In this brand-new section, we bring to you dedicated industry-specific interviews to solve the talent challenges that you're facing in your sector, as well as collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas across sectors. We're excited to share with you our inaugural interview below:

Industry insider: Kenneth Z Tan, HR leader, with expertise in Malaysia’s property development sector
Sector spotlight: Property development
Based in: Malaysia

The soft property market has intensified competition for customers, and therefore, talent. However, progress is being held back by an unimaginative talent pool fuelled by managers recruiting carbon copies of themselves.

The number one talent challenge this sector is facing.

Property development is generally a traditional and conservative industry. As such, it is not uncommon to see hiring managers recruiting carbon copies of themselves, which in turn, leads to a fairly homogenous, but unimaginative talent pool that will struggle to innovate – this is essentially a low-risk, tried-and-tested strategy to keep things stable, but a tragedy if you are trying to challenge the status quo and adapt to the changing environment.

Developments that are intensifying this challenge

The soft property market has intensified competition for customers and therefore talent – but therein also lies a polarising contradiction. While companies with fewer projects or lower prospects are freezing headcounts, restricting salary increments and even eliminating bonuses altogether, companies that are more bullish – or simply too big to stand still (for example, due to shareholder expectations) – are still fighting for talent in a desperate bid to outperform the competition. In short, the war for top talent is still very real.

"Instead of merely looking at hard skills, hiring managers need to put a greater emphasis on soft skills such as critical thinking, communication and empathy."

Best practices: Strategies that have worked in tackling this challenge

There has never been a greater need for clear and consistent leadership – more specifically, it entails clarity in vision and purpose, situational assessment, as well as problem-solving, and subsequently, a fervent belief and disciplined approach in executing the plan.

While this strategy can be applied to a great many other industries or organisations, it is worth pointing out that many property developers in Malaysia are by nature conservative. When you consider how recruitment often revolves around the same candidate profiles, you begin to understand why the situation compounds itself, leading to a dire lack of imagination among management and staff.

Possible strategies include focusing more on transferable skills when hiring or promoting talent. Instead of merely looking at hard skills, hiring managers need to put a greater emphasis on soft skills such as critical thinking, communication and empathy.

For senior management, the ability to be calm under pressure, sensible in making decisions, and impartial in taking action are crucial. Diversity is also increasingly important in a fast-changing world, for example, a team with broad experiences and skill sets will be able to offer more options and adapt better to unforeseen challenges.

The next big priority for HR professionals in this sector

Automation, staff engagement, and people management are big priorities moving forward. As HR professionals, we need to constantly push the limits, not only to stay relevant as a function, but also to provide added value by equipping the management and staff in taking the organisation to the next level. Automation is important as it allows for greater process efficiencies as well as more detailed data collection and analysis across various HR metrics.

Furthermore, the cost of HR systems these days is less prohibitive than before, and adopting the right system will allow HR personnel to free up more time for personalised engagement with staff. Last, leaders and line-managers will have to be equipped with management skills to deal with the growing complexities of the business as well as managing staff.

How are these challenges affecting your role – how are you proactively preparing for the future workplace and equipping other organisational leaders?

Transformation can only happen when there is collective ownership and responsibility from all stakeholders. HR leaders play a vital role in driving this process by, firstly, educating the management and key influencers and, secondly, leading by example.

We cannot simply confine our role and purview to HR-specific topics – instead, we must make our stakeholders aware of the wider implications of their actions or inactions, and then engage them in planning, executing, and communicating the necessary course of actions.

Photo / Provided


This feature has been published exclusively in the Jan-Mar Q1 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Malaysia:

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