Q: Give us a brief introduction of who Tshepo Wadipeba is and your current role as Head of Human Capital at Botswana Oil?
A: Tshepo is a purpose and commercially driven HR leader who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences obtained from the University of Botswana in 2003, an Executive Human Resource Leadership Programme, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Leadership with UNISA. In addition, I am a Senior Certified HR Professional and have participated in numerous short-term courses and programmes. I have held several executive human capital roles in various sectors of the economy, including the private, parastatal and NGO sectors.
My profession involves providing HR leadership as well as providing tactical and strategic human capital management solutions and interventions in the organisations that I work for. I have a proven track record in leading organisational transformation projects and developing robust talent management strategies, having been in the HR space for over 17 years. I am currently the Head of Human Capital at Botswana Oil Limited where I am responsible for driving and leading the BOL people agenda.
In the corporate governance space, I served on the BONASO Board from 2015 to 2018, the HRDC Appeals Committee from 2020 to-date and was recently appointed to the Legal Guard Board of Directors.
Q: What motivated the choice behind pursuing a career in Human Resources?
A: I suspect that my strong belief in family is what inspired me to a career in HR and contributed to my passion in creating safe spaces that enable employees’ potential. I am a firm believer in the family institution and I believe that conducive and pleasant family environments provide a safe space for family members to excel and be their best. When you think of it, HR is really all about building and developing one big happy corporate family of high performers who can pull together towards a common goal and ultimately enable the organisation to strive and reach greater heights. I believe that organisations that are resolute in creating a conducive, fun and safe space for their employees have a competitive edge as their employees are then able to bring their best to work and go above and beyond to deliver on the business objectives.
Q: Before joining Botswana Oil, you held top level positions in various organisations, mostly parastatals. How do you think those experiences shaped you prepared you for your current role?
A: I must say my career journey has been professionally enriching and I would not trade it for anything. I cut my teeth in the public service at the Department of Building and Engineering Services where I learnt the nuts and bolts of HR under the tutelage of leaders and mentors who set a high standard for me. I then managed to progress in my career and got exposure in various industries, mostly parastatals, faster than my peers at that time. I have had my fair share of corporate challenges and I got to experience the realities and negative impact of poor corporate cultures, which I believe led me to finding my purpose. It is my purpose now to “create safe spaces for employees to excel and bring their best to the workplace”. This is what drives me every day. I contribute to the bottom line of the business through agile and robust people-centric solutions and interventions. Empathy is at the centre of everything that I do as an HR leader and my philosophy is that we are human beings before the profit margins. The profit margins are driven by the people. It is therefore important to put people first in all you do and take care of them so that they can take care of the customers and ultimately improve the bottom line.
I have learnt that HR is not easy and comes with a lot of challenges. There is a saying that “Building an airplane is easier than working in HR.” Throughout my career in various organisations and sectors, I have found that saying to be so on point because even though building an airplane is an extremely complex endeavour, this demonstrates the complexity of being at the forefront of dealing with people issues in an organisation and driving the people agenda. At any given moment you are contending with thousands of different beliefs, upbringings and personalities. Unlike building a plane, which has a manual, in HR you can’t use the same approach every time in order to get it right. I have learnt that as an HR leader, I need to keep evolving and re-inventing myself in order to survive and stay relevant in this VUCA world of work. The disruptive nature of the corporate world comes with its own challenges and it is very important that as HR professionals, we get to learn and understand that our integrity and ethics should never be compromised by the challenges that we face.
Q: In your own words, please define for us what it means to be a top employer or employer of choice?
A: Being an employer of choice means you are resolute in creating a safe space for your employees to excel and bring their best to work. It means you have created a fantastic corporate culture that is fun and enables innovation, creativity and productivity. It is really all about crafting and implementing a compelling Employee Value Proposition.
Q: How has your experience been like leading human capital in the “new normal” presented by the COVID -19 pandemic?
A: I must say the biggest challenge I have faced in my career so far has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic implications. It has been challenging to be able to steer the organisation’s people agenda while manoeuvring through the turbulence of the pandemic. There is no doubt in my mind that the HR leaders who thrive during this pandemic are those who embrace empathy, resilience, agility and a willingness to adapt to change.
