An Introduction HR as a Strategic Partner
In 1980, a family of hopeful Filipino-Chinese shoemakers were selling only shoes. Four decades and three generations later, the shoe store has grown into nine sister fashion and lifestyle brands, 300 retail outlets in the Philippines, and an operation in three countries abroad. From humble beginnings with their first brand, World Balance, to their now growing CHG Global, a once small family business has transformed into a truly national organization.
Creating a Fair and Caring Workplace
According to CHG Global’s Human Resources Director Davis Leonardo, the key to building a business that big is to foster an organization that treats HR as a strategic partner of the company. “As an HR and organizational development practitioner, I believe that our role is to create a win-win solution for both the employer and the employees. We formulate interventions and create systematically planned programs that will benefit all,” he said.
True to his word, the president of CHG Global, Barnaby Chong, hired Leonardo precisely because of that belief. From the get-go, Chong knew that he wanted a strategic partner. He understood that the HR leader’s role should not be confined to administration, but is rather paramount in transforming the organization.
Family businesses tend to fail on average by the second or third generation, but in CHG Global’s case, they have only grown since the first.
Leonardo knows that his role goes beyond the traditional HR practitioner. Recruitment, compensation and benefits, and labor management are just the beginning. Leonardo extends his role far deeper into business processes improvement and people and culture.
“In CHG Global, I’m consulted in almost all matters of the company, and they take my recommendations seriously. From what our strategies would be in terms of change management, business processes, supply chain, merchandising—sometimes I’m involved with even shoe design,” he said.
What’s critical to know about organizational development is to see the strengths of what already exists. Though some practices might not be recorded formally, these unspoken rules have been working. All that’s left to do is to enhance these, while remaining rooted in the organization’s core values, principles, and vision.
“As HR practitioners involved in organizational development, you don’t just point out ‘Oh! I like this, I don’t like that.’—No. What we have to do is to make sure whatever current or new business processes you or anyone in the company is trying to integrate aligns with the company’s vision and long-term goals,” Leonardo said.
With respect to this belief, an article from the balance on becoming a legacy business stated that building one starts with a long-term mindset, which Leonardo also emphasizes. The article stated that the organization’s day-to-day action will be the bricks the legacy will be built on and that all decisions must relate back to its vision.
Whenever change is introduced to CHG Global, employees from the top-down will surely be affected. And so part of what organizational developers must do now is to prepare and involve the employees for these changes.
Fittingly so, Leonardo is also the head of CHG Global’s change management committee. “Business processes change entails two things: preparation and involvement,” he said. Leonardo shared that when changes happen, information dissemination, impact analysis, and creation of buy-in from top management occurs, but it is costly and complicated.
There’s a need then to create a culture of collaboration and an environment of people talking and working together. Only by establishing this can a business successfully facilitate a conversation of agreement on particular interventions―exactly the reason why employees starting from the top-down needs to be prepared and involved.
“So, where’s the gap?” he asked rhetorically. Now that you know what the coming change is and its impacts on the employer and the employees, you now have to analyze the gap and how you’ll bridge the organization’s vision to these changes.
Leonardo talks to all the people involved and asks which values and principles that are at the very core of the company they’d like to espouse unto these changes. There were a lot of instances in the companies he has worked in the past where new pieces of technology were brought in, for example. Leonardo thought these were very, in his words, “canned” and “cookie-cutter”. The company will then have to adjust to the technology instead of the other way around. In CHG Global, he thinks long and hard on how the company can customize it to better suit their needs and values.
Leonardo believes that younger HR practitioners do not fancy reading and so the pragmatism of their practice falls short and runs shallow. And when accepted into an organization, many fail to analyze and understand the business needs, the organizational needs, and the needs of the people. People need to have a certain level of awareness―not just in their organization but of everything else around them.
“Just because a multinational organization does this certain practice doesn’t mean it’s going to be applicable to your company. Again, different values, different contexts, different financial capabilities, and so on. So you really have to have to read, analyze, understand, and be aware of what’s out there. After that, anything new that comes in the company, you’ll be able to customize and configure to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit,” Leonardo said.
Lastly, build relationships. As evidenced by Leonardo’s experiences, his good relationship with the president made it possible to achieve all this success. “This whole thing, it’s not my show―it’s the show of who’s leading. I’m only an instrument and a mouth-piece in making this happen.”
But most important of all―make decisions. Quoting Anna Wintour, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Leonardo said that he remembers one of her interviews where she said that her best management skill is her decisiveness. Leonardo believes he carries the same.
“I’m very direct. I know what I want, what I don’t want, and if I don’t know what I want, I tell you that I don’t know what I want. And people appreciate this. It’s very much anchored on the company’s values and entrepreneurial excellence, and it undoubtedly creates an impact on how we work at CHG Global,” he said.
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Patricia Yap, this chapter is titled, “From Family Business to a Global Legacy: The HR Leader’s Role as a Strategic Business Partner.” In it, Davis Leonardo, the Global Human Resources Director of CHG Global, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in breaking the norms of HR in an organization.
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Davis Leonardo, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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