Deborah Woollard: Driving A People-First Approach To Business

Deborah Woollard: Driving A People-First Approach To Business

Deborah Woollard , Group Chief People Officer

Deborah Woollard

Group Chief People Officer

A people leader's responsibilities these days go far beyond mastery of functional disciplines such as attraction, assessment, development, and retention. A modern-day CPO must know how to truly listen and translate evolving employee and business needs into bespoke interventions that support business growth and channel company culture. They play a pivotal role in building and integrating the day-to-day ways of working of an organization and are responsible for ensuring these practices drive positive performance now and into the future. To do this they need to have a deep understanding of business drivers, progressive knowledge of emerging HR practices, as well as system-wide thinking across the entire organization.

A particularly fine example of such a versatile and in-tune leader is Deborah Woollard, Group Chief People Officer at Myrepublic. Deborah has been recognized as a thought leader in Asia Pacific, having been voted as one of SEA's Most Influential HR Leaders as well as making HRD's HR Hot List three times. She is regularly invited to speak at industry events and on radio and  has contributed expert opinion to articles  in the Straits Times, HR Online, and Chief of Staff Magazine.

Under her able leadership, Myrepublic has established itself as an aspirational employer of choice, being recognized as one of Asia's Top Flexible Workplaces. Her HR team has been recognized for developing best-in-market well-being, D&I, and onboarding practices.

In an exclusive interaction with CEO Insights Asia, Deborah Woollard shares her career journey, perspectives on the emerging needs of HR, and her views on leadership.

Could you give a brief account of your professional background and experiences?

I was very privileged to begin my career as a commercial graduate where I experienced firsthand how great talent development initiatives can support and accelerate professional and career growth. As a business leader tasked to drive organizational restructuring I also got a taste of organizational change principles as well as an appreciation of the significant impact leadership and culture have on a company's performance.

It was these personal experiences that drew me to HR as a career and I have loved every minute of it since! I have been extremely fortunate to have worked for amazing leaders who have sponsored much of my professional development and I have been blessed to have opportunities to work and travel in a wide range of HR roles across many diverse countries, markets, cultures, and industries both regionally and globally. Most importantly I have had the privilege to lead some incredible teams of talented HR professionals who have taught me an enormous amount and helped me to develop and grow as a leader.

What is the motivation that fuels your daily routines?

I am by nature a "builder". I love to understand the business and employees' needs and work together with diverse teams of thinkers to create fit-for-purpose solutions. I am motivated by creating an integrated HR strategy and then building it brick by brick. For me, there is a real thrill when I see initiatives come to life through our employee's behaviours and ways of working, and when they eventually become part of the fabric of the organization. My greatest satisfaction comes when I see talented employees progress to new heights in their careers enabled through our talent development strategies.

I love the cycle of continuous improvement. Building solutions, gauging their impact, tweaking, and embedding. As our workplace and our employee's needs and desires are constantly evolving, there is always more to do. The great thing about HR is that it is dynamic by nature. Nothing ever stays the same for long. A multi-generational workforce, digital transformation, newly emerging skill requirements, and macroeconomic & environmental challenges are all factors that require us to constantly recalibrate. It is this challenge to continuously learn and unlearn that fuels my days and keeps me energized.

Share with us about your acquired expertise as a CPO.

My HR journey has followed a path between generalist HR business partnering and expertise roles in talent development, organization development, and learning. I have managed end-to-end HR operations as well as led global expertise teams. I have always believed it is important to build both breadth and depth as an HR professional, ensuring you understand how all the pieces of the HR puzzle fit together whilst also building deep expertise in your areas of particular passion. Over the years I have served in a diverse range of roles and industry segments regionally and globally, helping companies transform through their people. I have been extremely fortunate to help build, scale, and transform organizations at various stages of their life-cycle across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and as well global roles for US and UK companies.

Articulate the importance of HR's Operations Being in Sync with an Organization's Strategy.

Now more than ever it is crucial to ensure that your operational HR practices match and can keep pace with your business strategy throughout the entire employee lifecycle. In dynamic industries such as Tech and in fast-growing companies like Myrepub-lic it is imperative you have an agile workforce and adaptable work practices so you can mobilize quick-ly towards opportunities and pivot and scale when needed.As an HR function, you must stay actively con-nected to the market and proactively understand and engage your potential talent pools. You need a differ-entiated recruitment approach that runs like clock-work and top-notch onboarding practices to ensure you set new talent up for success as quickly as pos-sible, as well as indoctrinate them into your culture.

Systemising an integrated approach to performance, reward, and skills development are critical but this needs to be aligned and reflective of your overarching company values and culture. Focusing on outcomes is far more important than heavy processes and policies. You need to ensure you focus your people's time and effort on activities that really drive performance, engagement, and impact.Nowadays it is critical to adopt tools and technologies that allow you to be constantly in touch with your employees. Pulsing engagement regularly, ensuring frequent two-way communication & channels for feedback, and enabling community connections & impact is crucial to keep your HR practices relevant and able to serve emerging needs. Collaborating with your employees to co-create people initiatives allows you to identify unique "moments of magic" in your employee experience that can differentiate your culture in ways that resonate most powerfully with your employees.

Most importantly I would suggest that you push hard to digitize any HR operations and processes that can simplify your HR work and enhance your employee's day-to-day experience. Adopting a user-experience mindset to reviewing your HR operations will help you to differentiate between activities and requirements that can be made simple and save time versus high-touch, personalized experiences that differentiate your company as an employer and will strengthen your culture.

As a leader, you have to be open to being a constant learner who is always tweaking your approach to bring out the best in others

What are some important features and expertise a leader should have?

I believe that leadership will always be one of the most rewarding and challenging roles that you can play in your career and that doesn't change, no matter how long you have been at it. Every time you move into a new leadership role, start working with a new team or introduce a new member to an existing team, there is a change in dynamics and you have to constantly assess and evolve your leadership style to adapt to the new needs. As a leader, you have to be open to being a constant learner who is always tweaking your approach to bring out the best in others.

To harness the power of your team you first and foremost need to build genuine trust and ensure you are creating a safe team environment for all your team members. This takes time and effort but will pay off in the long term. When you build trust and alignment, and an environment of genuine care for one another, your team will work better together, they will be more confident to try new things, rely on one another, and ask for help.

To build trust you need to be open. You need to be able to listen without judgment and show vulnerability so that your team sees you role-modelling the behaviour you hope to foster in them. In the early days of my career, I used to believe that being a leader meant you had to know more than your team members. Over the years I have come to learn that this is wholly untrue. Your role is to leverage the collective skills and know-how of your team and to orchestrate outcomes by harnessing and building on those collective strengths. Sure there will be times when you need to be more directive and coach your team members, and times when you need to be out front setting a compelling ambition. But leadership is incredibly situational and requires you to constantly apply different skills to different situations.

Deborah Woollard, Group Chief People Officer, Myrepublic

A courageous leader, HR evangelist, and a working mom, Deborah stands out as an inspiration to all who want to drive positive impact in the corporate world with authenticity and a people-first mindset. Her strategies not only bring to life an organization's unique DNA, but support companies to grow and transform with a strong cultural and people-first mindset. 

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