From studying accounting to training consulting to leading talent development, people and culture
Kitty: So to kick off, just tell us a bit about your career journey. Did you end up in people and culture and was it what you expected?
Lisa: I studied accounting in college, so I wasn't really expecting to end up in HR or to be taking care of people and culture! However, I'd always been interested in people and development. When several job offers came after graduation (including one in accounting), I was attracted to join a small startup as a training consultant, which I knew I’d be doing training and development.
Through this experience, I learned how important it is to establish, assess, train, and develop company culture. I learned early on in my career that company vision, mission, values, leadership, and development are fundamental and hold crucial aspects in organisational transformation, business growth, employee engagement and productivity. I spent six years in that company, learning and starting my career from training support up to executive consultant.
I learned early on in my career that company vision, mission, values, leadership, and development are fundamental and hold crucial aspects in organisational transformation, business growth, employee engagement and productivity.
After spending 6 years in that company, I knew at the time, I have a lot of questions that I couldn't answer unless I received proper education & training. So I pursued my Masters in Psychology, while taking on roles as an academic and researcher during my studies. Only after graduated from my master’s degree, I then entered the HR field (no longer as a consultant, but in an actual HR role). I started my career in HR as a learning & development professional at ANZ Bank before moving on to HR innovations at DBS.
At that time, DBS was going through a digital transformation and they were still in the process of shaping their digital transformation journey. One of their strategies was to beef up HR with HR innovation role to transform employee programs into program with digital experience. I took on a new role in HR which gave me the opportunity to work across various HR aspects such as industrial relations, risk and governance in HR, as well as employee engagement. After a couple of years, DBS give me the opportunity as HRBP as well as taking care of talent management and organization development.
I spent over 18 years mostly in banking and fintech.
The benefits of working at startups vs more established companies
Kitty: I imagine your transition from DBS to DANA was significant! Regarding the contrast between a very structured environment to a startup, you've had the foundations, you have really great fundamentals.
What support or gaps do you see in startups for HR professionals? Because you understand how things should be, you probably have a deeper appreciation of where perhaps the challenges are for startups specifically.
Lisa: In Banking, the workforce was more mature, in age. When I left DBS, I was in my late 30s, so I always thought of myself as being in the middle of the pack. Interestingly, within my first week of joining DANA, I realised I was one of the senior employees (both in age and position), because the majority of the workforce was in their 20s. This realisation itself was really empowering and created a lot of opportunities that people from well-structured environments sometimes don't appreciate. Working in established company comes with valuable breadth of exposure and opportunities that contributes a lot into our depth of comprehension, understanding, judgement & knowhow.
When you move to a startup, you learn to appreciate the small things.
Firstly, the celebratory culture of startups that appreciates every milestone. In startups, that's really empowering and it made me realise that years of experience in more structured, established corporations provide a lot of insights and knowledge that can be shared and give impact.
Secondly, in a startup, our opinions, inputs, thoughts and solutions are really sought after. This means it's up to us to drive whatever course of change would be. So, I think that's what stood out to me when I moved from DBS to DANA.
In a startup, our opinions, inputs, thoughts and solutions are really sought after. This means it's up to us to drive whatever course of change would be.
Understanding the assignment: HR as ambassadors for the people and the organisation
Kitty: Great to hear that from the beginning when you joined Dana, you had a strategic voice, had that experience and maturity on the business side to be a true partner and to really shape the change.
When it comes to a big change or a transformation in a startup, how can HR be even more strategic? So it's always a moment of self reflection in the founding team or it will shape the culture of the company. How can HR professionals leverage a big change to do something that they know will have long-term impact on the organisation?
Lisa: I really hope more people adopt the mindset that HR professionals are the experts on people. I think having had that understanding and confidence are really important because every organization is different. In one organisation, top management might appreciates and understands the importance of an HR’s perspective in their decisions. Whereas in other organisations, HR might be perceived as implementers rather than strategic partners.
Nonetheless, it boils down to the HR professional themselves to understand the assignment. Not just the assignment given in the job description, but the assignment of holding that mandate as the ambassador of employees as well as management. Having that mindset is critical, because sometimes as an HR, you are lucky if you have senior management that share the same managerial principals as you in managing people. In reality, sometimes we cannot choose our boss. In today’s economic climate, especially in startup, there are changes that has to happen.
