From a 6-typist support center to a global KPO player

Vital statistics: Eric Riego de Dios helped jumpstart the business process outsourcing industry (KPO) in the Philippines, and in the last three years helped build Baker McKenzie’s initial outsourcing hub in Manila to a major international shared services centre that now provides business support to the Firm’s offices in other countries. His expertise covers the entire spectrum of HR such as HR analytics, talent acquisition and retention, learning and training, organizational development, and employee management. Previous to immersing himself in KPO, he has been involved with the technology, logistics, and banking and finance industries.

Q Baker McKenzie is a pioneer in the KPO industry, particularly in shared services. That was a major bet for the Firm, which on hindsight, is a really good call. Why was Manila chosen when the Philippines was just a dot in the outsourcing landscape at that time?

Choosing Manila to establish our first Global Shared Services was a considered move by the Firm. There are many great business locations, but what has worked to our advantage is the deep pool of able talent. There is a steady flow of educated workforce -- with good functional English skills --that the school system pours into Philippine industries annually. With 77 offices worldwide, one of Baker McKenzie’s most important client service goals is to deliver high quality service to the global Firm.

What we do in Manila helps raise the Firm’s work quality and performance efficiency all over the world. GSM now forms part of a network of highly integrated business services teams, with colleagues now in Belfast and Chicago – we are able to collaborate and share best practice better than ever before.

Q How has being an industry pioneer benefited the company in terms of talent acquisition and talent management?

Being an industry pioneer certainly provided GSM the first mover advantage with regard to talent acquisition. However, it is important to continue to nurture the talent internally by providing them with development opportunities to help them cater to the ever evolving needs of the Firm and its clients. For this reason we have intensified our learning and development initiatives throughout the years and have adopted the value of Agility as one of the unique qualities that will make GSM more successful in the years ahead.

Q Global Services Manila (GSM) started in 2000 with six typists, who prepared documents for Baker McKenzie’s operations in Asia Pacific. Now it provides a wide range of client and internal support functions to your offices worldwide. How have the services provided by Manila grown in terms of number of functions and complexity of work?

Demand is driven by internal efficiencies that we are able to pass on to the Firm's clients. Our clients clamor for faster and commercially sound responses, continuing innovation, higher levels of legal and business knowledge and greater value for money. Their expectations have soared since the 2008 financial crisis, and this trend is likely to continue.

For GSM, what started as a network monitoring solution back in 2001 morphed into an operations centre which now employs database administrators, developers, and business analysts, providing full solution lifecycle support to over 60 business systems. It was our Document Support -- typing documents – which paved the way for full creative service offerings, producing multimedia presentations that support business proposals in innovative ways. Similarly our Knowledge Libraries maintenance led to a full spectrum knowledge management team, with content support specialists and professional support lawyers.

What we do in Manila helps raise the Firm’s work quality and performance efficiency all over the world.

Q Last year, the company invested in a 1,000-seat hub in BGC, with room for growth. How does the company plan to expand?

We recently created the SAP centre of excellence, which started with team members who were initially in support roles, and are now managing project work as well. Similarly, we have strengthened our information security team to provide greater protection to our systems and content across the globe. We're currently fortifying and expanding our Knowledge Management offerings, and have also started implementing HR analytics. At GSM we move in response to the ever changing needs of our clients, we can do this because we stay nimble, we remain prepared, and we anticipate the needs of our clients and partners – bringing us back to our value of Agility.

Q GMS has contributed a number of innovations to the company, including developing Baker McKenzie’s digital intellectual property portfolio management system, creating a highly-awarded map app for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, and building research indexes that compile different legal codes around the world. What are the factors that contribute to this culture of innovation at GSM?

What is key is the continued development of our people. Our leaders and managers know that this is their main job... that their success is based on their team's success. We have a great Learning and Development team with certified trainers that cover the full spectrum of our development needs: from technical skills, to communications, leadership, and more. We give our people exposure to our executives virtually and in person when they visit, and they discuss topics such as leadership, innovation, and relationship building.

We transformed our office space to be more open and to accommodate more common areas to foster greater collaboration and exchange of ideas.

