Let's not fight about it'."
Helping to shed light on all perspectives is something that has always served her well and she has used this approach throughout her career. She says that, when your end goal is to get through to others, it is about understanding what the people you’re trying to reach value while being compassionate and courteous, which also goes a long way.
Navigating her early career
One thing that she had to learn during her early career was to be mindful when dealing with people, especially when it came to speaking her mind. It was something that took her some time to master because she was raised in a family whereby, if there was a problem, everybody would put the facts on the table and debate the issue as a family. However, when she took that approach into the working environment, she quickly realised that people could be offended by that approach.
“I had a manager that submitted a grievance against me because I critiqued him in a report on the way he managed the rostering of his team and he felt offended. I couldn't believe it,” says Elanie. “I almost resigned because of that incident but received some good advice from a senior colleague who told me that there will be similar situations in future and that I needed to be able to manage these types of issues without running away from them. It was an experience that taught me a lot because I learned then that one will always have to deal with difficult people, no matter where they are.”
During this time, she commuted to UJ and completed her MCom in Industrial Psychology. Her thesis focused on Mentorship and Problematics of Females in their early career.
“I have always been a keen student of commerce and am passionate about the HR profession regarding its effectiveness in identifying those interventions that will drive short term growth and build long term sustainability,” says Elanie, stating that it was during her tenure as the organizational development director for pharmaceuticals company formerly known as Pharmacare that she further honed her commercial skills.
As a matter of tact
When her husband was transferred to the UK on an ex-pat basis, Elanie later worked at Ceridian, a blue-chip organisation, which is one of the top HR outsourcing companies in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It was an experience that gave her a different perspective, not only when it came to talent management and strategic business partnering, but also in terms of being able to manage a different culture.
Although she was there for less than two years, by the time that she left she had received an award for being the manager that contributed the most to the business. It was at this company that she honed her ability to influence different kinds of leaders.
“In South Africa, we are quite straightforward people and we tend to say things as they are, but that approach doesn't necessarily work in the UK. You almost have to tell someone that their work is not at the optimal level in such a way that you are actually complimenting them,” says Elanie.
“You have to sit with people and ask them questions in such a way that you steer them towards changing their behaviour without reprimanding them. It almost has to seem like it was their own idea to do things differently. That’s a skill that has stayed with me ever since.”
Ceridian was not her first encounter with a foreign professional culture. When globally integrated security company Group 4 Securitas (G4S) was in the process of setting up a South African business, Elanie led the people mobilisation partnership with a local consortium to design, build and manage what was the first private prison in South Africa.
Says Elanie: “I was the first employee of the holding company. I wrote my own employment contract and it was my responsibility to put all the building blocks in place to ensure effective mobilization and operationalisation of the facility. It was a brown field project that we started with a blank sheet. I was privileged to work with great people and am really proud of the role I played in the success of the project”
Following 4 years in the UK, Elanie returned to G4S where her she excelled and was appointed as the Regional HR Director for G4S Africa with responsibility for 120 000 employees across 26 countries. She built a strong, capable team across the continent. From a global HR perspective, managing risk, understanding different geographies, being sensitive to different cultures, and balancing business needs with workload demands were all daily challenges.
In current role, Elanie is driving the people agenda, supporting the business with their aggressive growth strategy as workplace management solutions provider across Africa Middle East, operating in over 28 countries, with over 40 000 employees.
"I value every role I have had, and I have worked with many inspiring people who have supported my career development. I am grateful for the opportunities life has given me,” says Elanie.