The changing shape of HR

We were privileged to talk to the City of Cape Town’s Yolanda Scholtz, Programme Manager: HR Strategy. Yolanda has seen many changes in HR over the years.

Yolanda, you have been in the HR industry for many years. For you, what are the two or three most important factors or changes that have shaped the industry over the past 20 years?

The realisation that people are the single most valued asset, but if badly managed, they can become the organisation’s greatest liability. This realisation made organisations focus on the enormous potential of the people employed by the company to unleash and achieve organisational renewal and performance excellence.

They’ve realised that people issues are not the “soft issues”, but rather the very complex issues that keeps the organisation’s leadership awake at night. It all comes down to hiring the right people with the right skills and competencies in the right place at the right time.

Equally important is the shift in the role of the HR functions from an administrative/transactional function to a strategically focused business partner to the line departments. It’s about aligning the people strategies with the business needs.

Did you have an HR mentor? If so, who was this mentor and is there anything you learnt that you still apply today?

I have been extremely privileged to have been mentored by Mr David Beretti, in my opinion one of the top HR professionals in our industry. He was responsible for the strategic positioning and set-up of the HR functions in the City of Cape Town. Through his leadership, an administratively focused personnel department became a fully-fledged HR department, strategically positioned at executive management level.

I have learnt many things from David which I have internalised and integrated into my day to day functioning. Some of the more important things that he taught me were that people are our most valuable asset, we should always be solution orientated and actively listen to what people are saying. I’ve also learned the importance of client service and service delivery and how providing a professional HR service is part of this focus. In the Local Government context it is all about improving the lives of the people.

How would you describe attempts at Talent Management or recognition 20 years ago?

Talent Management in today’s context is viewed as a strategic initiative specifically aimed at integrating various components. These components relate to the activities associated with attracting, appointing, training, developing, retaining and recognising and managing the performance of employees for the purpose of optimising organisational performance.

Twenty years ago the focus was on specific transactionally driven and functionally disparate activities as seperate vehicles to achieving organisational excellence.

Today the focus is on the alignment and integration of all the key components of the Talent Management Framework with the key impetus to ensure that the City has the right people with the right skills and competencies in the right place at the right time.

Managing a fully integrated Talent Management programme will optimise organisational performance. Successful implementation of Talent Management requires a clearly defined Talent Management strategy and process for all of the components discussed. Simply having a Talent Management plan or installing Talent Management software is not enough. Leadership needs to commit to the strategy and assist in removing the obstacles which inhibit implementation. Talent Management must be viewed holistically and transcend the typical directorate silos for the overall good of the organisation. Talent Management must be part of the organisational culture rather than an HR programme or intervention.

Today Talent Management is defined as who we are rather than what we do.

What are your challenges regarding retaining and attracting talent?

The City of Cape Town employs some 25 000 staff across a wide range of occupational categories as one of the leading Metro Councils in South Africa. The City is faced with the same challenges as other mayor corporates when it comes to the attraction and retention of scarce and critical skills.

Our challenges are compounded by the diversity of skills required which range from professionals in the built environment, including engineers, quantity surveyors, etc., to finance professionals doctors, pharmacists and nurses, artisans, IT professionals and skilled supervisory and management / leadership level employees.

Although the City offers competitive market related remuneration and benefits packages, we don’t have as much flexibility around these issues as the private sector and yet we are sourcing candidates from the same labour market. The “war for talent” is a reality when having focused one’s attraction strategy to that of an all-encompassing Talent Management approach to not only attract but to emphasise the retention of the talent sourced.