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Q&A with Kris Lui, C&A’s global head of HR, sourcing

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Passion and pride for the HR profession

Vital stats: Kris Lui is a seasoned HR professional who has been building sustainable organisational capability to deliver business results for 20 years in different industries and cultures. She started her career at P&G where she spent 18 years mastering HR strategies and practices in different roles, teams, business categories, and countries. After years of relocating, she settled back into Hong Kong to start a family, and joined C&A in 2015. She currently heads up the company’s sourcing global HR division from the headquarters in Hong Kong.

Q Tell me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in HR?

I grew up in Hong Kong and was raised by a great family in terms of the love and values they instilled in me. These values have played a big role in my life as I developed my career in HR.

Different to many others in the industry, I have an innate passion for the profession. I didn’t end up in HR simply because I needed a job, or because the company appointed me to take on HR tasks.

Even when I was in high school, I knew what I wanted to do. At that time, it was all about marketing. But to me, HR – having a positive impact on people – seemed far more meaningful. Additionally, I felt building organisational capability while delivering business results would be both challenging and rewarding.

I feel very proud to be a HR professional, and I think that’s linked to my beliefs. I believe in freedom, trust and integrity – all things I practise in my job on a daily basis.

Q Do you find it hard to maintain that pride when not everyone considers HR to be an integral part of business?

Never. First, because I’ve been very lucky to grow as a HR professional within Procter & Gamble, a company very focused on HR. Second, I know it’s about me proactively adding value to the business, regardless of the business leaders’ views. Some people get upset and will complain that their business leader doesn’t value HR and our contribution to the business. To which I always say: Do you truly understand the needs of the business?

I know it’s about me proactively adding value to the business, regardless of the business leaders’ views.

It’s also our responsibility to know where our value is. I always tell my team I expect 50% of the work they do to be away from their desks. They should be meeting business partners and visiting stores and factories, talking to their front line employees.

That’s how HR really integrates with the business. In an ideal scenario, everyone will see HR as a regular business partner, just one who happens to have really strong organisational expertise!

Q After 18 years at P&G, what prompted your move to C&A, a brand much less known in Asia?

The decision to leave P&G was driven by the birth of my first child. My role at P&G involved a lot of relocating. When I became pregnant I initially wanted to keep going, but my husband provided me with a bit of a reality check. He made me realise having a baby is different, and continuing to relocate would make it difficult to offer our child a stable future.

At the same time, C&A had just created the role of global head of HR, sourcing, here at their Hong Kong headquarters as they wanted to move towards a more strategic HR. In all honesty, what attracted me wasn’t the brand name. Although they’re one of the market leaders in Europe’s clothing retail industry and also have stores in countries such as China and Brazil, I hadn’t heard of C&A before.

However, as I learnt more about the company, I realised they were quite unique, with values that align with my own. And I always say: It’s not just about finding a job, it’s about finding a company with values that match our personal ones. That’s the marriage.

Additionally, what appealed to me was the transformation journey C&A has been on since 2014. The company was redesigning everything surrounding brand-building – from their customer value proposition to HR. Due to the holistic approach, I would have unlimited space and opportunity to really help build something.

Q You place quite a strong emphasis on values. Is that something you really focus on in recruitment?

Our values as a company include passion for the customer, pride, integrity and teamwork. With the freedom I was given as part of the ongoing transformation, I started to use these as criteria when it comes to learning and development, performance evaluation and, of course, talent attraction.

I find these kinds of values are very important when hiring people. You might be able to attract talent by offering a good salary, but if the cultural fit isn’t there, money won’t be able to make them stay.

You might be able to attract talent by offering a good salary, but if the cultural fit isn’t there, money won’t be able to make them stay.

Additionally, what we do here isn’t rocket science. The technical skills can be taught. But values, those we can’t train. They have to be nurtured from a very young age.

Q Has this approach been successful so far?

Globally, sourcing is number one within C&A when it comes to engagement. More importantly, we’ve seen a huge improvement. The results of our annual employee engagement survey show that engagement went up from 61% to 70% between 2011 and 2015. So that’s not bad at all. But then, over the course of just one year, it increased from 70% to 82% in 2016.

I feel very good about this not just because it’s my job, but mainly because I think it shows C&A really values HR as well as their people. All business leaders support and value HR very much and know we build the organisation together. Otherwise they wouldn’t have invested so much and given me so much freedom to do what I need to do to help develop the business.

Q Working towards company goals can be a big part of engagement. How do you ensure every employee knows how their daily work can contribute?

This comes down to one of HR’s key roles in the business: strategy development and deployment. A lot of companies bring in a consultant, but at C&A we chose to do it in-house. As a result, our strategy development process is very robust.

Once the overall goals for the company have been established, the leadership teams responsible for each part of the business will dissect the key elements for their departments. After sharpening the goals, they’re cascaded down to each individual employee in a fun way – for example by discussing how we can deliver them together during our year-beginning meeting.

Additionally, I have a very simple way of making people realise the purpose and value of their work. Whenever I lead HR teams or I am teaching other leaders to be great line managers, I ask them one question first: “Who is your boss?” So people start to think. “Am I my boss?”

I have a very simple way of making people realise the purpose and value of their work.

But the answer is very simple. What name is on your pay cheque, besides your own? It’s the company’s name. And why does the company exist? To serve the consumers. So that’s why I want my people to have the courage to do the right thing right. For the consumer, not for me. Once people realise who they’re truly working for, they’ll understand what they’re working towards.

Q Is there any advice you’d like to leave other HR professionals with?

I strongly encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. A lot of headhunters and candidates tell me they often find HR practitioners so serious. Of course different people have different styles, but I advise everyone to step outside of their comfort zone and try a different approach to achieve better integration with the business.

Additionally, something I’ve learnt through experience is: You should always make time for yourself. I’m a very greedy person, I want to have it all in terms of not only a good career, but also being a good mother and contributing to society. The only way to achieve all that is by using the oxygen mask philosophy: take care of yourself, before taking care of others.

By taking time to focus on self-development, you’ll become a better person for everyone else around you.

Art Direction: Evisu Yip | Photography: Emil Tse

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