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SA's HR function to up its game in the economic slowdown

Powering up growth whilst operating in the throes of an economic slowdown, albeit one which seems to now be ticking upwards towards recovery, is a tough balancing act for any business. Timid growth seems to be the new watchword in boardrooms across the country, taking its rightful place from extreme cost-control measures, which have dominated business agendas since 2008.

But do South African companies really have the requisite efficient and productive talent on tap to run with this growth? Are they truly prepared after slashing their headcounts so dramatically? And how much responsibility does the human resources function carry for this?

Recent global high-performance workforce research suggests that not only South African, but also global businesses, are not sufficiently prepared. As economic horizons cautiously perk up, businesses may find recurring challenges in identifying high-quality skilled employees, so as to improve skills levels, workforce performance and HR organisation productivity and effectiveness. This, in turn, can hugely impede the strides that a company attempts to make in exploiting embryonic growth opportunities.

Business perceptions of HR departments

Part of the problem is that business perceptions of HR departments, especially those functions responsible for skills development, need to change. Only 19 percent of top global executive research respondents strongly agreed that HR and training are seen as critical functions, and that HR should act as true strategic partners with management. It is unfortunate that HR is still viewed as a "soft" function that does not directly contribute to the profitability of the business, but simply supports those staff members who do - clearly a misplaced sentiment. HR needs to be viewed as integral to business as its most essential function is to assist in making the entire workforce more productive and efficient, as well as placing and training people in a company's most critical positions. Investing in the businesses most valuable asset, its workforce, improves productivity and the effectiveness of support functions, which, in turn, helps boost the performance of a company's bottom line.

One of the skills that needs to be much more prevalent in today's HR function, in fact in pretty much most functions across the business, is financial acumen - essentially how this individual function affects the greater productivity and profitability of the company in its entirety.

Focus on talent and human capital management

The growing focus on talent and human capital management as keys to growth are counterbalanced by the fact that only 10 percent of companies indicate that formal processes and tools enabling effective on-the-job learning and knowledge sharing across the workforce exist, indicating an ineffective HR- and talent-management process and it is imperative to get right. Companies aligning their business strategies to human capital strategies that place and train the right talent in the right roles performing in the right ways are best placed to execute their growth strategies more optimally.

To stimulate growth South African business leaders, in tandem with their HR management function, need to leverage new training methods and tools to reskill current employees in performing their jobs in new ways speedily - and get them to competence levels more quickly. Vocational, on-the-job financial up-skilling of current employees across a broad spectrum of functions will result in an empowered workforce that embodies the capabilities required for South African businesses to outclass their competitors in a post-recession setting. Game on!

About Natalie Zimmelman

Natalie Zimmelman is the business development manager of Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

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