Sandrine Bardot has worked in numerous capacities in a variety of countries. Currently based in Dubai, she has a lengthy resume: Compensation and Benefits expert, serial expatriate, and blogger. And having communicated with her, she also possesses a "joie de vie" that makes the idea of working internationally very attractive!
State your name. rank, and serial number (aka who you are and what you do).
My name is Sandrine Bardot, I am French but I live in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Until recently I was the Senior Vice-President, Head of Performance & Reward for Mubadala, an investment and development company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi and managing 78 assets, with over 33,000 employees working in multiple industries such as semi-conductors, aerospace, healthcare, aluminium production, satellites, real estate and more in many countries.
I am right now in the process of creating my own boutique Compensation & Benefits consulting firm based in Dubai.
I have spent my whole career in Total Rewards and have had an international spin for most of it. Not only have I had the chance to work for great companies such as Philips, Microsoft, Apple, EADS, Fiat Group and travel the world with them, this is also my 6th expatriation - I’ve lived and worked in Paris, London, Milan, Turin, Rome, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
How do you help organization reach its strategic objectives?
The role of Performance & Reward is to ensure alignment of the company vision to the output of employees through a strong Performance Management system which includes line of sight and accountability, as well as support in delivering the objectives.
The next step in ensuring this alignment is through pay-for-performance, where the performance at all levels (individual, team, company) is translated into differentiated and meaningful financial outcomes for the employees, such as the merit increases and incentive payout.
Reward is not just financial though, so other elements are also of importance to create a good Employee Value Proposition, such as recognition awards and other benefits.
It’s a very rich field of HR (no pun intended).
You’ve done numerous foreign assignments, mostly in Italy and the Middle East. Talk about what first attracted you to working abroad and how that has evolved over time.
My first international assignment was in Rome, way back in 1999. The position covered South Europe, Middle East and Africa, with employees in more than 50 countries. I took that challenge because it was something new. I wanted to be stretched and see how C&B is done in other countries. My boss was Lebanese but did not speak French, most of the Directors were not Italian, so I would have to speak English all day, which for me was a plus--I was a student for a year in the UK and did not want to lose my language skills.
It also felt “do-able” in the sense that culturally, France and Italy are different, but we do share many common roots and traits so this would not be a totally alien environment.
From there I moved to London to add Northern, Eastern and Central Europe to my portfolio, now having responsibility for the whole EMEA region with employees in 78 countries. Neat!
It was the beginning of an international career which alternated positions in France and abroad.
I believe there two types of expats: those that go for a fixed-term period, for example 2 or 3 years, and see the assignment as part of how to build their career in their organisation. The experience abroad is one step to becoming a senior leader, just like holding a role in Marketing, then Finance, then Operations for example.
The second type of expat is the one that falls in love with being in a different culture, and gets a buzz from being confronted to totally new behaviors and reactions. This kind of expat tends to become a “permanent, professional mover,” either by changing country on a regular basis, or by settling down abroad for good.
I fall into the second category. Even though I came back to work in France at the beginning of my expat career, I was only able to bear it because I was traveling 60 to 70% of the time. I currently don’t see myself returning to my home country to work in a “C&B for France” position in a company that is only operating nationally.
I love being in the UAE, which is a true melting pot of cultures. In my team in my last corporate role, I had a Montreal Canadian with Native American origins, an Indian, an Emirati and a Turk. My previous team in Dubai was 13 employees with 10 nationalities. It’s a superb challenge to manage that and make everyone believe and work in the same direction. And the ways of working of multinationals, local GCC private conglomerates, and government entities are totally different, so I have had to work around that too. It makes for very interesting days!
What advice would you share with a professional wanting to gain international experience?
Just jump! As long as you speak English and are open-minded, you will be fine. And if you don’t like it, it’s fine: when you come back, you’ll have a richer experience anyway.
In particular, I would definitely encourage all US C&B pros to have at least some exposure of how things are done outside the USA. In Europe, we know that things are vastly different from a country to another, it is part of the DNA of our continent, and we are exposed to it on a regular basis when we travel. So we do integrate deep cultural, legal, fiscal and technical differences into our approaches as soon as we get into multi-country approach.
What is the #1 misconception people have about your role or Human Resources in general?How do you overcome that?
Ah, I would say that many tend to see Performance & Reward pros as the “geeks” of HR. We are seen as the Excel kings, who live in their spreadsheets and don’t really understand the “human” side of “Human Resources.” But this is a big misconception.
We are in fact a function which is deeply integrated with many other aspects of HR: talent management (through performance management and promotions /career progression), talent acquisition, payroll, mobility (when it’s not part of C&B already) etc.
