Veronica Estrella: Paving the Way to an Authentic, Humanized and Globally Competent Filipino HR

Our first inspiring story this year features no less than an SHRM Senior Certified Professional, a recipient of the 100 Most Influential Global HR Professionals in 2017 and my mentor who has touched the hearts of many.

How did she accomplish all these? Read on and be inspired…

 100 Most Influential Global HR Professionals Awardee, 2017 100 Most Influential Global HR Professionals Awardee, 2017

Veron as a Mom

Veron is a wife and mother of 2, aged 21 and 16. Though, no one would really have guessed it because she has that youthful glow about her. Perhaps this is because she is typically active and an energetic person. A very calm and soft spoken yet has an unstoppable kind of energy, with a pure heart that focuses on others.

“When my children were younger, I joined them in their after school activities, like I played golf when my son played golf; I painted when my children started painting lessons; I sometimes joined them in their baking or cooking lessons. The only thing I did not do was learn ballet when my daughter went to the CCP Dance School.”

In a baking class with her lovely daughter. Don’t they look alike?! :) In a baking class with her lovely daughter. Don’t they look alike?! 🙂

Truly a very hands-on mom, but definitely not one to neglect her own interests and hobbies.

Her Adventures

I really don’t know how she juggles her time in doing all these.

Some of Veron’s adventures. Top left: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu via Walk the Torq
Right: In a ceremonial writing on the tree while engaging in volunteer work in Kenya
Bottom left: Advanced Open Water Diver PADI-certification

Top left: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu via Walk the Torq

Right: In a ceremonial writing on the tree while engaging in volunteer work in Kenya

Bottom left: Advanced Open Water Diver PADI-certification

There’s certainly more than we could enumerate here.

She also runs her business, something that only started as a hobby – Vonec’s Flower Garden. Also see feature article: Vonec’s Flower Garden: Building Memories Through Flowers.

It is great that she engages in all these. She walks the talk of work/life balance.

Let’s not forget that these activities were all on top of her career in HR. But how did she start in the practice?

Written in the Stars to Lead HR on a Global Scale

Veron has an MBA degree from the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and bachelor’s degrees in Nursing and in Psychology, both obtained from the University of Santo Tomas.

“I started my career as a special subject teacher. I was a working student then and I taught Music to a school that caters to mainstream education. Eventually, after passing the board exams for nurses, the school offered me a full-time role as a Guidance Counselor and School Nurse.

Transitioning to HR was through media. Very different from most our stories of applying for a job in HR.

She appeared in a TV talk show where she talked about professional insights about a certain topic on children (she was a Guidance Counselor for elementary and high school students when she was invited to be a guest speaker) and the owner of a multi-national manufacturing company was watching and called her for a potential job offer.

The rest, as they say, was history.

The HR Practice & Talent Development

“I have been doing HR for almost 25 years, been through various leadership roles, various organizations as well. Through this, I was able to learn the depth and breadth in the HR practice.

“HR is a great opportunity to make a difference in others.”

When Veron was leading our team, one thing that shone so bright in her brand of leadership was how she always looked after the development of her team members – every single one of us.

One time, we had an HR Away Day. She brought us to a retreat house in Tagaytay to reflect and revitalize. It was a much needed break for the team. Note that our office was in Mandaluyong. In another instance she brought in a laughter yoga instructor when she felt that we were all so stressed. We had strategic and coaching sessions, too. She connected not just with us but with our clients as well to better understand our learning needs and what we go through.

Remember how hands on a mom she is, it is the same personality she brings in the office, to her team.

Veron with one of the teams she has touched and positively influenced.Veron with one of the teams she has touched and positively influenced.

“I believe in unleashing the potentials of people. I believe that the best legacy I could have in HR and in the world is to develop other people, maybe now the next generation, but always the people around me. I find immense pleasure and pride to see my former team members succeeding, even surpassing me.

“It energizes me to share, coach and teach others to learn new skills and knowledge and develop their competencies. It makes it easier for the whole team when everyone is effective as an individual and as team players. I believe that the team and organization is only as good as their weakest link so I try my best to strengthen that weakest link.”

The Human in Human Resources

One time, I asked her what she thinks are the areas that we can still improve in HR. Here’s what she shared with me…

“…an area of focus that I think HR should have, not just HR but because we have the “human” in HR, I focus on HR. Only one thing– not forgetting to master the basics. I have met younger HR professionals now who often tell me that they want to do strategic work, and are doing strategic work, yet the issues that they are dealing with could be addressed by very basic HR principles.

“I am glad to hear many of them say, they wanted to achieve what they thought we had achieved in the HR practice, but they must understand that the seasoned HR practitioners learned the basic ropes and processes in HR long before they became leaders.”

Empathy and People Experience

Indeed, there were instances when HR Teams design and lead workforce planning strategies but forgot about employee experience.

“Many HR professionals design strategic jobs and initiatives, but forget to put themselves in the shoes of the people that will be impacted by these strategies and initiatives.

