Finding fulfilment in creating, making an impact, and pursuing goals through startups
Kitty: Thanks, Marga. Can you tell me more about your career journey in people and culture?
Marga: I started out in recruitment, focusing on talent acquisition across various industries and hiring for different levels and departments. One of the most interesting jobs I filled was for a mining company that produces pink diamonds, which is the only one of its kind in the world.
It was the second job that I had after college. The first job I had was actually just to help out a friend who was working at the staffing agency. They were short-staffed, and he said, "Hey, we need more recruiters. Can you step in for three months just to help us out?”
During Ramp, I was pursuing my master's degree while juggling between industrial and corporate settings of HR and clinical psychology. As I studied BS Psychology, I had a premed background. After college, I found myself at a crossroads, wondering whether to pursue med school, a career in human resources, or my master's in clinical psychology.
And so, medical school was going to take a long time, and I just didn't have the patience for it. I started my career in human resources and pursued my master's degree at the same time. I worked with offshore outsourcing companies across various industries such as finance, mining, telecommunications, banking, aeronautics, and more.
I was there when my mom died, and I had to stop my master's degree because I couldn't handle juggling both that and my grief. So I focused on working, and that's when I started joining startups. I found that with startups, there was so much room for me to be more creative, whereas big companies already have established SLPs.
Basically, if you start out at the bottom of the food chain, as I did when I was fresh out of college, you don't really have a say in a lot of things. Not to say that I knew a lot or could contribute a lot at that point, but of course, I wanted to have that fulfilment.
In joining startups, when they started to ask you, "Hey, what do you think of this?" you were more empowered to give your two cents about things that may already be in place or things that they want to happen. That's where I found my niche, that's where I found my calling.
To really get into startups, I'm accustomed to working with founders directly and talking with clients. When I was working with one of the startups, Executive Boutique, I was hired as a recruiter. Because it was a startup, as you know, you're supposed to wear multiple hats at the same time because there isn't much infrastructure and you're understaffed.
That's where I also started dabbling in other facets of HR, not just recruitment. I was not only hiring and firing, but also doing client management. Supposedly, there's a customer experience or customer service department that handles the clients on top of all the other departments. However, because it was a startup, I had to manage the clients directly as well.
There is a certain satisfaction that comes from working with startups that I don't really find when working with bigger companies. That's where you really get into the purpose of what you're building, which I was thinking about when looking through the questions about change management.
It was definitely what I expected in terms of fulfilment. In the beginning, I was not sure if this was the right path for me. I had three options in front of me, and I was uncertain which one to take. I think I was just a victim of circumstance, and my hands were tied at that time. However, I ended up loving what I did, and I continued to work on my craft to ensure that I still loved what I did.
When I dabbled in startups and then went back to corporations, I returned to startups again mainly because that's where I felt happy. That's where I truly felt like myself. Going into a place where we work because we want to create something, have an impact, and pursue a goal is fulfilling. That's where I found my passion - in startups.
Going into a place where we work because we want to create something, have an impact, and pursue a goal is fulfilling. That's where I found my passion - in startups.
Avoiding getting lost in translation when aligning vision by creating a personal sense
Marga: In terms of resources and support, HR professionals need to understand restructuring or change management, especially when dealing with startups. One thing to keep in mind is that whenever a change is implemented, the purpose and goal of that change must be clearly defined.
Without that definition, it's so hard to get everyone on board with the idea of how I manage my team, how I manage my managers, how I manage my bosses, and my leaders. I always tell them, "Make it make sense to me," because I'm going to have to make it make sense to my team.
You don't have to make everyone like the change. It's not a popularity contest. Not everyone is going to like it. But if they understand why it's happening, they won't end up presenting the company poorly. Sure, there will be some pushback at the beginning, but if it makes sense, then their logical brain will override whatever emotional response they may have to that change.
