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Ensuring he calls up every new hire early in their stint with the company 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?

I didn’t know about relocation until I joined it, when I realised it was one of the most global segments in today’s marketplace.

Dealing with multinationals across industries, headquartered all over the world, we have a remit most industries can’t provide. Even the assignees are from all walks of life, so we get the opportunity to deal with global citizens.

In dealing with people making life-altering decisions, I find it incredibly rewarding for us to play a role in making sure they are successful.

With SIRVA Worldwide Relocation & Moving expanding significantly under your leadership, how do you motivate employees for success?

A lot of people can paint a mission and vision statement, but you need to be able to translate that into what it means on the ground every day, coupled with communication. In my role, with employees spread across regions and markets, that means making sure each one gets the same message.

Five years ago, I instituted skip-level meetings, where I speak to the rank and file or customer service staff, without the presence of their supervisors or managers.

Initially, many people were nervous about what the employees were going to say. Eventually, they got comfortable because of two rules.

First, anything that was said stayed within that room. Second, if you ask for feedback, it is your responsibility to do something about it as well. Because if you don’t, employees will stop giving feedback.

Besides town hall meetings, we also introduced the new hire call – every new hire will get a call from me within the first quarter. It gives me an opportunity to not only introduce the company, but validate whether the onboarding has been a brilliant experience or an absolute catastrophe.

It takes a lot of time, effort and commitment, but for me, it is time extremely well spent. Because I’ve got an employee base that is extremely engaged and collectively moving in the same direction.

If you ask for feedback, it is your responsibility to do something about it as well. Because if you don’t, employees will stop giving feedback.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

That I’m empowered to make decisions. Some people don’t like the accountability, but I do. Being in that position to influence people, decisions, and results of that, keeps me excited about coming back every day.

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 about the facts, rather than the emotion.

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 will 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 that 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 in terms of what we need. HR needs to rein us in and help us keep in mind the people implications, making sure the voice of the employees is genuinely heard.

What are some of the ways that HR can contribute better to organisational goals, in your view?

We have a fairly robust talent management system and part of that is because we are such a widespread organisation. So it is important to look at career progression, not only in terms of knowing where the talent is, but what are we doing to give them the right opportunity to grow with us.

The second piece is effectively 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, and connect the dots on business and people targets, but you also need to give them the tools to be able to do their jobs.

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 will realise things are not as bad as they seem.

The final element is a double-edged sword, about talent attrition. That doesn’t mean you retain 100% of your employees, but rather about weeding out those who are in the wrong job or the wrong industry or a combination of a number of things.

Could many HR leaders make it to a CEO level? Why/why not?

They can, but there’s one critical piece – a sense of balance between the voice of the people and the business goals. If you’re too skewed to the people and unwilling to make tough decisions, then you will have a very loyal employee workforce, but you may not be able to execute any business strategies.

Regardless of what background you come from, it doesn’t matter as long as you have this balanced view.

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