Human resource management

Marge Litvinova | 5 questions for the Head of People & Culture

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To give people freedom and responsibility in their work, these values must be a part of organisational culture.

The precondition is a working environment where failures and mistakes are allowed and instead of routine feedback there is also feedforward, says Grant Thornton Baltic’s Head of People & Culture, Marge Litvinova, who shares her experiences and knowledge in more detail.

Which companies have you worked for and in what positions?

I can divide my career in the human resources field into three stages: the first and longest one was 15 years at a large sales organization, Telemedia Estonia, and its subsidiaries. Then I was an entrepreneur for five years. The third stage at Grant Thornton Baltic is ongoing.

My path in the world of HR management got started out of pure chance. I was studying international financial management at university and held a job at a recently established subsidiary of Telemedia Estonia, Teabeliin AS – which ran the 1188 information line – as a telephone operator. As the popularity of the information line was growing, it was decided to divide 50 telephone operators into the teams and I got the offer to lead a team of 10. As a 20-year-old, it seemed like a major challenge, because the team members ranged widely in age and good relations had to be maintained with all. Thinking back on that time, this was my first step in the field of HR management. The work of a team leader was directly related to people, organizing their work and giving and receiving feedback.

A few years later, I got the proposal to join an advertising sales department as a recruiter and in-house trainer. To be able to train sales representatives, I made a goal to understand what active selling is about during my practical work. Sales is certainly not an easy line of work, but it gave me a very strong skill set in terms of confident communication and establishing a relationships with total strangers. As recruitment had always been part of my duties in my professional life, I can say that the experience in active sales gave me a lot to be a successful recruiter.

From there on, my career path continued with roles related to HR management in Telemedia Estonia Group, which could be summed up by the title HR generalist. For a large part of the time, I was involved in management work, which gave me a chance to see the big picture, understand the company’s business processes and work alongside great business leaders. As Telemedia Estonia was originally part of Sweden’s Telia, I had already experienced superb management culture and systematic activity early on.

In 2012, my time at Telemedia came to an end after the ownership change and I found myself on the labor market looking for my next challenge. I didn’t become a wageworker and decided to put myself to the test in the business world, offering various HR-related services. Over a five-year period, I found several companies with whom I had a good cooperative relationship, and that is how Grant Thornton Baltic also found its way to me as a client. Three years ago, I accepted Grant Thornton Baltic’s offer to join the company permanently in the role of Head of People & Culture.

I’m currently in charge of various people-related projects and processes and much of my job involves recruitment of specialists. Besides my job as HR manager, I also provide advisory services to Grant Thornton Baltic’s clients on topics related to HR management and change management. Grant Thornton is a developing, pro-innovation company. My job is an interesting one with fascinating tasks for every day.

Why did you choose HR management? What inspires you?

There are several reasons. First, I like people. It’s fascinating to get to know different types of human and hear different stories. Secondly, I like diversity. I enjoy speaking to both my teenage daughter’s school friends and the friends of my mother, a retiree. The same is at work. There’s something to learn from everyone. Third, human resources management is extremely fascinating and variegated field. In what other field can so many roles be fulfilled – from lawyer to psychologist?

The status quo – it’s just not for me. I am inspired by being able to build and manage changes. Change management is a process that takes much effort but as head of People & Culture, I can take part in shaping the employee experience and guide them through the changes. Good, constructive feedback on all aspects is also important for me. For example, I ask my colleagues for feedback twice a year.

In your opinion, what role does an HR manager have for a company’s CEO?

A good CEO sees the HR manager as a right-hand person. I think the HR manager role has become much more strategic and it is not just an administrative role for a long time anymore. HR manager is source of a support, someone  the CEO and other leaders can lean on, giving advice and supporting for fulfilling the company’s goals. A good HR manager has a sense of the organisation’s temperature and raises issues that otherwise would n’t find the way to the managers´ desks. In recruitment, it’s a top priority for me to find people who have suitable culture-fit with the comapny and share the same values. By knowing all our employees, I can help with the decision-making process.

How to give negative feedback?

In situations where I had to give or receive negative feedback, I always think about how we got to this situation. Based on my experience, I can say that many failures, misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are caused by the lack of communication, trust issues and vague expectations. It’s always worth looking at a situation through the eyes of the person who is receiving the feedback. Certainly, feedback should take place one-on-one or in a small circle to people affected by the feedback and it should not be emotional or judgmental.

Both the employee and manager have things to learn from every situation. It’s always worth thinking whether the expectations were actually negotiated and interpreted similarly, whether sufficient information was provided, and so on. The end result of the feedback depends on how the message was delivered and what the feedback culture in the company is in general.

Something I certainly don’t recommend, is giving negative feedback in written way. I recommend always to take time for  direct communication, because today there are more than enough channels for communicating.

How to give employees freedom and responsibility in their work?

To give people freedom and responsibility in their work, it must be a part of the organizational culture. The precondition is a working environment where failure and mistakes are allowed and instead of routine feedback there is also feedforward. It is definitely beneficial if managers show a sincere interest in their employees, taking time to listen how things are really going and what sort of support they need to achieve their goals. I myself have had the honor to work in environments where managers don’t interfere in people’s work at the grassroots level. I must say that my current employer gives a enough autonomy to our employees to perform well and our people value this a lot.

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