Q. How did you get into HR as a profession?
I fell into the HR Profession. I had no idea what HR was when I went job hunting after being released from a company that was closing down and moving operations to another part of the Caribbean. I saw an advertisement in the local newspapers for a Human Resource Assistant and I applied and got the position.
I was in a procurement function in my previous company and that work was very interesting and exciting. When I joined the HR Department in the new organization I was in for a shock. Firstly, I was one of about 12 women in the Employee Services area of the Human Resource Department. When I looked down the corridor I could see where the men were, in Industrial Relations, Training and Development and Job Design and Job Evaluation. That was ok, but the shock for me was the nature of the work. The persons in that department spent their entire days, ticking forms, typing pay and other notices and administering benefits. It was a well-run mill; and ran by the most efficient Manager and Supervisor I have worked with. They had an eye for detail and in that department being thorough and meticulous were highly valued. A mistake on a form meant a scolding from the Supervisor and I got my fair share of scolding.
But when I looked at what the department was achieving, I said to myself, there must be another way to do this and to meet the needs of the people in the organization. For example, it was not uncommon for vacation or sick leave applications (which all came to HR) to be approved by HR three months after the supervisor or manager sent the form and after the person went on leave and returned to work. And if it was determined that the employee did not have sufficient days to cover the leave then a pay deduction had to be made. So why didn’t the manager know the leave balance before sending the employee on leave, I asked? The answer…because leave is done by HR! I was convinced that we were working in an organization that was stagnated and I longed for the autonomy I had when I was in procurement.
The great part of this experience though was meeting and getting to know the people in the HR function there. They were warm and accommodating and fed my desire to learn every bit of what they did. So even though I was assigned to the National Insurance function ( which involved the very important activity of pasting national insurance stamps on cards), on a daily basis I would get over that function very quickly and volunteer to assist someone with her own function, which seemed to be dipping into a never ending well!.
Years later that experience would serve me well when I came to be in charge of an HR function…I had a good appreciation for what entry level HR persons face and all I wanted was to have them see the value they can add to the organization as soon as they joined; so I did not want them spending their time ticking forms. This prompted me to seek out the technology and the HR systems that could make the function more efficient and make us more relevant.
After a couple years in Employee Services I asked to be assigned to Industrial Relations and it is here that I got a solid grounding in the HR function. The organization was fully unionized and the collective agreements were at the heart of every HR activity that was done. So to know Industrial Relations was to know how best to apply the HR policies and programs as to do one independent of the other often led to conflict with employees, the union or line managers.
While in Industrial Relations I completed my first degree part-time at the local university and then applied for 18 months study leave to pursue a Masters in Labor and Development in Holland. That was a turning point for me as it opened my eyes to the possibilities of the HR function and allowed me to see the organization through different lenses.
My master’s level thesis was a study of that organization with a proposal for implementing a model of strategic human resource management in it. I got the opportunity to do so when I returned from study leave and soon after was placed to head the HR function. I merged the HR and IR departments into one function, revised the systems, and created an environment where we moved from a fragmented HR function to one that was fully integrated and aligned with the organization strategic goals. I was an advocate for practicing Strategic Human Resource Management and said to my staff, if we cannot lead from the board room, then we would lead from the floor. And we did that for a time until the organization recognized the value of the HR function and the role of Head HR became part of the executive management team of the organization.
Q. What do you most enjoy about being an HR Professional?
What have I enjoyed most from being in HR? This has changed over time. I enjoyed the challenge of changing the department from being inward focused to focusing on employees and departments as customers. This was an uphill battle, but it was extremely satisfying to see the little subtle changes in their attitudes and behaviors as they were empowered to come up with ways to achieve an end…I encouraged them to think of the end result and not see the process as an end in itself.
At another point in my career when I changed jobs again, I had the opportunity to build the HR Division from the ground up. That was extremely satisfying as I had the opportunity to not change the culture but shape it.
When you are passionate about something, you want to know everything about that thing. I wanted to know everything about HR and I joined the local HR association (HRMATT) to network and to build my competencies. It is here I was introduced to SHRM, which was instrumental in the startup of HRMATT in Trinidad and Tobago. I joined SHRM and immediately felt as if my knowledge had increased exponentially by having access to the vast database of material for self and organization development.
I became certified in 1999 being the first person in Trinidad and Tobago to achieve the SPHR. Whenever my responsibilities increased or I was faced with a challenge, in addition to my local network of HR professionals, I could rely on the SHRM resources. I have designed and implemented HR practices and programs for state organizations, private sector organizations, professional associations and NGOs and each would have had its unique approach to achieve the intended results.
Today the most rewarding aspect of my career is seeing new entrants into the profession begin to believe in themselves and in what the function can add to an organization and to see that potential unfold. It is wonderful to see an emerging professional stand in front of an executive or management team and present a program in the most convincing way… and then see them, as I have seen so many times, take the quantum leap and move on to something greater, sometimes outside of the organization…which is ok.
I simply love the idea of helping people realize their potential; this only redounds to the progress and success of organizations and in our part of the world that is the key to national development.
Vice President Human Resources
Caribbean Airlines Limited