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Building HR's Credibility as A Part of Business Strategy

August 8, 2023

Hadi (ex-Head of HR at GOTOKO) gives insight on building an HR mindset for business leaders and how it supports the growth of the company as a whole

Crafting a career by design: Exploring HR management and understanding people's daily actions

Hadi: First, I want to thank you for inviting me to this conversation. Whatever the outcome may be, I believe that as HR professionals, we share a common interest. Regardless of the outcome, there is a lot that we can learn from each other and exchange knowledge and experiences.

I always love to discuss these kinds of topics, especially with young people, and share the knowledge and challenges that we have in our organisation.

Kitty: That's great. That's exactly what we want to encourage more and more of. Speaking of young people, let's go back in time a bit. Could you tell me more about your career journey? How did you end up in People and Culture, and did it turn out as you expected?

Hadi: I've been in HR for about 22 years. I chose this career by design. When I was in college, I decided to study HR management, specifically human resource management. Since then, I have known what I want to become and the area I want to work in. For me, everything is about people.

I love to analyse people and understand the motives behind their actions in their daily lives. I find it fascinating to try and understand human behaviour in this way. Actually, that's true for psychology or human resource management. However, where I come from, we don't have psychology faculties, and no university provides this kind of major. I took human resource management. I knew that I wanted to become an HR professional from the very beginning.

This is by choice. And every day, I feel like I know less and less about the experience. The science is open-ended, and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I knew before. That's why I stick to this path.

On combining and aligning HR mindsets between corporations and startups

Kitty: What would you say are the gaps or challenges for a startup organisation compared to a mature, established business, such as the HR mindset, the people mindset, or the business mindset?

Hadi: Let's talk about the business side first, and then let's also talk about the HR side. The biggest difference between this type of company and a startup is the business mindset and sense of urgency.

People in the company are thinking, "It's okay if I delay this work until tomorrow. It's okay if I don't hit the target. It's fine if I fail to deliver the number this year without any improvement.” Because they don't have a sense of urgency, they don't understand the impact, and sometimes they don't want to know the impact if they don't deliver. People in startups, however, understand that if they don't deliver today, they're in trouble.

That's the biggest gap between an established company and a startup, especially in terms of mindset. Once you have a deeper mindset, it will move you in the right direction. You'll know how to create a strategy, set a timeline, and approach the execution of your business plan. This has a huge impact on the end result.

Kitty: Startups have a fast-paced culture driven by urgency and survival. How does this impact how they work with HR as a function?

Hadi: This is specifically happening to me. It really opened my eyes when I joined the startup. Because a good company is like a set of companies, such as a university. You are educated there. This is how to conduct business correctly, especially in HR. This is a process.

Many hierarchies, approvals, and compliance meetings. My first company taught me the importance of doing things right from day one. If you have doubts about an initiative, such as compliance or legal issues, stop and address them.

That's what my mentor taught me. We are a compliant company; we don't do business that way. I moved to another company, and they kept repeating this. It really stuck in my brain. Then I moved to Alibaba.

They asked me to do it. Okay, we have this initiative coming from the regional office and then you need to execute it in one week. I said it's not possible. We need to get approval, testing force, and some buy-in from the customer. Just like this as a company and say no, we don't have time.

Of course, we make time for Lazada. Luckily, I met the CEO of Lazar Logistic Indonesia, who showed me how to do business with startups. He said, "I understand. I also came from the same place as you. But look around you. This is a different world. If we don't do it today, we'll fail.”

It's okay to change the plan. We make a plan in the morning and change it in the afternoon. That's totally fine because if we don't do this, we'll fail. There's no point in having a good process or governance if you don't actually live it. The business is operating, you need to make a choice.

It's very good if you can combine and align both. However, whenever you need to make a decision, prioritize the business. I'm sorry to tell you this, but HR should come second. The business will be the main priority.

Of course, there are hard lines that we cannot cross, but I really want you to be flexible with your policies, initiatives, systems, and mindset regarding the business and HR. This really hit me hard.

Kitty: It's always hard to relinquish aspects of your craft when you've been doing it for so long. You know the proper way to do things, the correct frameworks that should be in place, or even just compliance. However, you have to pick your battles and discard some of the things you've learned. You must unlearn a lot of things, but you also learn new things along the way.

Hadi: It is. There's nothing wrong with having HR in a setup company or a startup, right? It's only about the business need.

