Inside HR Talent Search Career Profile: Wendy Lenton

Wendy Lenton, Group Executive People & Culture, nib Health Funds, discusses the future of work, how the nature of HR is changing and what will make for successful HR professionals in the future

What are the key professional priorities in your current role?
The health insurance landscape is rapidly changing and nib is going through an exciting period of reinvention and growth. We’re shifting our purpose from financial protection for health, to a higher order and broader purpose ‘your better health’.

What are the key professional priorities in your current role?
The health insurance landscape is rapidly changing and nib is going through an exciting period of reinvention and growth. We’re shifting our purpose from financial protection for health, to a higher order and broader purpose ‘your better health’.

We have a culture of ‘racing the red queen’ which means we’re entrepreneurial, keen to try new things, and punch above our weight. We’re growing rapidly, both domestically and internationally, which is driving my priorities:

  • Growth culture: growing fast while managing the complexity of international jurisdictions and the nuances of expanding our business portfolio.
  • Evolving our leadership and talent: attracting and developing the best and shifting them to the next level.
  • Wellbeing & mental health of our people – this is a real issue for every business and we are addressing this in a constructive way for our business and our people.

How are you seeing HR as a function change/evolve within business?
HR is evolving in response to many of the major drivers of change such as, big data and analytics, and the rise of the social enterprise. Pleasingly, HR functions are moving beyond the transactional and low value adding space; we’re seeing valuable insights and efficiency that can be derived from leveraging technology. With HR activity being e-enabled, its allowing HR professionals to spend the majority of their time with business leaders focussing on strategic challenges and opportunities. We’re also contributing to shaping the work environment of the future – which is all about flexibility, agility and keeping people connected and innovating. It’s an exciting time to be in the people space!

How are the skillsets/competencies required for effective HR changing as a result?
It’s really about not getting caught in the weeds. HR professionals need to anchor their priorities to critical business issues and outcomes. As business leaders we can make a real contribution around the strategy table, bringing a greater appreciation for the human condition, what motivates people and how to create environments where they can grow and do their best work.

What personal/professional qualities define great HR leaders?
Firstly, they need to be a business leader with accountability for the people agenda. Often we get caught in policy, process and inputs rather than contributing to the business strategy. We need to continually look for what’s going to benefit the customer, how is what we’re doing going to tangibly help the business? Another key quality of great HR leaders is their skill in connecting the various people interventions in service of achieving a business outcome. Mental health is a great example of this; it is a real issue across many work environments and the wider community. We have the opportunity to use a range of mechanisms to better understand and tailor our responses to individual environments across the business. And finally great HR leaders recognise they drive outcomes through leaders, by supporting and influencing ie not do it for them. We have the opportunity to inspire leaders to pick up the people agenda and help them understand the value of it.

What is the one key to successful talent acquisition in business?
It’s a great question; and while we talk about talent, we don’t talk about it deeply enough. The key to successful talent acquisition is to make it a priority! We just need to focus on it and invest the time. I’d suggest engaging a broader group of people to get involved in selecting talent and don’t recruit quickly. Encourage leaders to bring in talent who are better than they are; this takes courage! When scoping what talent you’ll need to attract, take a look at the whole team and what they need vs just a limited focus on the role. Look at the talent in terms of filling not only a role but having the potential for the next two roles and spend time thinking through what capabilities you need for the future of your organisation. As HR professionals you really have to challenge mindsets ie when talent come from a different industry or with different experience. Sometimes using assessment data can help here to highlight how an individual from a different industry or with diverse skill-set can add value to the business.

What advice would you offer aspiring HR leaders, in order to be successful in their future careers?
My first piece of advice would be to ‘get out of the detail’ so typical within any HR function; and connect to the business strategy. In the HR world, we often get caught up responding to the business, and process and system changes required. However, to really contribute you have to be disciplined and keep focussed on the higher order challenges and delivery of business strategy. Every year it’s valuable to reflect with your team and ask ‘what have we really done this year to shift the dial and contribute to the business’?. I’d also encourage HR leaders to get comfortable to focus on two or three key things and don’t get distracted by a cluttered people agenda. My final piece of advice would be to stay curious and cast your net wide, looking in different places ie diverse industries and geographies to challenge your thinking and to stretch yourself to make improvements.

Career Advice