In conversation with Lester Tan, Loganathan B., Chief Human Resources Officer, HABIB Group, talks about meeting the needs and expectations of a multigenerational workforce.
There is “never a dull moment” working for HABIB Group. With a diverse business portfolio that comprises Jewels Hotel, accessories favourite Pandora, pawn-broking unit Ar-Rahnu Express, and more, you can imagine how dynamic the talent pool is. With different skillsets, functions, and backgrounds being developed at both the front- and back-end, employees sure have a number of mobility & learning opportunities that they have the potential to benefit from.
This is exactly what our interviewee Loganathan B., CHRO, HABIB Group, is busy with. With a 1,200-strong workforce and a culture diverse in generations, addressing employees’ varying expectations and needs becomes a priority, especially when mapped against employees’ life stages.
He draws attention to the concept of workforce segmentation, coupled with generational engagement strategies, to “constantly understand employees’ different needs and life choices that link back to work expectations”.
“Identifying needs and having the end in mind are pivotal to working towards the [business] goals. Every department requires a different set of skills, expertise, and personality; HR professionals need to identify these through constant engagement and communication at all levels,” he shares.
“We have engaged and leveraged internally, pulse surveys, town halls, talent mapping, and assessments to understand employees’ expectations and needs.”
In this interview, he puts HABIB’s generational and talent strategy in the spotlight, and how it is constantly on the ball in understanding its generational workforce, and in leveraging their diverse expertise and experience to the Group’s advantage.
Q The way talent is managed has evolved as we know it. How much have talent management, talent retention, and talent density (a concept you’ve pioneered) been redefined in the HR space, and in the setting of HABIB Group?
HABIB Group creates value for talents. It aims to help them stay competitive in the industry, and enable their personal development through continued learning. For instance, to keep the ‘exceptional’ talents in our present workforce – while motivating the ‘satisfactory’ talents – we are continuously adding new skills to ensure they are ready to cope with the future challenges. In addition, we provide in-house training programmes to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Specific to the Group’s jewellery portfolio, talents are trained on the latest gold and diamond product knowledge, shared with the trends in the industry, and even the way of delivering a top-notch customer experience.
And such a move translated to results. When the pandemic hit the industry, most organisations – including HABIB – were not able to operate physically, but the talents were quickly adaptable to various initiatives and ideas to execute their work virtually. We were fortunate to have talents who became key opinion leaders for brands under the Group, and recommended products to customers across all social media platforms with the knowledge they had gained.
Q We understand that a majority of the talent core in HABIB Group is Generation Y/Z. Has the workforce always been this young and vibrant across the organisation’s 64-year history? If no, why that transformation, and how has it been so far?
Today, more than 86% of HABIB Group’s total workforce comprises Gen Y/Z talents. This is the talent core for the overall business. To give you an overview, about 1,200 of the young talents have contributed to the workforce in recent years, and have been given opportunities to develop their career in the Group.
Back in 2019, before the pandemic, we designed an in-house young talent programme called the ‘Graduate Excellence Management School’ trainee programme, and introduced it to candidates who are new to the working world.
To date, we have received positive feedback from the young talents and the heads of department, who are sharing that those talents are able to involve themselves in several important projects, thus bringing a positive impact to the Group. Hence, we are expecting to have more expansion of the programme.
Interestingly, we have not been this youthful across our 64-year business. Through expansion across lifestyle products and services, the Group managed to grow a mix of talent from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. And it has worked out – talents push each other to update themselves with the latest trends, and step out from the traditional way of managing their assignments.
Can you believe that some of our Baby Boomers are as good in utilising TikTok for work as our Gen Ys? Such latitude of creativity and transformation capitalises on the young talents to unleash their potential, while influencing the senior talents to adapt into the contemporary world. Together, it creates positive impact for the overall business.
Q Let’s zero in on the younger generation. They have varying opinions and needs about work arrangements and support, business priorities and goals, to name a few. What does your internal data show on their preferences? How is HABIB Group, and especially the HR function, handling that to ensure the organisation understands its workforce, and is on the same wavelength as them?
The younger generation workforce is for work-life harmony. They look forward to having a conducive work environment, and flexible work arrangements which are some of the few indicators and pulses that we have gathered. Not forgetting that with their strong tech abilities, they would prefer having the best technology available at the workplace.
On the work front, many have also shown leadership qualities – taking the lead in managing complex tasks and being able to support and drive results in a shorter span of time.
Overall, the Group has observed a vast difference in workplace expectations – even in the areas of compensation and benefits, and learning and development, for instance. Thus, it is crucial to have a talent management team to ensure that best practices are in place for long-term work relationships. Keeping that in mind, the Group’s HR function is still perfecting and enhancing accordingly.
Q More often than not, the roles at HABIB Group are stakeholder-facing and time-centric. As such, the idea of flexible work arrangements is harder to implement, despite the intrinsic benefits they can offer. How is the organisation facing the challenge, and what are some recommendations you can give to peers in similar industries?
