Executive Interviews

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Kimberly DeMello - Vice President, HR International at HMSHost

  • March 10, 2022

Kimberly DeMello is the Vice President, HR International at HMSHost in Amsterdam. She has a wealth of experience in the Human Resources and Staffing discipline, having worked for multi-national organisations, such as Adidas and Procter & Gamble.

How do you feel the workplace will have changed as we emerge from the global pandemic, especially in a business like HMSHost that has experienced a significant impact?

From what I am reading, and hoping, is we continue to give the employee the flexibility of home and office working. I do not think the full working from home will be the norm and I believe the hybrid schedule will continue. The workplace will become more of a community-based place.

For example, my staff are working a schedule. We have one day a week that is our overlap day.We do all our collaborative project meeting updates, have lunch together, and when possible, finish the day with a drink and some snacks. It is an interaction day for everyone and it helps them stay connected. Keeping people connected is going to be the key I think for the future if we move away from brick and mortar offices. More than ever, our work crosses over to other functions. Making sure we keep the collaborative connection up is important.

At HMSHost, we have two very different workforces to consider. We have the staff roles to help support the operations. We never closed our office during COVID; we put the regulations in place and had a reduced staff policy in the office. We wanted people to have a place to come that gave them a quiet place to work. We wanted to show solidarity with our ops associates, who had to come to work every day, and we had a number of employees who live alone and away from their families. Mental health was taking a toll on those who were feeling isolated. The office became their social event of the week and helped to create some normalcy in their lives.

Then we have the operations that are working in the unit. A new way of working in the food service industry is going to be tough to change, but not unthinkable. There is an expectation of a person helping, however, I think technology will be a game changer for operations. For example, the addition of self-ordering kiosks and QR ordering codes.

What have you learnt as a leader over the past two years?

The first thing that comes to mind is resilience, not just for myself, but for every one of our associates, no matter what level, no matter the country, no matter staff or ops - they have worked so hard over the last two years to keep the company surviving.

I have learned to keep the teams focused. What is in our sphere of control right now? What can we still make happen under the circumstances we are under?

Also, a greater degree of patience, I am the type who wants something and I want it now.The pandemic has slowed me down. I know people have so much on their plates. It has taught me to lead from a slower speed and to calm down my expectations.

Listening has been key. This is one of the biggest global scale issues most of us have been through. People are at home; they feel scared and anxious about their jobs and life in general. We built up an internal communication page for people to connect to and country pages for more in-depth connection and discussion, if needed. We did global town halls, revamped our engagement survey, and gave every question an open-ended text box, so they could talk about whatever was on their mind. All these communication tools were fast tracked to keep associates informed, but also to allow them to share their feelings, thoughts, ideas and connections.

We listened to their input and put in more programs, communications and support to help.

Finally, teamwork – we came together as a leadership team to devise money-saving initiatives and, in the end, we did an amazing job; we are seeing the fruits of our labor as we see the business coming back to life. I’m really proud of our senior management team for keeping the faith and pushing for things that would keep us going. All teams did amazing, but I wanted to highlight my team, too.

How do you think digital transformation will change the role of HR?

There are some amazing HR products out there and it is a beautiful thing, as it frees us up from having to work in an operational capacity, allowing us to become more strategic with our managers, offering more coaching and leadership development, for example.

We are in the process of a major HR digital transformation at HMSHost. There are several key goals for us. One of our top priorities is making the candidate journey and onboarding quicker and more efficient. We hire people to work ASAP, so we do not have the luxury of time in a competitive environment. HR digitalisation also allows us to interact with other parts of the company to ensure a smooth onboarding process that allows us to give a good first impression to new hires, which is priceless. It will also allow personal information to be more readily available for the employee and be safe under GDPR rules.

Analytics is the biggest game changer, allowing a business to make more fact-driven decisions around people. This could be linked to analytics and reports in performance management tools to help quickly identify top talent and have better information on what learning and development programmes should be put in place. It could help lead to a more cost-efficient organisation, where money is invested in the areas that are most impactful.

What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you get to the level you are at?

I look at my career as a sort of spider web, as opposed to the ladder. I have not been afraid to go down in grades or compensation to get the experience I needed in my function to become more well-rounded. Move to the side, move down, whatever the direction is to get well-rounded development in your area of work. I have also taken risks moving myself around the world. I’ve lived in the USA, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, which has opened doors to better understand a company and diverse cultures.

Lastly, I explored different industries. One of the best parts of HR, I think, is the ability to work in different industries. HR is a skillset that can be transferred from company to company. If you have the foundations of HR knowledge, it can be brought into a new company and paired with that company’s culture.

What is the biggest myth about your profession that you want to debunk?

Sometimes, the human aspect is not understood. HR is seen cold and we do not care about people. People want programs that work for them, so it can be hard for them to understand we do not have the capability or resources to create individual employee journeys for everyone (although one day this will hopefully be the case). We have to create policies, procedures and tools that serve the greater good. We do the best we can to cover as many needs as possible.

HR can also be seen as the “mean gate keeper” or “policy police”. There are times when HR are the ones explaining to employees what the situation is and trying to find meet-in-the-middle solutions, because the managers are not equipped to handle the situation.

I do think the COVID pandemic has shown businesses how critical HR is to the success of their organisation, so there is now a greater level of appreciation for the function.

Who is the most inspiring person in business for you and why?

Within HR, first and foremost, Dave Ulrich. I also like what Marcus Buckingham is doing within analytics and his strengthsfinder work.

In wider business, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. His philosophy is to let people make decisions.They hire people to do a job, a good job, and let them do that, give them the autonomy. Their HR strategy is based on treating people like adults.I like the concept of letting people take ownership and taking accountability at the end of the day.

If you hadn’t pursued a career in HR, what other path might you have taken?

I had two thoughts on this. Firstly an elementary school teacher – I love the way children around seven, eight, nine [years-old] process the world around them. I love their thought process. I love how they’re exploring things and questioning everything. Their hunger to learn more is so genuine. I’m getting a little sad, because my nephew is starting to get into the ten to 11 range, and he thinks he’s too cool to hang out with me!

Failing that, a nutritionist – I’m fascinated with the science of food!

Thank you to Kimberly for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director for Human Resources recruitment in the Netherlands. 

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.