We recently hosted our first HR Professionals Forum, a new initiative which is part of our Human Capital Programme that aims to provide the HR Professionals of our member companies with a forum to discuss issues impacting on talent attraction and retention. Our first speaker was Prof Shirley Zinn, Group Head of Human Resources at Woolworths Holdings Ltd. who spoke about talent retention and asked ‘what do we mean by talent and how does it fit into overall business transformation?’ She said that while talent is recognised as a key component of an organisation, that the ‘H’ in Human Resources is often forgotten. Often profitability becomes the primary focus, even though companies are required to report on the holistic view of People, Profit and Planet. Shirley emphasised that the HR function should go beyond superficial engagement with your staff and create an environment where people can flourish and buy into the vision of the organisation.

Referencing the Bersin study, she mentioned that talent cannot be isolated from business strategy and that HR managers needs to work closely with the CEO to understand the business strategy. Early in her career Shirley learned that prices, products and services can be easily replicated, but people with skilled talent is almost impossible to replicate. From entry to exit, HR professionals need to carefully manage the capabilities that people bring to the organisation. On retention, Shirley said that often monetary incentives are used to lock in talent, but HR should look at the aspirations and personal purpose of your staff and how this lines up with what the organisation wants to achieve. The new generation of young leaders are looking for something different and more profound than previous generations. Shifting to the issue of transformation, Shirley said that we need to get real about transformation and create and find more definitive ways of tackling the issue to bring about change.

Our second speaker, Dionne Kerr, CEO of Siyakha Consulting and Deputy Chair of the Association of BEE Professionals, spoke about meaningful transformation and skills development in South Africa, highlighting the intentions and objectives of BEE. Dionne emphasised that BEE and transformation fail because it is treated as an annual report, and does not truly forming part of the strategic aims of the business. Transformation should not be a box-ticking exercise, it should form part of business’ operating ethos underpinned by inclusivity, growth, development and minimising risk. Speaking to localisation, Dionne said that organisations should mirror the environments in which they operate, therefore representing the demographic. She underlined that local content and skills development, are key to achieving economic growth.

According to Dionne, boardroom philosophies of transformation do not work – it’s vital that board members take a step back and understand where the failures in the system are. We are not really achieving transformation when we put people into positions that they are not ready for and businesses need to take a long term view across transformation, skills development and recruitment. Echoing Shirley’s sentiment, Dionne concluded by saying that it is of the utmost importance to take care of employees at every level and at every stage of their employment. By mapping out a vision that speaks to their hopes and aspirations, it will also ensure that employees will understand their career path within the organisation.


Talent Retention in the Western Cape – Shirley Zinn, Group HR, Woolworths

Transformation Agenda – Dionne Kerr, CEO, Siyakha Consulting