Layoffs has to deeply think of and well planned by the leadership team

Aysun has been part of the leadership team in IBM Turkey for 30+ years where she undertook key roles in  Technical, Sales, Marketing, and HR functions.  

Later, Aysun established her company in 2009 and is working with a wide range of companies and industries. Her vision is to develop the leaders of tomorrow. She got associated with Avvartes in 2014 to design and deliver Human Capital projects at highest standards with distinguished professionals around the globe to help companies achieve sustainable success.

Currently based in Istanbul, Turkey, Aysun is a highly distinguished coach and consultant on Organizational Development, Leadership Development, HR transformation, and Performance Improvement. With her strong background in business and HR, she is helping leadership teams to align HR strategy with the organization’s business strategy to achieve the desired business outcomes.   

Aysun has completed QRSC Training Series – Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching and is certified in Human Synergistics Programs (Management Style Inventory and Leadership Style Inventory).

She also teaches in Universities on HR Capital Solutions and is an active member of Women Entrepreneurs Association in Turkey where she provides mentorship to budding young women entrepreneurs.

Thank you, Aysun, for giving your valuable time to this interview. We look forward to your candid responses.

Let’s Start!!!

We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

I knew about the job opening through an advertisement in the newspaper. Those days we did not have internet.

The interview process was three steps, the first one being an aptitude test, and the other two face-to-face interviews. I tried to find out as much as possible about the company practices and also the sector itself.

Also, I rehearsed with a colleague of mine the interview before attending.

“Why had I applied to this company? What my goals were? Why they should choose me amongst the other applicants?  How fit I was to the role?”

The first interview was very welcoming and warm. We had an incredibly open conversation and I felt extremely relaxed and acted very naturally. The second interview was with the HR Manager and GM. It was extremely unfriendly, with a bit of contempt. I felt very much under stress and was not sure if I would want to join the company if offered the job.

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations of your employer and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectations? 

The first three months I was extremely bored, with not much to do.

My manager was extremely bossy, and I could not easily communicate with her. In fact, I respected her a lot, but she was like my schoolmaster with very strict workplace discipline. This also had a negative impact on the team and teamwork. I was expecting a more constructive environment with some more room to voice out my opinions and connections within the team.     

Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience? Please share your thoughts about structured Employee Mentoring Programs. What best practices can make such programs impactful and successful?

I think as long as there is a defined and well-structured Employee Mentoring Program, this facilitates the new graduate to get adapted to the organization and the company culture. I was assigned a workplace mentor, but he was very reluctant to help me. I felt as if I was a burden for him and was hesitating to ask any questions and advice.  So, I believe it is crucial for the mentor to be well briefed and motivated about the role he/she takes, as through this role not only the newcomer but the mentor benefits as well in experimenting with developing others.  

Before moving into an HR role, you have worked in Professional Services, Software Sales, etc. What motivated you to transit to the role of HR? How your technical skills helped you in becoming a successful HR Leader?

I worked in the field for 20 years in different roles before moving into HR: Most of my roles were starting a new business line, where creativity, diligence, and interpersonal relationships were required as major skills.  When I took the role of HR, those were the years when the company went through a major transformation and the company practice was to assign leaders from business into HR to accelerate change and transition.  My technical skills were mainly in the areas of change management, partnering with business units and acting as a strategic partner to help business grow. My team, who had been in HR for many years, was focused on HR operational matters and I was active more at strategic level helping the organization to transform into the new culture and workplace practices.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? What permanent changes do you foresee at the workplace post-COVID-19?

Nothing will be the same post-COVID-19. I am learning to focus on self-care more than ever, both physically and mentally. I am spending more time with my family and also with my inner self. I am learning to be happy/fulfilled with less, feeling deeply the meaning of ‘’less is more’’. I am learning to be simple, flexible, and yet robust.    

In the workplace, I foresee much more of the remote work, fewer travels, more virtual meetings and the use of technology. So, digital dexterity has become a critical people skill.

New business models, new sectors, and new roles are arising, others will disappear. Reskilling, upskilling, use of ecosystems, flexible workforce will be the focus areas of HR teams.

Health and hygiene are now very important. New rules and procedures will be in place.   

Keeping employees motivated and connected is more of a challenge nowadays. Keeping effective communication with teams, purpose-driven leadership, showing empathy, trusting each other, adaptability, innovation, collaboration is becoming the key competencies for successful leaders and organizations post-COVID-19.

Organizational Culture is a key differentiator between successful and not so successful organizations? What determines the organizational culture? What is the role of HR in creating organizational culture?          

I am a strong believer that organizational culture is a key differentiator for successful organizations. It is really the values, beliefs, thoughts, and behaviours of the founders or the CEO that sets the tone for the culture of the organization. It guides the organization through shared norms, through spoken and unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and patterns. It also sets the basis of the vision, mission, and purpose statements.  

