In a world forever changed by the seismic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the transformative forces of the fourth industrial revolution, organizations find themselves adapting to an ever-shifting landscape.
Amidst a backdrop of post-pandemic mass resignations and increasing global economic and geopolitical uncertainties, the role of Human Resources (HR) professionals has never been more critical. New remote and hybrid working models, employee wellness imperatives, digital transformation, and the constant evolution of skill requirements have emerged as central concerns for businesses across the globe. It is within this context that the 2023 HR Summit hosted by Strathmore University Business School (SBS) set out to explore these sweeping global shifts and how they impact Africa, to equip HR leaders with practical interventions to redefine the post-industrial era workplace.
The Summit explored a diverse range of topics to foster collaborative discussions and joint problem-solving. From cultivating empowering capabilities and mindsets for enduring impact, to mastering the art of talent management in an ever-evolving value system, the comprehensive agenda tackled the crucial challenges faced by HR professionals in the present day.
One emerging area of importance in HR is the integration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into HR strategies. Traditionally seen as the domain of investor relations, ESG considerations have expanded beyond those narrow confines to encompass all stakeholders. HR professionals now find themselves at the forefront of driving ESG initiatives, as they play a pivotal role in addressing social issues and moulding the narratives which surround them.
The social aspect of ESG is a natural area of leadership for HR departments. Companies increasingly recognize that social issues significantly impact financial performance, with labour relations emerging as a vital pillar of sustainable profitability. Investors, in particular, have taken note, prioritizing the “S” aspect of ESG as the most critical factor in their decision-making processes.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and the “Great Resignation” have amplified the importance of social disclosures, making them a focal point for companies striving for transparency and societal change. HR teams now bear the responsibility of managing and disclosing data related to turnover rates, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), training and development programs, and pay equity. The stakeholders’ scrutiny extends to how companies engage with the communities they operate in and contribute to their well-being.
To cultivate transparency, comparability and bolster reliability, standardized frameworks and metrics are being embraced, including the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and reporting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
HR professionals need to ask themselves how their organizations will become ‘future ready.’ Companies have embraced the concept of ‘infinite growth’ on a planet with finite resources. Unfortunately, human beings are now consuming more resources than the planet can regenerate. Therefore, HR professionals need to put in the right policies to curb unsustainable practices.
Furthermore, HR professionals need to influence the culture of their organizations positively. Every citizen of this planet needs to care about issues such as climate change. In developing countries like Kenya, we do not have the infrastructure support to deal with weather-related disasters. The dust from the Sahara blows into the Amazon Basin. Our world is interconnected, we cannot afford to ignore issues like climate change. HR leaders need to define and articulate the purpose of social responsibility to the employees in the organization. They need to put in the right policies to change behaviour where needed and launch initiatives such as banning single use plastics, employing solar energy panels, going ‘paperless’ and recycling water.
Are the products and services created and offered by organizations eco-friendly? HR professionals need to ensure their leaders are committed to sustainability. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally and socially conscious. Conversations are shifting from boardrooms to supermarkets, as savvy consumers stock their shopping trolleys with the brands they believe in and trust. HR professionals need to keep their leaders accountable.
Another issue of concern is that inequality in society is becoming more pronounced. The sad reality we are facing is: the bigger the inequality in society, the less peaceful it will become. We are already witnessing this tipping point being reached around the world. Consequently, the fabric of society is being torn by strife. HR professionals need to play their part to be a voice for their employees and ensure that ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ are more than just buzzwords.
Becoming ‘future ready’ will also necessitate an evolution in talent recruitment and retention. Will ‘disaster management’ become an important skill that companies need to hire for in the future? Will ‘systems thinking’ become a vital skill for all employees to be trained in, as everything becomes more interconnected and complexity increases? The world has already witnessed a ‘War for talent.’ Companies will need to be attractive to hire, develop and retain their employees.
Employment creation will also become vital in Africa as the large ‘working age’ population expands as Europe and East Asia’s populations shrink. Are we creating the right environment for our talent to flourish that can fuel economic growth? Without jobs, having many working-age people can drive instability rather than growth and the migration of talent.
The 2023 Annual HR Summit provided a powerful collaborative platform for HR leaders to redefine the contours of the post-industrial era workplace. By recognizing the importance of ESG considerations, HR professionals can harness the potential to drive positive change that resonates across all stakeholders. As expectations and responsibilities evolve, the role of HR professionals echoes the responsibility that finance professionals shouldered in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, as they endeavoured to formulate a more equitable and sustainable market system which would be increasingly resilient against the volatility and instability of the cracks which had broken the paradigm and structures that preceded it. By embracing these challenges head-on, HR professionals will be critical in forging the future by designing workplaces that not only thrive amidst change and uncertainty, but also prioritize the well-being of employees, organizations, and society at large.
Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach