Vital Stats: Formerly the country head of human resources at Citi Singapore, Evangeline Chua has more than 20 years of diverse regional experience in human resource management and business operations within the banking and property sectors.
Now the chief people officer at GovTech, she is all about empowering the organisation’s 1800-strong workforce through a culture of collaboration and experimentation as she develops the HR strategy and mission to dovetail with the organisation’s business strategy.
Q How would you describe the HR philosophy at GovTech in general?
GovTech aims to deliver digital services to develop Singapore into a Smart Nation. GovTech advocates innovative technology to shape the way business is done in the government and be a trusted leader in the technology space.
To live up to our mission, where people are concerned, it is imperative to build and integrate multi-disciplinary capabilities. We want to empower people through a culture of collaboration and experimentation.
Understanding the drivers that set our priorities, we will formulate key initiatives to nurture talent within GovTech and create opportunities to collaborate within the industry. It enables us to raise the quality of our talent and create a network for cross collaboration and experimentation.
We aim to empower our people with possibilities. That could mean job rotation, and the exposure to a rich suite of talent development programmes or providing them a with flexible platform to volunteer for projects that are of interest to them.
We also create various platforms for exchanges within the industry to avoid being too inward looking, and these help us to keep tab of what’s happening in the market and offer our employees opportunities to collaborate with various industry players.
Q From Temasek International to GovTech, you’ve led the HR functions of government-related bodies during your recent career. What is the main difference compared with private firms?
People are important, they are our most critical asset. I do believe that those who join the public sector have a burning passion to do greater good. It’s not about how much money you make, it’s really about serving the country and helping people. However, I would say it is all in the mindset. If you want to find a difference, you’ll definitely find that difference.
With any organisation, you have to socialise your ideas. For instance, when I was with Citi, I had to socialise with the region. Similarly, here at GovTech, I have to socialise with the Public Service Division (PSD) to seed ideas. At the core of it, it’s the mentality behind it.
I do believe that those who join the public sector have a burning passion to do greater good.
Q Tell us more about your campaign to “empower people with possibilities”.
We have a very committed team of 1,800; coupled with progressive HR and development programmes for our workforce.
Over the last three years, we have developed a strong branding. First with Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) as an employer of choice, and now GovTech. GovTech is still at its infancy given that we were only incorporated on 1 October 2016.
Together with the team, we have scanned the threats and gaps in our People and Organisation Strategy and have designed a three-year roadmap to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us.
Far too often we are so buried with day-to-day tasks that we lose sight of building the workforce of the future. In the world of technology where change is constant, we have to constantly keep up with the evolution and ensure that our workforce is equipped with the technical capabilities to perform their jobs. Our workforce must also see the impetus to remain skilled and stay resilient. The motivation must come from within.
At GovTech, we take pride in our values that were co-created with our staff: ABC - Agile, Bold, and Collaborative. We have recently launched the “Innovation Movement”. The idea is that innovation begins with me, not the organisation. I always believe that we have to empower our people to own their problem statement and feel the need to disrupt current processes and renew programmes and projects.
We are encouraging employees to deposit their problem statement or crowdsource ideas in the portal and anyone who has encountered similar problems can chip in with a proven solution or come together to champion the cause. Empowering our people to own and resolve their problems, rather than simply relying on top-down instructions is always better. That is, to teach everyone how to fish rather than fish for them. We start small and let it evolve over time.
We also believe in co-creation with the workforce, with the business, and with the leaders. You can’t sit in the ivory tower and implement policies. As HR, you’re the employee’s advocate and it is equally important to maintain a good relationship with the union. We leverage on our union to be our ears on the ground. Once, we were discussing the topic of granting leave for parents whose kids are entering Primary One. The union had brought this up to us and we implemented it after a discussion with the committee. We have to be nimble and flexible to address needs. If a policy doesn’t serve any purpose, it must be reviewed or eliminated.
At GovTech, we take pride in our values that were co-created with our staff: ABC - Agile, Bold, and Collaborative.
Q What do you tell your stakeholders to promote this value proposition?
Most talent would prefer to join the unicorns and start-ups because they’re sexy, with avant-garde compensation and benefits. So how do we compete in this space?
This is precisely why I joined GovTech. Being the key technology agency for the nation is really appealing. The world is going digital, and it is exciting to be part of the team that delivers the Smart Nation mandate.
GovTech is progressive and rightfully so as we cannot afford to be complacent in this digital economy. Singapore has been mentioned or complimented in global publications for being an urban innovation hub and one of the world’s leading smart cities. We can certainly learn from others, and we continue to do so through exchanges with leading technology organisations. GovTech is a learning organisation and through such exchanges, our workforce learns from the best. Although we are a statutory board, the culture is no different from many private organisations I have worked in.
It is outcome driven and over the last three years, from IDA to now GovTech, in partnership with Ministries and agencies, we have delivered numerous programmes to improve how the government engages its citizens and businesses. A believer of co-creation, we gather new insights from data collected and create programmes that are impactful.
Q What are some of the immediate HR priorities for GovTech?
We have mapped out our three-year plan, starting with organisational redesign and workforce planning. We’re also going back to basics, looking at operating models, technical and leadership competencies and optimising the organisation construct.
