Janet Wong, global resourcing projects director at InterContinental Hotels Group, takes 15 minutes out with Akankasha Dewan to talk about her HR journey.
What was your first HR job, and why did you choose HR as a profession?
I never thought I would work in HR. It happened when I was starting the second year of my MSc organisational psychology with the University of London International Programmes and I took up a six-month contract role as manager of global resourcing projects moving away from a hotel operations role for the first time in my career at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). My decision to move to HR came about when I realised that I was finding limited opportunities to put into practice the tremendous amount of knowledge I’d gained from the modules I was studying and the only way I could apply what I’d learned was to change the role I was in.
Was that a difficult decision?
It was, because I did not think the company would see the need for an internal organisational psychological role or one that would be closely relevant to my interest in psychometric assessments.
However, I spoke openly about my aspirations to the management. IHG is an organisation that believes in giving people room to grow where each individual is encouraged to bring our passion to the things we do. Although my career aspiration was vastly different from the role I was in then, I was always encouraged to grow and develop myself and to find ways to work towards my goals. A new role was then created, giving me the opportunity to work on projects related to talent resourcing, particularly selection and assessment.
How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years?
With ever-increasing management expectations and new challenges, partly contributed by the rapid advancement in technology and social media, I believe the role of HR will continue to develop and change. The extent of evolution will depend on a number of factors, such as the willingness and support from top management on allowing more strategic HRM, the capability of the HR team, and the local culture.
One of the biggest changes is an increasing focus on using technology for recruitment. Even in recent years, we have seen that print advertisements as a tool for recruitment is becomingly increasingly obsolete as most job seekers search for opportunities on websites, job boards and social media platforms. The HR function has already shifted from the traditional tactical and administrative role to a more collaborative role as a business partner. It is likely this trend will continue with greater emphasis on strategic HRM and in areas such as employer branding.
What do you think can be done better within HR?
One of the many epiphanies I discovered in my course with the University of London International Programmes is there is an abundance of research conducted in the field, yet the learning from these findings are hardly translated or applied in reality. There are many reasons for this gap, one of which is the preference for conventional approaches (which may not necessarily yield the desired results).
Factors contributing to this could include operational pressures preventing HR from using evidence-based practice, or the irrelevance of existing studies and findings to HR practitioners. While evidence-based practice in HR is not the only way to make it more effective, it is one of the most promising ways to challenge and develop HR – making us a better soundboard for strategic decision-making in the organisation.
Which HR function do you like best and why?
Building a successful organisation is not just about hiring the best talent. What is more critical is finding the right person for the right job so the employee is able to contribute quickly in an environment that is not only a good fit, but also one that provides maximum growth and development opportunities. I find great satisfaction in working with the hiring manager to understand the critical success factors of each position, and finding the right person for the role.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
In my job, I spend most of my time working on projects relating to talent resourcing and on the selection of psychometric assessments to be used for critical roles in the organisation. I enjoy spending time with each individual to review their strengths and development needs using their results in these psychometric assessments. When they discover a blind spot and learn something new about themselves, I also feel I have helped them in some way in their career development.
Is there anything you feel HR can do better to play a bigger role in organisations?
HR can sometimes be seen as being isolated from the main business, with a lack of understanding on what is really needed and too much focus on administrative procedures. To be a strong and reliable business partner, trusted with strategic issues, HR practitioners should have a good understanding of the business operations and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. At IHG, we believe in hearing from the ground. Getting a sense of the concerns and needs of our colleagues can result in a paradigm shift, change the perception people have towards HR and help us understand the business’ needs a lot better.
I can’t work without … meeting people. Each person has a different passion, skill set and a different story to tell. Not meeting people and understanding them is like being disconnected with reality.
My most daring work decision was … to quit my job without having a new one on hand, to make a career change. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.