Bold HR for a changing environment

Vital stats: Geraldine Fraser is a HR executive with 25 years of experience. She spent 16 years with Diageo – the world’s leading premium drinks company – and recently joined FrieslandCampina, one of the world’s top five dairy companies. Her experience includes leading and building diverse teams to perform as one function that supports individual businesses and business leaders.

Q You joined FrieslandCampina in 2014. How has your journey been in the organisation so far?

These are exciting times for Asia; the region is still on a path of growth and expansion. My position as human resources director for FrieslandCampina Asia lends me the opportunity to contribute strategically to the overall growth of FrieslandCampina’s business.

The past two years have been nothing short of challenges and rewards as my team and I have had the task of engaging FrieslandCampina’s 13,000 employees in Asia, leading and supporting them through change and growth. Simultaneously, the regional HR function has been undergoing some changes. It’s been a full agenda.

Looking back, the two years have flown by quickly. While I could leverage my FMCG background, the dairy industry was an entirely new territory with a complex supply chain, and it was a learning experience for me.

Q You’ve worked as a HR leader across geographies. In your observations, what are some of the unique challenges that HR in this part of the world faces? What more can the function do in its capability to support businesses better?

In my opinion, HR has the challenge of navigating Asia’s unique position as a region that, while home to developing economies and markets, is at the forefront of the world’s growth. Finding the right talent – people who not only have local expertise, but also a global perspective – amid a tight (and not yet mature) labour market is a task that I think most HR departments find most challenging.

When I first arrived in Asia, it was not unusual for attrition rates in most countries to be upward of 20%. Although I see that coming down now (even if it’s still above 10% in many countries), there is still a need to engage with your employees every day. Where there is growth, there is choice.

Because of this, I feel there has been a subtle reluctance to invest too heavily in career development. Many people haven’t thought broadly about their career except in hierarchical and geographical terms, and organisations are changing too fast to think like that now.

Resourcing is always the murkiest area to determine clear accountabilities in talent management, and that is where there can be friction.

That is where HR has to step in – to provide the strategic advice and counsel to management teams and implement effective leadership or talent development programmes. It should also provide vehicles for employees to develop such that they are incentivised to stay. The HR function also needs to be bold to keep up with change. Changing organisations require new thinking and new solutions.

Though having worked in North America, Europe and now Asia, I still find there are more similarities than differences around people and what they want and deserve from their careers – a sense of purpose, to be recognised, motivated and fairly rewarded.

Q In your company, who owns the talent management process today? How closely does HR work with line managers or IT or marketing teams on this? Is such inter-departmental communication smooth or are there elements of friction?

The process itself is owned by HR. That is, the milestones, the tools, the “rules” and the technology. But everyone needs to take responsibility for his part in the execution. For example, the line manager needs to be accountable for his staff’s performance review; similarly, the employee needs to take his review seriously and prepare for it.

Resourcing is always the murkiest area to determine clear accountabilities in talent management, and that is where there can be friction. Open communication channels between all parties is absolutely crucial. It is also important to respect each other’s expertise in order to ensure that collaborative projects across functions and geographies run smoothly.

Q What are some of the biggest HR initiatives you are currently working on at FrieslandCampina? Are there any HR projects you’re particularly proud of or wish to highlight?

The deployment of HoRizon, which was a combined effort by HR, ICT, legal, finance and communications, is certainly a highlight. With HoRizon, we are putting an extra focus on local succession and pipeline depth – it’s always been a part of what we do, but by bringing it on the agenda more consistently and opening up the dialogue, we have been able to strengthen our pipeline.

Alongside this, we have also embarked on major change initiatives such as the establishment of a shared service centre in Malaysia, and a transformation programme in our supply chain. We have in the past year expanded into Myanmar, and we are now planning for a second new territory.

However, often at times, the achievements I am most proud of are probably the more understated ones: the appointment of an employee who turns out to be brilliant; or a conversation with an employee that makes a difference in his/her life – be it career or otherwise.

