Nurashikhin Md Sharif, CPO, Sime Darby Property on how the firm has brought mental health to the forefront through a digital wellbeing programme, how leaders continue to engage employees even through the pandemic, and more, speaking exclusively to Priya Sunil.

The demerger of Sime Darby in 2017 saw Sime Darby Property emerging as a new entity, with a clean slate to lay the right foundation for the business and create a brand-new blueprint to develop best work practices.

Since then, Sime Darby Property has undergone a massive transformation with HR playing a key role, backed by a strong, flexible and capable, 1,508-strong workforce which adapted to challenges along the way.

Through this all, Nurashikhin Md Sharif, Chief People Officer, Sime Darby Property, and the HR team have created a highly engaging workplace for employees where they give their peak performance following the key elements of the firm's PRIME – Passion, Respect & Teamwork, Integrity & Accountability, Make It Happen (attitude), Entrepreneurial Spirit values.

"We have invested in data analytics to understand our employees better, encouraging the cultivation of the right culture and behaviour in the workplace, as well as systematically and strategically attract and place 'future ready' talent based on sustainable business needs."

Utilising these pillars, Sime Darby Property’s HR team is now in the best position to add value and deliver impactful human resources services that matter to its people, she adds.

In this exclusive, Nurashikhin Md Sharif, Chief People Officer, Sime Darby Property, tells Priya Sunil all about how the firm has brought mental health to the forefront through a digital wellbeing programme, how leaders continue to engage employees even through the pandemic, and more. 

Connecting with employees digitally through a wellbeing programme, EAP, and more

Q How would you describe the company culture at Sime Darby Property?

It is our vision to be a Leader in building sustainable communities, and as such, the company culture also leans on building a sustainable workforce that can withstand the years to come. Our mission is to create a place that inspires, connects and lasts for generations to come, and the same sentiment can also be used to describe to our workplace.

The workforce thrives from the conscious effort we put into creating a diverse environment, starting from the hiring process to thoughts and approaches in ways to lead the Group from all levels. Our employees are given platforms where they can grow personally and professionally, and one such example is the HR Team’s active organisation of monthly educational programmes that empower our people in many ways. Our people are not just encouraged to learn but to also hold sharing sessions for the benefit of other employees as well.

Communication is not only key but is also a two-way street at Sime Darby Property. We have created various avenues for our employees to collaborate and communicate with not just each other but also the management, namely via our in-house platform called Yammer. We encourage our people to give their input by opening chatroom channels where they can submit their thoughts and queries during Townhall meetings for the Management to answer.

We are a strong, resilient and passionate group of people who take pride in our rich legacy that dates to 200 years ago and strive to lead the pack in property development in Malaysia. 

Q I understand Sime Darby Property recently launched Jalinan Nurani, a digital wellbeing programme which provides an extensive support circle that caters to the emotional and psychological needs of all employees. Do share more - What drove the decision behind this, and what were the key considerations involved?

Addressing mental health issues has long been a taboo in Asian societies, and many people have continued to suffer in silence due to inadequate exposure to the subject as well as missed opportunities to receive help for this possibly debilitating condition. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the stages of Movement Control Order (MCO), had only exacerbated the states of depression, anxiety and stress among employees who now, on top of managing their existing stressors, must consider job security, financial stability, and other factors while working from home.

With that in mind, the HR Team sought to quickly establish our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to address mental and psychological, physical and financial issues in a structured and holistic manner. In light of the unprecedented circumstances, our EAP's first initiative was to identify all the B40 income earners (i.e. those whose monthly income is RM2,000 and below) within the Group, and give them a one-off monetary payment to alleviate their financial burden during the difficult period.

Another EAP initiative is Jalinan Nurani, a new digital service platform from which participants can learn and improve their mental, physical and even financial well-being. This digital programme is extended to all our employees and their respective immediate family members at no charge.

Jalinan Nurani offers an array of services, namely:

  • Wellness website
  • Health talks
  • Webinars
  • A digital coaching and mentoring programme
  • Psychologist: Remote therapy sessions
  • Psychologist: Onsite F2F therapy
  • Crisis hotline 24/7

All these services are carried out by certified trainers/physicians. We believe that the privacy and confidentiality offered by this programme allows our employee to be more open with their mental health status and seek the help and treatment they require.

Q What challenges did you and your team face in planning and implementing this initiative? How did you overcome them?