And of course we are deeply integrated in employees and managers’ lives. Because who does not care about their pay package and what they can do to try and maximise it? Many of the interactions we have are to sort delicate issues, where there often is no clear solution. Just think of an employee who wants to challenge her performance rating, or the sales manager who distributes sales territories in a way that may create imbalances between his team members etc. No hiding behind spreadsheets there !
On a personal level, one of the misconceptions I had to face in Italy was about my age and gender. I was part of “Giovanni Dirigenti”, which means “Senior Executives of a young age”. “Young” at that organisation was defined as below 55 years-old by the way--the average age in that group was about 47 or 48 years-old, with a an overwhelming majority of males.
My colleague Fabio and I were in our mid-thirties and the youngest in the whole Company. When we were going to events, every time I was presenting myself, the assistants who were checking names at the entrance would hear us speak French (he is a native speaker too), see our age, and immediately turn to me and say “No e` per la sposa !”... “The wife is not invited” !!!
It was always a shock for them to go beyond their assumption and see that a young, foreign, female could be part of that category of senior executives! I now smile when I tell the story, but at the time I hated being put into a stereotype...
How did we meet?
Your blog is one of my favorite in the HR space. I love how you have a true voice and always keep a positive spirit even during your own times of struggles. So I contacted you to connect on LinkedIn and we had a few email conversations.
We haven’t met in person as we live in different continents, but Skype is magic :-)
What made you decide to step into the HR blogging space?
I’ve been working for 19 years. I love Compensation & Benefits. I love teaching and have been told I am actually good at spreading my knowledge. I am a regular speaker at international HR conferences.
There are some excellent Compensation blogs in the US, but as far as I know, no-one blogs on a regular basis about Performance & Reward in EMEA.So it was a natural step for me to fill the gap.
Also, the C&B function is often mistaken for an administrative one in the region where I currently live. I hope that through the blog, I can help educate HR and Compensation people in the region about the true value that C&B can bring to an organization.
What benefits and challenges have you encountered as a result of your social media efforts?
My first challenge was with my former employer. They felt very uncomfortable when I contacted Group Compliance to inform them about my blog, but the social media policy was one paragraph long and did not prevent blogging. I had to show them my privacy disclaimer and “I won’t make money” policies as well as indicate I would not write anything about the company or its secrets... Interesting as discretion and confidentiality are really part of the DNA of C&B !
I have benefited a lot from my blogging experience. I met new people, whether in real life or virtually. I have improved my writing abilities. I have struck media partnerships with some conferences where I was a speaker. I have learned the power of tenacity--writing three posts per week requires a lot of commitment. I have learned to think more about marketing. I am now obsessed with “topics for the blog” and find inspiration in daily life, conversation with friends, reading etc. And obviously I’ve learned some technical skills as well !
What are some of the ways in which you keep up with current business or HR related news and info?
I actually wrote about this topic and where to learn C&B for free! I read a lot of blogs in HR, Compensation and related topics. I am a member of many HR groups and associations and attend webinars (often late at night, when 2pm ET is 11pm in the UAE). I also read traditional books. I listen to podcasts. I attend conferences and networking events to discuss with fellow Compensation pros. I have created alerts in Google on specific keyword strings and read everything that comes up. And recently I embarked on Twitter (although I’m a slow starter on this one) so I also click on links there and discover new things. Finally, we had ideas around lunch and learn sessions within my team so we could get insight from other internal experts from the organisation.
What’s the next challenge for you, professionally speaking?
I love teaching and have been told that I am quite good at it. After 19 years, I still love Compensation & Benefits, but I want to share this knowledge in a different way. In a corporate job like in my career so far, you help a few employees (those from your company) but in a deep way as you get involved in many aspects of their life in the organisation : salary increments, promotions, job grading, new incentives, improved benefits, recognition schemes etc.
I have now led C&B and performance management efforts on a global platform in 2 organisations with activities in multiple industries. Doing it again for another, bigger company does not have much appeal for me at the moment as it feels like “more of the same”
I want to reach more companies and make them realise the value of C&B, especially in the Middle East.
So my next move is to set up my consulting and training company in Dubai and help Western organisations who move to the region for the first time, or established regional companies and government entities who want or need to move from administration to business-focused Performance and Reward.
There are many untapped aspects of C&B--they are not covered by the “big” consultants, and a lot of the smaller consulting firms in the region lack real, in-house experience. Most of them were created by former consultants who may never have actually implemented the programs they designed for their clients and are lacking the “get your hands dirty” background, tips and experience that my career exposed me to.
I think this will be a fun, value-adding way of reaching out to more companies. And hopefully it will help to raise the perceived standard of the function in the region, which I feel is now my battle.
The company is under creation and will be fully operational as of May 2013. Look out for announcements of new services on my blog, Compensation Insider!
I want to take this opportunity to thank you Victorio for inviting me to share some of my experience with your readers. I hope they find it interesting, and a bit different from their day-to-day activities.
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