That emotional response will die down eventually. It may be like a first kind of instinct where one wonders, "Why are we changing this and why are we changing that?" However, if you state the purpose and goal of the change from the outset, and you make it easy to understand, it will make sense to the people affected by the change. You will be able to present it to them in a way that makes sense, and they will understand why it is happening. This will help them feel involved.
If you state the purpose and goal of the change from the outset, and you make it easy to understand, it will make sense to the people affected by the change.
When you communicate and socialize that concept for them, they're not as offended. It doesn't come off as abrasive or abrupt, in the sense of "why is this happening to me?" or "where is this company going?" Especially with startups, many have great visions.
A lot of founders are visionaries. They can get people to rally behind a company or a startup even when there is no brand to get behind. In the Philippines, Athena was a milk brand, but we had to break stereotypes and put branding on it. However, all these superficial changes wouldn't have been possible, or wouldn't have had such an impact, if we didn't have a vision.
People need to be aligned with that vision. Whatever changes happen within our organisation must also be aligned with the core values of our organisation. They must be aligned with what, I know this is sort of cliché, but really needs to be aligned with the mission and vision of what the company wants to be.
Otherwise, it's hard to make people understand why restructuring is necessary for the business. Therefore, I believe it's crucial to establish the purpose and goals of the restructuring, as well as the resources and support that HR can request from line managers during the change management process.
That's very important because when a decision is cascaded, usually decisions are made by the upper management, and that information gets trickled down to the line managers who manage the rank-and-file employees.
We need to have another conversation with line managers to help them understand and disseminate information in a way that doesn't make them feel like they have no say in what's happening.
It seems impersonal, and it doesn't really encourage participation or engagement from the employee. If you're an employee hearing that, all you're going to think about is, "What does that have to do with me?"
It has to be in a personal sense that is relatable to the employee. The only way for this to happen is if the line managers are also properly oriented to disseminate the information. This is where a lot of things get lost in translation due to gaps in communication, discrepancies between what people say and do, and what people want to happen.
A lot of these also need to be cascaded in a way that there is one source of truth. Then, the messaging should be made clear, no matter how it is presented. All line managers should be aligned to ensure they understand the messaging, so that any employee who has a question can be addressed according to those guidelines or messaging.
Everyone is aligned, everyone is looking on the same page, and everyone knows why the change is happening. So, that's what's crucial when you look at resources and support.
Everyone is aligned, everyone is looking on the same page, and everyone knows why the change is happening. So, that's what's crucial when you look at resources and support. Additionally, in what ways can HR be more strategic with talent development after restructuring or organisational transformation?
A lot of these apply to startups. Many startups have a lean structure, with a flat organisation at the beginning and then building up from there. There isn't really a corporate ladder like with larger corporations, where you start off as a rank-and-file employee and work your way up to becoming a senior analyst, then a supervisor, and finally a manager or deputy manager.
Talent development: maximizing current talents rather than buying skills from outside
Marga: There are levels to that, but startups don't have them as much. So, with regards to how HR can be more strategic with talent development, they should look at the current pool. I always say this in all the startups that I join: it's better to invest in the people we already have.
Kitty: That's powerful, coming from someone in talent acquisition. Instead of buying skills from outside, develop them internally.
Marga: Yes. From a talent acquisition perspective, I don't want to sound crude, but it's easier to hire someone without experience and invest in building their skills, then have them learn the job on the job. This builds commitment because they feel valued. They can say, "I didn't know this before, but because of this company, now I know how to do this.”It's not necessary for employees to feel obligated to be grateful to the company, but they should feel valued in a way that comes from their own initiative. They should want to give back to the company or at least do their best to not let the company or their superiors down.
With talent development, it's always about what we can do with the current talent that we have. Then, what competencies do we need to build? One thing that I always consider is what we can do with baselining, right?
This is a conversation that I have with our learning experience department a lot. I always talk their ears off whenever we have it, just because I get so passionate about it. But it's really mostly about what kind of competencies we can gauge.
