Géraldine Hassler, named HR Manager of the Year

Writer Laura Campan
géraldine hassler kpmg luxembourg

Following a global pandemic and all the social phenomena that have impacted the job market since then, how to show resilience and embrace the new values of a whole (disillusioned) generation?

The 20th anniversary of the HR One Gala was arguably the perfect moment to discuss these topics with the awards’ winners.

This week, let’s start the ball rolling with Géraldine Hassler, Head of People & Culture (KPMG).

Most people see Human Resources (HR) as an administrative job – forgetting the very essence of the word “humans”. How would you define the job of a HR manager today?

The role of an HR leader has transformed over the years and has shifted from a personnel administration leader to a key business partner in the company’s growth. CEOs should consider their head of HR as not just a people leader or ‘head of the department’ but more as an advisor you can trust to elevate the company in terms of business growth and cultural values. It has been expected from the HR manager to be the ‘Swiss army knife’ and to solve many people aspects such as: building a strong employer branding, attracting and retaining the best talent, increasing people engagement, acting as the ‘chief happiness officer’ to guarantee the best and safe workplace, providing accurate and timely analytics, continuously increasing the efficiency with a high level of responsiveness, and much more!

What will make an HR manager successful in all these areas is first being surrounded by an agile HR team and then co-creating with the business. People strategy is a shared responsibility that involves every stakeholder of the company — not only HR.

In the end, the role also depends on the culture of the company and the trust and exposure given by the management to its HR leader.

Leadership positions have long been given to men, have you seen any change over the past ten years?

Research shows that companies with more women in leadership roles outperform and are more profitable. We’ve seen an increase in awareness about this topic and people are more and more convinced that diversity is key, and everyone can benefit from it. Yet despite significant progress, companies still need to make sure that women are well-represented and can progress in their careers without additional obstacles compared to their counterparts.

Society and companies have a clear responsibility to make it happen, but it’s also important for the change to first come from women who need to step into the game, dare to take some risks, voice their opinions and promote their self-branding.

What about your personal experience? Would you say that being a woman may have slowed you down sometimes or, on the contrary, created a form of emulation?

Personally, I can’t say I’ve faced obstacles or experienced difficulties simply because I am a woman. Over the past 18 years, I’ve been lucky to have worked at organizations that are inclusive and empower all their people. Throughout my career, I seized opportunities that have come my way or that I’ve gone after myself and I’ve gained the trust of my colleagues and other stakeholders along the way. Sure, I’ve experienced failures professionally, but they have made me stronger. I believe that competencies and potential are unisex, and your gender does not determine your talent or capabilities. I have evolved in my career with a big appetite for growth, learning from others and always seeking feedback and acting on it. I encourage everyone to learn how to trust each other and especially those who are different from us…it is so enriching for everyone.

When you first joined KPMG as Head of People & Culture in March 2015 you wanted to restore the “entrepreneurial mindset”. Could you tell us how you did that, as well as the impact it had on people’s engagement?

First and foremost, I started by understanding the company’s ambitions and challenges. From there, I started to build a vision and translated it into actions to define the people roadmap. As the world of work is constantly evolving, we had to build an organizational structure to fulfill our current and future needs, and we created seven key new roles which did not exist before. From then on, we assessed the HR team’s capabilities and potential by initiating constructive and courageous career conversations with each team member. Building a strong middle management has helped us accelerate the people agenda and I aim to lead the team with inspiration, passion and above all, honesty. I am very proud that at KPMG, we have successfully created a strong and knowledgeable People & Culture team who is truly a part of the business and can accompany them to achieve their collective and individual efforts. Whatever their role is in the team, they all have the right mindset that’s focused on client-centricity.

You have been at KPMG for eight years now. If you had to do it again, is there anything you would do differently?

There are many things I would do differently, but I will just mention the two most important lessons. The first one is: listen first. With a willingness to achieve many ambitious goals quickly, I had forgotten the following: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ But with experience, feedback, and mentoring, you learn how to act differently.

The second one is: focus more. Instead of starting many projects at the same time, focus on key areas and put your team’s time, effort and resources into those to deliver qualitative results. When I look back, we can be proud of what we’ve achieved and there are still so many interesting challenges to overcome together. It’s no coincidence that the rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield. At KPMG, we do not forget where we came from, but we have a clear focus on the future that will be brighter.