Inside HR Talent Search Career Profile: Manon Pietra

Manon Pietra, people and development director for PHD Australia, 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 role?
Luckily for us, talent attraction is not really a concern and our staff retention is strong due to overall business health. This means the key focus for me over the past two years, has been driving talent progression forward internally. We have quite a junior workforce (with an average age of 26) so our focus has been all about finding ways to keep that talent engaged and giving them progression in their careers either within our agency or a broader agency group.

How have you seen HR as a function change and evolve?
Our function has shifted from a more transactional one to an integrated function. That is one of the reasons why my role is so rewarding at PHD: our management do not need to be convinced of the value of HR.
It has been a long journey, but people are now beginning to intimately understand that every business decision that they make is ultimately a people decision. HR is becoming more and more integrated into the main business, and we are no longer there just to fix problems – but also to help the business grow.

How are the skillsets and competencies required for effective HR changing?
I see HR as pivotal to the success of any business. As an HR professional you need to be able to talk to a variety of different stakeholders on their level. If you are, for example, talking to a CFO you must understand their needs. The same goes for a head of operations, IT or any functional head within the organisation. I have seen HR professionals sometimes have a chip on their shoulder if they are on the sidelines, if things are going badly everyone blames HR, or if things are going well it has nothing to do with us. I think the only way we can really add value is through having input into business decisions and talking to a lot of people about the things that are affecting them.

What personal and professional qualities do HR leaders need?
Empathy is critically important. When I first came into the profession, it was a very transactional function and it was important to be good at managing processes and legal frameworks. I saw it as a black and white profession, but as the years go by I am beginning to see more of the grey. Being truly empathetic to people has been a game changer for me. Excellent HR leaders are very empathetic to the people they work with and genuinely want to help. The other important quality is assertiveness. Business moves fast, and management teams are looking for clear, directional recommendations from their HR partners.

What advice would you give to aspiring HR professionals and leaders to be successful in the future?
The first thing, is to put yourself in as many uncomfortable situations as you can. If you are choosing this career path, you are going to have to deal with more challenging cases as you grow in the role, so just embrace it and start tackling it as soon as you can. Put your hand up and ask to be briefed on complex performance management or misconduct cases for instance – there shouldn’t be any situation that you are not willing to touch.
The second piece of advice is don’t overlook how important soft skills are in this business, and the importance of making genuine connections with staff and with leaders.
Relationship building is incredibly important in becoming a strong HR professional. So, if you have a choice between an HR role where you are going to be at the coalface talking to people, and a role that is in a back office/shared services, take the one on the coalface because it will make you a much better leader!

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