In this exclusive with HRO's Lester Tan, Chutima Sribumrungsart, CHRO of Thai powerhouse, Gulf Energy Development, tells us about her organisation's efforts in driving transformational leadership, embedding people KPIs for all managers, and proactively bringing in knowledge from new industries.

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Industry Insider: Chutima Sribumrungsart, Chief Human Resources Officer, Gulf Energy Development
Sector spotlight: Power and utilities
Based in: Pathum Wan, Bangkok, Thailand

The number one talent challenge this sector is facing

As CHRO of Gulf Energy Development, my challenges, in fact, aren't related to the industry I am in, but rather related to the overall transformation of our business group from a conventional power plant business to group business that includes diverse businesses, such as sustainable and renewable energy, infrastructure, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and gas; and, the nearest on the radar being a focus on being a business driven by digital technology.

As a result, we have a new landscape ahead of us - driven by new technologies, new business models, markets, players, partners, and customers. Thus, my challenges are driven by a need to build the new capabilities, skills, and knowledge that is crucial to serve our current and new portfolios.

With the rapid growth in business, our people resources continue to be a major source of success and sustainability. I see this as an opportunity for our people - both leaders and teams - to develop a speedy capability to transform in order to cope with new expectations.

Putting this into context, our critical mission now is to reskill, upskill, and redefine the current capabilities to what we need in the future.

We need to build talent & leadership pipelines to ensure health and continuity of the business. Development paths must be provided to support evolving changes in the era of digital transformation and business disruption.

In addition to our current team, our business expansion requires more next-gen and a new DNA of talents with new capabilities for strengthening the organisation's growth. While the workforce market continues to shrink, due to the change in how the new generation views corporate life, we need a proactive approach towards both short- and medium-term strategic talent acquisition to address these challenges.

Diversity is another dimension that shouldn’t be underestimated. We, as HR professionals, need to prepare for mixed-generational talent in our workforce, while embracing their differences and optimising their value through inclusivity.

Despite our intense talent agenda, responding to the global pandemic is another area in which we need to survive, adapt and live with it. New ways of management, growth in mindset, and agility of response are all great factors for success in this era of uncertainty.

Could you share some key developments (internal/external) that are intensifying this challenge?

In my opinion, the present is an opportunity to impact the business via our people resources to support the journey of growth and sustainability. Let me share some of the key developments that are intensifying this challenge.

Starting from the top, a shift in the leadership role is required. Regardless of seniority, all leaders are required to be transformational leaders who can lead and drive people through disruption. Not only do they have to focus on the business but more importantly, on creating a great team and culture through trust, empathy, confidence, and support.

As managerial capabilities and accountabilities become critical, it is important to reshape the expectations for all people leaders. We can start by:

  • Emphasising and embracing new leaders' capabilities,
  • Knowledge and skill-building to turn managers into coaches,
  • Holding managers accountable, by embedding people KPIs among all leaders to drive ownership of their people and defining what success looks like.

As our Group is shifting to new businesses, we proactively bring in knowledge from new industries to build the readiness of our people. Our digital and physical learning platforms have been redefined to serve learner centricity and respond to the new era of learning. Learning from outside experts helps us open our world to the bigger world, thus creating a learning culture and building on from others.

In addition, we engage global and worldwide experts for knowledge training, know-how transfer, and as on-site consultants for our team.

Building future skills is another big area of focus for us. We work closely with the business leaders to identify what new skills and competencies are needed, and accordingly, redesign our learning roadmap to align.

In this disruptive era, digital literacy is no more a trend, but a critical business agenda. Thus, we support our team with the newest technology platforms to enable their collaboration, as well as sharing of knowledge & insights. This includes access to artificial intelligence (AI), business intelligence (BI), and robotic technologies. Reskilling and upskilling our team with new technology helps them confidently cope with information overload and rapid changes in the market.

On the HR side, digitisation of our HR processes and services has replaced our traditional way of work, thus helping the HR team with higher productivity, consistency in delivering services, and improved employee experiences.

