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It was 24 years ago that Irene Goh, senior manager – regional strategic HR, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Asia, made the decision to specialise in HR. To date, she enjoys seeing how the behaviour change in people can be the catalyst in HR transformation activities – here’s her story.
Q. How did you venture into HR?
After graduating with a business degree majoring in management, I had two plans. One was to start my own business. The other was to specialise in human resources to understand human behaviour. Humans are so complex and that was what caught my interest above any challenging job/project assigned.
I started my first job as a management trainee in a retail firm where a customer-oriented focus was the top priority. From there I got a glimpse of how much hard work front line service staff had to put in and the various experiences they go through. This has enabled me to put myself in their shoes when I formulate HR strategy and policy in my HR career.
I was very lucky to have an opportunity to start the first step of my HR journey in handling overall HR functions with a manufacturing industry subsidiary where I picked up my experiences across HR.
Over 24 years of working in the HR function, I have taken on various roles. These have ranged from pioneering HR in new companies, regional/ HR operations, corporate HR planning and strategising, and the HR transformation and change management role I’m currently in.
I don’t get bored in my role as I work with a diverse group of people from different cultures and backgrounds. I still enjoy seeing how the behaviour change in people can be the catalyst/change agent in our HR transformation activities at Konica Minolta Business Solutions Asia.
Q. What were the most innovative HR campaigns you’ve worked on and what was your biggest learning?
The campaign I found the most innovative was consolidating the HR policies and practices in the various provinces in China to align them to the regional HQ. It was a very precious experience for me in understanding China’s employment law, HR policies and practices which differ from province to province, and how the formulation of policies depended on the interpretation of the policy holder on the same employment law change.
Even though I am bilingual, I found the vocabulary used too technical. Hence, I had to brush up on my conversational Mandarin for that project.
My biggest learning from that was how challenging it was to correct inappropriate practices which had been used for years and put them on the right track.
Q. Have you had a mentor through your career, and what advice have they shared with you?
I had to learn the hard way – on the job. I started to head an HR department at the age of 27 and had to learn from various bosses and colleagues that I worked with. Thereafter, I had to build up my own management style, tapping on my beliefs and with a mind to put the company’s interest before my own.
I manage results by setting proper KPIs, measurable targets and timelines, rather than through face time in the office.
Q. Is there a mentality that you believe HR professionals should do away with?
I believe a “one-size-fits-all” policy is not feasible. There is a need to have a certain degree of flexibility on a case by case basis since different generations of employees have different needs based on their stage of life. I believe HR professionals should not assume and manage employees using a standard way as each of them come with their own unique personality and needs.
Q. Do you believe the concept of a work-life balance is feasible in today’s world?
I manage results by setting proper KPIs, measurable targets and timelines, rather than through face time in the office. As such, I always encourage my staff to prioritise their work and finish up urgent tasks first, and try not to stay back after office hours. I tell them they should go home, have a good rest, spend time with their family and come back with a fresh mind to start the next day.
I feel that it is only when the family is well taken care of that we can concentrate well on our daily work. However, I understand that as we move up in the management role, many planning activities with creative ideas/ strategies are done outside of office environment and hours.
Q. When coming up with innovative HR practices, what are the things HR directors should take note of?
The three things I think HR directors should take note of are: practicability with some flexibility; a plan–do–check–act (PDCA) process in place for continuous improvement; and perseverance on change management activities for the good of the company.
Q. In your view, is there a persistent problem that HR faces which the industry must tackle immediately?
One of the persistent problems that HR faces are the fast changes required to adapt to the dynamic business environment. The business climate changes so fast that the company requires new types of skills from the employees in order to move forward, such as current trends on utilising artificial intelligence and IT expertise in business areas.
However, the mismatch or lack of supply of required experts internally and externally causes additional talent competition in the market, creating high costs for HR to get the required expertise. As such, business leaders face many operational issues in getting the right talent, at the right time, and at the right cost, to meet the changing business needs in a timely way to compete in the market.
In addition, at a time when the business is moving into a new business area, HR is also facing a big challenge in redeploying and reskilling existing staff to meet operational requirements.
It is important to keep oneself updated on business trends, work closely as strategic HR business partners with business leaders, proactively act on business implications on HR, and partner with leaders on human capital investment (and their short-term financial implication).
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