ChapmanCG’s new Director in the Americas, Nicola Hasling, shares her views on changing skill sets in HR, what makes a great HR leader, life advice from her grandfather and her teenage aspirations to become a diplomat.

What sort of changes are you seeing in the skill sets and experience that clients are looking for in senior HR leaders in the US?

Data and analytics have gone beyond a trend to be the very core of HR functions. Business leaders are demanding decisions based on a strong evidence base, and HR-focused data and analytics teams now play a central role in any HR decision-making. Being able to effectively analyze and predict people needs accurately makes a significant contribution to ensuring that the work environment is more productive.

We are also seeing a large demand for HRBPs who are a true business partner. This means going beyond simply understanding a business unit’s HR needs, and developing a thorough understanding of its overarching business strategy and competitive environment. It also then means linking that back to how the business unit, and with that the HR strategy, can make a positive contribution to the top and bottom line.

What do you think makes a successful HR leader in today’s market?

Business acumen is critical, and being able to contribute not only as an HR leader, but as a broader business leader as well. This means having an in-depth understanding of your business and the broader competitive landscape. The best HR leaders are usually very metrics-driven and are able to translate HR results into a tangible dollar amount. Whilst being focused on delivering business results is critical, the best HR leaders also do not forget that it is all about the people. They are usually very perceptive, and by listening and questioning they uncover information that others may miss.

I also find the best HR leaders have a ‘servant leader’ mentality. They focus on serving the wider business, empowering others and helping them to be successful, rather than just driving from their own perspective to accrue power or praise.

What do you enjoy about working in executive search?

I love interacting with such an amazing range of people, and learning every day. In HR executive search we get to work across a variety of industries and build an understanding of our clients’ businesses and associated challenges. The day you stop wanting to learn is the day you should stop being a search consultant.

As a consultant, I strive to move beyond a ‘transactional’ exchange to being a trusted adviser to clients. This means doing more than checking the boxes of a job specification, and thinking about the softer aspects such as cultural fit. In retained search, we are partners with our clients, and I find it deeply gratifying when I have built the level of trust that allows for honest conversations because this always results in the best outcomes.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

In my early teens I wanted to join Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service and be a diplomat, and for a while that came true! I was told by my careers advisor that would not be possible since my father was Danish. Fortunately I did not listen and applied anyway. I worked for the service for a number of years in London and Prague.

I got into executive search when I was working in HR for a start-up telecommunications company in the UK, and one of the search partners we used recruited me to join them. 

What’s the best piece of career or life advice that you’ve been given?

My grandfather told me as a teenager to always believe in myself. When things get tough, I go back to his words, and feel their power.

What is something you’ve taught yourself lately?

Whilst my work is important to me, and succeeding at what I do satisfies me immensely, and the people with whom I work with and for provide inspiration and meaning, my work in itself does not define me.

What’s something that people might not know about you?

I have a passion for equestrian sports! I do eventing, which is a riding competition involving dressage, show jumping (jumps in an arena that can be knocked down) and cross country jumping (walls and fences that are solid and do not move). I have ridden since I was a child, but really started competing at eventing when I acquired my first horse as an adult. He was a former racehorse that I patiently trained.

For a long time I have trained with Phyllis Dawson, a top-level rider who competed in the Seoul Olympics. The beauty of eventing at the lower levels as an amateur, as I do, is that I can often find myself competing with the big names as they bring on their younger horses, which is such a thrill!

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Nicola Hasling ChapmanCG Great HR leaders