Geraldine Fraser, FrieslandCampina Asia


Q Could you summarise the company’s hiring philosophy and processes? How much does it rely on technology/social media to recruit?

Technology and social media have certainly influenced the way we manage talent and recruit today. There are now more avenues and platforms for us to reach out to potential talent – LinkedIn is a good example of how the concept of an online-based social network is impacting the recruitment process.

We are also working on a new portal for internal and external recruitment so candidates can search and contact us directly, and we can track the recruitment process more effectively. What hasn’t changed, however, is our approach to finding the best people for the job. We seek individuals who are high performers, have the “can-do” attitude, embody our organisation’s values and are accountable with a sense of responsibility for all that we undertake.

Q What impact has the Singapore government’s focus on hiring locals over foreigners had on FrieslandCampina’s recruiting policy?

One of the reasons we chose Singapore to locate our regional office was because of the talent base here. Having a strong pool of Singapore talent is part of our strategy.

However, due to the nature of our industry, we need to look outside of Singapore for people who have dairy expertise and knowledge. Thus, we need to be able to balance the needs of the company while maintaining and respecting national policies, and so far we have been able to achieve this.

Q What leadership development programmes does the firm have in place for a different strata of talent? What is your view of leadership development?

If you have the right leaders on board, more things are possible. As such, my view on leadership development is that it is worth every investment. However, it is a broad term and can mean everything from behavioural and functional competency to general aptitude. The more focus you can put into any leadership development programme the better.

To this end, we work with major business schools such as IMD and Ashridge on a range of programmes for existing leaders in the organisation. We have the “Future Leader” and “Academic Potential” schemes that support our next generation of leaders. We also have a mentoring faculty, and on-line access to development tools such as the 360 feedback.

Besides the formal elements, there has to be a support structure for individuals to grow. In this way, we ensure that talent is identified and groomed at every strata of our organisation.

We are working on a new portal for internal and external recruitment so candidates can search and contact us directly, and we can track the recruitment process more effectively.

This year our focus is on “nourishing leadership” which is essentially about creating constructive conversations that involve active listening and appreciative enquiry. This is really about creating a culture of development and coaching. To future embed this, leaders who have gone through the coaching programme will get the opportunity to put what they have learnt into practice by facilitating training workshops. Teaching enforces mastery.

Most multinationals develop their leadership processes around western norms or a global leadership model. We have local leadership heroes in Asia that don’t perfectly fit this model, and consequently are missing out on important development interventions. We have specifically developed an 18-month programme for our local leaders to leverage their strengths and accelerate their contribution. It’s going to be an exciting new journey for us that started in October 2016.

Q What is FrieslandCampina’s approach towards recruiting and retaining Millennials? Is the process any different from attracting other generations of talent?

With any new generation of workers, no less Millennials, we will see the rise of different expectations, skills and certainly the injection of new perspectives. The challenge for companies and HR therefore is to find ways to respond to employees’ aspirations by keeping an open mind, as well as being agile and flexible about the way we go about managing talent, recruitment and implementing overall HR policies. This may mean changing the ways or processes we are familiar with, which I enjoy.

We often conduct focus groups with Millennials to ensure that we remain relevant. We found that Millennials tend to be very well informed, and will challenge points of view with new data or information. They want to move faster. There is an app for everything! I think this is healthy for us and it’s great to embrace it.

Q Which skills do you think HR leaders who are leading large scale organisations such as FrieslandCampina should possess?

You must possess strategic skills as a HR leader and work with a long-time horizon. Having an inherent understanding of the business is critical, so you can connect your HR strategy with the long-term plans of the business. HR is a broad function, including resourcing, learning, executive coaching, compensation and reward, engagement, change management, HR information systems and operations. It is quite a challenge for someone to be an expert in all of these areas, but a HR leader needs to orchestrate all of these aspects within the framework of the strategy.

So they must have functional competence. HR leaders need to continuously hone their function skills, for example, understanding the power of big data, and seeking new insights and research on employee performance and behaviour. A calm temperament and clear judgment are also required – the decisions that come to a HR leader are normally the difficult ones! Being consistent is key.

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