Shifting to a new growth mindset is the foundation of our new culture, as much as it is a characteristic now expected from our teams. We drive and reinforce this via our values and behaviour, and measure it through our performance management system.

Now, let's look at some external developments impacting us.

We drive engagement with various stakeholders, including universities, to unlock job opportunities for new talent, as well as support partnerships for industry knowledge sharing or for academic programmes. Further, we build partnerships with executive search firm for long-term talent pipelining in preparation for our future expansion. We also embrace our community relationships via multiple activities, with the aim to create external impact and strengthen our brand identity.

As you can see, we address our challenges using a holistic internal & external approach.

How are you tackling this challenge? Do share some strategies that have worked, and how they have helped!

First and foremost, as people leaders, we need to immerse ourselves in the business, understand the challenges and dynamics of the business model, and form close partnerships with business leaders to identify the areas we need to address.

To address such challenges, commitment is important. Talent is typically HR's agenda, but for me, talent is a business agenda, which requires commitment from leaders. Engaging and holding leaders accountable is important, and is started by establishing leadership KPIs for all people leaders, with the aim to create a sense of ownership in their people agenda.

As we shift our role to become business partners, the HR team's capability takes centrestage. We have transformed our HR organisation and services model from one leaning on functional expertise to a business- & employee-centric model.

We have shifted the investment of HR resources toward a manager- & employee-facing model. This includes the measurement of our HR success.

Thus, we reform and redefine our HR strategies to align with business requirements, placing employees' life journeys and experiences at the center.

To do so, the way to start is by shifting the hiring approach by being proactive through early engagement with external talent across all levels, as well as outsourcing talent hunting to strategic executive search agencies on a long-term contracting basis. While this is external facing, on the internal-facing side, we promote and identify internal talents for future roles, while building a robust learning and development strategy. The outcome is productivity and growth according to plan.

To supplement these efforts, we are investing in a new learning ecosystem that serves business transformation and addresses the needs of the pandemic. Even when physical learning was no longer a choice, we built platforms, contents, virtual activities, and communication modules to continue sustaining the learning culture. 

As companies go through transformation, communication is king. We've used technology to optimise our communication platforms and help build connections to ensure people are equipped with sufficient information.

Finally, we are setting new expectations  - what we valued in the past might not fit be for the future, and this is another challenge we need to address in our team's mindset and in driving new performance behaviours. This is not easy but it is not an option. We address this change by equipping our team with new skills for the future, setting clear leadership direction, and reinforcing through line management. We also imbibe this within our performance management system and reward management.

The one crucial point common to all our strategies? Having in place measures of success, as well as alignment with business direction.

Going forward, what should be the next big priority for HR professionals in this sector?

Our ultimate goal as HR professionals is to support the business for growth now and for a sustainable future.

To that end, there are three priorities for us [at Gulf Energy Development]:

  • First, to ensure we build sufficient and qualified talents to serve the organisation's diverse business model;
  • Second, to ensure our HR strategies continue to evolve - agile enough to meet the business direction;
  • And third, to strengthen our HR team to be ready to play a true business partner role in the organisation. 

Finally, how are these challenges affecting your role - how are you proactively preparing for the future workplace?

I would say the challenges we are facing are common for all HR professionals in the today's world. The only difference would be what the business situation is for each organisation. For example, some organisations have to fight to survive from the impact of pandemic, and the disruption of industries. Others, meanwhile, are more fortunate - they only have to focus on growing the business further.

Therefore, as HR professionals, we've to be ready for any change. Be agile enough to meet all business transformations; be close enough to support the business, understand the business situation, and take the opportunity to leverage on our HR talents to build a plan to support the business. We've to also shift our focus to executing activities that can positively impact the business in the long run.

Further, HR should be shifted from a support function to be a business/partner function, such as one of the board members. When discussing people and organisation topic, we need to articulate the context that relevant to business strategies, direction, and goals. Be proactive to the external environment change, and response with speed and agility. We need to drive the decision base on data and insights. Be a spokesperson for change to create trust and confident. Last but not least, be a coach, a bouncing board, and a mentor for our leaders through transformation.

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