There had been anxieties about AI replacing people in their jobs, even in the HR field. But the scarier part is not when we have machines performing as humans, because that is intelligent automation, it is when humans start to perform like machines, and sadly, we see this happening more often now…the lack of empathy when we design systems, tools, processes and initiatives, the lack of empathy when we deal with the so-called strategic imperatives and work in HR.

“Machines are not designed to be cold, they are meant to enable us to keep the warmth.

“When I was running the HR Shared Services operations, my team gave me a feedback that I was difficult to please. I told them, it is not their job to please me or any other leader in the organization, it is their job to do what is right for our customers and for the organization.

“They often referred to my coaching sessions when we were not able to meet 100% of our payroll accuracy, even if the global goal was only 98% and we would meet that. My contention was very basic – what if that one percent or two percent is you, how would you feel? Set aside the possible legal impact, just focus on the people experience.

I think empathy is key to our profession and to lose it is to lose the essence of why we are here.”

With Veron in General Trias, CaviteWith Veron in General Trias, Cavite

In fact, empathy is Veron’s engagement imperative. She believes (rightfully so) that in HR and perhaps every profession that deals with people, when you have this, everything else will follow.

The Future of Philippine HR

“I dream for HR in the Philippines to be open and adaptive to the changing business landscape. I dream for it not to be stuck to its current image of being a support team. I believe that by building and enhancing our capability, we would make that happen. There are too many experts, too many cliques, too many groups, all working towards the same objective of elevating HR and making the Filipino HR professional future-ready, but these groups and experts also tend to compete, instead of work together.

“The Future-Ready Filipino HR movement is an initiative that aims to do that—we are core volunteers coming from different groups, some of us mere individuals, bearing our common passion to elevate and advance HR and build a framework that is pro-Filipino and will make the HR professional future-ready.

“I am also going back to the academe to do my own share in narrowing down the gap between the academe and the practice.”

Teachable Points Of View

“My job could be a means to achieve my purpose in life. It is not my purpose.

“I believe my purpose in life is not different from other human beings – that is to make life easier for others. As Stephen Covey stated: service is the only rent we pay for living on earth.

“Being in HR was one means for me to achieve that purpose. I know I had touched people’s lives in the practice of my profession, some the hard way, some the easier way, but I know I made a difference and made life easier for them. (But I also apologize if that was not so for one or two people, and of course, it was never intentional.)”

In 2017, Veron took a much needed career break. As with Veron’s introspective nature, she wrote down her realizations, life lessons during this time and I feel so honored that she is sharing these personal notes with us.

Lesson 1: I only need very little, almost nothing, material things, to live.

Lesson 2: Social media made me realize who my real friends are.

Lesson 3: What matters most is nothing material.

Lesson 4: Dying to self is a journey, not a destination.

Lesson 5: My job could be a means to achieve my purpose in life. It’s not my purpose.

Lesson 6: Unconditional love is possible.

Lesson 7: Not everything has to be perfect.

Lesson 8: Being human does not mean I must understand all things.

Lesson 9: It is possible to give what I don’t have.

Lesson 10: One good friend is enough.

She went back to corporate life in 2017 but this stint was short lived. She decided to leave bearing these lessons.

Lesson 1: Listen to your inner voice. (Follow your gut!)

Lesson 2: It is fine to put your trust even on untrustworthy people. They will live with it.

Lesson 3: The key to the many is the one. ( from S. Covey)

Lesson 4: We can never truly go back to where we were (if we think we messed up), but we can always start something new.

Lesson 5: We have the ability to put things in perspective.

Lesson 6: It only takes a moment to make a decision. Live with no regrets.

Lesson 7: In matters of style, we dance to the music, in matters of principle, we stand like a rock. ( Adapted from Thomas Jefferson/Josephus Jimenez).

With Veron in a best practice sharing session in Alabang. With Veron in a best practice sharing session in Alabang.

Veron now engages in HR-related projects with the Society for Human Resource Management and an active advocate of the Future-Ready Filipino HR Movement, together with other seasoned HR practitioners and leaders. She does HR and business consulting projects with the Talent, Leadership and Change consulting community and accepts speaking and training engagements in her areas of expertise. She is also a part-time faculty at DLSU-College of Saint Benilde.

Veron with Johnny Taylor, SHRM PresidentVeron with Johnny Taylor, SHRM President

Check out her write-up on SHRM Certification: SHRM Certification as Validation of Knowledge and Experience.

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About Emile Therese

Emile Therese is a graduate of the University of Philippines in Diliman with a degree in Psychology. She is happily married. She and her husband, Dennis, are blessed with one amazing daughter (and hopefully at least one more child). She believes that values and character ought to be taught as early as possible and that these are key to community and nation building. This was also how she and her siblings were brought up by their two awesome parents! She is a Certified HR Professional who advocates employee engagement in its entirety. Emile believes that true employee engagement rests on the pillars of basic human needs and in ensuring that process and leadership basics are in place - the employee engagement imperatives. She hopes to contribute to making this world a better place for all of us now and the next generation. She loves sipping tea, conversations, reading and writing. The latter gave birth to two blogs - Purposeful Parenting Journey (purposefulparentingjourney.com) and Engagement Imperative (engagementimperative.com).

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