14th May 2020
How I Became Global Compensation & Benefits Director at the Age 33
On 28th March 2017, I received a job offer to join a MNC to become their Global Compensation & Benefits Director based in Singapore. It was like a dream come true and this, at the age of 33.
Compared to many of my peers or maybe some fellow HR seniors, I would say that my HR career has progressed a lot quicker. And luck did play an important role all these while because I was extended many exciting career development opportunities through various assignments in my 11 years of corporate HR life. That included leading project teams regionally and globally which eventually led me to the final big job offer.
I started with DHL as a HR Intern back in Year 2005 in my second year of undergraduate studies with Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Following year, in 2006 I graduated with a 2nd Upper Honours Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a major in Human Resource Consulting and a minor in Psychology.
I was immediately offered a contract HR Assistant position in DHL with a relatively low salary that was 40% below than what my graduant peers were receiving. However I did not mind because I loved DHL and I believed with strong conviction that this big MNC brand name would bring me far in the future. I was confident that I would be able to learn the best HR practices from DHL. They had one of the most advanced HR Programmes and initiatives because they were always ahead of the market practice. For instance back in Year 2005, they already had Flexible Benefits in place! (this I found out on hindsight after leaving DHL!)
I stayed on for 3 years with no tinge of regrets at all. In such kind of matrix-reporting environment, I had direct and indirect reporting relationships with 4 HR Directors and VP of Compensation & Benefits. During that 3 years, I had undertaken so many projects such as Salary Reviews, Bonus Reviews, Job Grading & Benefits Harmonisation Performance Management, Merger & Acquisition. They were either regional or large scale basis involving a few DHL entities. Within a year, I was given salary adjustments thrice which brought me back to market level. I also had very big retention bonus. And finally I landed myself into a permanent role of Regional Compensation & Benefits Analyst in Year 2008 when there was headcount openings.
Eventually I left due to an impending restructuring within DHL. And this time I was also ready to leave because I wanted to experience other companies and their cultures. However it was not easy because I kept failing during the interview rounds. I was shivering whenever it was my turn to speak. And to top it off, I would try to circumvent the situation by not asking any questions at all because I wanted to cut short the scary and tormenting process.
However over time in the next 2 years, I began to gain better control of myself and perhaps it was also more accrued job experience which led to a gradual increase in self-confidence. My interviews started to go more smoothly. Headhunter calls were getting more frequent and in Year 2010, I started to actively update my LinkedIn account which was instrumental for head hunters to gain access to me.
The best advantage of my job function was that I was privy to the salary market surveys. And often there is this common saying that Compensation professionals are seldom underpaid because we should know our own market values.
Due to various reasons, voluntary and involuntary reasons such as inevitable rampant Company restructurings, M&As, I had made several career changes until the final big job offer as the Global Compensation & Benefits Director. However subsequently due to family (2 young kids) and personal circumstances, I turned down the offer with a heavy heart. I knew that this was a risky step to take because that would potentially burn bridges which was something I was reluctant to do. To my surprise, the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) was extremely understanding of my situation and gave me the blessings which I really needed.
As I reflected and looked back this interesting career journey of 11 years, I remain grateful that I had many opportunities which came along the way at the appropriate times. I was also lucky to land myself with a HR internship in DHL which laid the important foundational bricks to my successful HR career.
On the other hand, I had time and again received many similar feedback by different ex-Managers and co-workers about my positive traits, attitudes and behaviours that facilitated the fast advancement in my HR career which I would like to share today hoping that it would be relevant and useful to some of you to achieve success in your respective areas:
No success is conceivable if one does not have the tenacity to go through the required hours of hard work. On the contrary, hard work is not just about putting in extended hours. Instead it is the grit mindset that you are prepared to do whatever it takes to help you to succeed.
Hardwork doesn’t guarantee success, but improves its chances ~ B.J. Gupta
I worked hard to put in my best shot in completing projects or undertaking challenging assignments despite not knowing what to do at times. I would find ways to make things work as long as I have committed to deliver. I would continue to push on to get pass the initial struggles. And often than not, my Managers would tell me that they were surprised by what I delivered and that I had exceeded their expectations.
Continuous learning and self-development is still a big motivational driver for me till now. Due to limited hours a day, I had to work smart by investing time on the right areas which would enable me to develop the right skill sets and competencies to advance among my peers.
When I first embarked on my HR career, I did not even know the basic Excel skills. I only knew how to open a blank excel workbook. Simple things like inserting or deleting columns were taught by my HR mentor. She told me point-blank that HR must know Excel.
Being someone who just graduated with huge student loans to pay and a relatively low take home income, I could not afford to attend the any Excel classroom training course. Back then there was no YouTube to access to free videos. So what I did was to go to the library and borrow free books on Excel. I read and practised for many hours. I also asked different co-workers on the tips and tricks.