One of the main challenges we faced was changing the perception and mindset of our employees on the topic of mental health. We encouraged them to not just recognise the subject but to also embrace speaking freely about it.

Mental health issue is not a common topic that most employers address, but Sime Darby Property believes that it's high time to change the stigma that is unfairly attached to this otherwise important aspect of one's wellbeing. We wanted to normalise addressing mental health and creating awareness on the issue for the benefit of our employees and consequently the Group. Using a digital platform that is easily accessible from anywhere, we designed Jalinan Nurani to provide the same comfort and result as would the conventional ways of conducting employee-related activities (i.e. face-to-face therapy/counselling sessions).

We are grateful for the support and commitment from our Group Managing Director Dato' Azmir Merican and the senior management team for spearheading this endeavour that benefits our employees and their immediate family members.

The HR Team gently introduced Jalinan Nurani to the employees via regular engagement sessions with the departments' respective HR Business Partner (HRBP). A HRBP acts as a liaison between the HR team and the employees.

We also embarked on several initiatives, including:

  • Organising exciting interactive activities each month to engage our employees on various wellness-related topics.
  • Setting up targeted focus group sessions to obtain feedback on the services and to help improve it, thereafter.
  • Daily takeaways and tips on wellness-related topics on the app as well as our various digital platforms.

Q What was the employee response like when this initiative was first rolled out, and what about now – how do they feel about it thus far? 

Since its launch in July 2020, Jalinan Nurani has gradually gained positive traction among our employees and their immediate family members. It is well received by the users who have lots to gain from the platform which we have made available for free for them.

We are also happy to note that many of our employees are beginning to acknowledge and be aware of their mental, emotional and psychological health status. They are now more open to discuss these topics and most importantly, know that there is help and support available for them and their family members as and when they need it.

This programme has helped minimise the gap between employees and the HR team in fostering a healthier working relationship and company culture. Help is only a click away for our employees, and we are delighted to play a positive part in their holistic well-being.

Q On the same theme, as part of efforts to improve operational efficiency, the firm had implemented and launched all three phases of HR On-Cloud (HROC), an integrated cloud-based solution to implement HR management. Tell us about this platform – what key HR processes have now been moved to the cloud, and how has it helped improve efficiency? 

Our vision was to implement a holistic and integrated, cloud-based solution for HR management with capabilities and tools to carry out comprehensive HR work processes and employee empowerment activities. The HROC focuses on areas such as HR service delivery, Talent management, workforce management, administration HR, and more.

We now manage to deliver all in-scope modules from EC Foundation, custom FlexBen, Payroll, Time & Attendance, to strategic modules such as recruitment, compensation, performance management, learning management, succession and development, onboarding and workforce analytics.

There was an instant RM1.9mn benefit realisation of shared services fee on the first year of implementation due to the termination of outsourced services, and the return of HR capabilities to in-house by maintaining the existing manpower.

In summary, the new digital transformation enables us to reduce time for key HR transaction processes, improve productivity, availability of management information and ultimately to deliver value-added services and improve overall employee experience. It helps our people to adopt a digital approach in their day-to-day activities relating to human resources as all information is available at their fingertips, on mobile and desktop applications.

We have identified key measurements for each module which have shown improvements in the recruitment processes, staffing related matters, performance management, compensation management and other unquantifiable benefits.

Q In rolling out these two digitalisation programmes, did you face issues in adoption? If so, how do you get more stakeholders to buy-in and more employees to start using these?

Not everyone is comfortable with change and/or are ready to adopt it immediately, and the same can be said for our employees when we first introduced Jalinan Nurani. There were apprehensions and confusion, but those are the expected response. However, it is a journey and a necessary one at that, especially when it tackles an important topic like mental health.

As we navigate through these challenging and unprecedented times, we must be ready to embrace the 'new realities' fast and be accepting of digitalisation. It is a paradigm shift of mindsets and we have found creative ways of doing things effectively. What worked in the past may no longer be relevant now, and we encouraged our employees to accept the new reality.

Everyone in Sime Darby Property has a role to play – to be that agent of change and a 'positive disrupter' in the organisation to create an environment for people to perform their best. And for that to happen, the HR team has tirelessly continued to educate our employees and stakeholders on the benefits of Jalinan Nurani, create awareness on the importance of addressing mental health issues at the workplace, and pave the way with empathy and humility so that we can unlock our fullest potential.

