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Upskilling 101: Empathic communication is even more important for leaders today, says UOB Malaysia's HR head

Upskilling 101: Empathic communication is even more important for leaders today, says UOB Malaysia's HR head

In the new normal, EQ trumps IQ. It is no longer about the brilliance of a lone leader’s plan, but how a leader is able to draw out the best of the team and harness that into a collective goal, says Lai Tak Ming, Executive Director and Country Head of Human Resources, UOB Malaysia.

Q How has your learning strategy today evolved from what you’d planned out last year?

Like companies across the world, we have had to move our learning strategy from a live, in-person classroom training to a virtual platform. Although many of the competencies we wanted to develop remain largely the same, some competencies have become more critical and prominent. A lot more had to be done in the space of leadership development and communication as our employees worked from home, and became increasingly isolated from the team. Initially, we had to rely on off-the-shelf materials found on LinkedIn Learning to provide some just-in-time, bite-size training to support our people managers.

But today, as our internal and external training teams become more adept with conducting training virtually, and our employees become equally comfortable with working from home, we have been able to move most, if not all our training online. It has also given us an opportunity to collaborate with global education providers now as delivery is done online.

We have adapted and migrated from in-person training to conducting virtual instructor-led training. Our colleagues also have access to curated videos and online training materials which enables them to learn as and when they can. We aim to introduce some form of hybrid training (both in-person and virtual) in the near future. While the medium and channel of delivery has evolved, the principles of adult learning remain unchanged with a focus to be more participant-centric.

Q What are the hottest, function-agnostic skills in your industry today – skills that will never fail you?

I would say one of the most critical skills to have right now is strong empathic communication capabilities to keep the team engaged and productive.

In normal times, emotional intelligence is key to effective collaboration. All the more, during a crisis, and in the new normal, EQ trumps IQ. How can a leader continue to drive business whilst caring for the personal needs of the team members? How can a leader be a better role model for the team to remain resilient and focused in times of turbulence? It is no longer about the brilliance of a lone leader’s plan, but how a leader is able to draw out the best of the team and harness that into a collective goal.

Leaders today are being challenged to provide more support and development to their team than ever before, because personal/career growth is the 'hottest' thing today, especially in a VUCA world that we now live in.

Strategic capability is also at the heart of leadership. Being responsive to constant changes and adopting an agile way of working is imperative. Today more than ever, leaders need to engage and listen to all inputs to enable better decision making and strategy formulation. There is a need to build trust, empower people and let go of some traditional management practices.

Fundamental future skills such as having a growth mindset, human-centred design, complex problem solving, digital innovation, data story telling are also function-agnostic as this are skillsets that can be employed in any role. And at UOB Malaysia, we are providing this to all our colleagues through our online holistic learning and development programme, titled 'Better U' .

Q How are you building these skills in your workforce? Essentially, how do you help employees accelerate their learning (especially when it comes to soft skills)?

In terms of formal learning, online courses are the most basic immediate solution we can employ to develop an intellectual understanding of what’s required of a leader. At a more strategic level, we have collaborated with global executive education providers to customise leadership development programs to help build leadership capabilities.

But formal learning can only do so much. It is the actual application of that knowledge on the job that makes the most profound difference. Especially if there is someone there to remind the individuals to reflect on his/her actions and to learn from it. This is the essence of immersive learning enabling the individual to learn-on-the-job. Here, the role of the immediate supervisor as their work mentor and coach is critical to helping employees learn. Good leaders empower their team mates to try while providing on-the-job guidance whenever necessary.

The effectiveness of learning on the job hinges on the support and feedback one is able to receive. At UOB Malaysia, all our people managers undergo career conversation training to better equip them to have meaningful development discussions with their team members. This forms a feedback loop to the staff about how effective they are on the job, and how they can continue to improve.

To augment that further, we have developed a coaching and mentoring culture in the organisation over the last few years to offer coaching support to all staff. Other than executive coaching, we have also certified a group of business leaders as internal certified coaches to provide coaching support to mid-level and emerging leaders. This is a two-prong development strategy that we’ve undertaken. This strategy enables the line coaches enhance their own coaching competence while developing the next generation of leaders and retaining corporate memory.

Q On the HR front - what are the top 3 critical skills for HR to have in and beyond 2021? 

Strategic business partnering, data analytics and complex problem solving skills. Increasingly, HR needs to have a seat at the table. To do that, HR needs to have a strong grasp of both business and HR strategies. Similar to the concept of human-centred design, internal customers need to be at the heart of HR strategies and activities.

As the world becomes increasingly volatile, complex and unpredictable, HR executives need to be able to solve problems by not only thinking out of the box, but may require them to develop agile mindsets and break away from the legacy systems and processes which are holding them back.

To do all this even more effectively, HR professionals need to develop their data analytics capabilities as well to provide insights for strong decision making. It is no longer just a gut feeling, but to be able to glean insights from predictive analysis to do better hiring, development, engagement and retention of our people.

Q Lastly, if there was a magic wand and you could do anything within your power to build a future-fit workforce, what action would you take?

I would want all our colleagues to embrace a growth mindset. By embracing a growth mindset, they will see opportunities in every challenge. They will also seek out answers proactively, learn to apply what they have learnt, as well as learn from past mistakes and successes very rapidly.

By developing a growth mindset, one can always find a reason to be passionate about the work they do, and strive to value add to their customers. So it’s a virtuous cycle of growth and development, and sustained success.

Photo / Provided [Pictured: Lai Tak Ming, Executive Director and Country Head of Human Resources, UOB Malaysia]

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