Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Being an Authentic HR Leader

Can you be yourself in an HR role?

Or do you have to a ‘professional’ version of yourself?

At the HR Advisors Conference in February, we discussed being an Authentic HR Leader. Our panel of presenters shared their career journey and their key tips and techniques on how you can bring your whole self to your role. We then had a speed dating session where people could ask questions one on one.

Speed dating

It was a fantastic morning and I thought that I would share one key thought from each of our fabulous panelists.

Shirvani Mudaly has just started as Chief People Officer at Vend, but talked about her years as Chief People Officer at Yellow. Shirvani said that she’s found to develop your leadership skills, taking on the seemingly crappy jobs or projects can teach you a lot and create new opportunities. When she was feeling stale in her role, the CEO told her that he wanted her to transform the culture at Yellow. Shirvani put a plan in place to move the company from being a corporate to being nimble like a technology company. The 40 page strategy went to one page. They introduced flexible working. Summer hours meant that people could leave on Friday at 1pm if they’d achieved their objectives. The focus went to output not input. The reward scheme moved to their core values. And their internal net promoter score went up 27%.

Drew Williams, Head of People Operations at Auckland Council shared a story about when was at AirNZ, at remuneration review time his GM had a spreadsheet with a line for each employee. There were 10,000 lines and the GM went through each one and knew the situation of each person. Drew also saw that when Ralph Norris left he went and shook the hand of every employee. This is a key part of being an HR Leader – knowing the people in your business.

Elizabeth Jeffs, HR Director at Counties Manukau DHB said that from having a career in law, she moved into HR and loves it. She does still think in 6 minute blocks though, which she said can be quite productive! The key point that stood out for me from Elizabeth was that she talked about HR having courage to confront issues, and stand up to things like harassment. #TimesUp shows that the job is not done yet. If your company condones and promotes behaviour that is against your values, then you may have to make the decision to leave. Elizabeth also said she is a lifetime learner and reader, and recommended reading everything you can get your hands on – not just HR articles.

Career Panel - Shirvani Drew and Elizabeth

Molly Workman, Culture and Talent Manager at Lotto NZ explained that there is a saying out there that is just wrong. Fake it until you make it. Molly said that when she started at Lotto, she was put on an IT system project team and the TL was saying things she didn’t understand. She pretended to know what it was about and then afterwards had to frantically google to find out. However that TL probably knew she didn’t know, and by not asking, we actually undermine our credibility. If we’re going to pretend we know things, how can managers trust that we actually do. So don’t fake it. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Managers are generally very happy to explain their team and their business to you. And you demonstrate confident leadership.

Molly presenting

Beth Bundy, Group People and Organisational Director at AUT was our last panelist to present. Beth talked through her career – the good, the bad and the funny. One of Beth’s tips was about CEO and Senior Executives. She said that many of them have done bad things, been obsessed with money, said or done the wrong thing. As an HR leader you have to deal with it, and if you can’t, then you have to be prepared to leave. You also have to demonstrate the values you want to see. At AUT Beth has taken down walls so that HR are part of the business, not sealed away. If you want people to work together, then you have to show them you will too.

Beth presenting

I know from my career that I’ve always felt like I had to be this professional version of myself – I couldn’t really be me. It wasn’t until I was leaving a Head of HR role, and had to work out my 3 months notice that I decided to just be myself. It was the best few months, and I really got to know the people I’d been working with. There is no reason why HR can’t be ourselves, however we also need to be mindful of how we be authentic and demonstrate HR leadership.

Thank you to a fabulous set of HR leaders for sharing their thoughts and inspiring a room full of HR Advisors!

Drew presenting

Angela Atkins is People & Learning Director for Elephant Group. She is also the bestselling author of Management Bites, Employment Bites, Training Bites and Safety Bites. For more visit or find her on LinkedIn.


One comment on “Being an Authentic HR Leader

  1. Pingback: Being an Authentic HR Leader – insideHR

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2018 by in human resources, Leadership and tagged , , , , , .
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