Kim Warmbier, the global Chief People Officer of technology company Sabre, has been dealing with the intersection between human resource strategy and the realization of business goals for almost 20 years. She has worked in a variety of consumer-facing companies including Pepsi/Frito-Lay, JC Penney, and Dean Foods, and also ran her own people management consultancy before joining Sabre in 2018.
At Sabre, her work involves developing and executing human resource strategy to support the company’s business plan and strategic direction. But technology has been changing the nature of her job in the last few years, and Sabre, itself a technology specialist that serves the travel industry, is no stranger to this form of disruption. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Warmbier shared her thoughts about how technology is transforming her field, and how she and her team are preparing for the changes.
As technologies such as AI, ML, big data, IoT, etc, continue to transform traditional jobs, how do you see HR roles changing alongside these new tools?
There’s no doubt that technology is changing every aspect of how we live and work, and Human Resources is no exception. But any technological transformation is not about technology itself, but about how that technology and data can be used to help create a culture and employee experience that attracts, retains and nurtures talent.
Let me use Sabre as an example. We create technological solutions that make travel happen. Our people in the business are the fuel behind these solutions. The “People Team” is the engine behind our people. We help ensure they are able to deliver the business strategies which align with their aspirations.
Because we are the team that connects our people to our business, our technology should always act as an enabler, never a replacement.
Any people-focused technology we develop must also support Sabre’s key values: passion, curiosity, transparency, partnership, rigor and accountability.
What are two key aspects of your present role that have undergone, or are now undergoing, a significant change due to technology?
The “People Team” has already experienced key changes as a result of technology. Tasks which can be automated and completed more efficiently by AI have freed time for me and my team across the business to enhance our focus on the people in the business. Being part of the people team is less about processes and functions, and more about talent scouting from within and outside the business, as well as supporting, coaching and ensuring the right people are in the right roles with the right tools and training to fulfil our business goals.
While technology may have traditionally focused on automation, it is about much more now. As a business we have moved away from the notion of “managing” team members, to one of leading and enabling team members to do their best work, as they carry out their roles in ways which suit their working styles while delivering business objectives, and which enables them to improve their skills, fulfill their goals and achieve balance in their lives.
Do you think the Chief People Officer role will continue to exist in the future of work in its current form?
The role of Chief People Officer (CPO) constantly adapts and evolves, demonstrated by the change in title from Chief Human Resources Officer.
This CPO role is more strategic and integrated with the leadership team than before. While, at one time, human resources may have been seen in some organizations as a peripheral function, it is now deservedly at the core of any forward-thinking business. At Sabre, the CPO is a strategic partner to the CEO and Executive Leadership team to continuously articulate, represent and push forward the people agenda.
There is nothing more important to a business than its people. This integrated approach reflects that.
Automation in HR may constitute one of the greatest disruptions to the field today. How is it impacting the way Sabre manages talent?
We often think about automation as a way to make something easier. But it is actually a way to make it better. Automation is not a way to disengage from team members by having fewer interactions. Far from it. It is an opportunity to leave standardized procedures to automation and free up time to spot and nurture talent within the business. Machine-learning can also give us opportunities to understand how we can improve productivity and identify talent gaps. The real opportunity for automation in Human Resources will not be how we use technology to carry out standard functions, but how we enable technology to transform the way we find our new team members and support the people already within the business in their growth and development.
What is your vision for HR in the future of work?
I will use the travel sector as an analogy. A drive for personalization impacts the travel sector as a whole. Airline passengers and hotel guests, for example, are no longer seen as individuals who must be “processed” for check-in. Our clients focus on building relevant and personalized traveller experiences in order to build relationships and engage on a personal level.
What our clients do for travellers and what we do for our team members is very similar. Team members are not simply individuals who come into work and are paid a salary; our current way of working and our future vision is less transactional and more personal.
Talent recruitment and retention are likely to become increasingly challenging across all sectors as a result of a more transient workforce. With a significant worldwide footprint, Sabre is in a position to offer opportunities across the globe. We want to engage with and start to build a bond with potential team members even before they start to work with us. This people-centric approach must continue at all stages of a team member’s time with Sabre, and we clearly demonstrate that we listen to our team members so we can create a positive, productive working environment which aligns their wants and needs with our business imperatives.
What are some of the things you’ve done to better meet team members’ needs?
When our team members told us parental leave and volunteering matter to them, we introduced global paid parental leave, ensuring a global minimum benefit across the business, no matter where a team member is based. As well, team members may take one day of paid time off each quarter to “Give Back” when they volunteer anywhere that matters to them. And, because we want our team members to know that they are appreciated, and not just by the leadership team, our “Say Thanks” tool enables people across the business to recognize the efforts of others.
The future is about continuing to be driven by what is important to our team members. The most successful companies in the world are those who invest in people. That is why the future of HR can be summed up in one word: People.
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