From A Mentor’s Desk: Meet Hellen Lebone, An HR Powerhouse
Take us back to your childhood, what were your career aspirations?
As a young girl, I used to watch an old soapie called Days of Our Lives and there was a psychiatrist on that show called Malena. I was very inspired by the work Malena used to do helping people and wanted to become a psychiatrist myself. I even studied psychology when I got to university in my undergraduate degree, but I soon changed to human resources in my post-graduate studies when I was later introduced to this field of work.
What drew you to the HR field and why did you pursue it?
I quickly learnt in university that I did not want to work in a clinical setup as Malena from Days of Our Lives did. When I was introduced to HR, I liked the idea of being able to help people, but in a company set up. I stayed in HR for all these years because I realised that I loved being able to help people and businesses achieve their full potential. I always say that HR is not for the faint-hearted because we are dealing with human beings. No one day is ever the same as the other! I like solving problems and seeing people around me succeed whether I do that through leadership coaching and development, conflict resolution or employee engagement, it all brings me joy.
How long have you been in HR and what are some of the challenges and highlights you have experienced?
I have been in HR for twenty years and it has been a great ride of highs and exciting achievements, moments of deep reflection and learning but always focusing on the goal of having a positive impact on the organisations where I work. At Hilton in Africa and the Indian Ocean, we have managed to build a strong leadership community, transforming our management and executive teams by appointing more females and locals into these roles and growing our Team Member engagement year on year. As I mentioned, I like solving problems and the challenges we have are not insurmountable. We continue to work on issues like diversity and inclusion, and the pandemic has presented us with a new set of challenges as we continue on the journey to recover our hotels. This is all possible because at Hilton I am surrounded by great leaders and capable teams who are all committed to “spreading the light and warmth of hospitality”!
As we are wrapping up Women’s Month, share with us how you help empower women in your industry through your position, even beyond August.
I am very passionate about women empowerment and fortunately, my role allows me to further this very strategic business objective.
I was instrumental in drafting and implementing our diversity strategy at Hilton, which saw our region in Africa and the Indian Ocean diversifying all levels of our leadership teams, particularly our hotel general managers. In my personal and professional time, I continue to coach and mentor young women and teenage girls at schools.
What misconceptions do people have about HR?
That HR is not strategic, or it’s too administrative. I believe that it all starts with the company culture. If the company has a culture of valuing people and sees people as its most important asset, then it will also value its People Advocates. However, it goes beyond the company culture to the calibre of the HR person themselves. The HR leader will define how valuable or not the HR role is to the organisation. I have been fortunate to work for companies like Hilton that are people-centric. In my career, I have always endeavoured to have a strategic outlook, not being afraid to have difficult conversations and collaborating with others to do what is best for the business.
Covid-19 has caused a lot of havoc, especially in the travelling and entertainment industries, how have you ensured the well-being of Hilton’s employees, and sustained the survival of your organisation?
At Hilton, we have worked very hard to support our hotels through lockdowns and then on the journey to recovery. We do this in a streamlined and well-coordinated manner, fit for a company that is over 100 years old! We continue to be on this journey and have no doubt that by working together we will succeed.
Being a caring employer, we always endeavour to treat our team members with respect and consideration, and this became integral at the height of the pandemic when some difficult discussions had to take place. We recognised very early that the pandemic was having an impact on our team members’ mental wellbeing, so we worked on opening dialogues about mental health and wellness, creating a fantastic online Mental Wellness Hub with amazing content to support our team members. The hub is part of Thrive@Hilton, which is our team member value proposition and underpins everything we do for our team members to enable them to thrive in body, mind, and spirit. And of late we are also excited in Africa & Indian Ocean to roll out an Employee Wellness Programme, which amongst others offers free 24/7 counselling for our staff and their families, legal and financial coaching and counselling.
What does success mean to you, and do you feel you have achieved it?
Success means being happy in my own skin, doing work that changes lives and makes a difference, having a good relationship with my Maker, my family, friends and colleagues. All of these areas are work in progress and while I have gone far in realising my aspirations, there is still room for growth and that is okay because one should always strive to be better than what they are.
Lastly, what are your success tips for young people who are looking for jobs or trying to get funding for their businesses?
Resilience and a belief in oneself are key in these extraordinary times we are in. If you are looking for a job, I would say research the companies that you are interested in, find out if they are hiring and apply online. Furthermore, sign up for all the key job boards where you can see many vacancies from different industries. You should be checking these job boards and applying for suitable jobs regularly. Always keep your ear on the ground and seek out people who are working for companies you are interested in so that they can tell you what it takes to get in.
If you are looking for financing for your business, I would say have a solid business plan, which in turn will enable you to apply for financing from banks or other organisations (especially those that finance small businesses), and don’t forget to form strong networks with other entrepreneurs who have succeeded in what you are trying to achieve. Think outside the box in terms of who your potential financier can be.