Most leaders don’t see how to employ HR as a strategic pillar of the business and this leaves a lot of professionals feeling somewhat frustrated. In this interview series, we talk to HR professionals and in-the-know business leaders why and how HR should help drive company decisions.
Pavel Bahu is the Global HR Director at Trevolution Group, where he leads the company's HR strategy and oversees the global HR team. He has been with Trevolution since 2015 and has implemented various HR initiatives, including a company-wide competency model, an online candidate testing system, and a cross-departmental performance management system.
Hi Pavel, welcome to the series! We'd love to get to know you a little better. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?
Growing up in Moldova, a small country with a limited job market, I knew I had to go the extra mile to achieve my career goals. After completing my bachelor's degree, I decided to continue my studies in Canada, where I was exposed to a different culture and way of working.
This experience helped me understand the importance of hard work and sparked my wish to change things for the better. I wanted to implement that experience and thinking in my daily life.
When I returned to Moldova, I landed a job in the project department of a retail chain, but I knew it wasn't the right fit for me. I took matters into my own hands, started working as a freelance travel agent at night to challenge myself, did everything to gain new skills, and aimed to achieve new professional heights.
After a while, I got my big break—I was offered the HR manager position despite having no experience in that field.
The next few years were a whirlwind of growth and change. I helped the Moldovan Dyninno team grow from 120 to 1500 people, and eventually in 2019 took on the role of Global HR Director for Trevolution.
The first year was spent getting to know everyone and understanding the way we run business in other parts of the world. The second year was the most challenging in my entire career as it was the pandemic year. We managed to recover and are now in better shape than before.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out and what lesson you learned?
The biggest lesson I learned when I started my role was the importance of clear communication when implementing new processes.
At the beginning of my career, when implementing a new assessment center, I initially believed that people would understand its additional value without me having to go into details.
However, I quickly learned that it is crucial to clearly communicate the business purpose and added value of a new process to the operations team. They are very results-oriented and want to know how their time and resources will be used effectively.
In my first attempt, the implementation was unsuccessful because I did not effectively communicate the value of the Assessment Center procedure, and it was perceived as a "black box" by the team.
However, I had a further opportunity to implement it in a new department, and I ensured to involve the department manager in the development and implementation process from the very beginning. This led to successful implementation. This experience taught me the importance of constantly sharing the value of a new process with the team to ensure buy-in and support.
It's important to keep in mind that in HR there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for success. Each organization has its own unique culture and structure, and it is the role of HR to adopt general principles that will work within that specific context.
Success cannot happen alone, it's a team effort. It's important to involve all the relevant business stakeholders in the decision-making process and in implementing new strategies.
Only by having everyone on board can you truly succeed. HR is not rocket science, it's about championing better work and working lives. It's a simple objective but it requires effort, communication, and a deep understanding of the organization's culture, structure, and goals.
Something that’s always helped me during difficult times is my passion for continuous innovation; I'm always looking for ways to improve and learn more. That's why I'm always on a quest to learn and acquire new knowledge.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
When I started my career, I never imagined ending up where I am today. Dyninno Group's founder, Alex Weinstein, was the one who saw some potential in me, despite my lack of experience in the HR field. I would not be where I am today without his support, and I will always be grateful. He's not just a manager, but also a wise mentor.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In any type of activity, it's important to understand that failures are a natural part of the process. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed 10,000 times—I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."
Instead of seeing failure as a negative outcome, it should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow. Analyze the reasons behind the failure and think about how to mitigate those factors in the future.
Thinking back on your own career, what would you tell your younger self?
It's crucial to be upfront about your plans and get as much feedback as possible. Numbers are a great way to ground discussions and keep things real.
A good rule of thumb is to always be on the lookout for potential problems and nip them in the bud. When it comes to growth, think big!
Imagine what it would take to make your plans ten times bigger, and ten times bigger again, and then work backwards from there. Without a clear vision, it's hard to make big things happen.
Let’s now move to the central part of our interview about HR. Why do you think HR deserves a place in the boardroom and in high-level decision-making?
HR plays a vital role in driving company decisions by offering a unique perspective on employees' needs, concerns, and limitations.
As the link between management and the workforce, HR professionals can forecast the impact of decisions on employee performance, engagement, and retention and offer solutions to drive better outcomes for the company.
By involving HR in the decision-making process, business owners can gain a deeper understanding of the impact of their decisions on employees and make more informed, well-rounded decisions.
This leads to improved employee morale, retention, and productivity, and, ultimately, a more positive and supportive work environment that drives business success.
However, it's important to remember that while HR's role is to advise and mitigate risks, the ultimate decision-makers are the ones who are also taking on the most significant risks.
From your experience, how can HR people and culture professionals ensure they’re involved in strategic planning processes?
It's a multifaceted role that requires a broad understanding of the business. It's important to have a solid understanding of finance, legal and compliance risks, and how they can impact the bottom line.
A good way to gain this understanding is by developing your financial acumen, understanding how investments and transfer pricing work, and how to think in terms of currency and risk management.
