Can You Handle the Truth?

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Paulo Abadillo, this chapter is titled, “Can You Handle the Truth?” In it, Renato Lao, the Vice president for Human Resources and Admin at Philippine Daily Inquirer, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in [topic of chapter, ideally not repetitive of title]. 


Renato Lao has spent a little over 3 and a half years with the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now sits as the company’s Vice President for Human Resources and Admin. As a result, he’s absorbed some of the company’s values into the way he works. 

 

Being one of the premier news outlets in the country today, it’s obvious that the Philippine Daily Inquirer values telling the truth above all else. Operating since 1985, the Philippine Daily Inquirer holds over 600 awards and citations given by organizations such as the Catholic Mass Media Awards, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, People Management Association of the Philippines, and so much more.

 

While Lao himself isn’t a journalist, this emphasis on transparency and integrity that one can find all around the company has influenced the way he practices HR.  

 

For Lao, transparency is a must - especially when the truth may not be so rosy. 

 

“It’s important that HR tells the truth to employees about how a company is doing,” he said. He goes on to explain that this is why he holds a “State of the Business Address (SOBA)” address every quarter, where the company’s performance is reviewed and even things like whether the company is hitting its financial targets. This practice also afforded Lao another channel through which the values of the Inquirer can be reinforced, as they make sure that company policy is communicated well during these addresses.

 

On top of these quarterly addresses, Lao regularly hosted alignment meetings with all departments to ensure that everyone in the company shares the same values. “After all,” Lao said “We aren’t all just writers and reporters here. Just as important are the clerks, marketing, and even custodial staff. We have to make sure we’re all on the same page no matter what function.”

 

This belief manifested in different ways per department. For instance, the advertising department always refused to run ads when there is a potential conflict-of-interest to ensure that they can always report with integrity. Even the sponsors behind ads in the paper cannot influence how a story is reported. 

 

“It’s a matter of putting in a mindset, to all employees, that we are always devoted to the truth. Even if it means losing business,” Lao said. 

Another way Lao practices telling the truth for his employees is ensuring that collaterals were available to clearly communicate any new company policies. This initiative came in the form of the Inquirer’s company newsletter, where updates on anything new with the company is reported in great detail. Lao also made use of posters and signs that they distribute around the office as another handy reminder of what’s expected from Inquirer employees. 

All of these measures were put in place so that an Inquirer employee will always know where they stand within the company, and where the company is going. “Giving complete, easy-to-understand information is part of telling the truth for me,” said Lao. “We don’t sugarcoat and we don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.”

For their straightforwardness, the Philippine Daily Inquirer was handsomely rewarded. According to Lao, the company has maintained good labor relations. Within the company itself, there is a highly-respected union whose members consist of graduates from the nation’s top schools and hold a comprehensive understanding of Philippine labor law.


He recounted the numerous bumps in the road that the management-union relationship has had over the years, with union representatives confronting the Inquirer regarding disagreements over certain disciplinary actions or terminations of employment. At the end of the day, the truth was the key to bridging the gap between the two sides. Lao noted how trust and transparency between the two facilitated a much healthier and cooperative work relationship. 

For instance, one thing the Inquirer did to inject trust and transparency in the relationship was to give employees space to air out concerns. Representatives from the company always dedicated time to sit down with them and talk to them face-to-face, skirting away from anything that looks like they’re just giving employees the run-around. “You just have to treat people like human beings,” Lao said. “There’s no need to offer all these extravagant perks. It can be as simple as that - it’s old-fashioned but it works.”

While the presence of a union may seem intimidating for other companies, such was not the case at the Inquirer. It’s clear that the company’s employees are happy where they are, with many of them staying for years on end. “We’re lucky that the rates of voluntary separation here are relatively small,” said Lao.  “I would say that the main reason for it is because employees here have found that the company’s values resonate with who they are. That’s a really big factor in how long someone can stay somewhere.”

Overall, Lao counted himself lucky to work at a company that so obviously has a heart for their employees. He enjoyed the fact that he’s able to stay authentic when facing Inquirer employees, and that employees appreciate him for this. 

According to Lao, “The worth of HR isn’t measured by awards and recognition. It’s measured by how people feel about you. Not shying away from telling them the truth is a sign you respect them and for that, people will always appreciate you.”

To get more insights from other HR leaders like [interviewee name], please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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