We de-emphasised time and emphasized results: we promote an environment based on trust and as such eliminated time clocks. We take quality very seriously, and we're certifying every employee as a Lean Six Sigma practitioner. And we see results. Our people are engaged and productive, despite not clocking their time.

Q Would you say it is easier to hire and keep people in a shared services environment where they are a part of the same company than in an outsourcing firm where they serve multiple clients?

Each setup has its advantages and disadvantages. Commercial outsourcing companies might hire employees in bulk with common core skills, however, in our case, we look for quality in whichever form it comes. Our employees vary in skill sets, tenure, and background, but we all feel part of one Firm when we come in to work

Q How competitive are you in terms of compensation and benefits? How do you differentiate yourself versus KPO firms and other shared services centers?

Each company is entitled to create a compensation philosophy that is aligned with its overall strategy. In GSM's case, the compensation philosophy is to pay competitively, to pay for performance, and to pay with strong differentiation. Our target market comparators are similarly situated organisations: global captive shared services. We make sure that we regularly review this target group to ensure the validity of our market positioning which is to be at par if not better than our target market group comparators. We are one of the pioneers in the KPO-Shared Services sector to adopt a retirement program, and we are among the few who have redesigned their healthcare and leave benefits to be more inclusive and relevant to our current population.

Q Can you tell us more about your bAgile program? When was this introduced and what has been the impact on employees?

The bAgile program was globally launched in 2016 in response to one of the findings of our global internal engagement survey. bAgile is the Firm's flexible working program that provides work agility in four facets: Where we work (remote working), When we work (alternative hours), How much we work (less than full-time), and Whether we work (time off). This program was warmly received by our professionals who operate in a borderless and time-zone-less organisation. Though we have to be mindful of local regulatory requirements, some GSM teams have implemented certain facets of the program.

For example, the Global Intellectual Property Services Center (GIPSC) has implemented the "when you work" facet which enabled them to revise shift patterns to allow staff to travel at more convenient times. These flexible start times empowered them to navigate through Manila’s traffic problems. They have also reduced the size of their graveyard shifts to 50% without impacting upon client service and responsiveness. The combination of these changes has led to improved morale across the team and has resulted in even greater productivity!

We de-emphasised time and emphasised results: we promote an environment based on trust and as such eliminated time clocks.

Q You've done away with performance ratings in your annual appraisals. What's the rationale behind this and how has this affected morale and productivity?

The culture at Baker McKenzie is based on collaboration and friendship. There seems to be an inherent conflict when an organisation's performance system is based on comparing people and teams and deciding who should be rated higher or ranked better. Sometimes, this creates an atmosphere of undue competition and suspicion. As GSM moves into a people-centric-leadership style, the focus is no longer on past performance but on continuing discussions that foster partnership towards a person's development which we hope would add greater value to the team and to the overall organisation. This is our first year of implementation, and we are optimistic about the transformation that is happening and the benefits that employees and managers derive from real time and on-going feedback.

Q You've been with the Firm since 2014. What is it like working at Baker McKenzie and can you describe a typical day?

Since day one the Firm has provided me with many opportunities to be creative and try out new ways of doing things. I have always felt empowered to connect with my colleagues across the global network and have been encouraged to explore existing resources to find solutions that bring greater value. Given that Baker McKenzie operates beyond boundaries and time zones, my typical day is not normal in the sense that I don't have a very strict routine. My schedule and main tasks for any particular period really depend on the projects that I am currently working on. Since joining the Firm I’ve been involved with so many exciting and transformational projects, which have enabled me to connect and communicate with stakeholders around the business, working together to drive and sustain positive change.

Q What's it like to be part of the Global Talent senior leadership team at Baker McKenzie? How has that helped you personally and professionally?

To borrow a phrase, “it is both a privilege and a responsibility.” It is a privilege because I get to be exposed to the best HR minds of the Firm and their vast experiences from their respective functions and geographies, I get to be coached and mentored by Baker's Chief Global Talent Officer, Peter May, who is one of the kindest, most genuine persons I have ever met. I also get to be given the function to oversee talent technology and analytics; right now we are building the foundation of this centre of expertise in GSM.

