“You are the Storyteller of Your Own Life, and You Can Create Your Own Legend” (November 27, 2015)

İdil Türkmenoğlu, one of the leading names in the field of Human Resources in Turkey, is currently vice president responsible for Human Resources, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Boyner Group. Türkmenoğlu graduated from the Management Department of Boğaziçi University in 1995. Throughout her career, she has held top human resources management positions at prestigious companies and has introduced concepts to the business world such as positive management in Human Resources and democracy in the workplace. In an enjoyable interview she gave us, Türkmenoğlu talked about her years as a student, her innovative ideas in Human Resources, and her books. Currently teaching at the department from which she graduated, Türkmenoğlu makes a recommendation to those pursuing a career in HR:  “Be a legend.”

Would you like to tell us about yourself?

I have been working in Human Resources and Organizational Development for over 20 years. At present, I am the vice president responsible for Human Resources, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Boyner Group.

My professional life started with a part-time job at Palmolive-Colgate while I was still a student in the Management Department. Another thing I did while I was a student was that I was very active in the student clubs. I was constantly involved in club activities during that time. After graduation, I worked at Garanti Bank, Garanti Insurance, and Humanitas, and then as Human Resources, Education and Marketing Manager at NTV Media Group. I received on-the-job training in Human Resources at Bank of America, and then studied Strategic Human Resources Management at the Wharton School of Business. After Doğan Group, I started to work for Boyner Group companies, and eventually moved to Boyner Holding.

I have two published books, Ofis Hikayeleri (workplace stories) and Pozitif Yönetim (positive management). I also give talks on positive management. I teach classes on such topics as human resources, leadership and communications at Koç and Boğaziçi Universities.  And I write.

I am a member of the Board of Directors of the People Management Association of Turkey (PERYÖN) and the Private Sector Volunteers Association (OSGD). 

I am married to Fatih Türkmenoğlu, also a BU Graduate, and we have two daughters, Talia and Mira.

Can you tell us about your life as a student at Boğaziçi University?  Being a part of the Boğaziçi family, a student and a graduate of Boğaziçi University, how did all of these impact your career?

Well, it hasn’t ended... My ties with Boğaziçi have never been cut. Every moment I spent at Boğaziçi was special. I did not have the best grades as a student, but I was active. I participated in many student clubs, and I also had several volunteer jobs. I was Head of the Management and Economics Club in 1995. I have friends from BU, and I also have friends from the clubs, who are more special. I served as a member of the Board of Directors of BUMED (Boğaziçi University Alumni Association) for two terms. I was the editor-in-chief of Boğaziçi Magazine for two years. In recent years, I have been supporting the projects of the Management Department on a voluntary basis, and teaching a class called “The Turkish Business Environment.”

“Being a Member of This Family Makes Me Proud”

Being a part of this family means that you have embraced certain values and have acquired some important competencies – the concepts of equality, freedom of expression, participation in management, to live and let live, honesty, diligence, individual motivation... Belonging to this family makes me proud.

Could you comment on the place of BU alumni in the world of business?  As an HR expert, how do you position Boğaziçi brand in today’s business world?

I have met some exceptions, but I still think Boğaziçi graduates are very special. On the basis of my personal experiences and observations, I can say that many of the people holding important positions in the business world today are products of the traditions of Boğaziçi University and Robert College. On the other hand, recent graduates have more competition than we did when we graduated. These days there are foundation universities; education abroad is increasingly more easily accessible. But those who have managed to adopt the specific values of Boğaziçi University, those who have benefited from the opportunities this university offers, do make a difference.

For example, I find the senior year students in my class this year to be very involved, and much different from their peers at other universities.  Success will certainly follow, no doubt.

You are one of the outstanding figures in Human Resources, and you have achieved that status by looking at HR from a different perspective. Could you talk to us about your understanding of HR, which aims to turn business life into a positive area?

I believe HR is too important to leave to HR people alone. I believe successful Human Resources should not be constrained by technical concepts and processes. I mean, it can support and give direction to work without getting caught in competencies, forms, diagrams, processes and procedures. 

“A Successful HR Management Supports Peace and Performance at the Workplace.”

The HR process should be based on basic rights and freedoms, and should support peace in the workplace and performance. HR should lead and direct, not govern.

I was at the University of Michigan in 2003, during the time when the Center for Positive Organizations was established. That coincidence gave me the opportunity to have leaders as my teachers, allowed me to listen to researchers themselves explain their findings. That changed my perspective about work and the systems we establish. I discovered myself and the opportunities in this field of work. My life changed.

The positive approach and management philosophy are recent ideas in personal life and organizations. HR is a multi-directional field that needs to be researched, written about, and put into practice. The methods of positioning and implementing these principles are endless. In my book I wanted to present the concept of positive management, a concept that I meticulously implement myself, as an alternative to the procedures we are used to. Making our job pleasurable, working with passion, having a feeling of loyalty, recognizing our strengths, being constructive in what we do, and coming out strengthened from obstacles are some of the subjects discussed in Positive Management

Can There Be Democracy at the Workplace?

What kind of gains did this approach to HR bring to your professional life?

We are talking about Human Resources, which focuses on the individual, the human being. Positive Management is a management style. If you mean the results that this method and these instruments have brought, well, I am trying to convey to my students, the participants in my seminars, and to everyone I work with, the principles and implementations of positive management.  I have seen it to be effective at all times. As creativity, loyalty, and performance increase, turnover and absence decrease. Clients are happier. In the last two or three years, we have been talking about democracy in the workplace, beginning with our own companies. We are institutionalizing the concept. I have always tried not to be “just another HR person.” My teams and I have developed applications that will contribute not only to our company, but to the management culture of Turkey. We are always after what is different.

Through your books, you have shared your experiences in professional life with many people.  Do you have other similar projects for the future?

I am in the process of writing Democracy in the Workplace and Its Implementation.  In addition, there is another book waiting to be finished; it offers practical recommendations on internal communication. This year, I have undertaken the HR group presidency of the United Brands Association of Turkey. I am planning to increase good practices specific to retail and merchandizing and develop new projects.

What do you recommend to people planning a career in Human Resources?

A HR person must place people and work at the center of her profession. The type of HR people I tried to describe previously, those who are in love with their procedures and forms, at best can be very supportive people for their organizations, whereas the most amazing roles in HR are those extremely effective ones that determine the destiny of an organization, like Cultural Leadership, or Champions of Change. To be able to fulfill such roles, one must gain experience in flexible institutions that support entrepreneurship. Some of the multinational companies may not be able to provide such flexibility, or provide such experiences.

Everything you do or don’t do determines your career. Days spent when you don’t learn something or develops yourself are wasted. I also believe it is necessary, even imperative, for HR people to undertake various roles in society. They can become members in associations, or do volunteer work.

Let me give a clue to the positive management approach. In general people tend to focus on their deficiencies, saying things to themselves such as “I should improve my English,” “I cannot speak in front of an audience,” or “I don’t know anybody.” Such worries cause us to overlook the things at which we are successful. We should focus on what we are good at and use our energy to become even better in those areas. Obviously, we should know our weaknesses, but if you only focus on your problems and question yourself, you will always find other problems. On the other hand, if you concentrate on your assets, values, and your positive attributes, you will come to identify with them and even improve them.  As Isabelle Allende said, “You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend.” Always remember: Be a legend!