The Passion Project: Career Progression in HR| Omer Aziz

Omer Aziz is a professional engineer who crossed over to become a Human Resources (HR) Executive. His passion is in helping people achieve their peak potential. Unlike most human resource executives who follow a linear path, Omer did not initially pursue HR.

“I remember having a conversation with my father. It took me weeks to build up to tell him that I wanted to take commerce instead of engineering”, Omer says, “My dad thought about it for a second and said no, you will take engineering. I didn’t have the nerve or desire quite frankly to contradict my father. So I took engineering.”

“Now, one thing that scared me immensely at the time was I had no idea what I wanted to do. I now look back on that and view it as a huge blessing because not knowing what you wanted to do means the whole world is open to you in terms of possibilities”, says Omer.

It is not uncommon to observe people who started doing what they always wanted to do and find it is not what they thought it was. Sometimes knowing what you want to do can create a narrow track.

Looking back, Omer is grateful to have studied engineering. His strong technical education came in handy when an opportunity showed at the door. It was a temporary HR project. “Through that experience I realized what a wonderful opportunity to approach HR from an engineering perspective and vice versa.” That was the pivotal moment which launched his career. “I love my work and what I do because of this very unusual combination of engineering and HR.”



Q1: What exactly does a Human Resources Executive do?

There is no regular person. Everyone has got their own superpower. That is the underlying foundational thought in my work. As the head of HR, my job is to come up with programs that create the environment where everyone can yank out their superpower. From a business perspective, culture is about creating an environment that accelerates business strategy.

Q2: Please give us one example where you have improved the company culture for the better.

One of them has to do with engagement surveys where you ask employees a list of questions and you try to see what the patterns are, what the drivers are to increase engagement.

Typically engagement drivers are: Are the company goals clear? Do I hear from my senior leadership? Do I have the tools to do what I need to the things done? Do I like my job? Am I happy with how I am paid here?

We did an interesting exercise once where we took the same engagement data but we just focused on high performers. We pretended the high performers were their own business unit even though they were not. It was a theoretical data manipulation and with the high performers being their own business unit, we were able to isolate their engagement drivers.

High performers engagement drivers were different than the company average engagement drivers:

  1. Do I feel that I will be able to advance my career in this company? Not just this job but my career. Is there several stepping stones that make me feel I can unfold my career?
  2. Would I recommend working here to my high performing friends?
  3. Do I believe promotions are based on merit as opposed to anything else?
  4. Does my manager remove any obstacles so I can perform to my level?
  5. Does the job allows me to keep my skills cutting edge and current?

Armed with this information, we started taking a completely different approach on how we want to create a right environment to motivate people.

We focused on career development. We developed projects. Some of the specific purposes of the project is to create opportunities for employees to hone a specific skill. Instead of trying to focus on making sure leaders communicate more and publish the goals, we took a very different approach and try to stimulate these five drivers.

Q3: That’s one example. What is another example where you have improved the culture for the better?

Last quarter we asked employees several questions. They are along the lines of:

  1. What do you want to be doing 3-5 years from now?
  2. What skills and experience do you need to get there?
  3. What kind of training would you like?
  4. What are your own career aspirations?

There is a couple reasons why this is a useful exercise in my opinion. First of all, you know some people answer them some people don’t. That’s your choice. For those of you who do choose to answer the question, it gave us some really interesting themes and two big themes emerged.

  1. I would love to develop more skills through formal training
  2. I would love to learn how to become a better manager through formal training

As a result, this year we created 2 new courses, 2 in-house courses. One is a Management Development program. We have assessment tools, exercises to train you on becoming a better manager. The second is an Employee Development program where it helps you learn how to interact more effectively with your peers.

Q4: How do you determine if the initiatives you have described enhance the company’s strategy?

There is the age-old question when it comes to training: how do you measure the effectiveness of the training? There used to be a school of thought that I had. The school of thought was there was some form of formal test at the end which validates the learning. I am drifting away from that because creating a learning culture is not about certifications.

Creating a learning culture is about creating an opportunity for you to have a learning environment to have learning opportunities all the time. The theory is going to want to learn in the areas you can apply in your job. The validation will come from your reviews. Are you achieving the expectations of your role, are you delivering, when you are assessed by your peers and employee that work for you do you get a high rating.

The validation is a holistic validation as opposed to be a course-by-course validation. I can point to really bad managers who have passed all the courses they have taken. So it’s not about validating the course, it is about continuing to give you learning opportunities and the validation comes to you being a high performer.

Q5: Do validation comes from your peers?

Validation comes from the environment you are in. The peers, your employee, deliverables. That’s where the validation comes from. The environment we are trying to create – that same environment is what gives you validation.

Q6: So far have you observed some of these validation?

Absolutely. It’s interesting. We handpicked the first set of people that went through the course. They were high performers. You want your high performers to be pushed even harder and through the course we started to learn maybe some people were high performers weren’t high performers and some of the people went through to a whole new level of performance. The course started to validate whether we were right or not about high performers.

Watch Omer’s Interview Here: (

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