HR has a key role in ensuring that the organization's culture is adopted and widely spread throughout the organization and that people will continue and thrive for the ownership of the culture.  HR is the role model through its behaviours, thoughts and actions, has a direct impact on the organization culture and constantly works with leadership teams and people in the organization. They set the HR strategies and policies in line with the organization's culture and regularly evaluate the impact.  In total, HR is the key player in emboldening company culture and change agents in leading the cultural transformation.

What are your thoughts about layoffs? What is the role of HR in layoffs? According to you, what is the appropriate way of managing layoffs?

I was involved in various restructuring projects along with my career as an HR Leader and also as a consultant.

I acknowledge that there are times when companies do need to implement layoffs to manage company financials and to survive. It is really a painful process. Some of the layoffs are implemented in a very operational manner losing sight of the human aspect.

Here comes the role of HR. Layoffs have to deeply think of and well planned by the leadership team. This is not only an HR issue; leadership support is crucial.

Timely, clear, and honest communication comes next. Communication plans need to be prepared in detail and implemented with care. This is not essential only for people leaving but also for people who will stay in the company. 

Sharing the cause behind layoffs, objectivity along with respect, kindness and compassion could help the employees to cope with the difficult times ahead. I always find one-on-one conversations helpful and offering support such as outplacement, career counseling help individuals during the transition.   

Please share your experience when you consulted and facilitated your client in successfully managing change at the workplace.

This was a multinational client in Retail Industry where I worked with the local organization through their cultural transformation along with the organizational restructuring. At board and senior management level there was the trust issue, which led to a chaotic environment in the decision-making process, delegation, cooperation, motivation, and sustainable growth.  

I worked with the board and the senior management team to establish the governance model to enhance the board’s ability to exercise proper oversight and senior management’s ability to implement the policies and procedures through which governance occurred within the organization. We clearly identified areas in which board was responsible for approval of decisions and where others were, with detailed RACI tables. This was rather the easier part.    

The most challenging part was the mind shift and change of habits of the founders and the board.  The resistance was mainly when turning into reality what was already agreed on. This included giving more autonomy and authority to the senior managers, staying more at the strategic level and not getting involved in the daily operations, allowing the senior team to be accountable for the results.

We used Culture Surveys and Leadership Assessments along with one-on-one interviews which helped in the facilitation process to define what is working/what is not and why and execute a sustainable constructive change.   

Share your experience of working with the most challenging client. What was the most difficult thing about that relationship from your perspective, and how did you manage it?

This was a big family-owned business with the family members on the board going through a major business transformation, where the company also decided to handover to the second generation and to a more professional senior leadership team.  I had an interim HR management role which included the smooth transition at board level, mentoring the second generation, reorganizing the senior leadership team, working with the new top team on the strategic plan and also improving the HR strategies and policies to prepare the organization for the future.

The most difficult part was setting the right tone with the board members and the senior leadership team to ensure that I was at equal distance with all, trying to be very objective and at the same time earn their trust to ensure that I had very open, real and intimate conversations with each, when necessary. At the same time, I had the challenge of keeping the senior executives engaged and highly motivated to implement the new strategic plan, most of whom were rather new to the organization. Establishing open and trusted relationships, empathy, spending quality time with each of them and listening deeply, focus on leadership and team coaching helped me to manage the transition and the transformation successfully.     

What kinds of experiences have you had in relating with people whose backgrounds are different than your own?

Learning from differences, respecting diversity, and enjoying inquiry has helped me a lot when dealing with people from different backgrounds. It was not as easy for me in the earlier stages of my life. As I invested more in myself on development programs mainly on relationship coaching and started experimenting, listening to others, and learning from their experiences, it helped me to relate more effectively.  

How do you prepare for a presentation to important clients or the executive board the day before it is due?

I try to focus on key aspects, rather than getting lost on unnecessary details. I ask myself the following questions:

  • What was the cause, motivation of the client request?
  • Have I covered what the client has asked for?
  • Is it simple and easy to follow from the client perspective?  
  • What is the value created for the client?
  • What impact do I want to create?
  • How will I measure my success?
  • What is the outcome I want to reach at the end of presentation?

How would you describe your leadership style?

The transition from old school to a new school where the outcome is a more balanced task and people focus.  So, I would describe more as a constructive style, leaving behind aggressive styles as years passed by. 

Lastly, what is your message to young Graduates? How should they prepare themselves for a successful career in the profession of their choice?

  • Take full ownership of your career, take initiative and risk
  • Build network, develop effective interpersonal relationships  
  • Build trust, keep your promises when you make a commitment keep to it
  • Learn from mistakes and failures, be resilient and move forward
  • Be a lifelong learner
  • Keep simple, take actions
  • Focus on possibilities, create solutions
  • Be open to feedback, listen deeply
  • Take care of yourself, keep your body and mind healthy  
  • Embrace uncertainty, volatility, change
  • You will not have all figured out, adopt an experimental approach

Thank you, Aysun, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it.  

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