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Vinitaa Jayson, vice president – human resources, Procter & Gamble Asia, on the trends and challenges in HR and why the function must be “at the forefront of driving change and agility”.
Q What drew you to HR?
Human resources was not on my list of jobs when I wrote essays in school about “what I want to be when I grow up”. I did a Master’s Degree in human resources because I believed that people are the greatest asset in any institution, and if I could learn to engage an organisation, I would be at the heart of the business; at the intersection of strategy and execution. My friends who were studying marketing, finance and IT, would view my choice with good-natured scepticism.
It helps that I am genuinely curious about people and their stories. I am obsessed with learning – new competencies, new and wicked problems, new ways of doing things. I am also an integrative thinker – who looks for a third, better way when faced with opposing ideas – and that requires tremendous learning agility.
Human resources is constantly evolving. I am very passionate about my profession and this comes with the desire to continuously sharpen the saw. HR professionals deal with tough, complex matters every day. It is the constant challenge of finding the better, third way – that, in each case, will positively impact both the company and employees – that nurtures my passion for human resources.
Q You’ve been in P&G for more than 20 years now, what made you stay with the company for so long? And can you describe a regular workday at P&G?
I love my job. When I joined P&G over 20 years ago as a new HR hire, I never thought I would stay in HR or in P&G for this long. When I started in HR, my mentors would ask me to focus on “what keeps me up at night”. For me, it’s “what makes me leap out of bed every morning to get to work” that is more important.
Throughout my career journey, I have been fortunate to embark on exciting assignments. Each time, I enjoyed the challenge of working with a new set of leaders, organisation sub-culture, business model, and sometimes, a different country, language, or culture. For each P&G change, it feels like a new job, except I have the comfort of knowing the company principles and values and how things work. Also, I was fortunate to work with outstanding bosses who raised my profile, gave me space to grow and lead, and allowed me to fail and succeed.
My mentors would ask me to focus on “what keeps me up at night”. For me, it’s “what makes me leap out of bed every morning to get to work” that is more important.
In my current job, I get the opportunity to work closely with a fantastic team of HR leaders across Asia, and business leaders who value our work and partner closely with us. We oversee people operations, talent acquisition and development, total rewards, organisation design and culture building. I spend most of a typical work day engaging on the business – how we can continue to grow our business and how HR can partner by engaging our people across Asia.
Q Having worked across Mumbai, Manila, United States and Singapore, what similarities and differences in people challenges do you notice across the regions?
We live in a VUCA world, facing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – everywhere – and the workplace is no different. Our challenge – within this context, and where we in HR can add value – is to attract, motivate, grow, empower and retain the best talent, while partnering with leaders to grow the business, and nurture an organisation culture that brings individual and collective genius to life.
At P&G, I enjoy and value the diversity we have in our workforce with more than 145 nationalities across 70 countries. All people are welcome, all people are valued, and all people are respected. We intentionally shape our teams to consist of people with diverse backgrounds, skills and personal trails, because we know that a diverse organisation outperforms a homogeneous one every time. A diverse team is better at problem solving, at making decisions, and ultimately, at delivering stronger business results.
Q What challenges did you face in the early years of your career? And how did you overcome them?
My path through corporate life was not always easy. One of my early assignments was as HR manager for a large organisation that was going through tremendous change. I loved the work and the impact I could see myself making, but there were also challenges.
The leadership team I was part of consisted mostly of men. While these were highly experienced and very talented leaders, there were several days when I felt that I simply didn’t belong – because I was a woman, I was young and inexperienced, and I was from a different function. I didn’t feel included or valued. But I prevailed. And over time, I built a network of supporters – men and women both – to get me to a position of strength, credibility and respect.
Today, I am delighted to be part of a P&G culture that is highly inclusive and committed to achieving gender balance at all levels of the company.
Q What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Best career advice? Find out what makes you strong, and leverage it in your work and life.
One of the people I met during during the course of a challenging assignment was my husband. He told me that what attracted him to me was my absolute conviction in what I stood for – and my ability to push myself through self-doubt, second-guessing and failure. He helped me find my power and to stand in it. I realised then that I couldn’t be trapped by other people’s thinking, or let others’ opinions drown out my inner voice and intuition. This awareness has allowed me to work through difficult issues, and it has served me well throughout my life and career.
Q Having been in HR for more than 20 years, what is the biggest change you have witnessed in the industry?
Employees increasingly want to be more in control of how much they work, who they work for, and where and when they work. This means companies must become better at planning careers, and managers must seek out and understand the career-life aspirations of their people.
Companies must become better at planning careers, and managers must seek out and understand the career-life aspirations of their people.
At P&G, we aim to provide meaningful work for every employee at each career stage. We plan careers for the long-term, and in many instances, plan for a global career path that goes beyond geographical boundaries. The idea of mainstreaming flexibility in daily work is something we embarked on years ago, in a flexible work arrangements program called Flex@Work. This has enabled our employees to maximise their productivity, while meeting their personal needs and growing their careers. We also offer flexible benefits as part of our total rewards program in several countries.
As a society, we are making positive strides in gender equality – and that is reflecting in the workplace. In P&G Asia, we are proud that over 50% of our managers are women. We hire men and women equally at entry level. We provide equal pay, equal benefits and flexible work arrangements. We manage our talent pipeline to ensure we have a diverse pool of experienced talent at all levels. We have affinity groups and women’s networks in each site for informal advice and peer coaching. We work to create an inclusive culture where women can be successful at P&G, and we educate our men on their crucial role as allies in closing the gender gap.
Q How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years? And how is your HR team adapting to these changes?
First, HR is moving full speed on the trajectory of digital transformation – whether enabling transformation in workplace practices or HR processes and systems. We have adapted our recruiting strategies to digital platforms, we use data analytics in talent development and are partnering with business leaders to create the workplaces of the future.
Second, we must continue to give people the flexibility to manage their careers. Whether we will move to an on-demand / freelance / gig economy remains to be seen, but we must continually evolve our employee value proposition to ensure that it reflects the changing needs and wants of our employees.
Q Is there anything you feel HR can do to play a bigger role in organisations?
I think of HR as the heart of any company. You don’t have an axe to grind. You can be the objective person in the room. You can bring people together to a decision. You can sense the mood or the morale and drive change. HR is the heart!
As HR professionals, we must be intentional in building our own breadth and depth. Seize opportunities to learn new skills, while building deep expertise in areas like compensation and benefits, talent, organisation design and culture. Raise your hand for a new assignment or project – and then leverage your network of mentors to help you. Go beyond functional boundaries in expanding your skills. By reaching out to colleagues in other functions, I learned how I could use their skills in my work – for example, I learned about developing brand equity from a colleague so I could use that in developing an organisation equity.
Our business results are powered by our people and our culture – and every HR professional has a direct responsibility to positively influence business outcomes, regardless of the industry they are in.
Most importantly, our role exists first to grow the business. We must be at the forefront of driving change and agility. Our business results are powered by our people and our culture – and every HR professional has a direct responsibility to positively influence business outcomes, regardless of the industry they are in.
Photo / P&G