HR in the Hot Seat with Alla Keogh, head of people and performance at MYOB

by Victoria Bruce16 May 2016
Alla Keogh tells HC Online why she chose a career in HR over becoming a journalist and how technology is changing the employment relationship.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 
I’ll never forget the advice I was given 15 years ago to never pass up high profile projects or opportunities  because I didn’t feel I was quite ready. I’ve subsequently learned that I’m not alone, and this is in fact a well-researched phenomenon amongst women, who according to the Wharton Business School “generally feel they need to know 80% to 90% of their current job before they feel ready to step up into a new role”. I now believe that it’s in the gap that the real stretch and opportunity lies. I encourage my team to be audacious in their career goal setting, and back themselves and their capabilities.
What challenges do you think HR will face over the next 10 years? 
Technology will continue to shift, employees’ expectations will grow and information, communication and feedback will be on demand, and on their terms. Growth, development, recognition, transparency in pay and rewards, flexibility, complete empowerment and trust will be a given. Transactional and binary jobs in HR will disappear and the profession must focus on valuable solutions at every interaction. Every business will be a technology business, and will have to become adept at managing and retaining knowledge workers. The employment relationship will be very different in 10 years to what it is today, and we need to start getting ready for that shift right now.
The other change that is already well underway is that HR is moving beyond operational and functional efficiency to creating amazing employee experiences. This requires a different mindset, and a new approach to design and delivery of programs. It has to be human-centred, agile and evolving, iterative and responsive to employee feedback.
What is the favourite part of your job? And which part of your role has proven the most challenging? 
The best part of my job is watching people achieve their goals and grow. Trusting people, giving them runway and watching what they do with it. I love building and empowering teams, giving them a compelling purpose, and having a seat at the table that determines business strategy and then designing the plans to achieve that.
Most challenging is ensuring we are focussing limited resources in the right areas. We have to be commercial and pragmatic, but there is so much opportunity to lead and innovate in the people space, and my team is so passionate about innovation. It’s also an ongoing challenge ensuring that the basics work seamlessly through good use of technology, so that the team’s time and skills can be focussed on partnering with the business.
What do you feel is your biggest professional achievement to date?
Over the last eighteen months we have built an employee engagement strategy that has resulted in a huge uplift in engagement. MYOB is experiencing record high engagement, and I’m incredibly proud of the role that the team has played in enabling that.
Recently the People team at MYOB were named one of Australia’s most innovative HR teams, and other external recognition includes Employer of Choice status, Coolest Companies in Tech and recognition by AHRI as being the best developer of Talent in Australia. These are all things to be proud of, but what I’m most proud of is the people who I’ve managed, coached and mentored over the years who have gone on to excel in their chosen careers. That’s what drives me.
What attracted you to a career in HR?
I wasn’t attracted to a career in HR, I fell into it. I studied Arts and wanted to be a Journalist. While I was completing my Undergrad degree, I picked up a Temp Receptionist job in a global Investment Bank which evolved into a part-time HR Assistant role for 2 years. It was there I realised that HR combined everything I was interested in – business, change, culture, communication and strategy. Once I graduated, I was lucky enough to secure a Graduate role in a Big 5 Accounting Firm. I’ve been working in HR for over 20 years now, and I can honestly say it’s taken me places and allowed me to do things I never expected, and work with exceptional people.
What are some of the challenges particular to your firm and industry? 
Our industry has been disrupted by digital transformation, and we have risen to the challenge. In 2015 we were named Australia’s Most Innovative Large Company – the challenge for us is to continue to change the game for our clients through the online tools we create.
Technology is evolving fast, and we need to not only keep up, but outpace and predict change to stay in front. From a people perspective we have skill shortages, diversity challenges, and red hot competition for market share and talent. It’s a fast paced, vibrant and evolving industry, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
If you could host a dinner party and invite anyone in the world, who would it be?
I would invite Simon Sinek, Brene Brown and Sheryl Sandberg. They are all incredible thought leaders who have shaped my thinking and inspire me. Sinek on leadership and what it takes to be a great leader. Brown for her amazing work on vulnerability and courage. And Sandberg for championing the diversity issue in business but particularly in the Tech industry.
Please complete this sentence: If you weren’t working in talent, you would be…
Living in the country riding horses every day, and breeding and showing Irish Wolfhounds.