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Nielsen’s Tracy Staines on mentoring

We chat with Nielsen’s HR director, Tracy Staines FAHRI on mentoring, the critical role of business partners and her success in assisting young HR professionals take their career overseas.

Q. You’ve mentored two young HR professionals, Narelle Burke and Moira Herbert, who are both now achieving great success in their careers overseas. Tell us how that started.

Between 2010–13, Narelle and Moira were based in Nielsen’s Australian operation, which is also where I work in a regional role. Our Pacific HR leader, Nicola Meyer-Smith, was at the time Narelle and Moira’s direct manager, so we both played a role in their development.

Nicola is based in Auckland, so on a day-to-day basis I was in contact with Narelle and Moira, and acted in more of a mentoring role. Narelle joined Nielsen to support a part of the business that I used to handle and therefore we spent a lot of time initially sharing information and handing over. Being based in the same office certainly was a benefit because it allowed us to interact on a daily basis.

While we never actually formalised it as a mentoring relationship, I continue to mentor both today.

Q. What mentoring support did you provide Narelle and Moira?

It was a matter of regular contact, talking through issues and providing the support network for them to bounce their ideas off me. We also talked about what the next steps might be and, as opportunities arose, we talked those through.

Moira is still early in her career. My conversations with her were about thinking of spending some time in one of the centres of excellence and developing specialist skills – she’s now in the US working in the centres of excellence globally on the learning and organisational development side.

It’s been such a fantastic opportunity for her, and it’s enabled her to work with our chief human resources officer on some of our performance management processes and communication to the global Nielsen HR community.

In the past, she’d been effectively networked into the business because of her HR business partner role, so I recommended that she start to build on her networks so she didn’t feel so isolated.

Narelle was offered an opportunity as the HR leader for our Singapore and Malaysian business based out of Singapore. She’s been there for a year and it’s been a tremendous growth opportunity for her. She’s taken the level of business partnering that we practice here to our businesses in Singapore and Malaysia.

The MD recently thanked me for giving her Narelle, saying: “I didn’t know what a great partner HR could be until I worked with Narelle”. This speaks volumes for both Narelle and the type of business partner skills we practice in the Pacific.

Q. What techniques and frameworks have you put in place to develop your teams in the past?

It’s all about determining where we see developmental opportunities and how we, as HR leaders, are going to work to help people bridge those. It’s very much a collaborative approach.

We do HR reviews, talent reviews, the traditional nine-box grid (a matrix tool to evaluate talent) and we spend a lot of time talking about our people to see where they need to grow and how we can help them get there.

Our individual development plans are very much aligned around what they’re going to learn and where that’s going to take them next.

Q. What issues do you think the HR profession is facing in developing strong HR talent for the future?

From an Australian perspective, I think our way of business partnering stands out. We do it well and it’s something we need to continue to hone our skills in. I think there’s been a lot of emphasis around strong business partnering in Australia, and I think it’s paying dividends.

It’s the opportunity then for our young and upcoming talent to spend time with some of our more senior leaders. The business partner role can be a big jump for people, and it’s where they need support and guidance, particularly at the beginning.

Q. You’ve been with Nielsen for over 15 years. What changes have you seen in talent development in this time?

We’ve been through three changes of ownership and each time we’ve completely changed the organisation. The last iteration involved adopting a strong focus that models multinational GE’s emphasis on building leadership and a healthy talent pipeline. I think that’s been very exciting for the HR team.

Fifteen years ago there wasn’t the same level of business partnering there is today, and now we put more effort into helping younger HR practitioners understand the business so they can earn a seat at the table.

It makes working in HR much more exciting by being part of the business and not just an HR specialist.

Q. In your career what is one of the most important lessons you’ve learnt?

My biggest learning has to be realising the need to develop a greater understanding of the business. Unless you understand the business, I don’t think you can apply your HR expertise successfully.

In terms of talent retention and engagement, it’s about authenticity and making a connection with people.

Not only that, but we need to ensure that what people want to achieve is also aligned with the business, and then being open and honest when things aren’t where they need to be. If we can’t have these frank conversations then it’s worse for them and worse for the organisation in the long run.

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