Why this “HR BOSS” doesn’t have much sympathy for HR professionals!

Understanding the frustrations that many HR professionals experience in their workplace environments; and 4 strategies to combat them.

Jane sighed audibly and rolled her eyes in frustration in response to what I thought was a reasonable question about the frustrations that many Caribbean HR professionals were experiencing in their workplace environments. Clearly, Jane had very little sympathy for HR professionals – which was odd, considering that Jane is an HR professional herself!

The year was 2018 (April, 2018 to be exact) and I was conducting a Skype interview with Jane Wight, who had recently been promoted from her position as Group Executive Manager for Human Resources for BOSS Trinidad & Tobago to the CEO role of the company. When I first connected with Jane on LinkedIn back in 2015, it was difficult not to be impressed by her credentials, her track record of success and her passion for the field of HR. But it was only during my Skype meeting with Jane, that I truly benefitted from her unique perspective.

At the time, I was knee-deep in what I referred to as an “HR Listening Tour” to better understand the potential overlaps between branding and HR professionals –particularly the shared interests, aspirations, concerns and challenges of these two groups of professionals. I figured that Jane’s dual perspectives as both an HR professional and a CEO would be able to provide me with useful insights that I could use to better understand how branding and HR professionals could work more closely together in their respective organizations.

Prior to the meeting, I had interviewed several HR professionals from all across the region, and many of them had complained that they hadn’t been granted a seat at their respective organizations’ strategy tables. Several also complained that, in their organizations, they were seen more as “policy police” than as critical contributors to their organizations’ success. It was when I recounted these findings to Jane that she sighed and rolled her eyes.

To say that I was taken aback by Jane’s reaction would be a bit of an understatement. Here was an individual who was clearly passionate about her field, had spent most of her career in HR, lived and breathed its principles and, yet, seemed emotionally removed from her colleagues’ frustrations. What was that all about?! In order to understand Jane’s unexpected response, we need to understand a bit more about Jane.

When Jane was younger, she wanted to be a secretary. Or a flight attendant. But life had other plans for the future CEO. After successfully completing a Bachelor of Commerce Honours Program from the University of Guelph in Canada in 2005, Jane decided to pursue a career in HR. That same year, she enrolled in a Master of Human Resources Management program from the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business. Upon completing the program, Jane worked in the HR department at Scotiabank from 2009 to 2014, and was then hired by BOSS Trinidad & Tobago in 2015 as the Group Executive Manager for Human Resources. In 2017, after just two years and a half into her HR role, she was promoted to the CEO position at BOSS. And, three years later, in 2020, she was again promoted – this time to be the CEO of The Business Supply Group, the parent company of BOSS Trinidad & Tobago and its sister company SCRIP-J, one of the Caribbean’s leading printeries. This appointment has made her the first female CEO in the Group’s 42-year history.

But, how does a career HR professional, promoted to the CEO level at one of Trinidad & Tobago’s most respected companies, end up being so unsympathetic for the plight of her HR colleagues who want to be more involved in their organization’s strategic decisions? This was the question that Blueprint Creative posed to Wight in a recent interview with this “HR BOSS”.

Jane’s response to this question was blunt, straightforward and honest. Referencing her own career path, Jane explained that, while working as BOSS’ Group Executive Manager for Human Resources, no one had given her an “official” invitation to the high-level conversations that were taking place about the company’s strategic direction. “So,” she explained, in a charming sing-song Trinidadian accent that I have grown to love after spending six years living and studying in Trinidad, “I had to drag my chair across the hall and insert myself into these conversations.” 

I suspect that Jane was speaking figuratively, but I chuckled as I imagined Jane literally dragging her chair from across the hall at BOSS and placing it in the company’s board room. After inserting herself at her company’s strategy table, she made sure to always add value to the company’s strategic conversations by giving invaluable insights on how the company could improve its strategic advantage in the market by leveraging the principles of HR. Pretty soon, Jane became an indispensable contributor to any conversation related to her company’s business strategy. And, in just five years at The Business Supply Group, Jane moved from being the Group’s HR manager to become its CEO.

Jane’s experience of “dragging her chair across the hall” explains Jane’s perspective on professionals who complain about their circumstances. Jane points out that “HR is at the heart of creating and nurturing culture”, making the HR function “extremely critical” in any organization that wants to move to the next level. But, while Jane acknowledges that HR professionals 100% deserve to have a seat at the strategy table, she also steadfastly believes they need to earn their place rather than have it gifted to them!

When asked what advice she would give to HR professionals who were seeking to follow in her footsteps and claim a seat at their organizations’ strategy tables, Jane had four pieces of advice. Her first piece of advice is to “Be Brave”. Jane is definitely a member of the tribe of people who believe that it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. She believes that too many HR professionals wait to be asked when they should be more proactive about taking on new and innovative roles in their organizations.

But, according to Jane, for HR professionals who want to claim their rightful spot at the strategy table, being brave isn’t nearly enough. Jane’s second piece of advice is to “Be Brilliant”. This “HR BOSS” believes that to be noticed by their organizations’ leadership teams, HR professionals need to continually hone their skills, be highly organized and demonstrate their indispensable value to their organizations.

Jane’s third piece of advice is to “Speak the Language of Business”. She believes that in order for HR professionals to be taken seriously by their peers, they need to make it clear that they understand the company’s strategy and then tie their HR initiatives directly to their organizations’ strategic goals and desired financial outcomes.

Jane’s final piece of advice is to “Build Your Personal Brand”. At the end of the day, Jane says, being an HR professional is all about being in sales, in the sense that you have to pitch yourself and your ideas to the leadership of the organization in a way that CEOs and senior executives want to actually listen to you. “You have to create your elevator pitch,” she says. “You have to create the value and present it in a way that CEOs and senior executives want to actually listen to you.” And when you have a strong personal brand based on creativity, innovation and a track record of success, it will be much easier to sell yourself and your ideas to your team.

Jane also had some direct advice for HR professionals who follow these recommendations to be brave, to be brilliant, to speak the language of business and to build your personal brand – but still aren’t being taken seriously in their organizations. Her advice? Plan your exit and get on with your career! “If you really hit a home run,” she says, “and you know what you’re doing, and you still haven’t been taken seriously, then you’re probably in the wrong company, and you need to leave!” She added that, sometimes, companies aren’t prepared to listen to good sense and good strategy from their HR teams. And, if that’s the case, she says, you should consider transitioning to a new organization that values your skillsets, perspectives and insights.

Jane’s future, both as an HR professional and a CEO, looks bright, and she plans to make her mark on her company and her industry as only she can. Jane strongly believes that HR professionals are important stewards of their organizations’ brands, and plans on fostering a stronger collaborative culture between The Business Supply Group’s HR and marketing teams as time goes on. Her strengths of listening to people and mobilizing them to achieve the strategic goals of a company, creating an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable to share their ideas, and enhancing performance and profitability will certainly come in handy as she seeks to build a stronger brand and a stronger business for The Business Supply Group.

In summary, Jane plans to make her mark in her company and in her industry – like a BOSS!

By Ron Johnson

Author | Speaker | Storyteller (Co-founder, Blueprint Creative)
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