While the past two years have been a difficult road, I must say I have been able to leverage my ability to adapt quickly, be resilient and go the extra mile. I have always been a people-centric and empathetic leader, and in the context of this pandemic, that trait has been a blessing for me as I knew that every decision and intervention that I put in place had to put people first. The pandemic made employees to look to their leaders to guide them with empathy, compassion and wisdom, and it was my role as the HR leader to ensure this culture of empathy permeates across the organisation, especially during times where boundaries between work and home life have blurred and people were feeling burnt out as a result. Amid the global health crisis, people are increasingly and more intensely struggling with depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation. Grappling with worries about job security, the economy, social isolation and disrupted daily routines, many employees were experiencing psychological distress. Therefore, as and HR leader, it has been a challenging time as I was now forced to quickly take up space and guide the organisation through such a challenging and trying phase. It has been a rollercoaster ride but being able to help people and their families has been the silver lining. I didn’t walk in fear or believe that the challenges that came with the pandemic would hold me back. I developed an amazing level of resilience that gave me the means to thrive despite tough and stormy times.
Q: Did the pandemic make you rethink your role as a leader in HR?
A: The pandemic has brought about some positives for us as HR leaders as it has now made it clear that HR is indispensable. I am under no illusion that this year is going to be an easy year, but we are more prepared now despite the challenges ahead. On the bright side, the pandemic has accelerated some interventions which most organisations were reluctant to adopt such as digital transformation, flexible working arrangements, utilization of virtual learning platforms, and working from anywhere. It gave us a glimpse of what the future of work looks like and what future skills are required. The age-old conversation of HR having a seat at the table has finally been put to bed. It is now very clear that HR is at the forefront of leading organisations.
Q: Initially the HR industry was misunderstood and perceived to be just about keeping employee records. As an HR leader, how do you advocate for the importance, relevance and significance in the workplace as more than just ‘record keeping’?
A: It is true that as HR leaders, we are usually bogged down with transactional HR and therefore have limited time to understand the ins and outs of the business and thus play an impactful and strategic role in aligning human capital with business challenges and add value to the business’ sustainable success. But as HR leaders we must take charge and become true strategic partners in the business. We need to have the right business acumen to understand the organisation’s core business and objectives, identify potential talent needs, and design a workforce to support company’s future.
The coronavirus pandemic has also cemented the significance of HR in the workplace and elevated the role of HR in the C-suite as we had to take the lead in our organisations’ response to the pandemic and provide the much-needed guidance on issues such as health and well-being of staff, remote working, upskilling of staff for virtual working, mental health support and employee engagement during lockdown and so on. The pandemic has shown us, more than ever, that the HR function plays a pivotal role in determining the future of the business. This is a moment to leverage because the C-suite now depends on insightful, adaptive and capable HR leaders to be co-pilots and help steer and shape the future of work, enabling business strategies to deliver positive results. We, as HR leaders, now have to take up our strategic role next to the finance and operations functions and together form a powerful team with the CEO to drive the organisational changes required to survive in the fast changing and disruptive world. I believe this is the time for all HR leaders to demonstrate their value add and address the barriers that prevent them from becoming strategic partners.
Q: Given your experience as an HR leader across a wide range of industries, how can the industry improve and progress in adapting to the modern times that we now operate and live in?
A: Today’s HR leaders need to be bigger and broader thinkers and will need to be technology-savvy and nimble enough to deal with an increasingly agile and restless workforce and adapt to the modern times. Technology is freeing up HR from transactional activities to take on bigger-picture and strategic matters, making the field more exciting, more demanding and perhaps more competitive as well. As HR, we used to be about compliance, event planning, and payroll and so on, and to some extent, there are some organisations that still see HR as a purely tactical kind of role. But the good organisations, the smart ones, see HR as a strategic partner and understand the significance of HR and the value in putting the people agenda at the centre of the business strategy. It is therefore upon us HR professionals to demonstrate our value add by understanding and contributing to the vision, mission and financial success of the business. Otherwise, we won’t be taken seriously by the C-suite. We need to understand the strategic direction of the business and the economic and social environment in which our companies operate as well as to anticipate and prepare for changes in work and the workforce. Only then can HR professionals effectively manage human capital and align HR initiatives with the organisation’s goals.
Q: What is your biggest and proudest moment as an HR leader?
A: There are a few proud moments that I can think of. One that stands out for me is when I was still with the Competition Authority as the HR leader and the organisation was selected for peer review by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and got a favourable review, particularly on its organisational effectiveness. It was such a rewarding experience in my career as it gave me a sense of purpose and contribution to the larger economy of the country. You will note that I was part of the founding team of the Competition Authority and was tasked with setting up the Human Resource Division from the ground, which included developing HR policies, putting in place an organisational structure and resourcing the structure with the right talent. Therefore, it was such a rewarding and humbling moment to see the organisation that we set up from the ground being recognised and celebrated at an international platform such as the UN. The report of the review was presented to more than 100 nations at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Inter-Governmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy in Switzerland, Geneva in the presence of a high-level Government of Botswana delegation which included the then Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry.