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Lessons from COVID-19: Rethinking HR strategies for a post-circuit-break future

This is the eighth in a series of articles on Maximising the Leadership Lessons from COVID-19, brought to you by Symphonia for South Africa’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility (PfP). Visit

In the COVID-19 age – an era with a likely lifespan of years rather than months – team leaders have been thrust into roughly the same personal, circumstances as their team members (ie working from home, being isolated, distracted by children etc.). This is the great equalizer that many have been looking for and a global pandemic is delivering. This is an opportunity for leaders to reflect deeply and create a future that is distinct from the past. Three initial questions are emerging for me as helpful:

  1. What am I experiencing right now?
  2. How is this experience aligned with my team members experiences?
  3. With this new knowledge, how can I better serve my team and the organization in this moment and into the future?

This circuit-break is fast becoming a watershed for leaders; providing time and space for a genuine renewed focus on employee-centric leadership. Through reflection, we will begin to imagine a future that we have perhaps been speaking about, but have not found the time to act on. The gift of this reflective time provides a golden opportunity to think about new, sustainable HR possibilities that can underpin HR strategies for a freshly designed future. Hence, a further question emerges: What is dying and what is waiting to be born?

Here is an example of a reflective process (that you can populate) that will allow you as HR team leader, to begin to birth new possibilities:

Example of a reflective question: What mental models do I hold about employment practices and the operating models underpinning our HR strategies?  What is my role as team leader in reinforcing these models?


Pre-circuit break

During circuit break

The new future

Personal level example

     • I need to supervise my team members; therefore they must work in the company offices.

(Add your own mental paradigms – as many as you wish)

ü    • What am I observing about how we are supervising our teams?

ü    • How does this feel different? 

ü    • On reflection, what will it take for me to break out of pre-circuit-break mental models and formulate new sustainable ideas, which I can use to influence the organization?

Organizational level

ü   • Example: Team members’ productivity levels are negatively influenced by not working in the company’s offices.


(Add your own mental paradigms – as many as you wish)

ü   • What is shifting in terms of our team’s productivity levels?


ü   • Why might that be?

ü    • On reflection, what will it take to break out of pre-circuit-break mental models and create a new sustainable future HR strategy, underpinned by employee-centred operating models and practices?

Global level

ü     • Example: Company office work is the way we do business; this is our head office.


(Add your own mental paradigms – as many as you wish)


ü    • If you are bold enough, what might you be willing to take on to influence not only yourself and your organization, but the industry you work in at a national and potentially global level?

This reflection work can be done alone and with your team. The important aspect is to enjoy this unique time reflecting on breakthrough possibilities. The invitation is to create a new reality, and this is at once daunting and very exciting.

We are being given – as a gift – a massive chance to create something better than the model we have been implementing. The decisions we take now will be sustained for generations to come.


Irene Juhnke – is a member of the community of “Friends for PfP”. After a successful career of 35 years, in a range of portfolios, including Human Resources, she now supports Symphonia for South Africa with a number of specific HR related matters.

Last Updated on Friday, 29 May 2020 14:14

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Non-payment of SGB staff will produce dire consequences for schools, finds Symphonia for South Africa’s #SGBStaff survey

Non-payment of SGB[1] staff will produce dire consequences for schools, finds Symphonia for South Africa’s #SGBStaff survey

The survey findings reveal that:

  • Insufficient funds to cover the salaries of SGB-appointed staff and teachers is a source of major concern among principals of no-fee schools, low-fee schools[2], special needs schools and independent schools
  • If left unresolved, this will likely lead to retrenchments with serious knock-on effects for schools

Symphonia for South Africa has conducted a survey exploring the emerging issue of declining funding for SGB staff salaries at schools during the COVID-19 crisis.

While staff in government schools are predominantly employed and paid by the State, the number of teaching and non-teaching posts allocated by the Department of Education is usually insufficient to meet the needs in the schools. School Governing Bodies, therefore, need to raise their own funds (either through school fees or fundraising activities) to be able to employ additional teachers or support staff to perform vital functions including administration, cleaning and security.

Dr Magali von Blottnitz, Symphonia for South Africa’s Knowledge Management and M&E[3] Lead and developer of the research survey, said:

‘’In an effort to support the needs of the many school principals who are part of our flagship programme, Partners for Possibility, we have facilitated conversations around their concerns at this time. From this, we have learnt that SGB staff funding is a huge source of anxiety for principals.

While this survey provides a snapshot of the current situation pertaining to SGB staff funding, we believe that we can draw inferences about the very real concerns of principals across South Africa.’’

The #SGBStaff survey collected 203 responses during a 7-day period and featured respondents from all 9 provinces. The schools participating included no-fee, low-fee, independent and special needs schools, including Schools of Skills.

The survey’s findings highlighted the following:

  • Schools are experiencing a dramatic loss of income from school fees, voluntary contributions and fundraising efforts as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly half of the respondents indicated that their funds were already depleted or would only last until the end of May. 
  • Of the 203 schools that took the survey, the median number of SGB staff is 7 employees per school, with 5 employees per school in no-fee and low-fee schools. Typically, those schools employed 2-3 SGB teachers and 3 additional support staff.
  • The total monthly spend on salaries for SGB appointed staff ranges between R10,000 and R50,000 per school, with the median being R33,200. On average, 60% of the spend covers teachers’ salaries and 40% goes to support staff. The remuneration patterns vary significantly according to the school category.
  • SGB-paid educators are employed in critical roles which include the teaching of Grade R classes (in primary schools) and of English, Afrikaans and mathematics / math lit (in high schools). SGB-paid support staff, meanwhile, perform vital functions and enable educators to focus on teaching.
  • Most survey respondents indicated that the inability to pay the salaries of SGB-staff would lead to some or all of the following: retrenchments; the merging of classes, which would aggravate overcrowding; additional stress for government-paid teachers; a reduction in learners’ physical safety and emotional well-being; and an overall fall in the quality of teaching and learning.
  • A quarter of respondents indicated that the crisis would affect their ability to accommodate some categories of learners.

One of the most frequently identified groups of SGB-paid teachers are Grade R practitioners, and the risk of losing some of these educators is a matter of grave concern.

‘’Unless the financial concerns are addressed the ability to sustain vital pre-primary schooling in under-resourced communities is at risk,’’ said von Blottnitz.

“Knowing the role that Grade R attendance has played in raising educational achievement in South Africa over the last decade, we should all be worried about the risk of closing Grade R classes.”

Another concern is school hygiene and security – tasks that usually fall on SGB-paid staff to perform.

‘’In the context of a pandemic, it is of paramount importance that good hygiene is practised to protect the school population. Learners will face undue health risks if schools are unable to retain this category of staff,’’ she adds.

Additionally, schools catering for learners with special needs, especially those with disabilities, appear to have a high dependence on SBG-funded support staff for roles such as classroom assistants, learner transport, medical and paramedical assistance. The inability to retain such staff would gravely affect these vulnerable learners.

What has become clear is that the ability of our country to unlock new sources of funding will determine whether these vulnerable schools can avoid the devastating knock-on effects brought on by the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

‘’We are currently busy with further research on the ability of the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme support (UIF-TERS) to respond effectively to the needs of under-resourced schools. A concern, though, is that this fund may not provide sufficient financial support to cover the full duration of the crisis"

“The needs are considerable, and every concerned citizen is being called upon to reflect on what each of them can do. Any other contribution or funding that can be mobilised for this cause will, without a doubt, be money well spent,” von Blottnitz concludes.


For the full report on the #SGBStaff survey, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information on Symphonia for South Africa and its flagship programme, visit

Interview requests may be made to:

Dorcas Dube

Marketing and Communications Manager

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mobile: 076 766 2326



[1]SGB: School Governing Body

[2]Symphonia for South Africa has defined low-fee schools as schools which charge less than R2500 per child per annum

[3]Monitoring and Evaluation

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2020 14:56

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Do for one what you wish you could do for all

We are now deep in the bowels of lockdown phase 2. Phase 1 was all about denial; tearing around the place exercising, homeworking, cooking, feeding, cleaning, meditating, Zooming/Skyping/Teaming, giving, writing, responding, watching, listening, reading. On and on we did.   

The mood is shifting

7 weeks in, and the mood is shifting. Can you feel it too? We are moving beyond our own personal need for safety and control – trying to maintain life-as-normal - towards an acceptance of our collective vulnerability and humanity. We are beginning to look out at the terrifying consequences that this crisis is having on our economy and on people’s lives. The loss of income is now biting hard. Over a third of our population has gone to bed hungry in recent weeks. The myriad social consequences of hunger and deprivation are rising. Millions of kids are idling. It is a powder keg.

The reality is cutting deep

Vast scores of small and micro business owners – around 5 million to be exact, many in the informal sector – simply will not survive Covid-19 without serious interventions by both government and the private sector. Unless we all make decisions in the interest of the common good - to support one another flat-out once - I don’t believe we can begin to grasp the social fallout that we will face. What can we do now - during Covid-10 – that will enable people and small businesses to live and survive through and beyond this time?

Do for one what you wish you could do for all

Andy Stanley once made a statement that radically changed my thinking about the impact I could have on the world: “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” This time is giving us all an opportunity to live this challenge no matter our circumstances; to move beyond the head space – what makes sense from a rational perspective - into the realm of hearts and hands, where we do for others – even just one - beyond what we ordinarily would. But in order to do this we need to think differently – beyond charity – and towards partnership and co-ownership in our collective future.

Our local pizzeria which has had no custom for 3 weeks, will go under soon. Yet I have saved R300 a week that my family would ordinarily spend on pizza. I will put R900 into their account as a pre-payment for pizza in future. The same applies to my hairdresser; our local coffee shop. A small homemade ice-cream business that is a standout employer in our area (Scoop – look them up) just received an order of way too much ice cream from the Foxtons.

Of course, not everyone can afford to do this and do for one what we wish we could do for all means different things to different people. That’s okay – do it anyway.

So, what can you do? Who is to your left and right, right now? Do for them. If we all did for one to our immediate left and right, we could survive this lockdown for months on end.

Do what you can for as many as you can.


Justin works in the fields of leadership development, culture change, citizen participation and anti-racism. He is a seasoned and highly acclaimed speaker, writer, mentor, process designer and facilitator. He consults to Partners for Possibility.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 May 2020 14:22

Hits: 354

COVID-19 leadership lessons: A business leader’s take

This is the seventh in a series of articles on Maximising the Leadership Lessons from COVID-19, brought to you by Symphonia for South Africa’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility (PfP). Visit

The COVID-19 era is accelerating massive change. This change is a subset of a more long-term change that is yet to occur. New realities that are fast unfolding are placing leadership under a massive spotlight, as many call for leaders in all spheres to use this time of crisis to introspect and reform.

Every lesson learned now can and must be used to better understand and respond to this enormously demanding duty.

Embracing the quietness

Slowing down the frantic pace of life with all its doing has given me valuable time for reflection. It feels as if the planetary ecosystem that I am a minuscule part of is heaving a sigh of relief. This has opened up a range of opportunities and new thought processes that are presenting themselves to me as the weeks continue.

Exposing inequalities

One of my initial reflections centred around the stark inequalities that exist in South African society and how this has become so vividly graphic in the era of COVID-19.

This crisis has precipitated major commercial and economic fallout that has left the poor even poorer; starving and destitute. While I live in relative bliss with my family on a large property, with plenty of food and wanting for nothing, I am deeply aware of those who live under vastly different conditions, sharing rooms in cramped apartments or shacks in informal settlements, with little to eat. 

My wish for the world in the era of COVID-19 is that this imbalance is corrected once and for all. This is the change that is yet to occur. In this regard, my purpose as a leader and the purpose of my organisation needs to be challenged too. My role as the CEO of a business is to ensure the well-being of the business and all its stakeholders. But who are they? Is it enough to merely be a creator of employment? How can my business contribute to the betterment of society in a new way – a post- COVID-19 way?

Digitisation for the greater good

Tying in with this is the rapidly unfolding digital transformation that is upon us all and that is so challenging. This clearly presents some opportunities, but it is simultaneously deepening the socio-economic divide in South Africa. I believe that we need to be conscious of the risks of a digital world but find ways to maximise the benefits of technology for the good of all. How do we use the technology at our disposal to tackle the scourges of unemployment, gender violence, poverty and hunger? How can we transform a sector like education?

Together apart

What is clear from the massive scaling up of the use of technology-based communication platforms like Zoom, is that we need each other even if we cannot be physically close. The era of social distancing is presenting us with a major opportunity to master deeper levels of engagement and connection. Consistent, honest and compassionate communication is critical.

Finally, and most profoundly, I have discovered that intuitive decision-making that emanates from the heart, is essential. The patriarchal paradigm of head and hands is insufficient to deal with this situation or the vastly different future that is yet to be revealed to us.

Our ability as leaders to work with our heads, hands and hearts is undoubtedly what will determine whether we survive and eventually thrive.


Thomas Holtz is the Group Chief Executive Officer of global mineral processing industry leader, Multotec. He has also partnered with Elizabeth Seema, Principal of Rembrandt Primary School, on the PfP programme. PfP is committed to social change through the leadership development of school principals and business leaders in South Africa. Visit

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2020 10:24

Hits: 191


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