Back in 2012, Bobby Godsell (Ex CEO of Ashanti) used the term “gainful employment” in his article entitled “50 Million wealth creators”. In short, he explained the importance of employing people to create wealth by ensuring that work itself creates value in the organisation. That said, work does not create value by itself. Work would be seen as valuable if it fits within a sensible and relevant manpower strategy, is well designed and contributes to the bottom line.
Valuable work has obvious economic benefits. It is not reasonable to expect companies to employ people as a paper exercise. According to common law, employees should offer their skills and maintain reasonable efficiency. In turn organisations must compensate employees. For various reasons – this is not so simple anymore. Often employees do not maintain reasonable efficiency hence the continuous demand for productivity improvement and on the other side, employers do nothing to optimise the potential contributions (current and future) of employees so that they can get value for their money.
I have no doubt in my mind that the HR function is key to optimising the labour relationship. Long ago, in one of the many HR textbooks I studied, I came across a valuable and sensible definition of HR. It went something like this- “HR is a practice aimed at achieving an optimal fit between the employee, job, organisation and environment, so that employees and employers can reach their goals”. This is still a great definition (I take my hat off to the owner!) and very relevant. The landscape has changed considerably in the past 20 years, but HR is still accountable to “facilitate” and optimise this fit.
Do I think that HR is achieving this? To be frank- I don’t believe that we are doing everything that we can. Just a few weeks ago, I heard a past HR Director of the SABC suggest to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that HR needed to become a strategic partner at the SABC. Am sure this is a common problem in many companies- where HR is transactional in nature as opposed to transformational. I do think that HR can be more visionary, more influential at change, more skilled in everything they are expected to do. I am not going to accept the excuse that HR is not allowed to be strategic. I remember years ago at a very tender age, being influenced by a mining production manager, who knew what he should expect from HR. He challenged me to play that role and I did not hesitate. I was still an HR appie, but remember facilitating the business plan for that business unit. I sat at the table in front of the venue- just the two of us. Finance, production, engineering and safety were not at that table!
The point I am making is that the opportunity exists now, more than ever, for HR to play a strategic and transformational role. HR must help stimulate thinking and action in directions that will resolve these problems that have seem to have become acceptable jargon in South Africa. Problems like unemployment, poor productivity, labour brokers, skills shortages, absenteeism and poor ethics. Heaven knows why we continue trying to solve these problems using old mind sets and practices.
The newish South African HR Competency Model (2015) supports a new mind set and approach to HR in South Africa. We at Supatrain, are inspired by this model and the environment, to contribute to sustainable change and transformation in our beautiful country. We intend to create vision, capacity and commitment through our HR Skills Programme aimed at HR Practitioners and Trainees in industry.
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