Elena Vitchak, Sistema JSFC: «HR-directors know what business is and how to support it»

The 15th Annual Russia and CIS HR Directors Summit will take place in Moscow on September 25-26. The press service of the organizational committee has asked Elena Vitchak, Expert Council Member and a speaker of the XVth HR Directors Summit, Vice President on staff, Board member of Sistema JSFC about how the HR industry has changed for these 15 years and what role HR directors play in company management.

— Elena Leonidovna, you have been one of honoured HR Directors Summit speakers for many years. Please tell us how the staff management industry is evolving? Have the functions and tasks of HR directors changed?

— In my opinion, a HR manager is a chess player who plays black and white simultaneously. On the one hand, HR managers have to fulfill their employer’s tasks and on the other hand, they should work together with the staff and respect their interests. This black and white game results in exhaustion of this profession. It requires a lot of energy, it is hard to play this role in the right way, correctly and fairly. Moreover, a staff manager should be as neutral as possible. In case of the opposite he prioritizes the interests either of the employer, or the employee, or his own, and the sides of this triangle start feeing unsatisfied by the working process and its results.

Елена Витчак

Nowadays HR directors do not have to prove anything, their job duties are strategic in almost all the companies — large, medium and already small ones. Taking into account the demographic situation in the country, the lack of human resources and other difficulties all my colleagues know very well about, I think that these functions will remain strategic for a long time. Nowadays an HR director is a business partner. And of course, an HR director should trace all the changes, know-hows in his profession, new trends, should be aware of all possible risks and opportunities. Everything changes too quickly. It is probably the main measure. HR directors who you can nowadays see speaking at conferences are great headpieces, they are experts — people who know what business is, how it changes, how to support it in the right way, how not to harm it.

— How did your career in HR industry start? What are you proud of?

— I can remember it very well, everything started in 1990s, I had a small child and I worked as an office manager in a large company. Once when I was copying documents I saw a newspaper on the table with an article «HR is the profession of the future». I read it and thought it was quite an interesting article. This is how it all started. It is true, that I have made my career myself with my own hands and due to my own brain, so I always say that «everything will turn out right, the world is built on that», as great Bulgakov said, and if you do your work professionally and properly, you will achieve success. It is very hard to make a career and move towards managing positions that imply decision taking in our field. I really love this profession. For me it is very comfortable and capacious. I can’t even imagine myself doing anything else. Oh no, on second thoughts, I do know. I wanted to be a surgeon and cynicism is probably in my veins — I cut without hesitation and pain.

— What qualities should an HR director have to be successful and efficient?

— Brain and intelligence are necessary everywhere. It is very important to communicate with people in the right way, because all people are different. You deal with people all the time, from morning till night you meet people, people, people. It is one of the most difficult business roles. That’s why the service component, customized communication skills are no doubt compulsory elements of business expertise. Stress resistance, the sense of humour and self irony are also necessary. Today I have seen a very good joke that is right about my colleagues. You know the war poster of a woman saying «Do not gossip». Today I saw the picture of the same woman wearing the same red kerchief, with a finger on her lips, but saying «Stop the internal dispute with yourself». This skill to bring this dispute to an end in due time, not to devise anything and just to move on is very important for HR directors, I think.

— What interesting HR projects are there in your corporation now? What experience can you share with us?

— We have completed a lot of processes connected with motivational changes, because Sistema JSFC has switched to an investment company model. According to the new motivation system, salaries of Sistema employees are based on the volume of money flow that every investment portfolio brings to the corporate center. Top managers have an additional long-term motivation program — top managers of Sistema JSFC may be rewarded with shares of the corporation. The long term management motivation program is based on the change of Sistema shares cost and the amount of total shareholder return (TSR). The difficulty of Sistema JSF lies in the fact that it is not a monobusiness, the corporation includes companies from various industries. If you deal with everything from agriculture to cosmonautics, your employees fit very different segments. We are about to create a single vacancy bank. We have launched the Bank of Talents program. This year is for us the year of building career lifts. We have considerably improved the process of personnel assessment, training and development, determining the best employees. So it is vital for us today to build career lifts in the corporation, to help us understand who our efficient employees are, where these stars are, in what subsidiaries they work, how to provide proper career growth to all of them, how to unlock and apply their potential in the future. All these things may seem essential, but we did not have them properly organized.

There are remarkable projects in our subsidiaries — MTS, Bashneft and other companies. We have corporate-wide cleanup days, sport and charitable events that unite people from our different businesses. My task is to make all the employees feel a single team, shoulder to shoulder! And it is very beneficial for the business. Our employees share experience, pass round technologies, start communicating. For example, director of our MTS Bank took part in the Bank of Talents project and found out that no one of 20 people from various subsidiaries who were present at the training knew anything about MTS Bank products. Unfortunately, we often wear blinders, that is why our projects are aimed at opening and expanding horizons, establishing contacts between subsidiaries in order to increase business efficiency. At the same time we carry out various volunteer projects, provide help and visit orphan asylums, collect money for those who need it. Our own charity fund plays a great role. There are some projects that are initiated by our subsidiaries and we include them into our common practice and integrate as many companies as possible into them. For example, MTS has a project entitled «To web all ages yield surrender», where we teach elderly people Internet skills free of charge. This program is very popular in many regions of Russia. Now we have included Bashkortostan, the region where Bashneft is located, into this program. There we will also organize training for the veterans of the company, because Bashneft is one of the largest employers of that region.

— We are arranging an event for your fellow HR directors. What advice and recommendations can you give them so that they could perfect themselves in their profession? What do you need to do in order to be successful, to be a leader, to lead the team?

— I think that leadership is a kind of a natural prescription. You either have charisma or not. Of course, I have seen cases when charisma was increased by means of personal coaching, but it is a person’s inner potential in 90% of cases. If a person is a born leader and can steer squadrons and divisions — that’s what he is. If he can’t, he has some other qualities. It is neither bad nor good, I suppose.

As for HR directors, you definitely need do have your brain tuned in all the time, to have it working constantly. You need to teach, take on projects that will not bring you any benefit in the nearest time. I have been teaching MGIMO students for three years and do not benefit from it financially. But I get great pleasure because I help my students. I teach them a personal growth course and see that they become calm after my lectures, know how to prepare for the session, know what difference between teachers and them is, know what emotional intellect is etc. I am horrified every time: how to stand in front of students, how to keep their attention for three hours. I am growing with them. To read, teach, communicate with good, right people — you need to do it all with pleasure, because your energy is passed over to other people! And everything is going to be all right!