Imagine HR professionals; what images spring to mind? Traditionally HR professionals are seen as the organisation’s scary police or its agony aunts– neither of which are favourable.
My Page 1 Woman, Su Patel, is an HR consultant on a mission to transform the face of HR. "I want to help HR professionals understand that we need to be a brand that enables businesses and their people to grow, rather than a brand that’s restrictive and unclear about its role". Designing her "HR Brand Blueprint" was her first step towards achieving her mission. Not bad for the former Tesco’s checkout girl, who became a manager at aged 18.
So, who is Su Patel? She’s smart, capable, with a clear vision and a clear head; a risk taker who leads by building leaders.
Given her deprived background, and a childhood characterised by bullying, isolation, poor self-esteem and divorced parents (at a time when divorce was taboo in the Indian community), the question is, how did she get from the tills to creating an HR department?
She may have had no HR training, but she had a shed load of wisdom that enabled that well-known super-market to develop engaged staff and a thriving business. Financing herself through her HR courses, and acquiring 3 properties before the age of 30, suggests a woman determined to succeed.
Read on and learn more about the extraordinary Su Patel.
Describe what you do?
Su: I'm an HR consultant at HR Training and Consulting Ltd, partnering with businesses with employees and working as part of their team. I help businesses be proactive in how they lead people ensuring that employees are valued in the workplace. Businesses grow when people grow! I also coach and train ambitious HR professionals who may be struggling to move up the ladder. A successful HR career begins with the individual!
Clients come through referrals. I use social media – videos, articles and interviews - and networking events to build relationships with people, I share what I do and my book, ‘Putting the Human “Back” into HR’ is due out in September.
I started my working life, aged 16 as an enthusiastic checkout chick at Tesco. For the first time, I felt a sense of belonging and got praised, encouraged and recognised. I developed and worked on my weaknesses and gradually improved my own work standards. I took on more responsibilities and tried things out.
I knew I could get promoted like the guys. My bosses saw me using my initiative, taking risks and helping the business. So they supported me and I developed my leadership skills. When aged 18 I began managing more experienced colleagues. I also read my first leadership book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. And I understood about getting into people’s world, building rapport, influencing and directing them towards what needed to be achieved.
By age 25, I was a senior manager. I started seeing how we could treat people better. Back in those days, managers could get away with shouting at staff on the shop floor. I vowed to influence that. The opportunity came when a director asked, "What do you really want to do?” That Friday I was an operations manager and come Monday I was a personnel manager without experience or training.
My first placement as an HR manager was in an ethnically diverse East London store. During the month of Ramadan, I noticed that Muslim colleagues had no food available for when they broke their fast, due to the canteen opening times. So I organised, with the help of the canteen manager, to have hot food provided when they broke their fast. It was well received.
I started doing more of that kind of thing and getting to know what staff wanted and needed to feel valued. As I progressed, I moved to different stores and got recognised for making a difference. I was helping the business to increase employee engagement and building managers’ leadership skills. I was practising what I’d read and used it to mentor others. For example, I enabled a young woman to get promotion and become a highly effective HR Manager in just 7 months. Being emotionally intelligent really helps in this role.
What essential steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Su: First, I set career goals and visualised myself at appraisal meetings with my boss acknowledging me for achieving my targets and making a difference. Once I knew what my goal was I always reverse engineered and made sure I worked towards that goal.
With my background, I wanted financial security. So, I always set financial goals and at the time was proud of the money I was earning by aged 30, the investments I had built up and my properties.
Influencing people was about influencing top down. I learned very early on that people want to feel important, so I treated my team with the utmost respect and made sure my manager always knew that I had his or her back. To be successful, you have to win the hearts and minds of your team.
One of my managers transferred to another store and requested that I be his HR Business Partner because we made a great team and shared similar values. Even now, when I go to see clients we talk business but our relationship is very informal, I greet my clients with a hug rather than a handshake. It’s important to help people in workplaces realise that it’s ok to let your emotions show. We don’t always have to be formal and robotic at work.
What was the one most significant thing you did that got you into your current position?
