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Winnie Tsien, head of human resources for Hong Kong, Macao & Taiwan at Jones Lang LaSalle, reveals how she made the switch from social worker to HR, her leadership style, the challenges of digital transformation and why dealing with people is the greatest challenge of all.

You started your life as a social worker. Why the switch to HR?
I personally see a lot of commonalities between social work and HR disciplines. I feel lucky I was trained and equipped with different social work and psychology knowledge as most of it, if not all, can be easily applied into my daily work.

When I was working as a social worker, I noticed that people who were in need might not step into any social services context to seek help. Indeed, the largest platform for me to reach out to them from was the workplace. Being a HR professional, it’s somehow my primary role and responsibility to engage with people to support and help out in their career and work environment. That’s why I am here.

You recently switched companies from PwC to JLL. What prompted the move?
It was definitely a big and difficult decision for me as I had been working at PwC for 12 years and there was no push factor or reason for me to update my résumé. The only triggering point was when I did a self-evaluation in 2019 I decided that I would like to humble my heart and develop this virtue again in a completely new environment.

My experience and success helped me earn a lot of respect and trust, but I will never forget where I came from and what I have learned along the way. Being humble helps me to not take anything for granted, because nothing lasts forever.

Having recently implemented a successful digital transformation project, what’s one tip you can give to HR on how to make it a success?
Be resilient. Making any changes and going through transformation is always challenging as it requires a lot of courage, positivity, communication and resilience. The environment can be very uncertain and there are too many unknowns, even if you have a good plan in place. Count every small step and appreciate those who are going through the journey together.

No one is perfect and we are all learning from the lessons and mistakes. It’s important to keep the momentum of “unlearning and relearning” as the world of work continues to evolve. Also, always communicate with the wider population in advance so that no one is surprised about the progress and destination. We will see the silver lining and the end of the tunnel very soon.

Describe you leadership/people management style
Inclusive and transparent. I have learned from all the good leaders that I have encountered in the past that it’s crucial to keep everyone on the same page by sharing the bigger picture and any updated progress.

I love spending time engaging with people by exchanging ideas and listening to their points of view. Most of the time, I benefit from understanding different perspectives which allows me to make a solid, sound and sensible judgement or decision to better the people experience.

Lead by example. Before expecting others to do anything, I need to learn, try and deliver on things so that I can coach and share my observations while estimating the possible difficulties. However, I have also learned that I do not know everything and that is the main reason why a collective team effort is always more powerful and sustainable than an individual contribution.

You have covered a wide range of HR roles – recruitment, strategic planning, payroll and data analysis. Which do you find the most challenging?
Dealing with people is the most challenging thing. There is no absolute or perfect formula or recipe, and many external and uncontrollable factors can affect a result. Each case is unique with different stories behind them. We have to bring an open mindset and keep it fresh by continuously stepping into others’ shoes to ensure we are on the right track and heading in the right direction.