Vicky Tlhabanelo, an HR executive who has donned a miner’s helmet

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Vicky Tlhabanelo, HR executive at Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mines, may have fallen into HR by accident, but she takes her job so seriously she has been kilometres underground at the mine.

Vicky Tlhabanelo wanted to study law, but that didn’t work out due to various family reasons. Despite that, she has completed a master’s in management at the University of the Witwatersrand following her honours in commerce at the University of the North West.

Having worked in various industries, it has always been her aspiration to move into the mining environment. This aspiration was realised when she joined Royal Bafokeng Platinum in 2010 as an HR executive. The organisation was acquired by Implats in 2023. Vicky now holds an executive HR position within the Implats Group.

Before her recent roles in the mining industry, Vicky was working at the Tshwane University of Technology as an HR executive.

At the corporate office , Vicky provides strategic leadership in HR, as well as taking up special projects such as communications, an aspect of her job in which she developed a corporate identity manual and the implementation thereof.

Vicky believes in understanding the entire company. When she joined the organisation, the first thing she did was visit underground to understand the environment in which most of the employees worked. She believes in doing this sort of exercise regardless of which sector she works in. “You have to understand the nitty-gritties,” she says.

Just after finishing her matric, before the results had even come out, she started a job in finance, and then had to study part-time and worked to pay for her studies. Although Vicky was majoring in accounting, as she was working in finance, she was introduced to the world of HR through taking industrial psychology, which she says was fortuitous.

“I got to HR by chance, really. I was asked to go and assist in HR. And I just stayed there. It has been more than 25 years now, which gives away my age.”

Vicky’s HR career started in HR management, and she worked her way through each process including payroll, training, and recruitment, organisation development, etc. “I think it came in very handy that I managed to go through all those functions,” she says, as this learning stood her in good stead as she climbed the ranks.

She moved from senior HR officer at various companies to her current position as she grew her career and was headhunted for various positions for a variety of sectors: banking, parks board, scientific organisations, and even a stint in retail at Edcon.

Vicky also developed a sense for how to work with people as she grew her understanding of various personality types, and they shaped her understanding of how to look after them. Part of this learning process came through conducting psychometric assessments, which helped her create career development paths for employees.

Taking helping people a step further, she has also assisted in making the world a better place through working with organisations that support survivors of violence.

Along the way, Vicky had to work with strong organised labour in almost all organisations she worked for such as during her time in retail Land Bank, HSRC etc. This gave her exposure to manage and navigate very complex situations during which making time to engage and ensure stability of an organisation is key. This approach, in a quest to protect continuous employment and promoting business stability. She worked with the unions through humanising the process and understanding that organised labour varied from industry to industry.

“You need to send the right message so that people realise that the leadership takes time to be proactive, listen, engage and whilst not in agreement, there is respect at the centre of disagreements.

Vicky has elevated HR’s function in each of the companies in which she has worked, so the role is that of a strategic partner and has a financial impact on the business. This has allowed her to meet with her counterparts in the boardroom and ensure that her role is strategically aligned with the company’s plan.

“It’s a function that needs to be recognised more. You show that you’re contributing towards the business, that you understand ; you are on an equal par with your peers in terms of understanding the company and not apologise for being present at the table.”

This involves engaging with business partners on a regular basis e to achieve business goals.

Her biggest challenge has been getting to have a balance on what people go through personally, while at the same time they have to deliver at work. She has had to balance what may be competing requirements from the company and the employees’ life journeys. Employee wellness has overtaken all other hot topics in human resources. Youth development and mentoring is a passion for Vicky, more and more as the youth do not stay in one environment for longer.

With such an occupied career, she tries to find time to go to theatre. “The raw talent you see when you are watching a human being expressing themselves; it’s energising.” This sort of downtime is Vicky’s focus for 2024.

“You learn a lot in different business environments. Being exposed to different leaders, different people dynamics, that builds your character and takes it to another level. Ultimately, no matter how difficult the working environment thrown at you, do not compromise your principles as a person and as a human resource practitioner.

“Most importantly, human beings are to be treated humanely, and the universe shall respond accordingly.”

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