Having grown from an HR expert to an expert manager, to a people manager, and now as a people/organisation leader, Lydia Low, Acting CHRO, Digi Telecommunications, shares her experience.
HR leaders bridge the gap between the company and its people. As such, it is important to ask questions such as how you can strategically plan and invest in human resources to align to your business ambitions.
With almost two decades of experience at Digi Telecommunications, no two days are the same for Lydia Low, Acting Chief Human Resource Officer. Read on as she shares her experience with HRO's Arina Sofiah, from digitalising the HR process, to her advice on executing unfavourable decisions - all in a day's work for an HR leader.
Q Having been in Digi (or Telenor) for over 16 years, what do you love most about the experiences you’ve had in your HR career, and what has been your most memorable milestone with the company?
There are too many memorable experiences and milestones, it isn’t easy to pick one! As a HR professional, you bridge the gap between the company and its people. One of the things I love doing is having a hand in making Digi a place where talents can grow and thrive.
When I joined in 2006, I felt elated to be part of an organisation known for being one of the pioneers in the country for our progressiveness. From the very start, Digi has always believed in building an open, inclusive culture that empowers collaboration — this is evident from how we have built Digi HQ, or D’House as we call it, to be an open office concept.
Fast forward to today, Digi is still committed in enabling our employees, also known as Digizens, to rise to their full potential. This is further solidified through our ‘Freedom to Inspire the Next’ employer brand promise. We believe that every Digizen plays an important role in championing the next generation of connectivity solutions for Malaysians. So, we must have an open, collaborative space where Digizens have equal opportunity to bring their diverse perspective, skillsets, and experiences to the table. This will enable them to contribute their best in their respective roles and help us serve our customers better.
I’m proud of our diverse and inclusive (D&I) culture – and even prouder that our D&I efforts have been recognised both internally within the Telenor Group and externally through the many awards we have received over the years.
It is because we believe in our own talent that I have had the opportunities to try new things, including taking up the VP role in Leadership & Succession Planning at Telenor Asia back in 2020 and now back in Digi as Acting CHRO. And my story isn’t unique. So many other Digizens have experienced career growth in the company!
Q Could you share the talent approaches or challenges that are unique to this sector?
The telco sector is one of the fastest moving industries in the market. This means that the skills and talents needed to meet this demand are also constantly evolving. We are moving towards becoming a telco-tech company, not just a telco operator. Hence our approach to talent recruitment has become even more competitive because we are looking for talents with the right digital skills.
That is why it is important to keep up with the talent landscape – be it by observing the industry trends of talent acquisition or by listening to Digizens’ needs. We want to create an environment that motivates and inspires them to stay and continue to grow individually and together as an organisation.
Q Having been appointed Acting CHRO for Digi since May 2022, what does a typical day in your life look like?
The HR teams are empowered to run day-to-day operations, so that enables me to prioritise my time on strengthening relationships with both internal and external stakeholders, as well as assimilating myself to the needs of the business, as I take part in making key strategic decisions for the company alongside Digi’s management team.
My return to Digi also coincided with Digizens’ return to the office at 100% capacity, after rotating between WFH/WFO throughout the pandemic. So as an organisation, we have been busy running various programmes and activities internally and externally, to reconnect with each other and engage with different market segments and stakeholders.
So, while my days are always packed, and no two days are the same – the one constant thing that I have been experiencing is the buzz and energy emanating from Digizens! It’s inspiring and gets me going.
Q In your current role, having grown through the ranks, how does this role prepare you to take on further C-suite roles in the organisation?
Stepping into a C-level role will give you exposure to key stakeholder management: Digi management, shareholders, the board of directors, Telenor Group, customers and employees, which gives you insights to high-level management and business decision making. This is a necessary and valuable experience for any C-suite role.
Taking on other C-suites role will also require knowledge of the respective functions, therefore anyone who has the ambition to move to other C-suite roles will also need to gain exposure or experience in the relevant functional and business environment. I believe this experience can be built early on in the career through cross-exposure.
At Digi, we have an avenue for Digizens to transfer within departments and gain cross-functional business exposure to prepare them for the next step in their careers. It is regardless of whether you are in a junior position with an interest to explore other roles or a manager who is up for a career change. You need to take the initiative to explore and familiarise yourself with what the role entails to ensure a smoother transition.
