View from the top – Lisa Hershkowitz from BIC

Author Samantha Howie
April 18, 2023

In our most recent edition of “View from the top”, we interview Lisa Hershkowitz, Global Head of Human Resources, Group Commercial at BIC.

What is one lesson you learned the hard way?

Earlier in my career, I had a mentor tell me, “It’s not about you.” It seems like harsh advice, and at the time it felt that way! But it is something I repeat to myself regularly and it helps ground me when I am losing my way.

At the time, I was navigating a tricky leadership conflict, with one leader taking over a business unit while the incumbent transitioned to a new role. As the transition happened, I made a bad judgement call regarding a reorganization and the incumbent leader called me to tell me in a pretty direct way exactly what I did wrong. It crushed me because my intentions were good, but my execution was terrible. For the next 24 hours, I went back and forth on how to fix the situation, but I kept focusing on what I did and why I did it. I was justifying my actions and talking through my intentions over and over. After letting me go through my inner turmoil for those 24 hours, my mentor sat me down and told me I had it all wrong. He told me to get myself out of the center of the situation, recognize what needed to be done to serve those who needed my leadership, and then just get it done. He said to me firmly and directly, “Lisa, it is not about you.”

I believe in servant leadership, and as HR leaders, we are always in service of the people we support and the businesses we enable. All these years later, when I start to get in my head too much and justify to myself and others why I am doing certain things, I always go back to this advice. I take myself out of the center of a situation, and I think about who I am serving and what they need from me to be successful. This advice has served me well, and I believe it has served those I support well too.

What are the major business disruptors currently affecting the work of your organization and how are they affecting HR specifically?

It’s always been said that the only thing constant is change, but the past three years have really given new meaning to that statement. Between a global pandemic, the economy, inflation, increasing political polarization, war, natural disasters, etc., we are living in a time defined by the unexpected. The major business disruptors are evolving daily – whereas only three years ago, our lives were entirely focused on the health and safety of our team members, we are now laser focused on supply chain disruptions, cost of good increases, and tightening of our overall operating costs as we follow an unpredictable global economy.

As HR leaders, we are finding ways to build change into our processes, systems, leadership philosophies, trainings, organizational designs, and talent strategies. We are setting the tone for what it means to be agile and resilient, while also encouraging time for pause and self-care.

The disruptor of today will not be the disruptor of tomorrow, and chances are, we are going to get thrown a curveball we’ve never seen before. We will not always know how to react, but if the last few years taught me anything, it is that we are more capable than we probably believed of pivoting and thriving in the midst of the unknown.

Do you believe that increased use of technology undermines the human touch within HR and why/why not?

When it comes to technology/AI, there is an assumption that it’s an either/or situation. Technology enhances our ability to be stronger people leaders and our humanity helps make technology come to life.

In general, people prefer when things are black and white. It is clearer and easier to understand when situations or decisions fall into neat and clean buckets. Unfortunately, life is not that simple, and in HR, we are trained to live in the gray. There is never one way to look at a situation and there is infrequently a clear undebated path forward. This is where the combination of technology and people is so powerful. Technology helps enable the data, the process, and the structure, and at times can even help make recommendations. We as HR leaders then need to add the critical thinking, the people lens, and sometimes even the gut reaction to help drive decision-making that supports the business and people needs.

What I get most excited about with the advancements in technology is how I can spend less time on areas of my work that feel tactical and operational, and instead spend more time leveraging the tech and tools around me to exercise and stretch the muscles in my brain to see around corners and develop new insights.

Do you think HR is viewed as an attractive career option and what do you consider its key selling points?

Of course I am biased, but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel thankful that I “fell into” HR. When I was in college, HR was not yet really a defined career path, so I took an internship because I needed something to do one summer, and it changed my entire life path. I can genuinely say that I wake up each day energized for what is ahead.

I do believe HR remains an attractive career option, and I also see it as a career path that is on the rise. Especially given the circumstances of the past few years, leaders are looking more and more to their HR partners for guidance on talent management, organizational design, engagement, learning and development, leadership coaching, and at times, crisis management.  Our business leaders are seeing that these levers are what make the difference and they need experts to help steer the boat.

If someone reading this is considering a career in HR – whether you are just starting or thinking of making a switch – imagine that you are co-captaining a ship toward an ambitious destination, but there are questions like, is the path forward clear? Do we have the right crew? Is the crew trained properly? Is the boat set up with all the tools and resources needed? What do we do if one of the crew leaders needs support? What happens if there is a storm?  How do we make sure we are also creating space for fun?

What do you think is not talked enough about in HR?

In general, I am so glad about how the conversation around DEI has elevated and evolved. More and more leaders are seeing diversity and inclusion as a business imperative to building high-performing teams that deliver results. That being said, I do think that we are HR leaders need to take a bolder approach to driving diversity for the long-term. If we want to see meaningful change in diverse representation in key roles, we need to get involved earlier in the decision-making process for our youth. We need to expose diverse communities to the career paths that exist beyond just what they have personally seen. We need to help give tools and resources to a broad group of future leaders so that they are equipped to choose career paths that match their strengths. We need to plant seeds early on that will grow over time.

As HR leaders, we are always working to balance the long-term with the short-term…but if we want to be true change agents and see the real business impact from building diverse teams, we need to get involved earlier and invest time in the future of our workforce. We won’t see the results tomorrow, but we will play a meaningful role in the future of our workforce that will positively impact generations to come. This is the legacy I think all HR leaders want to leave behind. We all want to say we made meaningful change that left the workplace better than we found it for generations to come.

Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organization/company.


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