Q Looking to the near future, what else can employees look forward to from these programmes?

Jalinan Nurani

Our employees/change ambassadors/change agents will share their testimonials and experience after enrolling and 'graduating' from the programme, within their respective departments. The programme will continue to be part of Warga Sime Darby Property's lifestyle in order to achieve 'work/life integration'.

We will also use the platform to crowdsource ways to support each other within the organisation especially during crisis, as well as to create a network and a solidarity movement benefitting our communities at large.

Lastly, we will carry out strategic partnerships with various NGOs and support organisations to emphasise on issues relating to emotional, mental and psychological, as well as financial struggles. 

HROC

Employees are able to curate their own training modules to better suit their career aspirations. Self-service channels for both employees and their managers are available on the platform.

Employee Central (EC)

  • An innovative and integrated technology to update employees' skills with the new norm of managing their own HR tasks in the automation way and transparency of data driven.

Time & Attendance (only for non-executives)

  • Employees will get a clearer picture of the attendance and their exact hours by just clocking in and out using their mobile phones to automatically set the overtime. This feature is still in the pipeline.

Onboarding/offboarding

  • Engage and connect with new hires, giving them a warm interactive welcome to Sime Darby Property.
  • Investing in a lasting relationship with leavers by guiding them through the exit process. Engage with talents for possible rehiring or future cooperation through a valuable separation process.

Performance Management and Goal Management (PMGM)/Continuous Performance Management (CPM) 

  • Cascading goals from organisational strategy to employee activities leads to a more accountable, motivated, and focused workforce. Additionally, managers can track progress to completion and adapt goals as needed in today’s fast-changing world.
  • These measures are helpful to organisations in assessing performance against objectives and ensuring our workforce is focused on strategic business priorities.
  • The Continuous Performance Management (CPM) is part of Performance Management, which facilitates ongoing feedback and performance coaching for Employees to have regular check-ins, obtain regular feedback, and track activities and achievements in real-time.

Learning Management System (LMS) 

  • Learning accomplishments allow employees to set target learning goals on topics that interest them, and track training against those goals.
  • Blended learning capabilities for developing employee skills.
  • Provide clear, compelling career paths to better retain employees.
  • Ensure development goals are aligned with learning activities that can assist in curing performance gaps.
  • Set competency-based development goals to reduce turnover and upskill the workforce.

Succession Management and Career Development Plan (SMCDP) 

  • Engage and motivate employees with meaningful development plans and career opportunities.
  • Empower employees to create and manage goals for personal development.
  • Explore 'good fit' job role recommendations to find positions that match employees' skills and interests by using the Suggested Roles capability on the career worksheet.
  • Engage employees to explore career paths, connect with others in desired roles, and identify and address gaps to prepare for future roles by using the Career Worksheet.

Internal Career Portal

  • Employees can explore internally to upskill their level of competencies.

Recruiting

  • A requisition is essentially a hiring order for managers. Most requisitions follow a business process that takes them through approval, posting, active recruiting, hiring and closure at their own fingertips.

Engaging employees and business leaders 

Q One of the other unique initiatives you’ve led is the establishing of the Employee Engagement Unit, and with it the Employee Engagement Fund, which empowers leaders to fund and organise engagement-related initiatives within their respective departments. What brought about the need/decision towards this unit?

The HR team aims to champion work/life integration among the employees of Sime Darby Property. We also aim to create an environment where people can connect, be inspired, get excited and stay engaged to perform their best at workplace.

However, this cannot be done by the HR team alone and therefore we reached out to the leaders within the departments (Business Leaders).

In line with that, in 2019, we established the Employee Engagement Fund (EEF) which allows business leaders to implement and monitor valuable engagement activities that would positively impact their respective team members.

These activities are largely based on the results from Sime Darby Property's Your Voice surveys and various targeted focus group sessions held across the organisation. However, due to the current MCO in Malaysia, these physical activities have been halted for the time being and will be resumed when it is deemed safe by the relevant authorities.

Q What are some of the engagement initiatives the leaders typically undertake?

Some of the engagement initiatives our leaders have been undertaking include walkabout sessions that allow the senior management team to connect with the employees within their respective departments; as well as teambuilding events that allow their team members to recharge and connect outside of the workplace, creating stronger bonds within the departments.

