Total Rewards Asia Summit 2024 Singapore
Journey of transformation: 3 HR leaders share how they are taking their workforce through the new world of work

Journey of transformation: 3 HR leaders share how they are taking their workforce through the new world of work

In a special video feature, HR leaders from Omnicom Media Group, Thai Beverage, and HSBC Bank tell Sarah Gideon how they are evolving their People teams and practices to stay agile and enhance the employee experience.

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and evolving workplace dynamics, the role of HR is undergoing a transformative shift. No longer confined to operational tasks or tactical programmes, HR is ascending the value chain; becoming a strategic partner in driving business success.  

This evolving role brings forth new avenues for HR teams to embrace new practices — whether its enhancing focus on diversity in innovation and decision-making, or incorporating environmental, social and governance principles into strategic planning. 

That is why, it is imperative that HR leaders be proactive and at the forefront of these changes so that amid transformation, employees continue to feel supported; ultimately leading to higher job satisfaction, increased productivity, and better overall engagement. 

In this feature, HRO’s Sarah Gideon delves into how HR is staying agile and adaptive in this new landscape, aligning its initiatives with overarching business goals, and navigating emerging trends. 

Joining her in this discussion are the following leaders: 

  1. Raymond Soh, Director, People Operations & Talent at Omnicom Media Group, Singapore
  2. Dr. Agapol Na Songkhla, Chief People Officer at Thai Beverage   
  3. Mukul Anand, Managing Director and Head of Human Resources, Singapore at HSBC

By exploring the strategic elevation of HR functions and the evolving expectations of new-age HR professionals, let's uncover the innovative practices that are redefining the future of work. 

Watch the video to find out more on:  

HR transformation and skills development: 

  • How organisations such as Thai Beverage have successfully transformed their HR functions. 
  • The specific strategies and methodologies used to equip HR professionals with the necessary skills to drive sustainable growth and organisational development. 

The role and impact of technology: 

  • The role of emerging technologies in enabling HR transformation. 
  • Identification of particularly impactful technologies in Omnicom Media Group, for instance, and how they are integrated into HR functions to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. 

Alignment with business objectives: 

  • The metrics or KPIs used to measure the success and effectiveness of HR initiatives. 
  • Strategies for fostering collaboration across departments to ensure HR initiatives align with broader business objectives, including the coherence and effectiveness of aligning global priorities with local/regional HR initiatives. 

Continue below to read the rest of the interview, where Raymond Soh and Dr. Agapol Na Songkhla go on to share about the emerging technologies they believe have an impact on HR transformation, how they are tracking progress on their journey, and more.

Q In your opinion, what role does technology play in enabling HR transformation, and what emerging technologies do you see as particularly impactful?  

Soh: Technology has shown its worth through the era and how it can create, change, or even better jobs. In the context of HR Transformation, companies are consistently engaging new technologies to make their workforce productive and efficient. Technology is the solution to better transactional processes and reduce the element of human error.

However, this does not mean that we’re doing away with the People function or the size required for the role. What it effectively does is to ensure that People teams can add better value to the organisation. 

As for the upcoming technologies, AI is something that has been around. No doubt, the markets have gone a little soft for AI this year – but there are so many opportunities available to be unlocked with AI. From the view of a new generation of ATS, for example, or a new solution to complement HR BPs to build amazing employee experience, there are so many opportunities available. 

Dr. Agapol: Technology plays a very critical role in holding the operations together and engaging the organisation and people. So, I can tell the story in three phases.

The first phase is about building the platform where our multiple countries can have the common platform and similar experiences. That is very important. And once we exceed, we can run our operations coherently, which is also very important when you're operating in multiple countries.

The second phase happened around COVID. Up until COVID hit, having been a very big organisation with a large number of blue-collar workers, we never had the confidence that we can get the entire organisation on-board with a common technology platform and engagement. But because of COVID, and our interactive approach to deliver this, we were able to move the entire organisation (white- and blue-collar) 100% on to the technology platform, where it becomes quite a norm that we are able to engage with employees several times a day through a mobile device. Therefore, as an engagement tool, technology is also very important.   

I think the latest phase is where technology is now moving very fast and becoming easier to obtain. The role of technology, as well as the way we upgrade is that on one hand, we need to be self-reliant on the core technologies; and on the other hand, we need to be able to have a good range of partners to make sure that we don't 'miss the train' or fall off the trend, and to be able to assess and consider the update to the technologies.   

The latest iteration now is around data analytics and AI. We're still in the exploratory stage, but of course there are already quite a number of smaller projects where we are experimenting with that.  