On the other hand, it is a responsibility because I get to influence the overall Talent strategy of Baker, and my recommendations and decisions could have impact on the professional lives of thousands of people across the globe. Moreover, I have the responsibility to hone my craft and be the best version of myself in order to deliver the best value to my clients.

Q You've introduced a lot of culture-building initiatives, from updating HR policies and institutionalising a rewards and recognition program to updating the performance management system and launching several channels of communication. Which accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the growing confidence and trust of the GSM employees towards HR and the management. This trust drives us to further build initiatives that foster greater collaboration that I hope will create an upward spiral towards stronger partnership and dedication. We still have a long way to go but both employees and management believe that we are on the right track. It is also such an inspiration to us that other people and institutions have recognised our efforts. Last year, the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) recognised GSM for Excellence in Culture Creation.

Q You've worked in SGV, Amkor Technology, DHL, Citi, Globe Telecom, and IBM. How has your work history in those companies prepared you for your position at B&M?

I am certainly indebted to those companies and to the leaders that I have worked with. SGV, Amkor, and DHL have defined my foundational era as an HR practitioner because here I was privileged to be mentored by very strong and competent HR practitioners like Rose Katalbas and Ira Reyes. Citi gave me two of my greatest opportunities as an HR practitioner: first to set up Citi's shared services in Manila, and second to be a regional HR Head at a relatively early stage in my career (when I left Citi I was a senior regional generalist covering the Manila Centre and two corporate business units in the Asia Pacific region). Globe gave me the opportunity to immerse in change management and organisation development in a very fast-paced environment, while IBM matured me as an HR Partner and workforce analyst. All of these experiences enabled me to partner with leaders and global players at Baker McKenzie and deliver support and solutions to GSM and beyond.

I believe it is not necessarily a choice between business and people, it can be directly correlational. If I am able to establish these links and manage variables that would deliver optimal results for both people and business, then I would be profoundly exhilarated.

Q You have experience in all areas of HR - talent acquisition, total rewards, learning and organisational development, employee relations and engagement, HR analytics. Which are you most passionate about?

I am currently most passionate about HR Partnering and Talent Analytics. I believe the various facets of HR have wide aspects to cover and different values to deliver, but I am energised by being able to directly link people programs and business results. I believe it is not necessarily a choice between business and people, it can be directly correlational. If I am able to establish these links and manage variables that would deliver optimal results for both people and business, then I would be profoundly exhilarated.

Q You seem to have an affinity with Spain, with a Diploma in Spanish as a foreign language from Instituto Cervantes, postgraduate units and diplomas from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Can you share why?

I was inspired by our national hero, Jose Rizal, and wanted to read his writings in their original version. Also, when I was in high school, I was fascinated by the love poems of Pablo Neruda, and I thought it would be nice to read them in their original form. I developed an interest in Spanish songs especially those by Luis Miguel and Shakira, back when they were both very young artists. I also became interested in Spanish films especially those by Pedro Almodovar and Alejandro Amenabar. All of these interests fueled my personal love affair with Spain. I was fortunate to have been conferred a scholarship by the Spanish government to pursue graduate studies in Madrid, where I lived for more than a year, thereby allowing me to soak up the Spanish culture and attain a certain mastery of the Spanish language.

Q Just an interesting trivia, how are you related to the revolutionary leaders Emiliano Riego de Dios and Mariano Riego de Dios?

I am related to both men who are brothers, but directly descended from the line of Emiliano Riego de Dios. My grandfather, a war veteran who fought during World War Two, and my father were both born in Maragondon, Cavite -- the birthplace of the two generals and I actually I grew up admiring the statues of my ancestors erected at the Maragondon town plaza. They serve as my inspiration and I hope that some day I will also be able to be of service to our country, but preferably during times of peace.

Q Last question: for the next generation of HR professionals and leaders who are facing an ever changing workplace, what's your advice for them to differentiate themselves and become accomplished in their career?

Change will always be the constant. The key is to continually improve ourselves, be open and be on the lookout for new developments in the practice, and build new capabilities to usher in growth opportunities. Let us not wait for changes to happen, we ourselves can choose to introduce changes that would continue to make HR relevant and essential to business and its people. More than managing change, we can drive the change that defines a company's competitive advantage.