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Real talk on People leadership of today

Alexandre Seiler shares insights in our People Developing People interview

An orange-purple gradient rectangle. A circle image of Alex is centered. White text underneath, "An interview with Alexandre Seiler Chief People Officer + Startup Advisor"An orange-purple gradient rectangle. A circle image of Alex is centered. White text underneath, "An interview with Alexandre Seiler Chief People Officer + Startup Advisor"

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Insights from Ellen Raim, Founder of People MatterWe focus more on solving than preventing People problems.

In a recent interview with Jason Lavender, Co-Founder & CEO of Electives, global People leader and start-up advisor Alexandre Seiler, shared his thoughts on recent People leadership evolutions and what’s ahead.

Within this conversation, Jason and Alexandre discuss:

  • How and why People leadership has become more strategic
  • The potential impacts of AI
  • The importance of employer branding
  • Why leadership needs to support people development
  • The reasons to prioritize durable skills

Jason Lavender, Co-Founder & CEO of Electives: Hi, Alex. Thank you for joining us today. To get started, could you share a bit about your background and what led you to the path of leading people?

Alexandre Seiler: Thanks for having me, Jason. I fell into the People function. And it turns out I liked it, I was good at it, and the stars and moon aligned.

I've worked in a cross-section of different industries — everything from financial services to entertainment, publishing to healthcare to you name it. I've touched a lot of different industries, and that was intentional. I love not being pigeonholed in my career.

Most of my career has been in HR Business Partner roles, leading teams. And then, most recently, I was a Chief People Officer. I've realized, over the last four years or so, particularly in my last two roles, how much I love HR transformation.

Jason: The role of the People leader has evolved and changed over the last five to ten years. What’s your perspective on that shift? What are you most excited about regarding this new evolution of the role of Chief People Officer?

People leadership has become more strategic

Alexandre: A lot of people woke up during the pandemic and realized how important the People function is because of how many things people were grappling with that fell under the People function. I hate that it had to be something like the pandemic that made people wake up, but I'm glad it happened.

Amplifying why the People function is so important puts pressure on People leaders — myself included. We’ve experienced a lot of burnout because it's such a high-pressure job. And it's a very lonely job, too.

The other thing that's happened is People leaders have woken up to the fact that their roles are much more strategic. It's not just an operational function. What's coming, that I'm really interested in seeing, are a couple of big things: AI adoption and the four-day work week.

Embracing AI may support the 4-day workweek

Potentially, we’ll see the rise of the four-day workweek as AI continues to evolve and develop. For all the companies that said, “Oh, that could never work in my company or my industry…” We don't know what will happen with AI. AI could simplify certain things. That’s why embracing AI and fully understanding AI and where it fits is going to be really important.

As a result of AI upskilling and reskilling, there are going to be a lot of new jobs created. And obviously, jobs will go away. But, to be nimble and agile, you must have a learning and a growth mindset. You need to continue to acquire new skills. 

Employer branding supports recruitment

I'm also big on employer branding. I think certain companies don't fully understand employer branding and how important it is to have a symbiotic relationship between marketing and People to put out consistent messages externally. With the war on talent, having a brand that people associate with will be key.

Lastly, we have so many generations in the workforce right now. And they all want something slightly different. I always say, “You're not going to make everyone happy in your People strategy. So don't attempt to.” But if you can get eight or nine out of ten, or at least keep all those generations in mind when crafting your strategy, it'll be a win.

Effective people development requires support from leadership

Jason: If you think of companies who are really good at developing their people and companies who struggle to upscale and develop their people, what do you think are the variables that account for those differences?

Alexandre: First of all, there is a commitment at the top where I've seen people development work. These companies have core values around putting people first.

Some of the variables include industry and company size. For example, if you're an early-stage startup, you've got to make sure that you're scaling and growing quickly, which means you've got to be pretty nimble and agile and innovative. You've got to figure stuff out very quickly.

If you're in a more established industry, you're not necessarily up against those same time pressures. Not to say that you get complacent, but you're a little bit more comfortable in tried and tested routines.

Plus, in big companies, it's harder to see your impact as a People leader, because you're a little bit more siloed. And, there are already established processes. You can tweak them, but setting full-scale change can be quite difficult.

If you're at a small- to mid-size company, it’s like a blank canvas. That can be scary for some people. For me, it's exciting, because you are empowered to figure out what that looks like.  When People leaders are empowered to help figure it out, they can have a massive influence on developing their people. 

Jason: When we launched Electives, we wanted to modernize learning and development, because it felt like the corporate training world needed a little bit of a revamp. 

When you hear the term “modern learning and development,” what comes to mind?

Durable skills should be prioritized in modern people development

Alexandre: First of all, I’d like to see less talk about “soft skills” versus “hard skills.” I actually hate the term “soft skills,” because it implies that they're easy. Soft skills are actually the hardest skills. Instead, I’d like to talk more about “durable skills.” What are the skills that you need that will last the test of time?

Along those lines, every company and its employees need to go through some sort of basic AI or ChatGPT training, because AI is going to be more and more part of our vernacular.

I also want to see more focus on career conversations versus performance management. Where do people want to take their careers? We can use things like talent reviews and succession planning as a barometer for how people are doing in terms of their development. And, we can make sure that we're equitably helping people along the way. 

I think there will be more of an onus on the individual to figure out what they need to learn. It's not just going to be the manager spoon-feeding information. Instead, employees need to help us [their managers and People leaders] understand how they want to learn and grow, especially in a market and landscape that's constantly evolving and changing.

Jason: Two final questions, Alex. When I was in business school at MIT, on the very first day of class, every professor did a three-minute presentation on one data point or one chart that they were really passionate about changing. It was a really memorable experience, because everyone had completely different statistics that they were obsessed with. And it was really inspiring. So, is there a data point or a statistic that you want to help fix?

People leaders shouldn’t expect a constant upward trajectory

Alexandre:  I can't stand when I see charts that have an upward trajectory the whole way, because life is not linear. I really would love to see more of an up and down being normalized and that being the new normal and people getting comfortable with that.

Jason: I love that. In the closing minute, Alex, any advice for our readers and listeners?

People leaders should embrace self-care

Alexandre: Embrace self-care, regardless of whether you're working right now or not.

Find what fuels your passion, joy and purpose. In People leadership roles, you can start equating your worth to your job. And that becomes very dangerous. So, find things outside of work that give you that sense of confidence. Remind yourself who you are.

Jason: That's a very good reminder and a good way to close out. Thank you, Alex!

About Alexandre Seiler

Alexandre Seiler, a global leader in People leadership, excels in creating innovative and inclusive workplace cultures. His expertise lies in transforming and building systems that promote equity and innovation. Known for his quick learning and process simplification, Alexandre has a strong record in fostering superior workplace cultures for scalability and performance. A thought leader, he has contributed to several publications and podcasts, sharing insights on mental health, DEI and leadership. Alexandre’s roles include Chief People Officer, Start-Up Advisor, and Senior Faculty at the Josh Bersin Academy, highlighting his diverse and impactful career. In his earlier career, Alexandre Seiler made significant contributions to large corporations like NBCUniversal, Time Inc., and Citi Global Wealth Management. These experiences in prominent companies laid the foundation for his expertise in HR and workplace culture, influencing his approach to leadership and organizational development. Connect with Alexandre on LinkedIn.

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