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HRUnplugged: Why HR needs to be more courageous

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Fong Tuan Chen, Head, Human Resources & General Affairs, Samsung Malaysia Electronics, affirms why we need to push diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the top leadership and board level armed with robust data and insights.

Q What are the things you are doing as CPO which you couldn’t have imagined when you first started your career?

I started my career as an electrical engineer, managing substations, overhead lines, underground cables and metering installations. A far cry from what I am doing now as a people leader.

I never would have imagined that I would be instituting employer branding to accelerate talent attraction, redesigning performance management to drive business outcomes and developing talent so they could maximise their potential. But, perhaps the greatest difference is my opportunity to touch so many lives, contributing to their success and helping them break out from their comfort zone.

Q In the past two to three years, what is the biggest disruption you’ve seen to the HR industry?

The greatest disruption in HR is the rapid democratisation of the employment deal. The traditional nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past. Employees want to design their own schedules and have more freedom in the workplace, which in turn, will build trust.

Employee benefits are no longer cookie cutter, but atomised to specific needs. Employee healthcare is no longer just a hygiene factor as HR tech tools that use real-time insights drive not only for reactive medical requirements, but also for overall wellbeing.

Learning is also increasingly democratising with customised on-demand micro-learning tailored to each individual’s learning needs.

As a CPO, I increasingly have to be cognisant that large-scale implementation of HR initiatives may be the thing of the past.

Interventions have to be on-demand, relevant right down to the granular employee level, and most importantly, all implementation must be scalable.

Q When was the hardest internal negotiation/ buy-in conversation with your stakeholders?

For me, the most difficult conversations are not with stakeholders. The toughest ones are exit conversations – whether it is due to performance gaps, culture misfit or leadership deficiencies. Having to communicate to an individual that they will be losing their jobs, and with it, possibly their pride and self respect is tough. Regardless of the circumstances, I advocate the communication must always be personal, presented with proper facts, and delivered with dignity and respect.

Q What is one thing you hope to see HR leaders capitalise on in ensuring an inclusive workplace?

HR leaders need to be more courageous in pushing D&I at the top leadership and board level armed with robust data and insights. D&I is often labelled as fluffy and not concrete. Hence, HR needs to start driving this agenda with quantitative narratives and not just qualitative descriptors.

Q If you could turn back time, what career advice would you give your younger self?

Be ready, willing and able to take on any kind of assignments, particularly those that no one wants or no one has been successful in. If you fail, at least you have had the gumption to take it on and learn from it; but if you succeed, you career acceleration will be significant.


Vital stats: Fong Tuan Chen is responsible for the end-to-end people operations and administrative functions, being a member of the country executive team providing strategic and tactical input to drive organisational goals. Before this, he was the Chief People Officer of Mah Sing Group and the Director of Human Resources for B. Braun Asia Pacific. He has also held senior HR leadership roles with Maybank Group, British American Tobacco, OCBC and Coca-Cola.


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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