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There is never a more perilous time for the head of human resources (HR) than in the aftermath of an acquisition. That is when the risk is high that the best people leave and the worst people stay. And there are a million and one problems to solve, some as practical as which offices and software systems to keep, and some as intangible as communicating “the way we do things around here”.
Last November, the privately-owned American company, Attachmate Corporation, bought NASDAQ-listed technology company, Novell, in a $2.2 billion deal. It’s the kind of money that demands a lot of cost savings, especially since Attachmate is owned by a consortium of three private equity companies. Demanding folk.
Get out the office and understand the business, says Andrea Hayden, director of human resources at technology company, Attachmate Asia Pacific.
Attachmate now has 4,000 staff across four business divisions in several countries including Australia, India, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and New Zealand. That is Hayden’s territory, and it encompasses 800 staff, including 500 in India, and a team of 10 human resources managers reporting directly to her.
“This year has been very focused on the acquisition,” Hayden says. “The two organisations did things differently. From a systems perspective, and in terms of cultural change, I am still working closely with senior leaders in each country to process the changes. It is still a moving feast.”
Business wises up
The human resources profession has changed dramatically over the past five years, Hayden says, and it’s a change that suits her down to the ground. “Five to seven years ago, HR was a cost centre and a support function, not a driver of change. Now HR is a key role at the decision-making table, and that change is happening daily.
“Business has finally wised up to having someone skilled in charge to take them on the journey. But you need to get under the business. HR needs to be more commercial about what is happening on the ground level.”
So how does an executive with an arts degree in psychology and economics get commercial?
“The real key for me is to get out with the businesspeople,” says Hayden. “I spent a few years working for Tabcorp. We had a dummy games room and I spent a day playing the machines, getting a feel for what punters look for, and then going on the road with the pokie technicians. What do they face? It is about spending time in the business with the front line.”
HR leaders must understand financials, the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet. “So spend some time with the chief financial officer or do a course as simple as finance for non-finance managers,” says Hayden.
When Hayden worked for Colonial First State Global Asset Management’s property business, she spent day with the shopping management team, and with the leasing manager, and attended meetings.
Back in the office, she works closely with her fellow executives, such as the chief information officer. “For me, the CIO is just another business partner. We talk regularly. We support work-life balance and working from home, although we like a presence in the office. We like relationships with colleagues.” Hayden reports directly to the vice-president of human resources at the head office in the US.
Skills are easy
Hayden struggled to get into HR roles initially because her qualifications were not tied directly to the role. “That made it difficult to get an HR position,” she says. “It is amazing how narrow recruitment can be. So I worked in retail and general office roles and then joined HR with the ANZ bank.”
That early experience has shaped her approach to recruitment. “Hiring people can be very narrow-minded, which annoys me.
“We put a very strong focus on cultural fit. Without being disrespectful to salespeople, for example, it is not that difficult finding salespeople. But putting cultural fit against it, that is where the complexity is. A couple of hires have not worked out. We give people room to achieve and the time. But that cultural fit is key. One of those hires [did] so much damage from a cultural perspective that we had to make the decision to cut him loose. Skills is easy part; cultural fit is hard.”
Hayden wants to reach the top, and become a CEO. Her next role will not be in HR. “My future will be to step out of HR and step into a business role, even for a short period of time, say 12 months to two years. That is the key to success at the senior level,” she says.
“Certain businesses, whilst they work with HR, are sceptical about them and think of them as being ‘warm, fluffy’ people unless you have stepped out into the business role and done it successfully.”