HR as a Strategic Enabler!!
Published on June 18, 2022
To inaugurate the PG -Inspire series, we welcomed Mr. Sunir Sulaiman, The Group COO of the Nasser Abdullah Lootah group to our offices to share his journey and insights into the changing world of Human Resources (HR), especially with the function moving towards a more strategic role.

With several transformations within the business world on the horizon, the role of how HR is changing is critical to understand in the modern era where change is the law of life, and those who look at the past or present are certain to miss the future.

Therefore, it was a priceless insight for us as executive search consultants to understand the dynamics of a function we work so closely with on a day-to-day basis, and the topic chosen for this conversation was: Human Resources as a Strategic Enabler!

 A Brief Introduction to Sunir Sulaiman:

Mr. Sunir is an individual who has been born and brought up in Dubai before the city became the glamourous jewel that it is today. This is critical to his journey because throughout his career the experience of growing with the city has imbibed into him the thoughts, patterns, and culture of the city and its population.

This experience has enabled him to understand the intricacies of how the country and its population operate, which has been a key contributor to his professional success.

Mr. Sunir has managed to grow within a leading family office, as he has now been promoted as, The Group COO of the Nasser Abdullah Lootah group from a CHRO position. This is a rare achievement in the corporate space and therefore, he is the perfect reference point for our topic.

Where does the current HR function fail to align with strategy?:

It is his philosophy that the individuals working within the HR function of a company must understand the business they are operating in, now this may seem like general advice however Mr. Sunir is still encountering situations where this necessity is not being met.

He states: “In very large organizations that I closely work with, I've seen that the heads of HR strongly believe that they do not need to understand the business they are operating in rather just provide a large number of candidate profiles for review. Ultimately, this philosophy fails because the positions do not get closed, as they are based on the description that HR has given without understanding what the business needs. You need to understand the business you are in to be successful.”

So, the question arises as to how HR individuals and recruitment consultants should go about trying to understand the business they operate in?

“The answer is to build your network, so let's say speak to the operations manager or the relevant stakeholders and whenever you as an agency get a chance or get an appointment with the hiring manager, never ask what are you looking for, try and understand why this position is open. Always question the “Why”, if you don’t question the “Why” you cannot understand the purpose that you are looking for.”

“If the HR department does not understand the “Why” they will find themselves in a situation where they keep hiring and then end up firing, and this process repeats itself. If you don't understand the purpose of the role and if you don't understand what the role does for the business, you will never be effective in filling the position. So, the best answer I can give you is to know your business!”

For Sunir, the key manner in which HR should complement the organization is to always find solutions and maintain balance.

He states: “For me the key to being a good HR leader is to try to find balance; it's important to stay neutral and it's critical to find the grass root problem that you're dealing with to help with creating a solution.”

So how did Mr. Sunir bridge the gap between HR, operations, and strategy and climb up to a Group COO position?

“My history in this profession has always been that I tried to understand the business, how the dynamics of the business works, the history, etc. I wanted to know how each, and every business unit operated within an organization.

So, I told my VP, give me an opportunity to work with the different business leaders across our SBU’s, I was greedy to learn the nuances of all our businesses, and ultimately, he placed me as the PRO in the firm where I learned the basics of the law. Then I was transferred to the food business, then real estate, then retail, so basically for a year I was a tennis ball bouncing around!

I enjoyed this, to be honest, because, by the time I was an HR Executive, I knew what was required for each department, and it was because of these different experiences that I saved a substantial amount for my firm in recruitment costs simply because I knew how these businesses operated.”

“Throughout my career, I worked with countries such as Poland, Russia, India, and China, some of the most complicated labor laws in the world and I got an idea of how the law works and this enabled me to overcome everything that was put in front of me and create value for the organizations through a strategic viewpoint.”

According to Mr. Sunir, how important should HR be in making important decisions?

“Very! They should be involved, and they should be hands-on with the whole process of making important decisions this was evident during the pandemic because frankly, the organizations that did not get HR involved in making decisions had lost a great deal.

You should engage with HR prior to the start of the year, make sure you involve HR every step of the way when it comes to budgeting and forecasting; essentially you have to integrate HR every step of the way so they understand the “Why” of the business.

It is also critical for HR to maintain the human element of HR, as poorly planned decisions and hires can have a life-changing impact on employees. That is why situations like a GM that suddenly says that he does not need a position 6 months after hiring the individual should not happen and this is HR’s responsibility. That is why organizations with an integrated manpower plan, did not have high redundancies in their organizations”.

Closing Thoughts:

It hits home when we end on an inspirational note, and with this, we conclude our first edition of PG Inspire with Mr. Sunir’s thoughts and advice.

“Follow your dreams but always know the “Why” in your life, before you do anything, always ask yourself why? If you have your “Why” in place, go ahead and follow your dreams with full force and keep going, it is important to dream not while sleeping but while you are awake!

The new generation has so many possibilities with globalization, the youth can make instant decisions to start a life in an entirely new geography and this is something we could not do back then, so take advantage of this and keep the desire burning always.”