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Anouk De Blieck, Head of HR Asia Pacific at VISA, talks balance, purpose and technology in HR

Head of HR Asia Pacific at Visa, Anouk De Blieck says overcoming perfectionist tendencies to develop a growth mindset has been critical in growing her own career. Here, she tells us about her global career and offers insights on balance, purpose and technology.

Crowd & Co: Can you tell me about your own career – what have been the most significant career achievements or milestones?

Anouk De Blieck: I’ve really been very fortunate to have many opportunities to develop my career around the world, working across a huge range of cultures: in the US; across West, Central and Eastern Europe; then in Russia; followed by Asia Pacific with stops in Australia, Hong Kong and now Singapore.

I’ve also worked inside business functions like sales, operations and technology as well as roles in HR, which really gives a unique perspective on the ‘real’ issues that organisations face, not just the HR view of them. I’ve also had the chance to work in companies across the spectrum of organisational maturity, including start-ups, transformations, mature businesses and those that are based in emerging markets. Each brings their own opportunities and challenges, and of course the chance to learn new ideas and develop new approaches.

Each of these opportunities has helped me to grow and stretch myself, both professionally and personally. I strongly believe that this is central to developing and maintaining a growth mindset, which ensures that you evolve and adapt to meet the needs of both current and future challenges you might face.

C&Co: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

ADB: I think my biggest challenge is actually not uncommon: it is keeping a growth mindset. I like to learn and add value and make impact, but to do that, I also have to be willing to be vulnerable and take risks – not everything is going to work every time. I also have to be willing to be thrown into uncertain situations, where it’s less about my knowledge and more about how I leverage my skills and learning agility. Being willing to grow, and being comfortable being uncomfortable during that process. 

Anyone who knows me will tell you I like things to be organised and methodical. But I’ve learnt that being a perfectionist is not the best starting position; that you must allow yourself room to make mistakes and learn, or stick with those things that you might not excel at. Having learned to embrace a growth mindset, I can tell you it is much easier to learn in an environment that supports and encourages learning and understands that mistakes will be made in that process. I also know how hard it is to maintain that growth mindset when you are in an environment where it is not encouraged. You cannot let that stop you from continuing to try and learn and grow.

C&Co: You have particular expertise in growth and transformation. What is the thing that HR departments struggle with most in this area?

ADB: When it comes to growth and transformation, from an HR perspective the biggest struggle is not being close enough to the business. We can sometimes lose sight of commercial realities, which means we’re not able to put our best foot forward. That’s why it is so important for HR to be a true business partner, actively engaged in the day-to-day business of the business. Then we are able to be a part of the team and an advocate that ensures our employees are at the centre of all we do

C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest challenges for next generation of HR professionals?

ADB: I think our biggest challenge is going to be staying relevant, which is why I’m so passionate about developing and keeping a growth mindset, both for yourself but also your organisation.

Staying relevant goes far beyond just providing a good service. We must be adding value to the businesses we support and the employees we serve. Understanding and delivering programs through a human-centred design lens, for example. Understanding the employee life cycle and experience at our unique organisations so we can anticipate the moments that matter and we are able to delight them with their experiences.

To do this we all must be continuous learners and intimately understand what makes a business tick. Then we can be more agile, speak business language and be more inclusive – I love to see more HR professionals develop from the business side and other diverse backgrounds like technology or finance.

C&Co: And the biggest opportunities?

ADB: Employees now are looking for a higher purpose, and that gives us in HR an amazing opportunity to play a direct role in helping them understand their place in the bigger picture, and how they play a vital role in the development of both the business but also the larger community.

HR is perfectly placed to nurture and grow people beyond their current job scopes, and invest in the future both in terms of talent development and community engagement. Helping people understand their higher purpose and direct that into their career is a perfect example of how we can harness our employee’s passion and help them stay engaged and happy in work and in life.

C&Co: How are you using technology in your work?

ADB: We use technology to really streamline and enhance the employee experience. So in communicating news to the team, but also ensuring that they have full access to all of the information they need. This includes business information, growth and development tools and the ‘normal’ HR information like leave, pay and performance data. 

Our goal is to use technology to make it easy and simple to manage HR interactions, as well as to empower people to make decisions and review progress in their own time. Using technology to facilitate that access allows our employees and our HR team to then spend their time focusing on what adds value to the business

C&Co: What place does technology have in the future of HR?

ADB: I think as technology continues to shape and change our whole lives, it also drives what employees expect from their workplace and, to a big extent, the kinds of employees we see in our organisations.

Virtual workplaces allow people an unprecedented level of flexibility in how they approach work and the balance between work and life. Technology is allowing people to stay in the workforce longer, and work through major life events that in the past might have necessitated leaving the workforce – things like caring for children, ageing parents or an unwell spouse. 

Keeping a growth mindset is also a lot easier with today’s technology – we are constantly exposed to new ideas and approaches just through our social media feeds! And it certainly requires all of us to constantly adapt and learn as new technology becomes available and our old tools and systems become obsolete.

Creating digital natives – both HR professionals and in our employees – has become a way of life.  No matter where you are in your career, technology needs to be a convenient and seamless tool in your toolbox, and a key enabler in helping us and our team recognise and celebrate the moments that matter for our employees. So digital, but with a human touch.  

C&Co: Your LinkedIn profile says you believe that “when you become a leader, you don’t get a ‘crown’, you get a responsibility to get the best out of others.” Can you tell us more about that and how you get the best out of others?

ADBGetting people to be their best requires that they are willing to try, fail, learn and grow. Which can be quite scary if you think about it – being your best means making mistakes.

It is up to leaders to set the tone and model the growth mindset I’ve discussed. We should all adopt the same curiosity, keenness to learn and try new ways of doing things. When leaders truly role model that growth mindset and are willing to be vulnerable, make mistakes and test and learn from new ideas the team and the organisation will thrive.

It’s a lot easier to take a risk trying something new when you know your manager admits they are not perfect either. Developing people is a team sport – we all need to share what we know, and also share our mistakes and what we’ve learned. Ensuring that our teammates feel safe to experiment is essential.

And remember, it’s about paying it forward, because sometimes you can’t pay it back. We’ve all benefited from mentors and sponsors in our careers and our lives.  It’s not always possible to pay them back for the help, support and promotion they provided. So instead, let’s pay it forward, and also help those in our organisations and communities who may need help, support or promotion.

C&Co: Finally, if you have one minute on the soap box, what would you talk about?

ADB: I feel like I’ve already been on my soapbox, but I can leave you with a last thought: always be passionate about what you do, and don’t forget what is important.  Pursue your dreams, have a plan and goals, regularly evaluate that you are on the right track and you have your priorities right. And remember that it’s not only about your career, it’s about your whole life. It takes hard work, but I believe that to be your best you need to take care of your whole self. So, focus on what you love, ensure that you have balance and that you don’t forget your wellbeing, physically and mentally. Focusing on just work is not the path to happiness for most of us. A balanced life is.


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