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Snapshot: DRB-HICOM’s Izham Ab Wahab on the evolution of HR

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The role of HR has come a long way since decades ago. Today, HR even plays a critical role that interfaces the needs of the board, management and the employees in the pursuit of meeting business objectives, affirms DRB-HICOM’s Head of Group Human Capital, Izham Ab Wahab.

Q. Was HR always your first career choice, and what do you love most about it?

Honestly, HR was not my first choice; I got into it totally by chance. I graduated with a degree in economics with the intention to work as a banker, inspired by my late father. But 1998 was a period of economic downturn in Malaysia and jobs were not in abundance. So almost immediately after I graduated, when I got an opportunity to work with a HR consulting firm, I seized it.

This job was primarily in training, where I got to participate in a lot of training programmes. I learnt a lot and began to enjoy this function.

After about a year, one of our clients, a public-listed company, offered me a job in C&B administration, which I took up. Soon after, the HR manager assigned me to a broader role that included payroll. Here, I got to be involved in many things such as revisions to the salary structure and the benefits structure, giving me visibility to the management and the board.

At that point, I felt this was something that I enjoyed doing and I felt I was quite good at what I did. So not long after, I decided that HR was going to be my career path.

Even though back then HR was very traditional and administrative, I loved the job, the interaction with people and being able to assist them.

Q. Which of the areas in HR would you say you’re most passionate about?

At the moment, definitely talent management, because from my perspective, it is an essential component of the broader HR planning process. It is also a critical function that I’ve not seen working to the level I think it should be working.

Currently, most organisations manage talent in an identical manner. But to me, the best talent management is personalised. The way a company treats talent should vary according to their career needs, potential and capability. Most organisations do not do personalised talent management because it’s tough, complicated and requires a lot of time and effort. To borrow an analogy, managing talent is like managing your children – how you bring up and manage each of your children is different.

Another aspect of talent management that I think is quite overrated, but not quite there yet, is succession management. In most organisations, we always discuss who is going to be the next successor and how they are going to be prepared for the role. But what is missing in my view is a discussion on the incumbent.

For example, if the incumbent is actually performing according to the organisation’s expectations; how long the incumbent has worked in that particular role; whether the incumbent is a flight risk or not; and not to forget, facilitating the next career plan for the incumbent.

Q. You mentioned about HR no longer being an administrative role. What is the biggest change you’ve seen?

Nowadays, HR has a seat in management. At DRB-HICOM, HR participates in group strategic review sessions, where we understand the vision of the organisation, as well as the broad and specific business goals. In HR, we are expected to have a detailed knowledge of the workforce, so during such group reviews, we can anticipate the manpower requirements.

Currently, most organisations manage talent in an identical manner. But to me, the best talent management is personalised.

Q. Moving on, is there a mindset that you believe HR professionals should adopt?

I always go by this motto: We should serve at the pleasure of the board, management and employees. We need to be seen as protecting the interests of our stakeholders. This is where HR plays a critical role that interfaces the needs of the board, management and the employees in the pursuit of meeting business objectives.

To play this role effectively, HR professionals must have the capability to be compelling communicators, where we communicate the needs of the employees to the management, and at the same time, communicate the needs of the management to the employees.

Q. How can you create this fine balance?

Consistent messaging and consistent engagement with the employees is very important. Employees have their own sets of expectations from the company, but this does not mean you have to fulfil every single expectation, it is more about managing their expectations.

It is very important for us to, once in a while, let the employees know the problems the company is facing, and affirm the company is still progressing in one way or another.

We should serve at the pleasure of the board, management and employees. We need to be seen as protecting the interests of our stakeholders.

Q. Looking ahead, what do you see in the evolution of HR in the next five years?

It depends on how HR can capitalise on big data.

To take an example, big data doesn’t refer to statistics or descriptive reporting such as attrition rates, lead time to hire, etc, but more on a deep-dive set of information that is based on a robust set of data that can help businesses to understand key trends and root causes of manpower-related challenges and issues.

Having deep knowledge about HR-related data can help companies to devise HR policies, solutions and practices that can support cost optimisation, higher employee engagement, productivity and performance.

In order to achieve this, HR needs to institute some kind of discipline to start collecting more relevant workforce data and use the data to our own advantage. This ensures that we design policies and procedures that are data-driven and fit for purpose, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution.

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