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Case Study: Why and how DBS is embracing the ‘horizontal organisation’

Case Study: Why and how DBS is embracing the ‘horizontal organisation’


What that means is that operating models are characterised not by conventional functional departments, but by project-specific data-driven squads, says Sharon Cheng, MD and Head of HR, DBS Bank Hong Kong.

"We believe the working world will continue to change in the post-pandemic future," says Sharon Cheng, Managing Director and Head of Human Resources, DBS Bank Hong Kong. "We have to adapt to such changes and employees in almost every role and industry will need to acquire new skills."  

For an organisation with more than 29,000 employees and 53 years of heritage, it can get easy to be bogged down by processes and legacy – but this isn’t the case with DBS.

There are several ways in which the organisation is bracing for the new normal, one among which is to embrace the ‘horizontal organisation’ (HO) approach to formalise collaboration and joint accountability. Thus, operating models are characterised not by conventional functional departments, but by project-specific data-driven squads formed with members from different functions and relevant areas of expertise.

Cheng explains: “Agile squads are already commonplace in some parts of the bank, primarily in the technology space, and this will further extend at scale to other parts of the bank.”

Cheng has an exciting role to play, as the HR team is taking the lead to formalise and put more structure on the HO implementation. On the cards is a playbook to provide guidance to businesses, including the definition of roles and responsibilities, decisions on investment and headcounts, evaluation of KPI setting and performance, and more.

Such initiatives are a result of DBS’ thoughtful employee engagement to see what the need of the hour is.

Early in the pandemic (March 2020), DBS HK conducted a pulse survey with its employees locally, in the midst of the split locations and work-from-home arrangements. This was elevated to become the regional Future of Work Taskforce later in 2020, with 80 members coming together from different functions and regions.

“The task force was formed to give recommendations in the way we work to better address the changes brought about by COVID-19,” Cheng shares.

Over a six-month study, this task force reviewed the insights gathered from research, deep-dive experiments, and employee surveys conducted across functions and regions – and the result – DBS’ ‘Future of Work’ strategy is being rolled out in 2021.

Work from home is proven to be efficient and effective, a permanent hybrid work model will be implemented. All DBS employees are encouraged to allocate 40% of their time to work remotely. Besides, flexible work arrangements such as job sharing will be introduced to help employees fulfilling both personal needs and demands of work later this year. 

To ensure a successful rollout for the hybrid work mode, a series of change management, engagement, and awareness programmes have been put in place since the beginning of 2021.

The need to reskill and upskill entire workforces is one of the most significant challenges we face today and for the foreseeable future. To cope with the fast-evolving landscape and help their employees to stay relevant to the future, DBS increased its efforts to upskill and reskill employees.

"We need to have a growth mindset, positive thinking, look at the world and accept new things more, continue to learn and develop new skills, we will do better for this," says Cheng.

ALSO READ: Case study: How Cushman & Wakefield is preparing for a talent war in the post-pandemic future

In addition, employees have been getting advice on new work rituals with teams operating virtually, as well as establishing new norms to ensure a respectful and productive digital work environment.

Managers have also received guidance on how to better engage their teams remotely, including actionable tips on building team morale as well as insights on cultivating trust and empathy from behind the screen.

DBS has also worked to revolutionise its HR model to make sure their HR team remains agile and adapts to the changing needs of the business.

Leveraging on data and algorithm, we roll out various initiatives which help to minimise laborious human work. This is to eliminate human bias or judgement so as to achieve the outcomes with faster speed, high accuracy, and scalability," says Cheng. 

Further plans include the redesign of workspaces as ‘Joyspaces’ to allow better co-creation and cross-team collaborations.

In Hong Kong, this journey started back in 2019 to redesign the office for the technology and operations team in Kwun Tong into an agile collaboration workplace.

Cheng reveals: “We will further reconfigure our workspaces located in other premises to enable greater collaboration and ideation, aiming to blend the best physical and virtual modes of working under our Future of Work vision. We target to have more Joyspaces, that is, our activity-based workplace, in Q3 this year.”

Going forward, culture will continue to play an important role at DBS.              

“To ‘create culture by design’ is the responsibility of DBS HR and we have been playing a key role to ensure our values and culture are embedded in every part of the bank, and in every individual,” Cheng concludes with a flourish.

ALSO READ: How the investment talent landscape will look like post-pandemic

Photo / Provided (Sharon Cheng, Managing Director and Head of Human Resources, DBS Bank Hong Kong)

Read more case studies in the Q2 edition of the e-mag! You can also look forward to a range of enriching interviews with leaders across APAC - from Cushman & Wakefield, PwC, Sino Group, and more.

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