What level do you need them to be at when they start? And how can we help them improve? For example, you might say, "Hey, Marga. I need them to have a proficiency level of maybe five out of ten, with one being the lowest and ten being the highest when they start. Then, I need the learning experience to help them improve from a five to at least an eight."
But what do we need to do to get them from a five to an eight? These are really exciting conversations that I have with the learning experience team because then we talk about what skills are trainable. What are the things that we need at the onset? For example, for Athena, we don't have language training. Language can be trained, but we don't have the time or resources to invest in it.
And so, we require people to be at a certain CFR level, which is B2, to enter the company. This is because we do not have the infrastructure, curriculum, or resources to help them progress from B2 to a higher level.
But then we take a look at the other competencies, right? For example, attention to detail or hygiene competencies like responsiveness. These are things that we can develop during training. We tell them, "Hey, you know what? You need to be more responsive.”.
Don't wait for X number of hours to get an email reply. These are things that you can reinforce, train, and practice. As Malcolm Gladwell said, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. These are things that we can reinforce in the learning experience.
The role of learning in helping startups navigate change and disruption is crucial.
The role of learning in helping startups navigate change and disruption is crucial. With so many startups in the world, it's easy to find hundreds of CEOs or founders on LinkedIn in just a few days. Everyone is looking for an advantage over their competitors and wants to be an industry disruptor.
And sometimes, as you mentioned earlier, your speciality is new managers from startups, which is a niche market. It's similar to other startups, which sometimes have niche markets, right?
From a talent acquisition standpoint, sometimes the supply is not available. I had a requisition before where I had to hire 3D specialists who were proficient in a specific tool, Revit, if I remember correctly. However, we didn't have that supply in the Philippines.
Even if we threw a lot of money into sourcing and marketing, we couldn't find the people we needed because they didn't exist. What we did was create the supply. We hired people who could do the job and then trained them. We trained them on the tools, how to use them, and overall job skills.
Again, if you don't have the supply to meet the demand, train individuals, create the supply yourself, and then invest in people. I think that's how you become more strategic and leverage what's in the market, because there's so much talent available.
There is such a thing as saturation. For example, Athena hires many XPS or executive assistants, which we call executive partners. However, if you search for executive assistant or virtual assistant, you will find several companies online that may even offer higher compensation.
But now we have to ask ourselves, "What's in it for me if I join Athena?" Even though I don't have VA experience, I just need to understand what is required for the job. Athena will invest in me and teach me how to do the job.
It's really more about bringing to people's consciousness that you're investing in them. It's the carrot at the end of the stick, because they also have to understand that the company isn't just profiteering off of them. You're actually helping yourself by being with the company because you're getting something out of it.
That's where talent acquisition and learning go hand in hand, especially when it comes to startups, because not everything that the client will ask of you already exists in the market. So sometimes you just have to create it. And the way we create it is by developing it.
Kitty: That is such a beautiful way to summarize it. People don't realise that they have a choice to create.
I like what you shared about taking a growth mindset approach to creating talent, developing it yourself, and creating the supply. Thank you for sharing so much. There were so many good nuggets there.
Building motivation and commitment: benefiting from employee experience and fair performance management
Kitty: When you mentioned creating your own supply, how do you identify people who are worth investing in training? How do you decide to take a chance on someone, even if they don't have the experience or competencies on paper yet?
Marga: Yes, definitely. For me, motivation and commitment are two different things. Motivation gets you through the day. I could get up without motivation, drink coffee, and that would be my motivation for the day. It's fleeting. Or I could apply for a job because I'm motivated to join this company since it's such a big company and the benefits are really great. That's motivation. But commitment isn't something that is fleeting, and it isn't something that you have to ask for at the onset. This is something that I discuss with a lot of hiring managers.
When they talk about their requirements, they always mention that you need to ask if they will be committed for the next five years. You don't get to ask that of applicants.
