From our wide-ranging interview with Maria Loumpourdi, the Global Head of Talent Development at Betsson Group, one phrase stands out: “character-building days”. It typifies Maria’s approach to work and (we suspect) life, turning what others might consider a bad experience into one to learn from.
But while most of us will keep such learnings to ourselves, Maria’s focus is on other people. Not merely at the Betsson Group, with its 16 global locations, but with other leaders and coaches. She’s a member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, for instance.
As you will soon discover, Maria is also a doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow. It should be no surprise that she specialises in leadership development and has published numerous research papers in internationally renowned journals.
In short, Maria is someone who’s worth listening to. And here’s what she has to say.
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Tell us about your role
I am the Global Head of Talent Development at Betsson Group, a leading iGaming company and an award-winning employer. I manage a multi-faceted function of Learning and Development, Performance Management, and Diversity and Inclusion. My role involves the design and execution of talent development and management strategies across the Group’s 16 global locations. A significant part of my role involves the development of people leaders.
In parallel, I am a doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow, where I am currently completing my research focusing on leadership development. This dual role allows me to blend research insights with practical expertise, enhancing my ability to drive impactful initiatives within my organisation.
Finally, I am a certified coach and coaching supervisor – also known as coach of coaches.
What made you pursue a career in HR?
After I graduated from university, I started working as a teacher for both primary and secondary school students. Teaching was something I loved, but I quickly realised that my passion lay in teaching subjects that students are genuinely interested in. This realisation led me to make a transition into adult education, where individuals have more autonomy to choose their learning paths compared to compulsory education.
As I lectured at the university whilst also pursuing my post-graduate studies, I had the opportunity to work in the learning and development department of an iGaming company. This experience fuelled my passion for talent development and organisational growth. Shortly after, I transitioned into a leadership position within the learning and development department of a large international manufacturing company.
Concurrently, I pursued a doctoral degree at the University of Glasgow, with a particular research focus on leadership development. The insights and knowledge gained from my research have since played a pivotal role in shaping my current role at Betsson Group, where I dedicate a considerable portion of my time to the development of people managers.
What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in HR?
For those considering a career in HR, my advice is to recognise that there is no universal, one-size-fits-all formula to managing talent effectively. Do not try to replicate ‘tried-and-tested’ practices – more often than not, they will not work. Your expertise is demonstrated when you can tailor solutions to each individual and the specific organisational context in which they operate. Treat every employee as a unique individual with their own needs, aspirations and potential. Recognising and utilising this diversity is crucial for creating an inclusive, productive and personally fulfilling work environment.
Additionally, it is imperative to understand your organisation’s vision, strategy, culture, and business needs and challenges. Only then you can make effective decisions that will drive positive and sustainable change.
And, finally, regardless of your role within HR, dedicate time to understanding the financial side of your business – study the company’s quarterly reports and public financial statements and ask questions when you do not understand.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and how has it shaped your career?
Approach every day at work – every task, every meeting, every interaction – with the same enthusiasm, preparation and dedication you would for a job interview. Embracing this mindset has allowed me to consistently contribute to my team’s and wider organisation’s success.
However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or fail. Rather, I view mistakes and failures as part of my development journey. Through introspection and experience, I’ve reached a stage where I can view obstacles as opportunities and constructive feedback as a source for further reflection. Some days are smooth and successful, and others are, as I like to call them, ‘character-building’ days. I would say this mindset, coupled with treating everyone with respect, pays dividends in the long run.
What are the top three challenges HR professionals face today?
- Talent shortages: Companies across many industries are currently facing significant talent shortages, particularly in the tech sector, where employees must keep pace with new technology. Although in 2023, we saw layoffs in tech, talent shortages persist, exacerbated by the concurrent challenges of inflation. Attracting and retaining talent in such a competitive market presents a big challenge for many companies across the globe.
- Strategic workforce planning: As a member of a network of over 600 HR professionals, strategic workforce planning appears to be a pressing concern. There seems to be uncertainty about the required skillset in companies at present and in the future. On top of that, when companies aren’t staffed efficiently, it becomes even more challenging to accurately forecast workforce demands and predict talent supply.
- Translating DEIB to concrete and measurable outcomes: Effectively translating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) goals into tangible and measurable outcomes is a universal HR challenge. Although DEIB remains a priority and the business case appears to be strong, many companies still struggle to build DEIB goals into their broader strategic planning and take concrete action in order to move the needle and see real change. This challenge was notably discussed during a recent HR Conference in Malta, where I facilitated a D&I strategy workshop for over 100 HR professionals and CEOs, providing valuable insights into this ongoing struggle.
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What do you think has been the most significant way in which technology has impacted HR?
I’ve observed an increasing demand from both internal and external stakeholders for easy and instantaneous access to real-time HR data and analytics. This requires HR to streamline data collection and storage processes and embrace AI-powered tools – such as trend prediction and pattern recognition – in order to enable proactive decision-making.
However, I believe that readiness to meet these demands varies significantly across industries. Whilst HR departments in tech-driven companies like Betsson Group tend to be more equipped to implement these practices, my experience in more traditional industries like manufacturing and banking made me aware that they may encounter challenges in adopting advanced processes and tools. For instance, employee data might not be fully digitised or existing HR information systems might present additional limitations.
What do you perceive are some of the risks of deploying AI in the workplace?
The primary concern I have regarding AI in the workplace revolves around the potential reproduction or exacerbation of biases. While I recognise the positive impact AI can have on promoting diversity and inclusion through tools like bias detection software, I am mindful that AI systems aren’t immune to the biases present in the data they’re trained on. This vulnerability runs the risk of perpetuating biases, ultimately influencing organisational operations and interactions with employees.
Many HR departments continue to digitise more and more of their processes and workflows – has this been the case at Betsson Group and what has that experience been like?
Yes, our HR department has actively embraced digital transformation. We have an advanced HR information system and a team equipped with the right skill set to leverage advanced analytics and real-time dashboards.
Two years ago, we also implemented a user-friendly learning management system, which has significantly enhanced our capabilities. For instance, this system enables us to efficiently set up learning and communication campaigns and send personalised messages to specific employee groups through a chatbot, streamlining our internal processes and enhancing overall communication within the organisation.
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What is an HR initiative you’ve spearheaded that you are particularly proud of?
In my current role, one HR initiative I take great pride in is the design and implementation of a leadership framework that defines the skills people managers need to be effective leaders within my organisation. Building upon this framework, I have spearheaded a comprehensive leadership development programme, consisting of various modules designed to equip people managers with the capabilities to lead themselves, individuals, teams and the organisation. To date, this programme has been completed by over 350 leaders worldwide and has received exceptional feedback for its impact.
Reflecting on my past experiences, I am particularly proud of designing and implementing an innovative upskilling programme within an electronics manufacturing company. This initiative was targeted at developing the skills of supervisors overseeing machine operators and technicians, preparing them for the integration of robotics in the shop floor and the forthcoming changes aligned with one of the company’s upcoming projects related to Industry 4.0.
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