Other than my direct Manager, I sought mentorship from various colleagues, who were good at what I was lousy in. And it extended beyond the HR Function. It was also through interactions with other functions such as Finance that I had learnt a lot from on business acumen.
In my initial years, I had phobia of public speaking which hindered me from being an effective communicator. Whenever there was a HR team meeting sharing, my heart would be palpitating so quickly that I could feel myself shivering with shaky voice.
That was it. I knew I had to work on this developmental area to overcome this fear. On impulse, I signed up to join a Toastmasters club opposite my house so that I would not have any excuses not to go due to distance. I knew that unless I get passed this phobia, i would never be able to advance further in my HR career. At that time, I was stuck being a HR analyst for 6 years.
I want to make sure that once the opportunity comes knocking on my door, I would be fully prepared to do a good presentation the employees or to the Management. Any fumbling would be embarrassing and affect my credibility.
This is our ability to learn, adapt, and apply ourselves in constantly morphing conditions. It can be described as having the complex set of skills that allows us to learn something in one situation and apply it in a completely different situations. It is about gathering patterns from one context and then using those patterns in a completely new context.
For me, this served to be a good reminder that change is the only constant. As much as we can learn from the past experiences, be it success or failures, we need to be conscious that we cannot be fixated on applying the same approach in every similar situation. We need to exercise flexibility, modify and calibrate our approach when different situations call for different practices. What worked this time might not be fully applicable and vice-versa, what did not work this time could still be useful for other situations. You just have to be flexible and adapt accordingly.
Humility and Respect for People. This is a big core value which is strongly instilled in me. I treat everybody the same regardless of their job levels by greeting them whenever I see them. There was no hierarchy difference between me and them. I remained true to being my humble self from Day 1 of my working life. From pantry lady to the SVP, my attitude to them remain the same with warm greetings when I see them.
For a period of time, I was working in an environment which had no respect for people. There would be loud scoldings and ridicules within the HR department. Being handpicked to join the team by the Manager, I was spared from such unreasonable scoldings. Instead I was made to witness this horrible treatment meted out to my co-workers especially to my lady good friend who was in her late fifties. The Manager leveraged on the fact that it would not be easy for my good friend to find a job so the verbal abuse continued almost daily.
I would intervene at times but as my stomach grew bigger with the pregnancy advancing close to full-term, my colleagues stopped me because they did not want me to get too emotionally worked up which might affet my baby. (Claire has since turned 5 years old.) The toxicity was so intense that even my baby would kick me non-stop inside until the loud scoldings ceased. That was why I left shortly after giving birth when a better job opportunity arose.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) I am an avid follower of Dr. Travis Bradberry and read his published articles daily. I also bought his book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 which spoke about:
Having the ability to first understand ourselves and our emotions, to being empathetic with others, seeing things from others perspectives and lastly conflicts and relationship management to me are all various manifestations of high EQ display.
Being in HR would also meant that there were added complications because fellow HR peers would sometimes get to know my compensation package. I had been in various situations in which I was earning significantly higher than my peers who were my HR seniors or compared with someone who has more than 10 to 20 years more experience than me.
Anticipating that this was a highly sensitive and emotional concerns, I decided to start from myself to prove my competence and value to the team rather than trying to be defensive about my salary. I sought to gain their trust and credibility by being a strategic partner and to create value to the HR team. I am very glad that I had manage to manoeuver well in all those situations to convert the uneasiness into effective working collaborations and then subsequently fostered close and deep friendships with the team members. Till date, we still remain good friends with many of my ex-colleagues.
Having moved around in various companies, it was also important for me to adapt to different environments very quickly. Though the Compensation & Benefits work was largely similar, the culture, environment and the people were never the same!
In my early career phase, my Manager had shared with me whenever I am in a new working environment. learn to observe first and speak less. Try to sense the ground and understand the ‘unwritten rules’. Such subtle observations later helped me to be mindful of what I say or do. I adapted well according to the culture of the Company and the working styles of my co-workers. Instead of sticking out like a sore thumb, I would be conscious of different individuals’ working styles and motivational drivers. Then I adapted myself accordingly to blend myself in naturally rather than have the new environment and team adapt to me.
Authenticity and Sincerity.
Lastly, I believed what also helped me in skyrocketing my HR career would be my authentic character and my sincere way of treating people. I would help the team in whatever way possible and within reasonableness. I truly want the bring out the best in everybody, influencing them towards the better. I always believe that only when my co-workers are successful, only then will I be successful as a Manager, peers, co-worker and direct report.
Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in life. It’s about what you Inspire others to do. ~Anonymous
It is the composite of the above habits and traits which I had developed over time that enabled me to enhance my self-development faster and to become a more effective communicator. It all began with myself to improve continuously and to challenge myself to be better than yesterday. Remain humble, authentic and treating people with sincerity would go a long way not only in work but with any other relationships in life.
14th May 2020