HR directors: A detailed profile


by Frew Murdoch

Today, South African business faces a variety of human resources-related challenges, from workforce instability and talent management strategy through to regulatory compliance needs. “Perhaps the most significant of these challenges,” says Anja van Beek, HR director at Sage VIP, “lies in aligning the company’s people, with the vision of its leadership and the culture of the company.” In this context, what are the most important qualities that HR directors need to possess and what are the challenges they face?

What are the challenges that HR directors face in SA businesses?

“Today’s competitive business environment means that CEOs, HR directors and other members of the executive suite are focusing – more than ever – on the retention and development of their people,” says Van Beek. “This isn’t just about finding people with the raw skills and talent to work for the business but also seeking, developing and retaining people with the right cultural fit and interpersonal skills to thrive in the business.”

Else Pule, HR manager at Eskom, believes the skills shortage is the main challenge

“The first challenge faced by HR directors in South African businesses is the issue of skills. There has been a lot said about skills in South Africa yet there is no coherent view about what the issue around skills actually is.

“The issue of the shortage of skills is not only a South African phenomenon; the whole world is facing a skills shortage. Getting skills from other countries is not sustainable, which means that in South Africa, we need to get to some consensus on how we interpret ‘the shortage’. In this way, we will then be able to spearhead solutions that actually solve the real problem.”

The next challenge facing HR directors is the need to cut down on recruiting costs

“The time spent writing job descriptions, repeatedly posting job advertisements and the accompanying costs, the subsequent industrial relations processes arising from discontent as well as disciplinary actions emanating from managers deviated from their own processes are expensive exercises,” says Pule.

Employee engagement remains unresolved

It is known that employee engagement and employee productivity are directly connected. High employee engagement reduces absenteeism rates and increases the likelihood that companies will thrive.

“Finding those levers that lead to sustained employee engagement levels remains a huge challenge for HR directors. Is it remuneration, work-life balance, employee recognition or meaningful work? “Various surveys have shown that there are constant shifts in this space. This therefore necessitates that HR directors are alert to these movements to allow for prompt responses,” said Pule.

What qualities does an HR director need to be able to face their work challenges?

In this challenging environment, the most important qualities of HR directors are:

  • The ability to connect and collaborate with colleagues,
  • Their understanding of business issues,
  • Their ability to help the business reach their goals,
  • Their innovation, and
  • Collecting and interpreting data to help the business make better decisions.

Van Beek notes that the HR field has traditionally been dominated by women, a reality that holds true worldwide. Some 72% of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) members are women, while 71% of HR managers in the US are women, according to the Forbes List of the Top 10 Best-Paying Jobs for Women in 2011.

“The skills and qualities of a successful HR professional — the ability to collaborate, empathy, multitasking — lend themselves to what people see as traditional female strengths,” says Van Beek. “This helps to attract women into the field. But it is also important to note that today’s HR director plays a strategic role in the business with the role having grown vastly in prestige in recent years.”

What qualifications are needed by HR directors?

“Research done by CEB Corporate Leadership Council has shown that neither qualifications nor other functional experience has a material impact on the success of an HR professional. It is more about their ability to understand and contribute to business challenges and the way they influence others,” says Van Beek.

Pule, conversely, emphasises the need for a business qualification.

“My theory is that HR directors mainly ply their trade in non- HR organisations therefore a business qualification is a must. By this I assume that a qualifications in the humanities is a given,” concludes Pule.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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