Despite the circumstances, the mandate HR professional holds still remains. HR are the ambassadors for the people and the company/organization. HR is the experts in people and organization, since we are trained to deliver and to have a voice, even though our opinions, solutions, and recommendations may not always be implemented. HR needs to take ownership of it and personally ensure that we are articulating ourselves in the right way, educating others, and holding that partnership role, even if it is not expected of us.
HR needs to take ownership of it and personally ensure that we are articulating ourselves in the right way, educating others, and holding that partnership role, even if it is not expected of us.
Kitty: In summary, being proactive in living and breathing the values that you want to spread through organisational culture.
Why it’s important for HR to hone their stakeholder management capabilities and business acumen to be “seen” the way they want to be seen
Kitty: A lot of the HR people that we speak to in startups feel they don't that confidence to speak to the C-suite or at the leadership level to bring about the changes that they need to. They're seen of seen as a support function or they're seen as a service provider. There's so much value in being more visible as HR in shaping the values of the business.
Lisa: You cannot control how people perceive your role, but as the role holder, it's up to you to actually deliver the right things. I hesitate to say "the right thing" because it's not always clear what that is, but as an HR professional, that's what we are paid to do.
Kitty: Yes. Shaping culture.
Lisa: Yeah, shaping the culture. To express our professional opinion and represent the department or division we are in. Sometimes, there are fears that HR is being defensive or doesn't want to do the job and doesn't support it. It all boils down to capability and communication skills.
So that's probably what HR also needs to focus on: honing their stakeholder management, communications, and diplomacy capabilities, which are all very important in business acumen. You don't speak about the business with HR language, it’s much more helpful when you speak with business language. That's probably the challenge that HR faces, especially in this type of climate.
You don't speak about the business with HR language, it’s much more helpful when you speak with business language.
Learning is no longer an ‘aspirational’ requirement, it’s a job requirement
Kitty: What's the role of learning when things are always changing in a startup, not just literally L&D or implementing an LMS, but maybe more broadly building a learning culture in the organisation.
Lisa: I come from a people development background, so I really appreciate the benefits of diving into learning and considering it an integral part of my personal and professional development. However, given today's changes e.g. living in a VUCA world, disruptions, and technology, I no longer see learning as an aspirational requirement.
In the past, people trained and had learning aspirations because they wanted to get promoted, expand their roles, or advance in their careers. But now, learning ability is a job requirement. Everyone needs to have the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn to get their job done. Otherwise, you will become irrelevant because there are a lot of changes.
Now, learning ability is a job requirement. Everyone needs to have the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn to get their job done. Otherwise, you will become irrelevant because there are a lot of changes.
In the HR field, for example, we now hear words that were not common five years ago, such as "culture." When discussing organisational climate, you are essentially discussing culture. Nowadays, there are culture specialists in almost every organization. Therefore, the ability to understand this concept is becoming increasingly important as the world and its needs change.
To remain relevant, it is essential to keep learning. I believe that having the ability to learn is now a requirement for any job. If you want to get your job done and succeed in what you are supposed to do, you must be willing to learn continuously.
Kitty: Always be learning, it's a mindset of lifelong learning no matter whether it's personally or professionally.
The power of community to transfer knowledge amongst professionals across a fragmented region
Kitty: What's in store for you for the half year ahead? So we're now into Q2 How would you like to grow professionally or personally?
Lisa: Thank you for asking me that question. It's mid year already but I haven't got the chance to actually think about that!
I’ve always seen that talent in Southeast Asia is the most vibrant, growing ecosystem in the region. Expanding my network exposure in the region will be on my agenda, because it's no longer sufficient just to have local networks.
I also believe growth both in professional and in personal life can happen when we lean in to what we love to do, hold dear to what we believe in and take active part in contributing, adding value and making difference to whichever communities that we belong to.
I also believe growth both in professional and in personal life can happen when we lean in to what we love to do, hold dear to what we believe in and take active part in contributing, adding value and making difference to whichever communities that we belong to. So on my list is getting involved in a community that allows transfer knowledge among professionals, within the region.
I'm also thinking about having some sort of certification, but I haven't decided what it is yet.
So that's two things I have in mind. I don't want to have too much of a wish list as I might get frustrated at the end of the year!