At the same time, we do have informal discussions and meetings that allow team members to share their thoughts and opinions on various topics pertaining to the workplace and others.

Apart from these, our leaders have also taken part in the following activities:

  • Celebrating team members who perform well and recognise those who have won internal and external awards.
  • Organising thematic events such as Sports' Month, Women's Day, and other festive activities.
  • Collaborating with other departments to create a better working relationship among the employees.

Q How is the fund managed – in terms of the inflow as well as fair allocation of the outflow among all the different departmental heads?

Business Leaders will make provisions each year on welfare/engagement initiatives and these items are deliberated during budget sessions. The HR team will provide the necessary guideline and parameters before they submit the items for budgeting purposes.

Q What have both the leaders’ and employees' response been towards this move?

It is very well received. The business leaders and our other employees have greatly benefitted from the various engagements that allows them to connect beyond the regular working capacity.

Additionally, the business leaders and other employees are often suggesting more ways to utilise the EEF, to bring variety to the ways they can collaborate inside and outside of the workplace.

HR and employee trends in the era of a ‘new normal’

Q The rise of remote working has undoubtedly changed the way workplaces function – how has your journey at Sime Darby Property impacted your outlook towards future workforce models?

Honestly, we are adjusting to the new normal, specifically the remote working arrangement. Nevertheless, it is a necessary move to ensure the safety of not just our employees, but their families and the community at large.

Remote working has the potential to be a viable workforce model where applicable. This, of course, highly depends on the transparency of the employees in delivering their work commitments and not compromising the operation's efficiency. With this in mind, we at Sime Darby Property have introduced the Resumption of Work Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for flexible working arrangements at the office and have regular communication and engagement with our employees who work from home.

Based on the current pandemic, the future workforce models are already being implemented now. There is still room for improvement, and we must keep tweaking the models to best fit our working environment and the organisation's vision and goals.

Q Given that HR is facing one of its greatest challenges now – what do you think the future holds for HR going forward?

We must align and focus on value-added functions, continue to innovate, evolve, upgrade and scale future-fit skills/competencies to stay ahead. As an organisation, we must be agile and nimble in responding to global shifts.

Communication is key. Working in tandem with the corporate communications department, we must ensure that our people receive transparent and honest news about the on-goings within the organisation.

The pandemic has taught us that a global crisis can happen at any time and the HR team is crucial in deploying best practises for the benefit of the employees. HR remains responsible in maintaining the best interest of the employees which, in turn, benefits all stakeholders and the organisation as a whole.

It won’t be easy, but we will persevere together. We hope to be sustainable for generations to come and continue to enrich the lives of our communities at large.

Pn. Nurashikhin as a leader

Q You bring with you about 25 years of experience leading in all key aspects of the HR spectrum. What drew you to the profession in the first place?

HR is a platform where I can make positive contributions to not just the organisation but more importantly, to the people within. It provides a great avenue for me to be involved in various aspects of the organisation while maintaining the best interest of all employees.

It's a great profession that allows you to be compassionate, persistent, determined, empathetic, and visionary all at once. You are involved in the growth of the people who directly affect the growth of the organisation. It really is a wonderful profession that has brought me so much joy and job satisfaction, but of course it has its own set of challenges as well.

You have to know where to draw the line to maintain the balance between doing what is right for the company versus what is right for the employees. It's a thin line but that is where one's work experience and the support of a strong HR team kick into practise. I am lucky to have both at Sime Darby Property.

Q Having been in the function for so long, how do you keep things 'exciting' and 'fresh'?

Every day brings a new set of challenges and opportunities, so no two days at Sime Darby Property are the same. Keeping things fresh and exciting starts with your own mindset and I come to work knowing that there is always something different to greet me that day.

Also, working with a passionate group of people who bring great energy to the team is a bonus. They are always coming up with new ways to bring excitement to not just the department but the entire organisation as well. It is really important to surround yourself with team members who share the same goals and passions workwise.

Q What is one myth about HR you'd like to bust?

That it is a boring profession made up of boring people! That myth is so far from the truth. I work with some of the most exciting people with great minds and fun attitudes.

There are so many activities that go on within an organisation that it is impossible to be bored when working in HR. You must be agile and flexible in dealing with the many people who make up the organisation, and you will also definitely meet some very interesting characters during your tenure.


Photo / Provided

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