The logic still stands that commitment is long-term. It's something that you build, right? They can be motivated, and you can ask questions centred on motivation. Then you can take a look at their past experiences to see their level of commitment to their previous companies.
Sometimes it doesn't really translate to your company, right? Because there are so many factors. And now you have to see if these people are motivated enough to join the company. Do they have intrinsic motivation, or do they just have extrinsic motivation?
That's where I centre most of my decision-making. Then comes the commitment part, which is set right after the interview. When you like them, you give them the job, followed by an awesome onboarding experience that is the start of building a good commitment.
Now, they haven't even started with a company, and they already think, "I had fun during the interview." And now, they have been given an awesome job offer and are negotiating. They have been given a good onboarding package or whatever. They feel so welcomed. They want to stay with this company. And now, they can build those relationships with their team, manager, or direct reports. Now, they can build those commitments.
That's where employee engagement comes in. That's where appraisals and other things that HR has to intervene income in. That's where you build commitment within the company. That's where you build the culture. Is the culture good? That's another discussion altogether. Definitely, it's something that builds commitment. That's how I differentiate who I should give a chance to and who I shouldn't give a chance to, if not based solely on their qualifications.
Kitty: I'm glad you spoke about the employee experience because with many startups, they are moving so fast that they are barely filling positions, or they barely have time to do proper performance management. It's great that you're many steps ahead and thinking about the employee experience. So thank you for sharing all that.
Committing to who you are as a person and investing in yourself
Kitty: To you personally, as you look to the year ahead, there's only half a year left, I guess. How are you growing, whether professionally or personally?
Marga: To be honest with you, I am going to start my postgraduate studies. I am leaving the Philippines to study in Canada by January. I will be studying Human Resource Management. I just can't get enough, I guess. I want to learn more and then move on to operations management, which is my second certification in my plan.
And so, I want to learn more. I don't want to limit myself to what I'm already doing well. I always want to challenge my ideas, even if they seem reasonable. I always want to know, how can I do better?
Because I'm never perfect, I'm never satisfied with my performance. I'm never satisfied with where I am because there's always room for something better. That's why I want to learn more. Postgraduate studies are for me. Maybe a different role, not just in recruitment, but more in HR facets, or I could just stay in recruitment. I'm actually thinking about venturing into learning development. I also have a passion for that and maybe client management, since I have prior experience with that.
The world's my oyster again. I'm at that fork in the road where I want to do everything, but eventually, I'll settle on one and work my way through it.
Kitty: I want to understand your thought process when you were considering different upskilling or development options for yourself, both as an individual and as an HR leader. Did you also look into the available education and certification options for HR professionals?
Marga: I'm all for learning. I'm all for investing in yourself, your growth, and your development, but I don't think that the weight people put into certifications merits that much acknowledgement. Well, that's just my hot take. It's the same as my probably controversial opinion that I don't really have a problem with hiring people who didn't finish college. It's not the degree that is important to me.
What matters is your drive. Do you have the grit, resilience, and thirst for learning? Do you have that raw talent that I can utilize and build upon, polishing it into a diamond or gem that we can let shine?
What matters is your drive. Do you have the grit, resilience, and thirst for learning? Do you have that raw talent that I can utilize and build upon, polishing it into a diamond or gem that we can let shine?
Definitely something that I could use for best practices. I can definitely utilize the knowledge that I've learned from those certifications. However, based on the certification alone, such as just my name and the certification, I don't really put that much merit into it. I acknowledge the hard work that goes into it, and the effort that people put into it.
But let's put it this way: if I had two candidates, one with a certification and one without, my hiring decision wouldn't depend on that factor. It would still depend on merit, such as who you are as a person.
If they were on equal footing in terms of qualifications, experiences, and personality, and everything else was equal except for the certification, it still wouldn't be the deciding factor on whether I would hire the other.