Su: Well there are two things; making time to listen to colleagues and being clear with myself about what I wanted to create for my life. Knowing what you want empowers you to create what you want.
I was clear when young that I’d be independent so financial independence and security have always been ‘my why’ and I always knew I wanted to work with people and make a difference to their lives.
My daughter Pia is my big ‘why’ now. I want to be a great role model for her and I want her to see that no matter how hard things get, you can achieve anything you want. I grew up with low self-esteem, I've made sure that everything I do with her is around encouraging her, developing her mindset and listening to her. It’s important to let kids make decisions from a young age. She makes most of the decisions about her life, whilst I help her understand the consequences of her decisions so she can make informed choices.
Whenever confidence building opportunities come up, I encourage her to grab them. She took part in her school’s public speaking competition each year between the age of eight and eleven and she won. This led me to enrol her onto Andy Harrington’s public speaking course.
What was the greatest challenge you faced on your journey and how did you overcome it?
Su: In 2016 I left my husband, was made redundant and had to sell my house. I lost my family network, job security and my own home. I became a single parent, jobless and lived in rented accommodation for the first time. My self-worth took a dive. For several months I was depressed, but with Pia sitting the 11plus exams, I had to be strong. We worked hard and she passed her exams to get into the school of her choice.
Meanwhile, I was interviewed unsuccessfully for several jobs. As I was tired of being strong and confronting hurdles, I thought of giving up. But then I had a vision of myself being withdrawn, depressed and lonely, staying in bed, not eating. And I saw Pia coming home from school concerned, "Mom, have you eaten?" And I thought, ‘I can’t do that to her. I can’t let her become my carer’. She deserved more than that.
I knew my mind wasn’t in a great place, so, I started listening to Tony Robbins’ videos and created a mindset plan. I developed a vision board and got Pia to do one too. I started working out and looking after my health and energy. I built a plan around my business and where I wanted to go. Very soon I got my first client and I was on my way.
At Andy Harrington’s "Power to Achieve" I started creating my own bespoke HR system and now I train business owners and HR professionals on how to grow their businesses by growing people.
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Su: I discovered the power of sharing my message on social media. I posted a video about connecting with Dad after 15 years on Facebook. The message impacted many people and they reached out to let me know how they reconnected with their parents after watching my video. So I started sharing more which in turn improved my confidence. My Facebook community helped me to feel more connected and less isolated. I have also achieved amazing results in my business.
What resources have been crucial to getting you to where you are?
Su: I am very self aware and have become resourceful at managing my mindset. I recognise when my mindset isn’t in a good place and I need to do something. So, I’m proactive and plug myself into motivational YouTube videos, books, meditation or call one of my peers. I feel so blessed to have people around me that have my back.
What do you understand by leadership?
Su: Leadership is about creating more leaders, helping people become self-reliant and accountable for their lives.
On my Landmark programme I organised a community project - a women’s empowerment event. I enrolled four women from my Facebook network who helped me pull it off. Leading this team was about elevating and empowering them to be leaders in their own right. I learnt how to lead by empowering with love rather than authority and disempowerment. Leadership is also about continuous growth and learning. Never stop learning!
How has your understanding of leadership informed your role as a woman of colour and a leader?
Su: Leadership is about serving others and I advocate inclusion. It shouldn’t matter what gender, colour or creed people come from.
What are your top three tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Su: First, work on your mindset. Overcome some of your biggest fears. Build yourself up to come from a place of love.
Second, serve others. Life is about serving others and causing an impact in the world. As a child I felt dis-empowered and disconnected and now by serving others I have love around me in abundance. My life is about what I can do to serve and empower others.
Third, be grateful for what you have. There is so much to be grateful for. By being grateful as a leader, I don't fear loss and I never hold back on knowledge, experience, support, or my time.
Every evening I write in my gratitude diary and in the morning I thank God for what I have. It sets my day up positively and I leave home knowing I've everything I need. Appreciating all you have is a great place to be.
Find out more about Su’s services at HR Training and Consulting Ltd at https://www.hrtrainingandconsulting.com/about/
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