“To eat an elephant one bite at a time”, i.e., to implement large-scale projects, you need faith in your strength and a great team. Natalia Lukash, HR Director of OTP Bank, has all this. Her team managed to do what is almost impossible for many Ukrainian enterprises. For the last seven years, the company has closed all vacancies – both grassroots and top management with their own resources. The team keeps a tight schedule of training events, which amount to dozens. The company has developed clear corporate rules, and Lukash herself and the Head of Board had visited all regional offices to teach regional leaders to choose employees.
Developed relations with top managers of the company is for Lukash one of the conditions for successful work. In different HR projects, her team collaborates with all members of the board, curators of different branches of business. The logic is simple and effective – managers supply HR officers with the necessary information from the locations, and in return receive the necessary tool. “Make life easier for each other» is our motto, says Lukas.
Leadership Journey (LJ): You have been in the HR field for over 13 years. How has the degree of freedom and influence of the “person in charge of people” in Ukrainian companies changed during this time?
Natalia Lukash (NL): I do not like clichés like “HR business partner”, “right hand”, etc. In my opinion, everything depends on the level of development of a company, relationships built and tasks. I have quite a lot of freedom of choice, a wide field of activity and well-built relationships with top management. Not only with the first person of the company as my direct supervisor, but also with all the members of the board, curators of different branches of business.
We work together on most projects. I have HR expertise; they have a deeper understanding of what is happening on the grassroots level. I can offer a tool, talk about the implementation and possible pitfalls. Together we achieve excellent results.
LJ: Do you have a big HR team?
Our team is an analytical brain that processes a large bulk of data.
N.L.: We have a well-balanced team. There are 25 people in the team and we work with 3,000 employees plus the employees on maternity leave. Our team is an analytical brain that processes a large bulk of data. In addition to standard HR work related to reimbursement and benefits, the guys fulfill very emotional projects that involve the staff, allow us to create our good legacy.
We have a very strong recruitment. I am proud to say that for the last seven years we have been independently closing all vacancies: both grassroots level and top positions. Our HR team is organizing a large number of personnel training events on its own.
In our bank activities, Ukraine is divided into four large parts. There is an HR business partner in every part to perform a representative function and implement the strategy developed in Kyiv.
LJ: Is OTP Bank Ukraine a difficult project?
Telecommunications and financial sphere are two extremes, two opposites, but each of them is interesting in its own way
N.L.: This is a very interesting and unusual project. I came to OTP Bank from the telecommunications sector. Previously, my job was in “Vodafone Ukraine” (former MTS).
Now I can say with confidence that telecommunications and the financial sphere are two extremes, two opposites, but each of them is interesting in its own way.
L.J.: What was the company like when you joined it? How has it transformed over the years?
N.L.: I joined the company in 2007. We had a rapid growth stage; we were very actively expanding the network, launching new branches, increasing the number of employees and training new employees. But the crisis had changed our course. We had focused on efficiency. It was time to learn new things and cut off the superfluous. Otherwise, it would be impossible to survive.
I remember the times when we were meeting with colleagues from other banks. They were talking about their projects, development, scaling, and investments. They were asking me about our situation. My answer was, “We are optimizing the processes, rebuilding the processes, cutting off the excess.” There was a gap between us in a sense. A couple of years later, they admitted, “We were recalling you all the time. How right you were …”
The actions taken at the market turbulence time helped us form a cool team. On the road, of course, people who were not ready to move at our speed and to share our values were leaving.
Time had come to learn new things and cut off the excess; there was no other way to survive
LJ: What was the transformation? What key areas have changed?
N.L.: We have digitized all our actions and described the functions of each unit, analyzed their relevance to the business. The first reaction: “Come on! That is the way it always was historically.” The second reaction used to be, «These are the requirements of the regulator (the National Bank of Ukraine).» I said: “Are you sure that this is a requirement of the National Bank?” We checked it out and understood, the National Bank was also transforming. By means of simplification, cutting off the excess, we achieved the maximum balanced index, both in the processes and in the quantity and quality of people needed to accomplish these processes. We have reduced the staff by about 40%.
EVERYTHING IS VERY BALANCED AT THE TOP LEVEL: THERE ARE ONLY FIVE MEMBERS OF THE BOARD
LJ: Including the top management?
N.L.: Yes. Everything is very balanced at the top level: there are only five members of the board. We adhered to a single purpose. Began to cut from the top down. The project lasted a year. In the process of staff cuts, the head of the board pledged to double the salary of employees and kept his word.
LJ: What interesting projects have been implemented and what are you working on now?
N.L.: I do not want to dwell on the classic upgrades, the development of motivation systems. The process component has already been built; it is time to think about culture. We organized about 30 meetings with the Head of the Board. We gathered all the bank employees and asked how comfortable they were in the workplace and what did they expect of their fellow colleagues. People were saying the same in all 30 meetings.
Based on a survey in the company, we have implemented the rules “Always and Never”. Very simple rules: the things we always do and the things we never do. We called this project the New Service Vision (NSV).
Our motto is:
“WE MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR EACH OTHER”
We also studied in detail the issue of staff outflow: who is leaving, for what reasons, where? Who is staying and how successful they are? Based on this data, we have created a profile of a successful candidate, a successful “OTP employee». Together with the Head of the Board, we have made an all-Ukrainian trip to train managers in personnel selection principles.
LJ: What do you primarily pay attention to in communication with both new and existing employees of the company?
NL: Eyes of a person are important for me. Are the eyes downcast or open; is there a disappointment and boredom or enthusiasm in them? Intonation, the way of talking, such insignificant things that most people ignore are a valuable source of information for me. Of course, this is not a one-hundred-percent hit, but I can see when a person is set to go, or is burned out, or is doing well and calm, or is a dormant volcano able to give a unique result for business when is awakened.
LJ: How do you fight burnout yourself?
My success formula is “I want” plus “I can” minus “I do not believe”
N.L.: I make an effort and try something new. My formula for success: “I want” plus “I can” minus “I do not believe”. Very often, the fear to take a step towards something unknown hampers us. You are not confident that you have enough strength, energy, competence, and experience. When I do not want to do anything, I find a new stimulus, a “tasty”, ambitious task, a project, and I try to gradually start “eating an elephant one byte at a time”. I charge myself with this energy and involve others.
Recently, I began to meditate. Meditation grounds me well, gives me poise, and gives me balance. I know I am a strong leader, but sometimes I lack flexibility. I am working on it.
LJ: This is familiar … Can you pump flexibility?
N.L.: I have started tango dancing for this purpose! The female partner has a great role in tango – she must be beautiful and she is not the one to lead.