Q What metrics or KPIs does your organisation use to measure the success and effectiveness of these initiatives, and how do you track progress over time?  

Soh: Apart from the traditional metrics such as ROI, retention rates, EES scores or even growth indicators, the People team is embedded into our businesses. This allows us to better assess the effectiveness of our initiatives through observation and feedback from both internal and external stakeholders. 

We can't deem an initiative truly successful until we’ve assessed its outcome over time. This could be in periods of three to six months, or even longer. By harnessing data analytics and trends within our reports, we are better equipped to associate trends, appreciation, and ROI through the months.  

Dr. Agapol: As pertained to both transformation and human capital practices, the financial linked KPIs are what we call the “human capital operating benchmark”. These are supposed to reflect the level of productivity, which is the revenue of respective units divided by our expenses related to people. This is the sort of the financial driven ones that we measure and continue to benchmark.  

But of course, beyond that, I think we look both in terms of talent attraction and retention. As I mentioned, the percentage of positions that we can promote from within is one of the most important transformation measures.  

Recently, it has also become important to move towards skill attainment. There are a number of skills that are mandatory that the organisation wants to have, like sustainability related skills.

We begin to make sure that we have coverage of the employees, the number of hours of training that we have, as well as also reporting, the effectiveness of development initiatives as some of the key measurements that we looked at. We should have a few more, but the one that I chose to share with you resonates with the direction that we want to go. 

How does your HR department foster collaboration and communication across departments to ensure that HR initiatives are aligned with broader business objectives?  

Dr. Agapol: I would say the most important factor is leveraging on human capital business partners’ roles and functions. We do have sizable human capital business partner units, mapped with ease of the business, where we allow them to have a direct hotline to the business head and clearly dotted line back to our central team. I believe that doing so facilitates stronger business acumen and the focus on helping the business achieve. And that, is one way of communication and collaboration. 

But of course, when we do initiate cross-functional teams having internal communication programmes, as well as emphasise that there are very specific things that the entire organisation needs to understand, adopt and communicate, it is also very important to do so with the hotline to the business.  

Thirdly, we promote our three core DNA of the entire organisation: Collaboration, creating value, and caring for stakeholders. 

With collaboration being the one of the core DNAs, we did put a lot of emphasis not just in HR, but in other things as well before we make certain decisions. We have one phrase which says: "We need to understand and accept on the same basis", meaning the tests of whether certain things that we want to do is already well communicated. We need to test that they understand, and they also accept the direction, and we have to make sure that this is on the same basis as well. 

It’s not easy to do everything, but it does reflect our emphasis on collaboration and communication. 

Soh: We’d like to see OMG (Omnicom Media Group) as a huge community and each member of our organisation has a role to play within our community. Collectively, the senior leadership team is made up of heads of our practices and agency heads who come together to pitch our points of view when approaching the people initiatives. This partnership works because as a leadership team we collectively agree and have the intentions to build a people-first organisation. 

Q Can you share some strategies or frameworks that your organisation has employed to ensure coherence and effectiveness when aligning global priorities and local/regional HR initiatives? 

Dr. Agapol: Investment in communication is important, especially over the past few years. We have invested in a communication programme where people managers receive the message and pass it all the way down to the frontline employees through informal but regular conversations; and teach them how to have proper one-on-one communication where it's not just all about work, but it is there to create quality in the level of communication, as well as help the level of engagement. That is one specific initiative that we invest time and budget in to make it happen.  

Now, in terms of being a large organisation, and how to make sure that the communication takes place effectively, there are two things that apply:

One is, we need to have a strong and common theme of communication, strong enough to be able to cut across multiple business units in multiple countries. For example, the latest programme for us falls under the theme “Passion 2025”, where the letters of the word 'Passion' reflect both the business direction as well as the attributes that we hope to be building for the business. We roll out such programmes in various units to ensure they are applied across the organisation. 

To ensure that our people understand and get what we are doing, we follow up with bi-annual employee engagement surveys, where each year, we gather 40 unique questions spread out in two surveys.  

So, having this two-way channel to engage with employees, is important for us to understand whether we are going in the right direction and effectively bringing the employees along [on the journey].

Soh: I have two core roles to play when I’m planning for initiatives in a market like Singapore or Malaysia. First would be the subject matter expert of the market advising the leaders on my point of view and second, it would be to play as a local champion that is connected to the Global people teams and their priorities across with the business. 

We focus our efforts of the objectives and how our initiatives could benefit our people and align with global priorities as well.


READ MORE: Top HR tech concerns CHROs in Singapore are addressing

Lead image / HRO 

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