From HR Pro To CEO.


Harare: Capital City, Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, yup Zimbabwe is becoming one of my new favorite places to study the impact that the HR function can have on a business and the people within. It’s all about credible activism in relationships,  and stewardship of cultural change.  Take five minutes, and read this.  It’s not you’re parent’s Africa.

NEXT generation CEOs from HR, an article published last month, generated a lot of interest. We have decided to do two follow-up articles, narrowing down to the specific competencies HR professionals need to excel in so as to be noticed and considered for senior executive roles.

One CEO who rose through the ranks of HR who read the article alluded to above pointed out to me that Zimbabwe’s largest mining entity is led by a CEO from HR.

This exceptional performance is not just a function of the international commodities boom. That is not surprising, given the mining concern’s extremely robust best-in-class human resources practices.

Understandably, share price is a function of investor perception. I believe the quality of this mining force’s human capital capabilities has a big say in shaping investor confidence, hence the decade-long runaway share price. If you recall, one mining giant abandoned the same mine citing viability challenges. What’s the difference now?

In 2007, the RBL Institute completed the fifth round of their five-year research cycle called the Human Resources Competency Study (HRCS). This study, ,which has become the most authoritative research-based taxonomy of HR competencies, now has more than 10 000 respondents worldwide.

The HRCS defines HR competencies as the combination of both roles and activities of HR that contribute to business outcomes. The HRCS seeks to track the changes in HR competencies that are a hallmark of high-performing HR professionals worldwide.

Warning of the ever-evolving nature of the business landscape, the RBL Institute advises that what HR professionals knew five years ago may not be enough to cope with new expectations occasioned by the rapid flux in business imperatives.

Currently, from a world class standards viewpoint, a high-performing HR professional demonstrates mastery of six HR competencies; credible activist, culture and change steward, talent manager/organisational manager, strategy architect, operational executor and business ally.

To be noted carefully is that these six competency domains are factored into these groups statistically. They were not dreamt of over a cup of tea. They are not a product of creative licence.

It is my assertion that to make the transition from HR professional to CEO, our Zimbabwean HR professionals as a minimum need to attain uncontested mastery in all the six competencies.

Structure of competencies

Credible activism is about relationships.

Operational executor and business ally competencies are all about systems and processes.

Talent manager/organisational designer, culture and change steward and strategy architect are about organisational capabilities. Organisational capabilities are what the corporate entity as a whole delivers.

It’s about harnessing the individual talents to deliver value to customers and investors. Organisational capabilities are the fingerprint of an organisation.

Walmart, the US-based giant retail outfit has attracted the ire of the South African labour movement and is causing many a CEO in South Africa to quake in their corporate boots. The reason for this uneasiness is Walmart’s capability. Walmart is well known for and good at sourcing goods at very low cost.

Technically we say Walmart has the capability of efficiency. That efficiency translates into massive cost savings which they pass on to the consumer. That will be difficult to match for the biggest SA retail giants, let alone the mom and pop store. That’s the impact of the idea of organisational capabilities. High-performing HR professionals have the biggest say in delivering on that.

Credible activist

This is the foundation of all HR competencies. According to the RBL Institute, by being credible, HR professionals are respected, listened to and admired. That’s not enough. They must be equally active. By being activists, they offer a point of view on business matters.

They speak up. If they are only credible they will be seen as being “sweet and nice to deal with” but will have nil impact on business matters. If they do sit on committees where business matters are discussed, their biggest contribution may be limited to note-taking and facilitation. The reason they are invited could be out of political correctness.

If they are activist only, they will perhaps be known as being ‘firebrand and assertive’ but their ideas are not taken up because they have very poor interpersonal relationships.

He delivered a compelling argument backed by figures and research to underscore the business risk of a rushed hiring process. He knew what he was saying and because he had built respect over the years via excellent interpersonal relationships and expertise, he was listened to.

That’s what being a credible activist is about. Had our senior HR professional not been a credible activist, they would have probably just shut their mouth saying ‘the bosses have spoken.’

Culture and change steward

Independent statistical factoring grouped these strange bed-fellows together. Culture is about stability, repetition and predictability. This sits in direct conflict with change. Change is about disrupting the existing order. However, a high-performing HR professional needs to simultaneously juggle the two. It must be remembered that culture and change stewardship also falls under the organisational capability group of HR competencies.

The implication is that high-performing HR professionals should assist employees to embrace change dictated by a shifting business strategy necessitated by changing business environmental drivers. That change must be embedded into new predictable patterns of behaviour. This bespeaks a new culture. When that new culture is embedded, individual employee competencies become a single bundle, that is, they become an organisational capability.

Let’s illustrate the competency of culture and change steward in practice. After the introduction of multi-currencies in 2009 and the lifting of import duty on basic commodities, cheaply produced goods from South Africa flooded the country, threatening the survival of local producers.

This is an environmental driver to which local producers have to adjust. Developing the capability of efficiency has become a must. With tumble-down machinery producing unacceptably high amounts of waste, wage increase pressures, power disruptions and high costs of utilities, it calls for a totally new approach to turning efficiency into a capability.

One senior executive stunned delegates at a recent conference when he advised that Zimbabwean companies should “Look East”. Their argument was simple and compelling. Countries of the Far East are brutally efficient, that is, they produce goods at relatively low cost. Naturally, it makes sense to “Look East” to learn how they have developed that well-known efficiency capability.

Learning is not wholesale adoption (throw out the bad/irrelevant and adapt the good). Learning is a capability that our current HR professionals can help embed in organisations’ DNA to address our current efficiency challenge.

Current CEOs in Zimbabwe with an HR background could not have been noticed if they were not credible activists as well as culture and change stewards. In a Biblical parable–the parable of talents — the master commended the faithful and high-performing stewards: Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful over few things. I will now make you ruler over many things.

Senior HR executives in Zimbabwe wishing to take part in the RBL latest round of the global Human Resources Competency Study underway can contact Brett Chulu.  Source:  Brett Chulu, Zimbabwe.  AllAfrica.com.

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Posted on September 19, 2011, in HR Management & Leadership. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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