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HRUnplugged: Why HR must address questions about its business value head-on

Find out more about why impacting the business must remain the highest priority for HR from Dr Fermin Diez, Adjunct Professor at Singapore Management University (SMU).

Q Presently, what are the biggest challenges for heads of HR, especially in Southeast Asia?

As a profession, we are still often questioned about the value we bring to the table. We must address this issue head-on: impacting the business is the highest priority for HR.

We must demonstrate through deeds and metrics that the work we do, the policies we implement, the people we hire, the insights and recommendations we provide, add value to the business and to each business leader.

To do this, it is imperative that we upskill the HR staff under our care. They need to know about how the business derives revenue and profits, labour productivity, HR analytics, motivation (beyond engagement) of staff, and ways in which HR policies impact results, as mentioned above. All this in the context of new employment models, including both robots/AI and gig-economy workers, younger and older alike!

Q In the same vein, what is your advice to organisations in developing talent for a future-ready workforce?

Accept – and help others in the organisation to do so as well – that technology and gig workers are a new reality of the workforce. As a consequence, we need to help our organisations develop a more expansive view of what it means to be “staff” and of the definition, and importance, of organisational culture.

Q Looking to the future, what do you think are the top three qualities of a good HR leader?

The first is business savvy. Even as HR professionals, we are business people first, in order to earn a seat at the table as strategic partners. We must be able to converse fluently in finance, and translate HR policy into finance “dialect” to be heard by all others around that same table.

To do all of the above mentioned, the HR function must be akin to an aeroplane mechanic who is asked to change the engine while flying!

The second is future builder. In the future of work – where full-time staff will be on-site as well as virtual, where machines will interact with humans, where part-time employees will be an integral part of our delivery processes, and where employee loyalty will be difficult to achieve – the creation and sustainability of a culture that can provide mission, purpose and pride will be key to achieving results, minimally at par with the organisation’s brand.

The third is change manager. To do all of the above mentioned, the HR function must be akin to an aeroplane mechanic who is asked to change the engine while flying!

Every adoption of technology, every change in delivery model staffing, every conceptualisation of culture, everything we will do to adapt our organisations to the future, will require great skill in managing changes.


Vital stats: Dr Fermin Diez has 35 years of experience in HR, including consulting, corporate and academic roles. In the area of compensation, he has advised many organisations, including AIA and OCBC, and the government of Singapore in the development of the pay system for officials. He is Adjunct Faculty at SMU and NTU, while as DCEO at the National Council of Social Service, he looks after strategic people issues in this sector.


This interview is part of our CHRO 4.0 special edition where we we introduce you to Human Resources’ Advisory Panel 2019, and pick their brains on the burning questions the function is facing.

Read more here: CHRO 4.0: Decoding the HR skills of the future


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