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Elena Agraragimova

Elena Agraragimova

Elena Agaragimova has moved from academia to leading roles in global corporations. Passionate about human potential, she crafts transformative talent development programs and talent pipelines.

 

With a blend of empowerment and empathy, Elena drives growth in individuals and organizations through her high-impact role at a tech consulting firm. She’s a believer in the untapped capabilities of the human mind, integrating neuroscience in her practices to maximize effectiveness. She’s also a sought-after speaker delivering messages that resonate with audiences from New York to Dubai.

 

An entrepreneur at heart, Elena co-founded Bloom Youth and launched Bessern, both tech solutions aimed at enhancing skills and wellbeing. She’s the author of two books and hosts two podcasts: “Shift with Elena Agar” and “Confessions of a Career Coach.”

 

Beyond her professional life, Elena dedicates time to mentor young professionals and assist military veterans in transitioning to corporate roles.

 

Tell us the story of how you got involved in HR/People Operations and leadership. How did your career lead you here?

I started my career in higher education and then made my way to adult education in business schools and then to corporate learning where I spent the last 6 years of my career and plan to spend a few more. 

This is an area I very much enjoy and feel I can make the most impact in. Along the way, I had the privilege of working with people from different industries, in over a dozen countries around the world, from individual contributors to C-suite teams. 

I’ve worn a few different hats over the years in the field – recruitment, leadership training, young talent pipelines, onboarding and employee experience, as well as wellbeing in the workplace.

In which industries, verticals or sectors have you focused your career? 

I have worked in higher education, tech, finance and manufacturing.

Why do so many companies struggle with making HR a priority? What are some common mistakes companies make?

Often it comes down to misalignment between stated values and practical implementation. One common mistake is viewing HR solely as a cost center rather than an investment in organizational success. 

This mindset results in underfunding HR initiatives and limiting their strategic impact.

Additionally, companies may neglect the proactive development of HR policies, relying on reactive approaches when issues arise. 

Failure to integrate HR into overall business strategy and decision-making processes is another pitfall. When HR is not at the table during critical discussions, the company misses opportunities to align its human capital with broader goals.

Lastly, inadequate communication about the importance of HR can contribute to its de-prioritization. Leadership must consistently emphasize the value HR brings to organizational health, culture, and long-term success to ensure it receives the attention and resources it deserves.

You’ve been selected to give a keynote address at a major HR and leadership conference. What topic will you discuss and what major points will you touch on?

Cultivating a Future-Ready Workforce: Navigating the Landscape of HR Leadership. I would look to delve into cultivating a future-ready workforce and the role of HR leadership in navigating the landscape of the modern workplace. The major points covered could include:

  • Agile Leadership in the Digital Age
  • Strategic Workforce Planning
  • Tech-Enabled HR Practices
  • Employee Experience and Wellbeing
  • Leadership Development in the Digital Era
  • Ethical AI and Employee Privacy
  • Adapting HR Strategies to Global Challenges

Have you seen, firsthand, any AI impacts on the practice of HR or people ops What impacts are you expecting in the next few years?

AI has streamlined various HR processes, such as recruitment and talent acquisition. 

AI-powered tools can efficiently sift through large volumes of resumes, identify top candidates based on predefined criteria, and even conduct initial screenings, saving time and resources for HR Professionals.

Additionally, AI has been instrumental in employee engagement and performance management.

Platforms leveraging AI can analyze employee feedback, conduct sentiment analysis, and provide valuable insights into the overall wellbeing of the workforce. This facilitates proactive interventions to address concerns and enhance employee satisfaction.

Looking ahead, the next few years are expected to witness even more transformative impacts. Predictive analytics and machine learning will play a pivotal role in workforce planning, helping organizations anticipate talent needs and identify potential skill gaps. 

AI-driven personalization in learning and development programs will cater to individual employee needs, enhancing the effectiveness of training initiatives.

Furthermore, chatbots and virtual assistants are likely to become more sophisticated, offering employees self-service options for routine HR queries and administrative tasks. This not only improves efficiency, but also allows HR professionals to focus on more strategic aspects of their roles.

While these advancements bring increased efficiency and data-driven decision-making, it’s crucial for organizations to navigate the ethical considerations and ensure that AI is implemented in a way that aligns with the values of fairness, transparency, and respect for employee privacy.

With that being said, there is still a human element that remains a solid part of the process as we move forward with technology in this space, and we will need to learn how to better integrate the technology along with the human touch.

What skills have served you best in your career?

My ability to change, unlearn, be a curious and continuous learner and open to understanding that I don’t know what I don’t know. Furthermore, I think just being in the field, having various experiences across different countries, companies, and people has helped me grow my career into success.

What’s the best advice you’d give someone just starting out in their people operations career, or just starting to transition from a related discipline like HR or organizational development?

To start, I would say embrace continuous learning, gain practical experience, become data literate, be proactive and solution focused, and last, but definitely not least, develop your soft skills.

Networking, seeking out mentorship and gaining a deep understanding of your organizational culture will all play a factor in your success. 

When did HR or people ops as a discipline pop up on your radar? How have you seen it evolve or change over that period of time?

About 6 years ago, when I launched my business – Bessern – focusing on performance and wellbeing in the workplace.

The shift had already begun earlier as the landscape of talent acquisition and retention underwent a significant transformation. The war for talent intensified, fueled by the entry of new generations into the workforce, each with unique expectations and demands.

Things have been further influenced by the integration of new technology into various facets of business operations. 

During this period, there has been a paradigm shift towards a people-centric model where the wellbeing, development, and satisfaction of employees has become pivotal. This shift necessitated substantial organizational changes.

Over the last decade or so, the growth in the people ops space has been unprecedented. Organizations recognize that fostering a positive and inclusive workplace culture is not just a corporate responsibility but a strategic necessity.

People ops roles have evolved from being primarily administrative to strategic partners driving organizational success through talent management, employee engagement, and holistic wellbeing initiatives.

What trend do you think will be most impactful in (your niche of) the people ops space over the next three years?

One of the most impactful trends is likely to be the widespread adoption and integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics.

AI-powered decision support, for example, will help organizations derive insights from the vast amounts of data they’re generating that tells a story about employee engagement and wellbeing. 

It will also play a crucial role in enhancing recruitment processes, personalizing the employee experience as well as learning and development opportunities. It will also change how we look at predictive analytics around employee engagement. 

As AI becomes more ingrained in people ops processes, there will be a growing emphasis on ethical AI implementation. People ops professionals will need to navigate the ethical considerations associated with AI, especially in areas like talent acquisition and employee monitoring.

What’s your biggest “hot take” or “least popular opinion” about an issue within the industry? 

Wellbeing in organizations is not about yoga mats and fit-bits. We spend billions of dollars each year globally on wellbeing initiatives that ultimately do not work and only tick the box.

We need to spend more time on leadership development from the moment they enter our organization which means that leadership is not just a title, it is a way of work. 

A big part of performance in organizations across all levels is the individual performance in health, fitness, and mental health. Fits bits and yoga mats in the office doesn’t solve that.

What solves that is a leader who practices health and overall wellbeing and leads with that in everything that they do. The only way to influence people in the workplace effectively and positively is via leading by example. Healthy mind and body will ultimately provide a driven, high performing, and happy employee.

David Rice
By David Rice

David Rice is a long time journalist and editor who specializes in covering human resources and leadership topics. His career has seen him focus on a variety of industries for both print and digital publications in the United States and UK.