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How BreadTalk Group is reimagining growth and culture, while unifying HR systems

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Wing Git Chan, head of group HR, administration and training, BreadTalk Group, talks us through the HR challenges of managing a diverse workforce across multiple territories and brand concepts; and the imperative for an efficient, unified HR management system. 

Q. Having been with BreadTalk Group since 2014, what has been your career highlight here?

In the past four years that I’ve been with the BreadTalk Group (BTG), I’m proud to have been able to contribute to the growth journey of a Singapore brand.

A lot of work has gone into strengthening the foundation and levelling up the capabilities of the HR team, and we have also enhanced collaboration and aligned the HR goals cross different brands and markets, working to make BTG an ’employer of choice’.

Some of the key initiatives in this regard include:

  • Developing a new vision, mission and core values to define the group’s corporate culture
  • Implementing SAP SuccessFactors to unify the HR systems across all markets on a single common platform
  • Starting succession planning and talent programmes (e.g. high potential programme) to ensure long-term talent pipeline to drive business growth
  • Deepening engagement and communication with employees using a multitude of platforms, e.g. townhalls, WeChat, employee portal

Q. Presently equipped with a 7000-strong workforce, what are the business priorities for BTG in the coming year? And, what is HR’s role in this?

Our business and workforce has been concentrated within Asia and the Middle East over the past 18 years. After a period of consolidation, the group is looking to grow our business in existing markets, expand to new markets in SEA, Europe and America, and bring in new brands and concepts.

With the planned expansion, it is imperative for an efficient and unified system and processes to be in place so that all employees across various geographical locations can access information seamlessly.

We also need standard processes, so that we can have the playbook for quickly setting up and scaling HR support in new markets.

One of the HR challenges of managing a diverse workforce across multiple territories and brand concepts is to ensure good oversight, and a consistent approach and treatment. Within each market, the system can be adapted accordingly to meet local language requirements. Having a strong unified system ensures data integrity.With high quality employee data, it will also help us make better people decisions.

Previously, our employee information resided in multiple separate basic systems. In the long term, this was unsustainable and wasn’t aligned with the company’s expansion plans.

BreadTalk Group’s portfolio consists of 10 diverse brands. From the perspective of employee development and engagement, having a unified system will assist in cross pollination of talent and resources internally across different brands and markets.

Q. Having invested in a global HR management system, tell us about the business need that led you to this digital journey.

Previously, our employee information resided in multiple separate basic systems. In the long term, this was unsustainable and wasn’t aligned with the company’s expansion plans.

We critically assessed what was needed, and began a journey of digitisation with a unified HR management platform – starting with our biggest markets, Singapore and China. We needed a solution that is future-proof, scalable, and can be used globally, and finally decided on SAP SuccessFactors as it checked all the boxes.

Q. What initiatives did you implement as part of your digital HR transformation? What are some of the key milestones and partnerships?

From a management perspective, they can now access reports and employee information at their fingertips. Being able to access key employee trends helps senior managers foster a greater sense of stewardship towards their staff.

From an employee perspective, they can complete and submit digital forms now instead of physical paper forms,as well as view their own data on their phones, providing greater convenience to everyone.

Q. What challenges have you faced in this process, and how have you overcome them?

Since our official One System launch, SAP SuccessFactors has definitely helped us in many ways. Looking back on the journey, there is a lot of groundwork to be done before a system of this scale can be implemented effectively across an organisation like the BreadTalk Group.

When making changes or implementing new technologies (e.g. e-learning, SAP SuccessFactors), we need to step up on communication to allay fears and make employees understand why it is needed.

For example, we had to define data standards such as employee grades, existing policies etc. so as to synchronise all the information we had on hand before we could use SAP SuccessFactors as a tool to optimise this data. But it was a good opportunity to review and simplify our existing data, because it made more sense to put this into practice in the long run instead of getting the system to fit what we had.

Q. Since the adoption of technology, what best practices have you undertaken to reimagine business as well as workforce experiences?

It’s important to always stay focused on the business needs, with an eye on emerging trends and the changing manpower landscape. We need to keep adapting to ensure that we stay ahead.

For HR, there is a need to inculcate a learning mindset and facilitate management of change management in the workforce. To do so, some good practices that we have adopted are:

  • Communication – When making changes or implementing new technologies (e.g. e-learning, SAP SuccessFactors), we need to step up on communication to allay fears and make employees understand why it is needed, and how they will benefit
  • Simplification/convenience – We try to make processes as painless as possible, while systems and platforms should be simplified and easy to use. We try to offer different language options to cater to different nationalities and education backgrounds.
  • One step at a time – Changes are made incrementally. With the roll-out of SAP SuccessFactors, we have been activating the modules in stages so that employees gradually get accustomed to the new functions. As staff familiarise themselves with the use of technology in completing HR transactions, they also become more comfortable in adopting other forms of technology in their area of work (e.g. self-service kiosks, cashless payment systems).

Q. What considerations did you have in mind in the selection of a technology vendor – any tips to share with your peers in HR?

  • Suitability for our business and needs. The solution must be relevant to our operations, and help us in improving work efficiency.
  • We operate in many countries and have a sizeable employee population that may not be literate, or familiar with the English language. The vendor should have presence in our main markets and understand the local operating context there.
  • We are looking for long-term investments and partnerships, hence the vendor must demonstrate the same level of commitment when working with us.

Q. What do you envision as the future of work – any near-future plans pertaining to your organisation’s digital HR transformation journey?

Some emerging trends include automation, AI, and big data. These developments will change how we work, and make business and personnel decisions. For HR, we started with SAP SuccessFactors to consolidate our employee information and allow for e-services such as leave applications and performance appraisals. Once we have all countries onboard, we can start looking at conducting basic data analytics to understand our workforce trends and identify gaps to address.

Other ways that we are looking at using technology is to enhance communication, collaboration, and learning. In this regard, we have started using the WeChat platform to disseminate information globally to each of our 7,000 employees globally.

We are also setting up an employee portal as a one-stop online resource for our workforce, and are developing a suite of training videos and e-courses to complement our traditional on-site training channels.

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Learn key drivers and strategic aspects to consider and address through HR transformation – explore the “HR transformation and the digital journey” IDC interactive guide.

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