A woman with shoulder-length straight brown hair and a white shirt smiles at the camera in front of a cream-coloured wall.
Alena Nagornyak. Image: Henkel

‘Skills are the new currency for work’

25 Jun 2024

Alena Nagornyak discusses her role at Henkel and some of the biggest trends in the HR space, including AI, data and analytics, and skills management.

Alena Nagornyak’s human resources (HR) career happened “by chance”. After obtaining a master’s degree in real estate and infrastructure management, Nagornyak spent a few years working in that sector before realising that it wasn’t her passion.

Wanting to try something different, she was inspired to take a chance on HR by one of her friends, who was working in Ikea’s HR department.

“I was lucky enough to get my first HR job in a large multinational – Danone, in their Moscow office. This is how my HR career started and I never looked back.”

Now, Nagornyak is a seasoned HR professional with more than 20 years of experience, holding the position of HR director for UK, Ireland and Nordic countries at Henkel.

What are the biggest HR challenges facing your company right now?

Among key challenges, I would say progressing on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) topics, gender pay gap and equipping the organisation with the right skills for today and tomorrow are key areas we are looking at in the HR space at the moment especially with unprecedented volatility and advancements in technology.

Our most recent initiative is fully paid parental leave for both male and female parents with a minimum duration of eight weeks globally as of 2024. This means that all parents are eligible for paid parental leave based on the caregiver role and not based on gender or biological parent status.

As we continue to progress as an organisation, one of the projects we are rolling out this year is skills management. We are building skills profiles for our employees, mapping out the required skills for various roles and functions within the organisation based on current and future business needs and will use that for upskilling and reskilling, talent deployment, skills-based succession planning and internal recruitment, project assignments, as well as future skills planning. The opportunities this area is opening in combination with rapidly developing AI tools is fascinating.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on recruitment?

As the HR director, my key responsibility is to develop and implement HR strategies that enable our business to perform at its best. My team, across six countries, oversees all aspects of the employee journey – starting from talent attraction, development and retention to topics like employee relations, payroll and admin, as well as governance and compliance. In the end, we are here to enable the business through the power of people. My own role is to ensure that our HR strategies align with the business and that my team is fully equipped to provide added value to their stakeholders. So, my time is split between strategic HR planning, team development and addressing organisational challenges to support our business objectives.

What HR technology trends and opportunities are you capitalising on?

I believe at Henkel we have made great advances in HR data and analytics. We have state-of-the-art HR dashboards, where we, in real time, can get snapshots on various data and metrics, which can inform decision-making, show progress of strategic initiatives or give insights on organisational health. For example, the recently introduced DEI Scorecard provides insights on the ratio of males to females in the company, number of women entering and exiting the organisation across various countries and business units. This allows us to not only track our female ratio progress at any point in time, but to understand where we should direct our efforts on the recruitment of women talents, and where we should focus more on retention, in case we are losing more women than men.

Another major trend is skills management. Skills are the new currency for work, and we have big plans for leveraging skills management. As a first step, based on your individual skillset, we are able to offer personalised learning paths. This helps in upskilling our workforce and promoting a culture of continuous improvement.

No conversation today about technology trends can be had without mentioning AI. We are working on leveraging AI in the recruitment process, and there is work starting on building chatbots to support employees with their HR-related queries. AI is helping us to match learning needs based on learners’ preferences. Many more projects are in the design phase – personalised onboarding, internal candidate position-matching, predictive analytics and many more. The opportunities AI is offering in the HR area are truly extensive and exciting.

‘True DEI success requires continuous effort’

What has been the biggest culture change within your organisation in the last five years?

The adoption of hybrid working models after the pandemic was one of the major cultural changes. Embracing remote and flexible work arrangements has fundamentally changed how we operate. This shift has required us to not only develop new policies, invest in digital collaboration tools and rethink our office space, but it was also a major mindset shift, contributing to building trust and enhancing flexibility.

We have made significant strides in promoting DEI across the organisation and addressing it comprehensively: implementing various DEI trainings on unconscious bias, on inclusive leadership, establishing employee resource groups and supporting various organisations like Women in Tech or setting up Female Hackathon. What helps a lot is setting measurable goals to increase diversity at all levels. Henkel made a commitment to achieve gender parity across all managerial levels by 2025. By the end of 2023, Henkel for the first time reached 40pc female share across the globe and it is a remarkable achievement.

In the end, our commitment to flexible working arrangements, DEI and employee wellbeing has helped to foster a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

What is the one thing you think HR teams should either stop doing, or start doing differently?

I know that today so much is said about human centricity, and it is becoming a buzzword, but I am truly convinced that when we bring ‘human’ into what we do in HR, we can make a real difference. By prioritising employee experience, wellbeing and development, by simplifying our processes, we can create more engagement and motivation, which will eventually drive higher productivity, innovation and create real value for the business.

What do you think is the biggest mistake employers and leaders are still making when it comes to D&I?

I believe the biggest mistake is treating DEI as ‘another HR initiative’. Simply implementing isolated programmes or policies without fostering a truly inclusive workspace will not change the culture and will not move the needle. True DEI success requires continuous effort, commitment from top leadership, and embedding inclusive practices into every aspect of the organisation, from recruitment to career development and daily interactions. I am immensely proud that at Henkel the top leaders of our organisation are fully committed to our DEI ambition and are acting as ‘DEI Change Leaders’, mobilising internal resources and putting a lot of energy into driving the DEI agenda.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

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