How to find the right person for the right place

Kerstin Lindström, VP Human Resources, The Absolut Company.

Responsibility for people requires good judgement of character with a great knowledge and skillset to help key talents within the organization to develop their careers. We had a chat with Kerstin Lindström, VP Human Resources, about the challenges of being the rebel in the group, how to break silos throughout the company and the recipe for success in attracting the world’s best talents to the cold, dark north. And how to find the best nose in the business.

How do you work to ensure that Absolut always is perceived as relevant?

Well, for starters by making sure we’re being perceived as relevant to all our existing employees. Our co-workers are our most important ambassadors and if they thrive, we will attract others to join us. I think it is important to have that self-confidence as an employer. Then it’s of course a necessity for all of us who work with HR to keep up with trends in the work force market and in society to be able to constantly review our offer. It can be about everything from flexible benefits to ensuring a good working environment, offering relevant developing opportunities and, not least, career paths. I think we do all this, and much more, very well today, but going forward we will put even more focus on communicating about The Absolut Company as an employer. We want to reach out with our message what makes us special and why you should join our team; internally to build engagement and retain our people, and externally to attract future talent.

What are the challenges when searching for the right candidates for a global organization?

We have great hiring processes and tools to support quality assurance in the candidate experience. We also have a great advantage in being able to get assistance from the broad HR network that exist within the Pernod Ricard Group. It is easy to become a bit overwhelmed when searching for candidates in certain markets. Take South Korea as an example: here, we depend on the local team to help us find the right candidates. They are the ones keeping track of the smartest channels to use and how to advertise and customize requirements of profiles in that market. The cultural aspects are super important and can’t be overlooked so local knowledge is one of the keys to finding the right talent. When it comes to candidates for leadership team positions, the recruitments are handled centrally as part of the global talent process, coordinated by the HR team at Pernod Ricard head office in Paris and involving all affiliates.

What types of recruitments are you most passionate about?

I like all types of recruitments. It’s so cool to meet other people who are passionate about what they do – just as I’m passionate about what I do. I am very proud of TAC and it is always great to get the opportunity to present what we are good at and what we want to achieve and understand how the company needs fits with what different candidates themselves are good at and how they want to contribute, simply put; to find a happy match!

What does your dream recruitment look like?

One that I was very excited about was when we searched for a new “Billion Dollar Nose”. Our sensory expert retired and needed to be replaced and we were literally looking around the world for suitable candidates, but in the end, we ended up hiring internally. Giving a development opportunity to Daniel Nilsson, an existing talent, in strong competition, and finding what we needed in our own backyard was a very satisfying feeling. Then, of course, I must also mention the recruitment of our Chief Creative Officer Tad Greenough. It was a true dream recruitment and I think it’s amazing that we were able to attract such a strong talent all the way from Oregon to Stockholm. Tad is truly a ‘perfect match’ that makes a difference and contributes to leadership, creativity and relationship building. Tad embraces our culture and values and is a good ambassador.

Kerstin Lindström, VP Human Resources, The Absolut Company.

Which roles are most difficult to recruit?

For TAC, there are two types of recruitments that can be extra tricky: finding specific functional expertise and candidates with international experience. We’ve historically had a strategy to find and recruit good generalists, but since a while back we are building a clearer expert organization. And this transformation is somewhat challenging from time to time. Recruitment where significant international experience is required is also difficult at times. We’re in constant need of new perspectives from other cultures and finding people with the right skillset, who are also used to working in a global context, is hard. At the same time, it is vital for us. Our brands have a global reach and Sweden is a small country, with few companies providing this type of global roles. To find the right talent, with the right experience, we need to challenge ourselves to be flexible and creative and not necessarily demand that the candidates must be in Sweden to work for TAC.

Has the pandemic made you think in a different way in these matters?

Yes partially. In TAC, depending on type of job or course, our people had the opportunity for some remote work even before Covid, but the development during the pandemic has accelerated the change. We’ve now proven to ourselves that more work than we expected can be done virtually with good results. I believe there is a general maturity in Sweden to work remotely, compared to some countries where office tradition is more rooted. The dual responsibility of parenting and our culture of trust might be part of the explanation. With this said we should not forget that we are in the conviviality business, the meeting in real life between people enjoying our products is in our DNA. We love to come together and interact, build on ideas and collaborate.

What questions do you usually have to deal with at work?

My role is to drive the HR topics on a strategic level; have a holistic view and lead the way for my team. I often get involved when someone in my team wants to have feedback on a proposal or ask for a second opinion before deciding. I try to avoid being too stuck in details. Within Pernod Ricard, the business model is largely based on relationships and collaboration, so I often engage when we need to establish contacts or find solutions across functions or affiliates. Since a few years back, the group has built up several global processes within HR, and I appreciate that development. I think it makes us more professional and more efficient as an organization; with higher quality thanks to leveraging expertise and decisions from skilled people looking at the full picture and common needs.

Which issues are the most difficult to deal with?