One of our core values is that we must be flexible. We have been adopting flexibility in our work culture in terms of delivering results and working styles, which are clearly indicated to every newcomer. Especially when we are in the retail industry where things can change overnight, it is vital that those who join understand the work culture and the environment that they will be working in. Aside from the benefits we offer, the working environment and job satisfaction are key.
Being in retail, we are a very fast-moving company where results and accomplishments are seen quite immediately. Hence, employees are able to see if their goals are accomplished and this gives them job satisfaction. If goals are not achieved, we will make sure shortfalls are addressed for the next activity to be a success. This motivates the team.
As a diversified business organisation, flexibility is managed differently by business units as the operations are of a different nature altogether across our businesses. The focus should be on departments that can fully operate remotely, departments that must be at work physically, and departments that can work on hybrid mode. It all comes down to the level of automation and functionality provided.
Vital stats: Loganathan B. is a generalist with more than 20 years of hands-on experience leading HR initiatives, and has successfully designed and implemented policies and procedures, HR automation, compensation and benefits structures, and more. Since being founded in 1958, HABIB Group has been expanding into the space of retail, manufacturing, finance, and properties, with more than 90 points of sales, and 1,200 employees across Malaysia and Brunei.
Q Zooming out, we live in a time when data matters. The workforce, too, recognises its importance; citing that data skill sets – think literacy and analytics – can boost employment chances, and remuneration packages, for instance. Could you share about it in the context of the HABIB Group?
One of the Group’s strategies was to build a framework that not only recognises the gaps, but also builds on from those gaps and creates a positive impact on our talents. The framework built includes leveraging business analytics tools which enable the creation of a data-driven culture across the entire Group. This is something that has been proven to be of major importance, especially with all the operational shifts cause by the pandemic over the past year.
Q We understand you started your active transformation to a data-driven culture about three years ago – and are since in a position where you can channel data into your talent management processes. Talk us through the highs and lows of your data transformation journey, and where you currently stand?
We first identified the objectives, goals, and expectations before achieving various milestones. This was then supplemented with five steps of building a data-driven culture:
- Review and identify the opportunity.
- Analyse and design the said opportunity to fit into the current organisation’s structure.
- Test and experiment the new process and initiatives.
- Prove the potential outcomes and the value they bring to the organisation.
- Execute the data transformation plan.
With supporting facts and data at hand, it then simplifies the processes for the HR function to decide on a concrete talent management strategy, driven by evidence-based actions.
For instance, we discovered that more than 90% of the Group’s talents are satisfied with the organisation’s engagement activities, and 85% of them are interested to learn new skills and knowledge. This is how we identified that our main focus will be on planning an effective talent management strategy. A successful data transformation journey involves both employees and HR personnel in building sustainable practices.
We are currently at the stage of test-and-experiment before fully implementing this framework. Since the organisation is evolving, its transformation journey will never end.
Q With the vast number of roles available in-house for talent to upskill and mobilise their careers, we understand you’re kick-starting a level mapping process that will ensure greater mobility across your several business units. Give us a sneak peek into your plans, which include identifying gaps and the skillsets required, and the training academy processes underway to support that.
We are an organisation that has been operating from a manual process to technology driven/enhanced environment, and also has a multigenerational workforce. So, besides having TNA and pulse checks in place, we have to manage business expectations and merge them with future demands, which has created huge gaps that need to be addressed.
On that note, a full cycle of our Academy (called HABIB Learning) is in place, establishing proper education in a practical foundation, and addressing the exact pointers for optimal operations. We also have plans to execute skills development, segmented by technical versus soft skills, product skills, and more.
Q There’s a report released ‘that defines the’ rules of modern work. The first rule – bring your own motivation – resonated with us. We live in a turbulent period with economy, geopolitics, climate change, and whatnot. Burnout is ever more present, especially in the younger generation. How true is this rule for you?
It is 100% true. Leaders and employees must possess some motivational traits. Leaders, especially, should be seen as all-motivated, in order for them to drive the team to the fullest capability. A good manager/leader should be equipped not only with subject matter expertise, but also with knowledge of motivation for his/her team. In order to do so, he/she must know their team; understanding each individual in their department will give him/her a good gauge of his/her needs and what drives them. Passion is always the first rule (of leadership and motivation).
Q With your experience working with the younger generation, could you also share what works – and doesn’t – with them?
It is very important for the younger generation to be acknowledged that their work has contributed to something meaningful. Hence, giving them the opportunity to explore new projects which can be measured and contribute to sustainability has proven to motivate them and increase productivity and efficiency. The drawback only lies in micromanaging them. The younger generation is very flexible, prefers results’ expectations upfront, and not to be micromanaged.
Q As we conclude the interview, we shift our focus to HR professionals. What are some key skills you believe HR will need to possess in order to be relevant for the future?
HR leaders and their entire department must be aligned with the business, and in order to gain that confidence, HR must support the employees, and at the same time, represent the company. In today’s HR landscape which is not only about managing people, HR professionals must acquire the following set of skills additional to the general HR spectrum skill set: coaching and communications skills, financial and analytical skills, and marketing skills.
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This article first appeared as the cover story in the Q2 edition of Human Resources Online's Southeast Asia e-magazine. View a copy of the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and more!