Ensuring he calls up every new hire early in their tenure is just one of the people-oriented decisions taken by Jacob George, president of Asia and the Middle East at SIRVA Worldwide Relocation & Moving.
In this interview, he lists the ways HR can add further value to business imperatives.Having been in the relocation industry for 19 years, what attracted you to it?
To be honest, I didn’t know what relocation was about when I joined the industry but I soon realised that it is one of the most global industry there is.
We work with multinationals across industries, companies that are headquartered all over the world, covering a remit most industries can’t provide.
The assignees we help are from all walks of life; true global citizens who are making life-altering decision. I find it incredibly rewarding to play a role in making sure they are successful.
With the firm expanding significantly under your leadership, how do you motivate employees?
A lot of people can write a mission and vision statement, but you need to be able to translate that into what it means on the ground every day. With our employees spread across regions and markets, that means making sure each one gets the same message and is working toward the same goal.
Five years ago, I instituted skip-level meetings, where I speak to employees without the presence of their supervisors or managers.
Initially, many were nervous about what the staff was going to say. Eventually, they got comfortable because of two rules.
First, anything that was said stayed within the room. Second, if you ask for feedback, it is your responsibility to do something about.
If you ignore your employees, they may stop giving feedback. Conversely, employees may go around you if they feel adamant about something that hasn’t been addressed.
I also introduced the new hire call programme – every new hire will get a call from me within the first quarter of their service with SIRVA. It gives me an opportunity to not only introduce the company, but also validate if the onboarding has been a brilliant experience for them.
It takes a lot of time, effort and commitment, but for me, it is time extremely well spent. Today we have an employee base that is extremely engaged and collectively moving in the same direction.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
That I’m empowered to make decisions and take responsibility for change. Some people don’t like the accountability that comes with decision making; I do.
Being in the position to influence change and have a true impact on all aspects of the business and seeing it progressing is what gets me excited.
When you’re struggling with stress, how do you unwind?
I either go for a run or play tennis – something to clear my mind and think through the facts, rather than let the emotion get the better of you.
As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of an emotional outburst, so the best thing to do is walk away for 15 minutes and you realise things are not as bad as they seem.
What is your view of HR as a business function?
To be brutally honest, in the absence of HR, we wouldn’t make the progress we have made.
The HR team acts as a voice of reason, because sometimes, as a business leader, we come through at a hundred miles an hour to achieve what we need. HR reins us in and reminds us of the people implications, and makes sure the voice of the employees is genuinely heard.
What are some of the ways that HR can contribute better to organisational goals?
We have a fairly robust talent management system, which starts with identifying our top talent and making sure we are giving them the right opportunity to grow with us.
The second piece is aligning the business objectives to people targets. Setting lofty goals from an HR perspective will disable you to connect the dots between the two.
The third aspect is ongoing training and development. It’s great to have talent because it is needed to achieve business objectives, however if you don’t equip them with the right levels of support and tools it’s a wasted skill set.
The final element is a double-edged sword - talent attrition. It doesn’t mean you retain 100% of your employees, but rather focus on retaining 100% of your top performers.
Could many HR leaders make it to a CEO level?
Absolutely they can but with one caveat – striking the right balance between the voice of the people and the business goals.
If you are too skewed to the people side and unwilling to make tough decisions, then you will have a very loyal employee workforce, but not the desired business results. As long as there is a balanced view, we can all be leaders.