HR in the hot seat: Joana Bonto of Excite Holidays

by John Hilton24 Mar 2017
What is your current role and what brought you into it?

I started at Excite Holidays, an online travel technology company, five years ago as the director of HR. After a couple of successful years I took over the sales, marketing and operations divisions. As a result of significant growth and going from a small to medium size company it was important to not over-stretch myself. so I passed my sales and marketing hats on and grew our executive team to allow me to focus on just our operations, customer experience and HR teams, globally.

Before Excite, I was the director of HR for Stamford Hotels & Resorts where I worked at their corporate head office looking after our national HR strategy and driving key initiatives for the group.
 
What are some of your current HR challenges?

As with many start ups going from a small to a medium size organisation, the single biggest challenge is how do you support exponential growth, expansion and momentum with limited budget, time and resources. But more importantly, how do you maintain the company's culture, heart and soul with such significant growth and change?

The only way I could do this was to challenge the way in which traditional HR works and foster an agile work environment. On top of this I created a robust organisational structure and values system called the EMS (Excite Management System). The EMS enabled our employees to completely understand and buy into the company’s WHY which consists of our core values, our purpose, our vision and our BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals).

We then implemented four main driving principles to support the company's values and vision
1.      communication and collaboration over gruelling HR policies and procedures
2.      core values and purpose over rules and regulations
3.      employee and customer experience interaction over contract negotiation and finally
4.      responding and acting to change over following a strict plan
 
We found that when the employees had absolute clarity of those things, particularly our values and vision, they worked collaboratively, they were highly engaged and they were more productive allowing us to achieve our company goals quickly.

What is the favourite part of your job?

As cheesy and cliched as this sounds, seeing the company, its employees, our product, our owners and our customers (our travel agents), succeed and grow.

But in terms of my role and responsibilities, I truly enjoy problem solving issues and coming up with creative ways and solutions to challenge the status quo, push boundaries and constantly innovate. I love collaborating with my team and brainstorming it out.

Being the head of HR, Customer Experience and Operations, I'm really enjoying influencing both the employee and customer experience as I feel that they are the cornerstones to a company's success.

What attracted you to a career in HR?

To be honest, I was incredibly lucky because I fell into HR, I was never attracted to it. However, as soon as I got a taste of it, I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do. In fact, I fell in love with laws, legislation and the IR framework, and I thought about becoming an IR lawyer.

What’s one piece of HR related advice you would offer?

Focus on the company's WHY: its purpose, its vision and values, instead of the processes and what needs to be done. Its about driving behaviours instead of just focussing on the end results.

Culture is everything. After all, we are in the people and culture business and as HR professionals, we must set the company's expectations, core values, purpose and vision from the outset so that we attract employees who will dedicate themselves to the company and its mission. Once you have them dedicated to the cause, inspire, motivate, lead and grow them as much as you can.

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of HR?

I'm incredibly passionate about helping people so I try to dedicate my time, resources and energy on helping others whether it's family or friends, a charity, doing volunteer work or simply giving back financially.

I also love to read and spend time on debunking, researching or even adding to, conspiracy theories.
 
Please complete this sentence: If you weren’t working in HR, you would be…

A lawyer or probably trying to save the world one problem at a time.

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