My opinion: Human Resources’ Role in Economic Transformation & Change Management in South Africa

Deafening silence of HR Professionals: The deafening silence of the HR professionals with regard to the Economic Transformation & Change Management in South Africa is a worry to me. In comparison to the Labour Movement, the HR professionals are not an inch close. Perhaps it is because the HR Professionals are also made to believe that they are invited into the board rooms, operations reviews meetings, strategic planning sessions, etc. If the CEO is not pro Economic Transformation & Change Management, HR tends to struggle to assert itself in the organization. My view is that HR invites this situation to itself. The professional organizations to which they belong are not vocal about these issues and do not drive the agenda that is pro Economic Transformation & Change Management. Otherwise if this as the case, we would not be having people outside HR Profession being appointed into positions like Transformation Directors, Change Management Directors, Diversity Management Directors, BEE Directors, etc., with reporting lines outside the HR Function. This is an indictment on the HR Profession itself, and we must correct this. This has been discussed within the IPM and we will be addressing it during this term of the current board.
Reflections on unavoidable South African reality: South Africa as a country come a long way; from Black Advancement Schemes of the 80’s to the current era of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. All these interventions were and still are about achieving equality in the employment practices and economic participation, mostly for the black people, women, youth, rural people and people living with disabilities. The Black Advancement Schemes of the 80’s in South Africa came as a result of the work of the late African-American Baptist activist, Reverend Leon Sullivan, who made sure that all the American companies operating in South Africa implemented Black Advancement Schemes. These schemes entailed introduction of training and development programmes in South Africa and the US, bursary schemes for the black employees and their children, building houses for black staff, and appointing black people in management positions. Reverend Leon Sullivan launched The International Foundation for Education & Self-Help (IFESH), which introduced a number of exchange programmes between the US and Africa. Two such programmes was Financial Services Training (FST) for black South African bankers, which were also funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Best & Brightest for African Bankers. Under the Best & Brightest programme black bankers from South Africa were sent on banking development programmes with major US banks, mostly in New York. In 2000 IFESH organized an educational tour of the US for the South African banking mentors to visit banks in New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. I joined in this tour as banking mentor from the Absa Bank. The current South African Government Spokesperson, Mr Jimmy Manyi, joined us in this tour, then as a bank official of the then People’s Bank (Nedbank). Other representatives came from MEEG Bank, and African Bank.  So, Reverend Leon Sullivan had a vision for this country, and believed in the ability of the black leadership in business, as in politics. It is only we, South African (black and white) that tend to doubt ourselves. This self-doubt has to change before we terribly disappoint our future generations.
Economic Transformation Activism along the aggressive Afrikaner Empowerment: So, alongside the Afrikaner Empowerment, which was not openly called as such, there was some economic activism of some sort, albeit very difficult, due to the oppressive laws of the then Apartheid Government. The Reverend Leon Sullivan intervention became famously know as The Sullivan Code. Many of the current black business leaders in South Africa graduated and benefited from the Sullivan Code. These schemes were copied by some of the European companies in South Africa, to a certain extend. The German companies, through the Southern African – German Chamber of Commerce, introduced the Commercial Advancement Training Scheme (CATS), of which I am a graduate of, and as a result I continued my development in Germany. Today the scheme gave birth to the South Africa – German Training Services (SAGTS), of which I am the founder and board member. The SAGTS is now made of the CATS and Soweto Builders Training Centre (BTC). Some companies introduced in-company training & development, Adult Basic Education, bursary schemes, and study programmes inside the companies. One can refer to these programmes as the early stages of Affirmative Action Programmes. Indeed, organizations like Black Management Forum (BMF) introduced a very controversial concept called the Basotho Hat Quotas – Affirmative Action. The BMF was convinced that the quota system was the way for the South African Government to follow in accelerating the appointment of black people into meaningful and higher positions in the companies. This quota system thinking was feared by companies, like it is the case with BEE today. As it is now the case, Affirmative Action, became a chapter in the Employment Equity Act.