It's also important to stay close to the business and understand where it's heading. In terms of strategy, it's not about what we do, it's about what we don't do. It's about focusing our efforts and not spreading ourselves too thin.
HR plays a critical role in this by aligning its efforts with the overall business strategy, keeping an eye on market trends, understanding where the industry is headed, and being aware of the current global economic situation.
A lot of folks believe that CHROs would make great CEOs, but often they’re overlooked. Why do you think that is?
In my experience, most CEOs come from finance or have a background in the industry they're leading.
For example, you're not likely to find an HR professional leading a tech company; they tend to come from an engineering or IT background. The same goes for pharmaceutical or other STEM companies. It's rare to find an HR person leading a company, but it's not impossible.
Being an HR professional means being "T-shaped" specialist, where you have a broad understanding of many topics and deep knowledge in one specific area, like HR itself or business management or psychology.
One option to advance to CEO is to become a "W-shaped" specialist, where you have two areas of expertise and can uniquely combine them. For example, an HR professional with a background in IT or data analytics can use that skill set to create innovative HR solutions, like predictive analytics, to cut costs and identify risks.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that career paths can be flexible and unconventional. An HR professional can still succeed and reach leadership positions; it may require outside-the-box thinking and strategic career moves.
What skills can HR folks work on to become more effective business partners?
One thing that an HR professional can't operate as a given is ethics. It's the core of the profession.
It's crucial to understand the company's goals and be able to align HR initiatives with them. This means being able to think strategically about the workforce and how to optimize it to support the overall business strategy. You should also be able to communicate and negotiate effectively with other business leaders and stakeholders and have the data analysis skills to make informed decisions. It also means being able to manage projects related to HR initiatives and having emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, and a continuous learning mindset.
It's all about understanding the company's needs and concerns and aligning your efforts to support the organization's overall goals. It's a lot to take on but, with some focus and effort, you'll be able to master it.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important ways that HR can help drive company decisions?
1. Aligning HR initiatives with company goals. Make sure all HR initiatives align with the organization's overall business strategy and goals. For example, suppose the company is looking to expand into new markets. In that case, HR can help with an employee development program to ensure that the workforce has the necessary skills to support that expansion.
2. Providing data-driven insights. For example, by analyzing employee engagement and retention data, HR can identify areas where the company needs to improve and make recommendations to leadership on how to address those issues.
3. Managing talent and building a strong workforce. By identifying and developing high-potential employees and implementing effective succession planning, HR can ensure that the company has the right people to support its growth and success;
4. Fostering a positive and supportive work environment: By implementing policies and programs that promote employee well-being, HR can help improve employee morale, engagement, and retention and ultimately drive better business outcomes.
5. Managing risks and compliance. Implementing effective compliance programs and policies to minimize the risk of legal and regulatory violations, HR can help protect the company from costly fines and penalties.
At Dyninno Group, we prioritize our people because they’re the ones driving our revenue. So, instead of starting with a financial goal like "let's make $50 million next year", we gather information from each business unit about their bottlenecks and how we can improve processes to increase our headcount and drive the business forward.
From there, we have discussions with Support departments and HR to understand how many people we need to enable sales personnel and ensure growth.
We then get buy-in from each key stakeholder and work with Marketing and Finance to understand the costs of salaries, commissions, bonuses, and cost of lead generation. This way, when we present our plans to the business, we can show them exactly how much money we will make via each business unit and make informed decisions about where to focus our growth efforts.
This approach is more effective because everyone has already agreed on the numbers and structure of the organization rather than feeling like the numbers have been imposed on them.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen businesses make when faced with hard decisions? What should one keep in mind to avoid them?
One of the keys to making tough decisions is to have a plan B in place. Sometimes decisions are irreversible, and it's essential to have a backup plan in case things don't go as expected.
Take the Covid-19 pandemic as an example. Many businesses immediately furloughed employees, but we decided to go with the way of restructuring working hours, shifts, and pay to keep everyone on board.
We knew the uncertainty of the situation and wanted to retain valuable talent and expertise. We unfortunately lost some people, but we also reached out to try and bring them back down the line.
In crises and crisis management, it's important always to have a plan B or even a plan C. Being prepared can help mitigate the consequences of tough decisions and keep your organization on track.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with and why?
If I had the opportunity to meet a deceased historical figure, it would be Plato—the ancient Greek philosopher who is considered the father of Western philosophy.
But if we're talking about someone who's still alive, I would love to sit down with Yuval Noah Harari, the historian, anthropologist, and futurologist.
He has a deep understanding of the history of mankind and his books are thought-provoking. I would be curious to hear his thoughts on how the world has changed since he wrote his last piece on 21 lessons from the 21st Century, and whether he stands by his predictions or if he sees things differently now. He's not one to speak publicly often, so it would be an interesting conversation.
Thank you Pavel, some great insights in there! How can people follow your work?
My pleasure, feel free to connect with me on Linkedin.
More insights from the series: