Programme Director, Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ralph Fletcher

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:


Firstly let me appreciate this invitation for the second time to address this august gathering of achievers. I see the organizers have kept faith in me after I was unable to come through last year following a family bereavement. Nevertheless here we are, and I am happy to be here.

Programme Director It is indeed an honour for me to stand before you this evening, to share views and challenge you on the following subject matter “Transforming human resources from transactional to strategic boardroom partnerships”.

The South African Constitution, the supreme law that entrenches fundamental rights has profound effect on employment legislation.  Section 23 of the Constitution on Bill of Rights, specifically addresses employment relations through protecting rights of employees and employers alike in the workplace.  

Despite its progressive employment legislation, South African companies are confronted with the same challenges faced by companies globally.  South Africa has witnessed strikes in almost every sector in the past 5 years, the mining being the hardest hit.   Companies are shedding jobs at an alarming rate because of the economic downturn.  Stats South Africa reports shedding of 15000 jobs in the first three months of 2016 alone.  This has the potential to undermine the noble intentions and initiatives by government, to create jobs.    

Ladies and Gentlemen, South Africa is faced with high unemployment, underemployment, gender inequality in the workplace, and more.  The South African developmental growth path as outlined in the National Development Plan and other policies of government is largely dependent on a capable workforce in both private and public sector.   

In most companies, Human Resource is still sanctioned to play policy police and regulatory watchdog.  This happens at the time when there is a need to create an entirely new role and agenda for the field that focuses not on traditional Human Resource activities, such as staffing and compensation, but on outcomes. Human Resource should not be defined by what it does but by what it delivers, that is results that enrich the organization’s value to customers, investors, and employees and in our case as government public good to citizens.

The challenge with traditional HR activities is, that at times they are disconnected from real work of the organisation.  This is despite the fact that HR function has evolved in the past 30 years from being transactional to strategic partnering.  The new agenda for HR calls for a radical departure from the status quo.   While companies are obliged to comply with the regulatory framework and policies, a change in the way they do HR business today is unavoidable, if they are to survive the competitive environment they operate within.   

The biggest challenge facing South African organisations today, with its large scale transformation and re-entry into the global market, is to adapt to the rapid, on-going change, and the aggressive competition accompanying it.  

This situation demands that organisations attract and develop human capital that will ensure not only short-term profit and medium-and term growth, but most importantly, long term organisational survival and prosperity through organisational excellence.  Experience has proven that strategies and technologies can be copied.  Employees are now the competitive advantage of companies.  As a result, the War for Talent is one of the realities faced by companies today.  

Attracting and retaining talent tops therefore becomes one of the priorities of HR in its endeavours to achieve organisational excellence.  This means that achieving organisational excellence is the role of HR.  It therefore goes without saying that companies can have the most robust strategies but fall short on implementation if employees are not positioned at the heart of their existence.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, in practical terms what does this mean for HR?   Gone are the days HR used to be paper pushers, HR can now help to deliver organisational excellence.  Professor Dave Ulrich, who advocates the New HR Agenda states that HR can deliver excellence through:  

  • Partnering with senior and line managers in crafting and executing strategy, helping to move planning from the boardroom to the marketplace.
  • Becoming experts in the way work is organized and executed, delivering administrative efficiency, ensuring cost effectiveness and that quality is maintained.
  • Becoming a champion for employees through vigorously representing their concerns to senior management and at the same time working to increase employee contribution; that is, employees’ commitment to the organization and their ability to deliver results.
  • Become an agent of continuous transformation, shaping processes and a culture that together improve an organization’s capacity for change.

This means that, HR activities should now help companies serve customers or increase shareholder value.

The question is, can HR do it alone?  The answer is NO.  Transforming the role of HR is the responsibility of Directors General, CEOs, top management and every line manager who are entrusted with a responsibility of driving the mandate of the organisations.  They are answerable to objectives set for their organisations, they should therefore take the lead through integrating HR into the core work of the organisation.  

Equally, HR must become champions themselves.  HR has a responsibility to prove what it is worth by adding value to the organisation.  Its capacity to contribute to organisational excellence should not be doubted.   This calls for creating an entirely new role and agenda for the HR whose focus is not on traditional HR activities, such as staffing and compensation, but on outcomes. HR should be defined by the results that enrich the organization’s value to customers, investors, and employees.  This can only be achieved if HR becomes a strategic partner with the line function by claiming its position in the boardroom and delivering organisational excellence.     

I therefore call upon leadership of organisations, line managers and HR practitioners to embrace the New HR mandate.  This will not only contribute to harmonising employment relations with employees and other stakeholders but it will help improve organisational performance and contribute to economic growth of the country.  

As government we are building a capable state, that will enable to us to deliver on our national agenda, the National Development Plan. It is equally vital that we build synergies amongst all role players, in the public and private sector. In my delegation I have senior managers and officials from the department so that we may build constructive partnerships.

We trust that your culture of awarding excellence will result in sustained productivity and mutual benefit for both employers and employees.

In conclusion let me take this opportunity to congratulate all the nominees and I want you to know you are making a contribution to your beloved country. In the spirit of our first President of a democratic South Africa and an international icon, as we celebrate these awards let us continue to strive to serve humanity to serve others to serve fellow employees and organizations to the best of our abilities. Remember it looks impossible until it is done.

Best wishes for a successful Awards Ceremony.