We still hear of many HR folks sitting in closed offices away from the workforce due to the 'confidential' things they deal with. Cristina Istria, Director - Talent & Development, Amcor Singapore, affirms that we, HR leaders, need to sit in the middle of the action, and understand what employees go through on a daily basis. 

Q. What drew you to HR as a career, and what do you love about it?

I have been attracted by the variety of functions and ability to influence and interact with people. I have not been disappointed! From recruiting, to compensation & benefits, to working on programme designs and assisting leadership in communication strategy development, I have been able to work on assignments with a lot of variety but always with a product in mind.

It is very rewarding to see someone you recruit have fantastic careers or to be able to increase engagement of the workforce as well as solve complex employee issue cases.

Q. What was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

I have done several but the one that always sticks to mind for me is when in 2009 we ran the first own company Virtual Career Fair with Procter & Gamble in Europe. No one had done it before and it was exciting to bring it to life and involve the key stakeholders and see the virtual halls “fill up” with participants.

My learning is a motto I use a lot – It always seems impossible until it’s done, by Nelson Mandela.

Q. Do you believe the talent shortage is real? In the same vein, what is your message to the graduates who are soon to enter the workforce?

I believe there is an increase of many companies looking for similar skills and we are all shifting to soft skills rather than hard skills, therefore, finding the right talent is indeed becoming harder.
Don’t forget that employees who perform at their peak are typically able to secure more flexibility.
The graduates of today need to enter the workforce with an open mind, they will likely enter a world that is fluid, where technology supports them to work anytime anywhere and that is both a privilege and something to be managed.

They will likely need to develop skills for jobs that do not exist yet and have the mental agility to be curious and continue learning. And the humility to absorb the experiences of the people ahead of them.

Q. Who is the one person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?

This would be Maha Ahmeed. She was the recruiting manager at Procter & Gamble in Geneva Switzerland. She hired me for my first summer job in 1996 and taught me the basis for recruiting. It was that summer that I decided I would study business and go into HR. In fact, I spent all my university years telling anyone who would listen that I would start my career in HR in P&G and I managed just that.

Q. Is there a phrase/mentality that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

I still hear of many HR people sitting in closed offices away from the workforce due to the “confidential” things they deal with. We need to sit in the middle of the action, and listen to and understand what all employees go through on a daily basis. We are part of the workforce, the "us and them" mentality does not help us establish ourselves.

Q. Do you believe there is a thing such as a work-life balance?

I do but I also believe its definition is unique and varies both from person-to-person and during periods of life. Also, it has to be led by oneself.

I was lucky to be able to take advantage of different flexible working models at different periods of my life, for example, part-time work, work from home, and flexible hours. This has enabled me to continue to grow my career and meet the demands I had set on myself to grow a family.

So my advice is to be very clear to what your own work-life balance looks like and then have a discussion with your employer on what you need from them. And don’t forget that employees who perform at their peak are typically able to secure more flexibility.

Q. What lies in the future of HR 2020? Paint a picture of how you envision the function evolving.

More and more, now that many of us have gotten a seat at the table, we need to continue on that path and secure a voice in the discussion. To do that, we need to continue to hone our skills as business people first, HR practitioners second. Speaking and understanding the business language continues to be one of the key criteria to make us credible and a partner at the same level.

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