When starting up, you need a certain type of HR. This type of HR can support the business in achieving its goals, but in an established company, it may not be the best approach, although it may be the most suitable. You need to consider what kind of HR system, HR behaviour, and mindset can support the business, as each business process is unique.

Building trust in business leaders by establishing HR’s credibility

Kitty: The next question is centred on restructuring or perhaps a big change, as it is often a moment of clarity for the business or a moment of soul-searching, or a very big change in strategy.

How can HR use restructuring or a big change to have a proper strategic conversation with leadership and influence how they work with the business going forward?

Hadi: As an HR professional, whether you are working for an established company or a startup, you need to establish your credibility first. You need to ensure that when you speak, people listen to you. Because if you don't have this credibility, your words may fall on deaf ears.

The second point is that you need to understand the business because you will be having a business conversation with them, not an HR conversation. They are not interested in HR skills or knowledge, you should interact with the business first. The most important thing you can deliver to support the business is confidence.

One of the most important things an HR leader needs to do is to give confidence to the business leader. When I say "confidence," I mean that people don't have to worry about underperforming employees, lack of knowledge or skill, or industrial relations issues. Once they are confident, they can focus on the business and create it.

The fewer people issues there are, the more effective the business strategy can be. This applies to everyone, including the CEO. Therefore, it is important to minimize people issues in the business. This does not mean ignoring problems, but rather addressing them in a way that minimizes disruption and noise.

It's better for the organisation to really focus on the business and provide results. Confidence is one of the key rules in general, and in particular, it means that you really need to work hard. For example, providing an HR system, employee insurance, and a clear career path are all important things.

You need to show this business leader that you are taking care of the people issue. You can run your business and let me handle the communication. It is important to regularly have conversations with the business leader to build trust and check in on their feelings. Ask if there are any doubts about the team or if there are any concerns about the leader's humanity.

Even though they don't show it within their team, they have a thoughtful side. As an HR professional, you need to be a friend and a business leader. This can only happen if they trust you as a person and believe that you are capable of handling HR in the organisation.

Growing and scaling up: having learning as a part of the company culture

Kitty: Speaking of human resources, where do you see the role of learning when a startup is undergoing change? We've often seen younger HR leaders struggle to keep pace with changes in the business. They might spend a few months mapping out competencies, but then the competencies change every week. Or, you may need a different structure, such as when you decide to drop a product line and completely change the product roadmap.

How can HR leaders develop a sustainable learning or talent strategy?

Hadi: It depends on the pace, right? Which stage is the company in? If the company is two or three years old, learning is more important than a structured HR process. I believe that culture is much more important than education. In the first two or three years, the leaders need to really focus on how they are shaping the culture.

And then learning becomes a part of the culture. If they have this learning ingrained in their culture, it's easier for you to just structure the learning, right? Yes, but once learning is already a part of the culture, it becomes much easier.

Again, do usually start-up companies hire the best because they pay high? Sometimes this is also my rough estimation. People who join start-up companies, like 70% or 80%, are usually ambitious. They are willing to take risks and have a high currency.

These kinds of people don't need to be told to get training or to learn new things. Their daily working mode involves constantly seeking new strategies and ways to solve business problems. They don't need to be told twice to improve their capabilities on the ground. Later on, you just need to provide the structure. That's just my personal opinion.

After three or five years, you will need to hire more people as your company grows and scales up. It is important to be selective and avoid hiring people who are ambiguous or lack motivation. You should carefully consider the type of people you need to reflect your company's values in finance and HR. It is not necessary to hire high achievers for these roles.

In their way, you need to find compatibility between the training structure and the learning process. You cannot just provide any learning program to the company. Whatever program is coming from HR needs to align with the business goals, right? Therefore, you need to start with performance management.

And then comes performance management. The second one is the employee survey, right? With these two approaches, you will know what kind of learning we should prioritize and push to the employees. We want to have employees with presentational skills, but do we need everyone to have them or just a few experts in this area? That's just an example and my personal opinion.

Kitty: Totally agree with that. Starting with performance management first is key because if you just did the survey, everyone would ask for everything. Everyone wants to combine skills. It's going to be based on personal needs and interests if you just throw everything in.

And that's always the challenge for HR: representing the employees while also representing the business and balancing the two. That's what makes it fun.

Hadi: I agree.

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