Alex Hattingh is part of a growing trend of organisations and startups aiming to bring people management directly into their executive teams, by appointing a ‘chief people officer’.
Hattingh was appointed to the role at HR startup Employment Hero earlier this year, bringing a wealth of experience in HR and people management to the business — including time at Google, where she was one of the pioneers behind Google’s Project Oxygen, which aimed to uncover the real value of a strong management team for tech companies.
She joined at the same time as AdRoll director Cat Prestipino, who became the startup’s first chief marketing officer.
For Hattingh, the goal is to drive an unbeatable company culture in the workplace, to ensure the team they’re building is agile, innovative, satisfied and purpose-driven — something too many startups don’t consider until it’s too late, or too difficult to change.
Who and what do you lead?
I lead the people and culture strategy for Employment Hero, which essentially involves guiding the entire employee experience. I will also be looking at the best practice HR tools to partner with product to ensure we are always improving our own Employment Hero platform. This will enable us to continue our mission of transforming the way businesses manage HR and making employment more rewarding for employees.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
Building out the people strategy and continuing to enhance the amazing culture at Employment Hero. This will involve evaluating how I build on the current strategy to consistently bring in great talent, looking at how I can support the leadership team in executing a fast-moving growth strategy, and enhancing our product with tools to better engage employees.
What one issue is making you really angry right now?
There are too many companies paying lip service to HR being an important part of business. When push comes to shove, many businesses don’t invest in the tools to actually make things happen!
Best piece of career advice you ever received?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the deliverables with the biggest impact.
Measure everything and use this data to drive decisions.
And, it’s okay if you don’t have the answer.
What would you go back and tell yourself ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was living in New York. I would tell myself to take a breath and enjoy the wins I was experiencing at the time.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve faced in your career, and how did you push through it?
Managing employee engagement across different cultures and geographies, and having managers understand the vital importance of their role as ‘manager’ and dedicating time to their people.
It is fundamentally important to communicate, communicate, communicate.
Always be asking employees for their input to feed back into leadership practices and then action it. The most vital part is action and execution. If you ask people about how the business can improve, it is futile if you don’t put an action plan in place and execute on that.
Also, you need to hold managers accountable for their team’s engagement and happiness.
Have mentors aided your career?
Yes, every step of the way. My mother has been my greatest mentor throughout my life, particularly when it comes to balancing disappointments, moving forward, celebrating wins, and remaining humble and grateful.
Every amazing manager that I have had the fortune of working with has aided my career by coaching, listening and challenging me, and always bringing me back to my deliverables.
What’s your favourite piece of tech?
Plus, any tech that makes your life and work more efficient.
Slack for seamless communication and keeping conversations transparent and out of your inbox, and Evernote as well.
What publications do you read on a daily basis?
Everything from the Harvard Business Review, to HR blogs and publications.
I use LinkedIn Pulse to organise my content in one place. This allows me to follow influencers such as Adam Grant and Marcus Buckingham, as well as companies that produce insightful content and research such as Gallup and Culture Amp.
What apps or tools do you use to help manage your day?
Google Suite and Evernote. I rely heavily on my calendar to arrange my to-do lists, tasks and deliverables.
What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?
Ted talks, podcasts and LinkedIn Learning content.
Are there any industry associations you’d recommend to other women?
Business Chicks and Geek-Ups by Culture Amp.
What career-related book would you highly recommend to other women?
I have never relied on books for career advice or direction, you’re better off seeking out mentors and people, both women and men, who you admire for advice and sponsorship. Every organisation has its own cultural norms that you need to get to know and operate in.
This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on Women’s Agenda.
Passionate about the state of Australian small business? Join the Smarts Collective and be a part of the conversation.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.