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Snapshot: Patti Clifford, chief talent officer, Havas Group

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Patti Clifford, chief talent officer, Havas Group, reveals the best ways for CEOS and HR leaders to work together, and the top skills the HR professionals require to work optimally in Asia.

What was your first HR job and why did you choose HR as a profession?

The reality is that HR chose me. Although I was always interested in the environmental and cultural aspects of an organisation and how that could impact performance, I was not on a HR “track”. I was tapped to work on a cultural transformation that was at the center of a new strategy.

The role reported to the CEO and I worked with him and the senior leadership team on implementing a vision, values and a variety of talent management tools. Because I was very successful in leading the cultural transformation, I was selected to go straight into a CHRO role.

The CEO and Board put a premium on my knowledge in driving the culture and knew I could learn the rest of the core HR functions – which I did.

 As a chief talent officer, what do you think is the most integral part of your job?

Understanding the business, being connected to the people, clearly communicating and executing a plan are essential to being a successful CTO/CHRO.

What do you think are the biggest talent challenges Asia is facing today?

Many markets in Asia are evolving rapidly and with that, the focus on Talent has become more central to business strategies.

There are some common areas that we see as essential to be competitive in the marketplace – a strong employer brand, a clearly defined culture as well as ensuring training/development opportunities are robust and communicated.

There are two workforce dynamics that I think also pose as both challenges and opportunities in Asia – the rising prominence of women in the workplace and the influx of youth into the workforce. Both are pushing some cultures that are deep in tradition to evolve and change.

How do you think chief talent officers and CEOs can work together to ensure smoother/more productive interaction?

The HR/talent function not only needs to work collaboratively with the entire leadership team, but also operate as a key advisor to the CEO.  They should be ensuring that the CEO has talent strategy at the core of business discussions and decisions. Ideally, they should be making sure that the topic of talent gets as much time on the business agenda as revenue.

What skills should CHROs and CTOs have today in order to be successful?

I think it’s becoming more and more important for HR leaders to have broad business skills as their foundation. Those skills work in complement with any specialty HR skills.

The function has moved from fairly reactive to one that requires proactive leadership. CHROs and CTOs need to be strategic and have the ability to build talent strategies that integrate with the business strategy.

They need to be strong communicators who are able to interface with all levels in the organisation as well as great influencers who keep the talent agenda front and center and with good momentum.  It’s an exciting time for the role as there are more and more opportunities to try new approaches and learn from them.

How do you think HR practices and priorities are different in Asia as compared to other parts of the world?

In Asia, the HR function is increasing in importance and getting more attention from management teams.  It’s moving from an administrative team focused on “hiring & firing” to being a true partner to the business.

Given the prominence of mobile in China, India and Southeast Asia and other technology advances, I think Asia will innovate more quickly with respect to how recruitment, talent management, recognition, etc. take place.

What is the best career advice you have received?

”Balance how much emotional equity you put into work.”

When you are passionate about what you do, it can become all consuming and you have to be disciplined about ensuring that it doesn’t drain you to the point that you don’t have enough left over for the people and passions you have outside of work.

How do you think HR will evolve over the next 5-10 years or so?

I think we’ll see a change in the organisation of HR – possibly new roles around social, data, culture, remote workforce, etc. with more of the basic blocking and tackling being outsourced.

I only see good things for the function as long as we keep innovating and challenging the traditional ways of doing things.

Complete the sentence: I cannot imagine HR without …

… all the passionate people in the function who show up everyday making a difference for employees.



Asia’s most renowned regional HR Excellence Awards is back in October in Malaysia to sieve out HR’s finest gems. Are you a diamond in the rough? View the categories and find out more.

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