In essence, 2017 is about recalibrating our expectations moving forward. GovTech is also promoting transparency as we work on breaking down silos. With our ABC values, culture building plays a huge part and our policies have to reflect these values.
For instance, 60% of our population are deployed to work in the Ministries. On the other hand, we have a group of HQ staff or centre of excellence (CentEx) teams who are the specialists in app development, infrastructure, data science, or cybersecurity.
How do we bridge and leverage on the strengths of every department and ensure that teams collaborate and work together to deliver our agenda and create a beautiful employee experience? That’s our challenge! Whoever we hire - regardless of the tenure - we need to think about how to enrich their experience.
Even when they do leave GovTech, it’s not a complete loss to them as they continue to contribute to the nation with their new employer. 2017 will also see us analysing the competency framework to meet current and future needs. Essentially I have conveyed this to my team in February this year and again in May, to ensure we’re aligned. Each team had also created a three-year work plan to dovetail against this high level strategy. With everybody on board, we aligned our plans at unit level and the tyres have hit the road. For 2018, our goals are all about collaboration and succession planning.
Whoever we hire - regardless of the tenure - we need to think about how to enrich their experience.
Plus, every organisation has silos. How do we drive collaborative leadership? Recognising it and figuring out how to infuse it in our operating models so people see the need to work with each other.
Building the leadership pipeline and having a good succession planning are critical in ensuring sustainability. The question is how do we do this?
Moreover, selecting a successor is not about the appointment of people in a box, or planning on paper. It is also making sure that successors we have identified are ready for the role in the given number of years.
For the third year in 2019, we are looking at creating an empowered workforce. As the world is moving towards a gig economy, is it possible for us to have a fluid workforce where we assemble members with diverse skillsets to deliver on programmes/projects and disband upon completion?
Hence having an empowered and well networked workforce lays the foundation and it is a fundamental shift from the current structure we have in place. To make sure we stay on top of our game, GovTech has to continue to harness and deepen our workforce technical expertise. Ultimately, this leads to the multi-disciplinary capability we are working towards.
Q With succession planning being a key goal for next year, what are the key steps on finding the ideal successors?
We have fairly targeted programmes for different levels in terms of talent development programmes. We mapped out the DNA required to make them successful in the role. It’s a very important process straight from the assessment to the development of the talent. The list of successors is recalibrated annually as the needs of the organisation change over time.
Q What was the business need behind this three-year plan?
It comes down to addressing the strategic objectives where we want to be a trusted technology leader and transformative organisation. To ensure that we are moving in tandem with the market, we have invited external directors to be part of the People Matters and Remuneration Committee (PMRC).
Q How’s the progress so far?
We are currently big on capability building. We are working on how to engage the industry to set up a technical advisory body that can help bring fresh perspective from the market. One example would be the operating model, CentEx, where the specialists are there to continue building organisation capability, through a community of practise, and a career roadmap - that is the CentEx model we’re trying to refine right now.
As for capability building, it is absolutely critical to get this right so that our employees and workforce fully understand their competencies and where their proficiency and inadequacies are.
Q How do you measure the success of these programmes?
The people and organisation (P&O) group is the owner of two out of five of our corporate KPIs. This demonstrates that the management understands that we are in the people business and recognises the importance of P&O. We have set measurable outcomes to measure the success.
Q With GovTech being a relatively new establishment, did you have a legacy system to follow or did you need to start afresh?
What served well in the past may not be able to predict the success of the future.
With GovTech being so new, I’m excited to ride on the journey. I’m looking forward to shape its policies and align our plan to suit the purpose. Even with our three-year plan, I guarantee you that there will be some refinements in the next year – everything needs to be agile.
What served well in the past may not be able to predict the success of the future.
Q Moving onto the talent pool, how do you think Singapore fares in being a Smart Nation?
There is some level of structural unemployment in the market. At the same time, a lot of organisations are chasing after new skills through tech challenges, or hackathons, and everyone strives to be ahead of the game. However, most organisations are vying for the same pool of talent. Because it’s so competitive, we have ensure that our branding and value proposition is attractive enough for the right talent to join us.
Q What can HR do without?
The HR role has evolved. I detest it when programme organisers constantly ask “If HR can be a strategic partner or whether we deserve a seat at the table.” I have said in various forums that HR is probably the only function that has been asked this question. You don’t ask this question to the CFOs if they deserve that seat. My take here is you have to stop asking, and just deliver it.
I also noticed that organisations are asking for business partners who are strategic - more than just being transactional. The role of HR has transformed owing to the demand of business leaders, and we have to live up to it otherwise, we too will become obsolete.
Other than that, HR shouldn’t act as the“police”. Instead of saying “no” as the immediate answer, we should explore ways on how our policies can be agile to fit the different needs. Whilst GovTech delivers the “Moment of Life” for our citizens and business, we aim to deliver “Moment of Life” for our employees too.
Art direction / Mohd Ashraf
Photography / Noor Hazmee (Prologue Pictures)
Makeup and hair / MICHMAKEOVER (Using Shu Uemura, and hair by Style You Pretty Bed Head by Tigi)