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How to succeed in HR: 'Don't see yourself as an HR person'

King’s Business School Executive Fellow Lucien Alziari’s HR career has taken him to 90 countries. He discusses what it takes to succeed in HR, how curiosity can help you to succeed and how companies are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of Generative AI.

White man with glasses, stands while teaching in front of a class

A Londoner transplanted to New York, Lucien Alziari first moved into HR as an assignment at the food giant Mars and was quick to see its potential to influence an organisation’s success. Since then, he has seen ‘talent’ become what he calls ‘the CEO issue of the past 20 years’ and has lived in five different countries and visited dozens more through roles in several international blue chip companies from PepsiCo to A.P. Moller-Maersk.

Now serving as Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Prudential Financial, Lucien was appointed as an Executive Fellow of King’s Business School in 2023. In this role, he advises the Business School’s academics on HR related research and contributes to teaching and careers activities. We caught up with him on his recent visit to the Business School.

Why HR Is Top of the Boardroom Agenda

A 1997 book by McKinsey senior partners popularised the idea that there was a ‘war for talent’; that people are an important component of organisational success and that recruiting and retaining talented individuals was becoming ever more critical. According to Alziari, while that realisation was a useful development, it still didn’t go far enough: ‘actually, I think what we do is we win the war with talent.’ He says that since business has become more competitive since the late 1990s how businesses foster talent has become even more important:

Businesses have figured out that actually their long-term competitive advantage doesn't lie in products or financial capabilities. Those are necessary means to win, but one of the sources of sustainable competitive advantage is talent and particularly how you deploy that talent within the context of your culture and your business strategy. That's tough for somebody else to copy.

As a result of this growing realisation, he says that HR leaders now play a central role in the executive leadership team of most successful businesses.

‘Don’t See Yourself as an HR Person’

According to Alziari, successful HR professionals now need to combine advocacy for employees’ wellbeing and development with strategic understanding. “We genuinely do need to care a lot about peoples’ well-being and providing them an environment where they can do their best work, but it's because we want their best work.’ He adds that the expectations of a chief HR officer are the same as of any business leader and the best chief HR officers ‘see themselves as business people who happen to bring a functional expertise in matters related to talent and capability.’

White man with glasses, stands while teaching in front of a class

Grappling With AI

During his visit to London Alziari took part in King’s Business School’s Chief Human Resources Officer Idea Incubator, which focused on AI and its impact on HR. He says that while AI has exciting potential it also poses obvious ethical, legal and moral risks: ‘it's a discussion that C-Suites have been having for the last year. There are some things where you genuinely win by getting there first. I don't think generative AI is one of those, for my kind of organisation.’

He advocates instead for working on building an understanding of the broader future potential of AI: ‘clearly a productivity efficiency play…. but there is also talk, not yet realised, that AI has the potential to transform operating models, companies, industries.’ At the same time, he says that companies should experiment with individual test cases which, if successful, will add value in their own right. Fortunately, he says, most employees view AI positively: ‘they want to acquire the skill so it's not like they're saying, keep this away from me… they're quite positively curious.’

Alziari notes that the development of AI also has implications for what is taught at business schools which will need to go beyond formally taught knowledge and technical skills. ‘There are also other types of skill that students are acquiring: curiosity, how to make and meet commitments, how to work with other people and ask the right questions. It’s this second set of skills that is enduring in the age of AI when the half-life of technical skills will get shorter and shorter.’

Advice For Career Success

While it’s clear that today’s CEO must have an understanding of the importance of talent and how best to foster it, Alziari says that you don’t need to wait for a leadership role to develop that insight. 

Your first experience of the workplace is as an employee and you are on the receiving end of all these theories. Look at what you see around you and ask: which are the theories that are useful? Which aren’t? How does this compare to the frameworks that you have learned? How would you do it differently yourself? There is learning everywhere around you and you can do all of that before you become a manager.

He also encourages young professionals to take responsibility for their own development: ‘the one thing that you can be sure to lead is yourself. Think about how you manage your learning curve. You can determine how much you want to put yourself into unfamiliar environments and test yourself.

To students at King’s Business School in particular, he adds: ‘Companies hire from great companies, and great institutions. You are at a great institution, make sure that you make the most of it. You can learn from your course content, you can learn from living alone for the first time. You can learn from your peers. Some people will leave having learnt a lot, some people will leave having learnt a bit less. Make sure you are one of the ones who learns a lot.’


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Lucien Alziari

Lucien Alziari

Executive Fellow, King's Business School

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