Lara Hernandez is a strategic global leader with over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry across the Americas, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe. Currently based in Singapore at Hilton’s Asia Pacific headquarters, Lara oversees talent development of over 50,000 Team Members, with a focus on People and Culture.
Lara has led and overseen multiple disciplines in the hospitality industry around the world. Lara believes that HR serves as the business partner to the wider organization, enabling the building of a strong culture focused on robust purpose-led talent strategy.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you view the current HR and talent landscape in Asia Pacific? How are they different from other regions?
Asia Pacific is an incredibly diverse region, with a mixture of contrasting cultures. Being in the region allows us to tap on the tapestry of diverse perspectives that come from our team members, and this creates remarkable outcomes for the business. Having worked with teams from all over the world during the span of my career, I have found that having a variety of opinions in the workforce is a fundamental principle all companies should work toward.
I’ve found that it’s especially important to listen and then speak where it really matters. When you’re in such a culturally rich region, you must listen in order to maneuver through the different cultural nuances and inter-generational dynamics to better understand each other and collaborate. It’s only by doing this that you can pick up on the nuances and then create initiatives and talent management strategies that truly resonate at the local level.
What are the top trends of 2019 and what should be the focus areas of 2020 for HR?
I have observed employee engagement and experience to be a recurring trend for years, and I have no doubt that it will remain a top priority for corporations in 2020. The reality is that besides spending time with our friends and family, we spend a big part of the day at work. How our team members feel about working at Hilton is especially important to us, and we want to be able to make their experience here as seamless and inspiring as possible.
Another key focus area is to create meaningful opportunities for every team member to grow and excel in different, sometimes unexpected directions. Ultimately, the employee experience is all about empowering team members to fulfill their aspirations and creating a real sense of belonging.
What is next in recruitment and hiring? Do you see a change in how employers are revisiting their employment strategy in the digital era?
As we move forward in our plans to recruit and hire talent, we need to acknowledge the changing nature of our workforce, which is now made up of multiple generations of various ages. Having a diverse workforce in the business encourages us to enhance our recruiting processes to consider and interact with the varying skill levels, as well as the cultural and generational nuances.
It's about making a conscious choice to be inclusive in our hiring practice, because I truly believe that when team members have a real sense of belonging from the get-go, the business would definitely see an upturn in outcome and productivity.
With agility becoming the characteristic of a successful organization, how will this help businesses moving forward?
To me, an agile business is customer-centric, and is one that can respond quickly and effectively to opportunities that arise without losing its vision towards the end goal. Organizations need to understand that agility is important, especially in a world where change is constant across all aspects – from shifts in stakeholders’ and customers’ demands, advances in technology and the increasing competition among companies to attract and retain the best talent.
As we move forward in our plans to recruit and hire talent in 2020, we need to acknowledge the changing nature of our workforce which today comprises of people of multiple generations
With human interactions serving as the basis of our business, we need to be prepared for changing preferences and demands of our customers, employees and the communities we operate in. We need to ensure that measures are set in place that gives us space to embrace and adapt to change, turn uncertainty into opportunity and fill up the gaps in order to ensure continued success. In order to do so, a key step would be to always stop and listen. Listen and understand the needs of these individuals around us and being open to be flexible enough to adjust any measures or plans to one that meets their needs.
How is leadership changing in the wake of digital technologies? How are business leaders dealing with digital challenges?
We currently live in a time of continuous digital enablement. It is amazing to see technology advancements have made tremendous changes in the hospitality industry and workplace on a whole, enabling us to reach beyond our potential. With technology playing a key role in all that we do in the workplace, it is an opportunity for leaders to tap on that to enhance business objectives and enable efficiency where possible.
Regardless of size and industry, advancements in technology are driving change in leadership roles. Leaders need to accept this reality and take action in order to facilitate that change, in order to thrive. While this would mean embracing new strategies especially in companies that are not fully digital to begin with, it is a necessary change in order to drive business results, and better prepare the company for any obstacles that come their way.
Will AI in future turn to be a threat or a partner that will help make businesses become more meaningful?
AI will for sure be more meaningful for businesses. No matter the industry you are in, people want to be serviced at anytime, anywhere. The sooner they can get answers to their questions, the better it is. AI is a wonderful thing, because it can retrieve a lot of information quickly, and supplement the answers to any questions in a heartbeat.
Today’s travelers expect personalized digital interactions and we have since addressed that accordingly through our innovative offerings such as Digital Key, which allows our Hilton Honors members to skip the line at the front desk and unlock their hotel door using their smartphones, and Connected Room, a first-of-its-kind hotel room that allows guest to control their stay from one central point – their mobile phone. But that’s not to say that AI and technology will run the show for us as we are afterall, in the business of people serving people.
How do you see gender equality panning out in 2020? Will the disparity shrink in 2020?
Increasingly, businesses are taking gender equality more seriously – workplaces have had and are having many necessary conversations about equality and inclusion. With more organizations actively ensuring equality at the workplace, we are definitely seeing an uptick in progress towards achieving a more equal and balanced world, however, there is always room for growth.
While there has been substantial progress by corporate entities, more can be done to ensure a significant decrease in disparity in 2020 and beyond. Truth is, ensuring gender equality within the organization is a constant work-in-progress and as the belief goes “what gets measured, gets done”. It is necessary for organizations to actively keep a clear view of the vision in mind in order to continue towards equality within the workplace.
Ultimately, the glass ceilings and barriers women impose on themselves will not disappear overnight – it requires a collective effort to change mindsets, including that of women’s own expectations and priorities. Beyond that, we recognize that a supportive environment does not just stop at the intake. It also entails putting in place a conducive environment and an inclusive culture so that there is a complete ecosystem to grow and achieve a significant decrease in disparity in 2020 and beyond.