HR leader profile: Hermina Khara of Alida

Vancouver-based executive has her hands full focused on compensation, employer branding and DEI

HR leader profile: Hermina Khara of Alida

Imagine being offered a promotion – and not being sure if you want to accept.

That was the situation for Hermina Khara just over a year ago when she was presented with the role of senior vice president of people and culture at Alida, a customer experience management and customer insights platform.

Having joined the company in 2013, Khara had largely been focused on recruitment, having also worked in talent acquisition at a variety of large companies and co-founding her own recruitment agency.

So in considering the new role, she was concerned about credibility, having not taken the traditional HR route.

“I felt that in terms of the people operations, the people programs and those types of things, I hadn't actually done that type of work. I had always been led to believe that you need to have the credibility to build some of those kinds of people, programs and people operations, which I hadn't,” she says.

“But what I didn't realize is the kind of experience that I had in talent acquisition was really valuable because, at the end of the day, it is all about people. The only difference was that rather than me exciting and attracting individuals to the organization, now I was responsible for their success while they were in the organization.”

Now, Khara realizes it was a natural jump to move into talent management, and it’s been a great experience so far.

“I've always believed that as a leader, your job is to hire smart people around yourself, really strong individuals, so that you can do the job that you're meant to do. And I think just because I have a really great ability to read people, work with people, collaborate with people, that that's allowed me to be successful in my role thus far.”

Priorities include employer branding, compensation

Khara has been more than busy in her new role, with several HR priorities on the agenda. For one, Alida is looking to strengthen its brand to become an employer of choice and attract the right kind of talent “with everything that's happening from a ‘great resignation’ perspective, and all the companies that we're competing against, from a talent perspective,” she says.

“There's a lot of amazing things that we do within the organization but we haven't been very good at articulating that to the outside population, in terms of the benefits of working at a leader or why people should look at us as a leader, as an employer of choice.”

The 430-employee company is also putting a big focus on total rewards and performance management, says Khara.

That’s meant a boost to mental health benefits in 2021, on top of initiatives that include a quarterly mental health week focusing on four Ms: mindfulness, meditation, mastery and movement.

“We’ve been able to bring in guest speakers, or yoga instructors or fitness instructors… practitioners that been able to help us focus on some of those mental health issues,” she says.

Alida is also keen to upskill people and make sure that they have the right skills and resources they need to be successful.

“The war for talent is real and I think that if we are able to develop some of our people within our organization, that'd be far better ROI for us,” says Khara.

The company also hired a compensation consultant to take a look at the overall comp strategy and understand any gaps.

“That's been really good to give us the foundation that we needed and allow for us to help with our merit and market adjustments and all those things for this year,” she says.

“Yes, you have to have an amazing culture, but you also have to make sure that those table stakes that are really important to people, that we're able to compete on that. So in terms of benchmarking ourselves against other companies that are similar in size, revenue, profitability perspective, I want to make sure that we have the right data to play with.”

“Significant” salary increases are predicted for 2022 as employers deal with retention challenges, labour shortages and high inflation, say experts.

Diversity and equity front and centre

On the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front, Alida has several initiatives in the works. For example, for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it brought in an Indigenous speaker to talk about his experience in the residential school system and his life story. Indigenous artists also created a mural for the company’s Vancouver office.

“I think those things add to culture, because people want to have purpose, they want to enjoy what they're doing. And they want to understand that we care about some of the issues that people are dealing with,” says Khara.

The Black Lives Matter movement also inspired the creation of a diversity, equity and inclusion council to better understand some of the issues and things that needed to be done, she says.

“But we need to do more work, from that perspective; we need to be able to listen to the voice of that group to make some of the decisions that we need to make.”

Alida has also built two employee resource groups (ERGs), one for Black professionals, the other for the LGBTQ community, so employees have a “group of like-minded individuals that they can speak with, and hopefully come up with some creative strategies and teach and educate the rest of the organization,” says Khara.

An important first step for employers is to consciously unlearn the stereotypes they may hold about the availability and capacity of groups such as Black talent, says one diversity expert.

Rewarding work as an HR leader

One of the toughest parts of the job is bridging that all-important gap between advocating for employees and balancing the needs of the business, she says.

“But I'm very fortunate, and that comes down to leadership. The good thing is that there's not that much of a gap… because they're very similar. Our leadership is very much in tune with the things that are happening from a people perspective.”

Khara also says she is lucky to have a voice at the table.

“I'm always able to bring forward any kind of people issues or concerns and any of those things, our CEOs are really invested in the success of the people within Alida. We have a very close relationship, myself, the COO and CEO.”

And that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the jobs: Having the ability to really impact the success of others, she says.

“Knowing that we've been able to provide them some guidance and coaching on some of those things... Just to watch so many people grow and learn and flourish in their careers has been so rewarding to me,” she says.

“It's hard work… navigating your way through people issues. But I think that, if you can, that's what's going to create success within the organization.”


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