The growth and role of labour movement in South Africa: One cannot talk about transformation of the work place without touching on the historical role played by the labour unions in South Africa. Of course, HR and the labour unions have never been friends, for obvious reasons. What is interesting though, is that the labour unions appear to be more decisive on issue of work place transformation than the HR professionals are. It is perhaps because the HR professionals are always perceived as representing management, and in most cases they are. So, HR professionals are court in between and must be creative in their stakeholder relationship management. In South Africa, the labour unions are further advantaged by the fact that the biggest labour movement, COSATU, is a member of the tri-partite alliance in Government, let by the African National Congress. They have the opportunity to influence the policy direction of the country. That is why most of their initiatives take off, for example the recently launched Corruption Watch, is highly welcome by all sectors of our society, business, labour, Government and citizens. Where the HR professionals are in this case and yet HR is supposed to be the champion of people issues. Corruption affects the work place as well. Another example, the HR bodies and practitioners have not been vocal on the labour broker’s issue, and yet this is one of the key roles of HR
South Africa as a constitutional state with strong Human Rights component: the South African constitution is regarded as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The Human Rights component of the constitution makes every wrong people practice illegal and yet we require special laws like Employment Equity, Skills Development Act, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, etc. to correct the bad practices like discrimination in employment practices, unfair hurdles put in front of people who want to access entrepreneurship opportunities, racism at work places, lack of employment opportunities for people with disabilities, etc. The question is, what is the problem? Once again, laws that are not implemented by people who believe in them are of no use to the society. So, this suggests that transformation and change management start with the individual citizens of the country before they can become national programmes and change the society as a whole. So, companies that want to experience progress in Economic Transformation & Change Management must invest time in addressing transformation and change management of their individual staff.
Affirmative Action that only became a chapter in Employment Equity: while one welcomes this progressive Employment Equity Act, one wonders why such important implementation component of it, Affirmative Action, is not prominent in its articulation. Employment Equity itself became one of the seven elements of the B-BBEE Scorecard, making B-BBEE a very complex programme to understand and implement. It is the grand plan that only well trained and oriented practitioners can articulate. But what is interesting is that HR can use B-BBEE to strategically position itself within the organizations and the economy, namely by making sure that it masters the three elements of the B-BBEE scorecard, namely: Employment Equity, Skills Development, and Management & Control. The three elements are the competences of the HR function in employing organizations.
The new Department of Higher Education & Training pushes people related Economic Transformation & Change Management: When one looks closely at the strategy and the agenda of the new Department of Higher Education, one realizes the unlimited opportunities that the HR practitioners can use to reposition the profession and lead people related transformation strategies in the companies. The Human Resources Development South Africa 2010 – 2030 is driven from the highest office and yet it does not seem to be uppermost in the minds of the HR professionals. It is too soon to judge the impact of the National Skills Development Strategy III on the country’s Economic Transformation & Change Management. It seems to be correcting the wrongs committed post 1994 and repositioning South Africa on the path to produce the technical skills required so badly by our economy. We now have the National Skills Accord. It is a matter of time, and we hopefully will see social partners can uniting on this programme and allow the national skills strategies converging. The main aim is to create jobs and solve unemployment problem.
The role of the HR Practitioners and HR Professional Bodies: I am disturbed by the many HR bodies, most of which are not transformed, not representative of the South Africa demgraphis in their leadership, and shy away from tackling the lack of economic transformation and change management in the employing organizations in South Africa. It is for this reason why the IPM invited the Minister of Higher Education & Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, to address its Annual Convention at Sun City last year, 2011. We listened to him carefully, and have since committed IPM to put the HR profession in the front seat of Economic Transformation & Change Management to contribute in achieving the objectives that the Government of South Africa has set itself to achieve in 2030, under the Human Resources Development – South Africa 2010 – 2030. IPM cannot achieve this on its own. We are calling on all other HR Bodies to do self-introspection, make themselves relevant to the times we are living, and commit to assist the country in its Economic Transform and Change Management. We cannot pretend as if things are well in the economic sectors in which we find ourselves. The continued under-representation of blacks, women and people with disabilities in the higher levels of employment and all other critical categories, perpetuate the tension at the work place. No country will become productive with such unresolved issues. It is also about diversity management, equal access to opportunities, giving previously disadvantaged individuals meaningful jobs with powers to make contribution to the economic growth that will liberate the work places. Under-utilization of the previously disadvantaged in the employing organizations is as bad as not enabling them to access the opportunities.
Economic sacrifices for greater prosperity: For the HR professionals to make major impact in their organizations, they need to be prepared to make economic sacrifices and push the people related grand plans that are pro Economic Transformation & Change Management. Of course, one is mindful that the business of business is business. But this cannot happen in a continued abnormal economic environment which is marked by underrepresentation and under-utilization of the skills in certain sections of our society. We still have to strive for our HR to be among the best in the global business practice, and be a competitive leverage for business in South Africa, and the continent at large. However, ours is to first resolve these historical anomalies before we can even start competing out there. Otherwise, these issues will keep on haunting us for many decades to come. Lastly, the challenges are compounded by the fact that HR profession in South Africa cannot fold arms and be overtaken by the unfolding events in global, especially emerging markets. We must strike a balance. Therefore, IPM’s Call is: follow the emerging leaders in Economic Transformation & Change Management.

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