Change and challenging status quo is always difficult. As humans, we’re programed to avoid change. Security is usually the first choice, so the uncertainty of something new can be scary. But constantly develop staff and involve them in changes is one of the keys to getting people on board and feel they are part of the transformation journey. Our industry is undergoing rapid change and we, as a company, must keep up. This of course means that we sometimes need to bring in new skills and capabilities from outside expertise, but we also value continuity and experience and we believe in constant capability building of our people. The mix is ​​what makes the drink tasty, right. We often choose to refine, rather than renew, we try to build on what we have and often implement changes in small steps instead of radical leaps.

“We’ve come a long way when it comes to supporting the development of independent employees and giving them freedom under responsibility and accountability. It’s a cornerstone, just like trust.”

How do you work with building functional teams?

Within Pernod Ricard, we have an HR strategy called TransfoHRm and in that strategy we clearly communicate that we put the employee in the center. We must have mixed teams with a variety of perspectives, and we strive for empowerment, i.e. to strengthen individuals and teams to work independently. This works very well within TAC and in the company culture; we’ve come a long way when it comes to supporting the development of independent employees and giving them freedom under responsibility and accountability. It’s a cornerstone, just like trust.

What is most challenging in your role?

That there are many initiatives knocking on the door and a very ambitious transformation agenda in the group. It’s all great stuff, but it takes a lot of hands-on work for the HR team to adapt and implemented locally and we need to be mindful about people’s time but in our team but also others. This means we need to pace launches and roll outs based on what the organization can grasp, take in and embrace.

How do you handle conflicts?

Communication is always the key, I would say. To get an understanding of the different perspectives and try to work out the knots in the teams. If there is a squeak in the machinery, it is important to quickly bring up the problem on the table and talk about it before a misunderstanding or misalignment leads to a conflict. People managers need to be clear with feedback and dare to be open – another aspect is not to be afraid to reach out and seek help if needed.

How do you work with inclusion?

This is a super important topic for both The Absolut Company and Pernod Ricard. We took a holistic approach at group level on all matters of inclusion a long time ago, but in 2015 the work was intensified when we launched our Better Balance program. It started with a broad, group-wide campaign with an enormous amount of training efforts to increase knowledge, awareness and commitment at all levels of the organization. And our diversity and inclusion program has really paid off – although of course we can get even better. Right now, I think we are in an exciting phase where the Pernod Ricard group has decided to inject new energy in the field and also dare to commit to clear goals on global level, for example when it comes to female representation in group top management. We see, for example, that competitors such as Diageo are very good at highlighting their diversity work and we do not want to be perceived as lesser. To meet the group ambition, we at TAC have a dedicated person in the HR team who is working with inclusion matters and will lead the work of updating our strategy and action plan. At the back of these initiatives, we will also have a strong concept and communication platform that the group has given the creative and audacious name “Live without Labels”.

How do you work to lift employees within the organization?

In managerial training, we talk a lot about celebrating success and giving recognition for good work. It is an important part of the leadership within TAC. We also try to allocate a generous training budget that is used for all employees. But our learning and development strategy is to learn not only from courses and external programs, it is also about learning from others and most importantly you learn on the job. This way, we can broaden and deepen competencies, build capabilities and elevate talent. Another initiative coming up next fiscal year is ‘Pay for Performance’ this is about reinforcing a high performing culture and encourage our people to go the extra mile and differentiate reward based on it.

What experiences have you had with you in the past? And is there any part that you are working on developing?

When growing up, I was naturally drawn to different leadership roles. I did team gymnastics when I was younger and already at the age of 12, I took my first leadership assignment as an assistant coach. Then I remained a coach for 25 years. Sports gave me an incredible joy and desire to constantly strive to achieve my own goals as well as the team’s and help others reach theirs. Then, on the other hand, the flip side of having a strong competitive instinct is that I can get a bit impatient in my eagerness to achieve results. When I was young, I was quick to draw conclusions and find solutions. And sometimes I was in too much of a hurry. Therefore, I have actively worked to learn to listen first, trust the process and adjust my pace. This makes collaboration so much easier, more fun and more effective!

What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time at TAC?

Being a leader at TAC, one of the most important jobs is to safeguard our TAC Values; Together – Audacious – Committed. The teamwork put in when developing these company values and behaviors a few years ago, and how well they describe our culture in a sustainable and long-term way, is something I’m very proud of. They are our common foundation and guide us every day in all types of situations – and I think they are fantastic.

What would you have done if you had not worked at TAC?

Then I would have liked to work in the book publishing industry. I love to read.

The next person to interview in this series is the TAC CFO Donny Tobin. What would you like to ask him?

I think it would be interesting to hear his perspective on what it’s like for him to be part of an executive leadership team for the first time in his career. This is a position that many aspire to, but which relatively few succeed in reaching. What does he think is the biggest difference compared to before now that he is holding one of the company’s top management positions? And of course, it would be interesting to hear about his journey from Ireland, to US and now Sweden; what is sticking out as different and what surprised him about Sweden and TAC?