Q Digi has recently kicked off the #YellowHome campaign to welcome staff back to the office. How did you ensure this transition kept sight of what’s really important to both the business and the employees, be it in person or behind the screen?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the workplace, fundamentally changing the way organisations work and operate. Investing in digital technologies and having the right tools and apps have helped us to move to remote working smoothly while staying connected with employees throughout the pandemic. After adapting to this new way of working for two years, we understand it would not be easy for employees to return to office immediately in full capacity, but we also see the value of bringing people back together.
We ran various on-ground activities, in adherence to stringent safety measures, as part of the #YellowHome campaign to motivate and excite Digizens as they return to work in the office. More importantly, we had to refresh our way of work – for two months, we were in an exploratory phase where we experimented having flexible work arrangements as a means of support to our employees, especially working parents to manage work and family obligations, while keeping business priorities in mind. During this period, we empowered team leaders to find the best flexi-arrangement for respective teams. We also continuously gathered feedback from all Digizens at every level of the organisations, via Pulse Survey and other platforms, to identify what worked and what did not and to check-in on the wellbeing of our employees.
I’m happy to share that as an organisation, we have implemented our flexi way of work which enables Digizens to work from the office primarily, while having the options to work remotely 1-2 days a week.
Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you’ve worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?
The term innovation is typically associated with the introduction of a sexy new product or service, but to us, innovative ideas applied to everyday problems can have just as much business impact. To simply put it, we believe in exploring ways to do things differently and to do different things that improve the way we work and serve our customers.
One of the most impactful projects that comes to mind is our altHR app, a digital HR super-app that was introduced to enable more seamless workplace processes. The initial purpose of the app was to digitalise HR processes – i.e., reduce, if not eliminate, internal process inefficiencies so that Digizens can focus on building the business together.
In my role as a HR people manager then, under the guidance of our previous CHRO, I was able to support by testing out the app, rolling it out internally and providing feedback to further improve the functionalities of the app.
The positive reception of altHR by Digizens birthed a greater opportunity for altHR – we wanted to share how altHR has benefitted Digi, so we started offering it as a digital solution to SMEs to help them improve their business efficiency as well. This goes to show that HR can also be an innovative player in developing digital solutions to solve everyday problems.
Q On the other hand, what is the hardest decision you’ve had to make as a HR leader?
Decisions that impact employee sentiments and morale are always hard decisions to make as you are dealing with people, as everyone has their own thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and struggles.
It is important to understand that EQ and effective communications are very important when it comes to HR. When it comes to executing certain unfavourable decisions, it is important to be able to read the room and communicate with empathy yet remain firm in decision-making.
Q How has your leadership style evolved over the years? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned?
I have been able to evolve from a HR expert to an expert manager (managing HR professionals) to a people manager (managing groups of people within the organisation), and now as a people/organisation leader (managing stakeholders) because of the leaders and mentors who have given me the freedom to grow and innovate.
When leaders and mentors empower their fellow Digizens under them by providing a safe space for them to try and fail without judgement, these Digizens will grow to become leaders and mentors who will in turn inspire the next generation, and the generations to come.
Q With today’s rapidly evolving environment, what do you believe is the top way that HR can add value?
HR has to take on a strategic business partner role to create impact to the organisation. As a business partner, we need to know our organisation’s business goals and strategies, as well as the needs of the stakeholders that we serve.
Some questions I encourage the team to ask ourselves are: “What is Digi’s strategy and ambition for the year”, “How can we strategically plan and invest our human resources to align to these ambitions”, “What challenges are our business facing in meeting their goals, what are their priorities for the year”. Only by knowing these, can we then take a proactive approach to support them in terms of human resource.
If we do not have answers to these questions, we should go down to the ground and work closely with the people who are closest to the situation, such as the commercial team, the frontliners, the retail/market environment.
Only when we start thinking from the business perspective would we be able to identify the root of the problem and provide solutions, either by hiring the right talent or using the right HR tools and expertise.
HR also needs to prioritise employees’ needs and wellbeing so that they are able to contribute back to the organisation. When employees can develop and grow in their career, and at the same time have their physical and mental wellbeing be cared for, they are then able to bring their best self to work.
Q Is there a phrase/mentality that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?
Echoing the response from the previous question, never just say to your stakeholders, “this is a HR process” and leave it as that. We need to see things from the perspective of the business and ask ourselves as partners, “What is the problem statement, what solutions can we come up with to solve this business problem?”.
It is good to have processes in place because they are there for good governance and to provide clarity and transparency, but it should be a complement and never a roadblock for the business. So, we must always evolve and refresh our processes to be relevant to the business.
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