Through a suite of digital and AI-driven programmes – both ongoing and upcoming – Joy Xu, Manulife’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Asia and Head of Global Learning, believes a balanced, blended learning approach is needed for employees to upskill at speed and scale.

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

Our strategy for learning aligns with our business strategy. To enable Manulife’s bold ambition to be the most digital, customer-centric global company in our industry, learning is at the core to future-proof our organisation by reskilling and upskilling our global workforce. It reflects the changing skills needed within the industry. This also dovetails with our focus on empowering employees to take ownership of their learning and building a continuous learning culture.

This includes investing in our team to help them grow their skills and capabilities to adapt to a changing environment, which is also something that matters to our team members based on the most recent engagement survey results. This is why we are so excited to launch a comprehensive approach, which will help everyone expand their skills and thinking.

We are focused on listening and getting to know our staff better. It means acquiring a much deeper understanding of them – looking at their skills and experience, suitability for the role, and their career potential and aspirations. It helps us get the right people in the right roles and tailor their training accordingly.

For that, we are launching an AI-powered ‘one-stop-shop' Learning Experience Platform later this year. In addition, we are also making sure our learning content is fresh and relevant and, importantly, deployed at speed and scale. What this means for employees is that they are empowered with purpose-led learning and guided by our integrated learning curriculum and roadmap.

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

When talking about the hottest skills, it’s easy to think about highly technical niche skills where there’s a shortage and high demand. But the more transferable, function-agnostic skills vital in every business are people skills, leadership skills and mindset.

These soft, people skills will never fail you. They include empathetic leadership skills, collaboration, change management, storytelling, growth mindset and so forth – all areas we are focusing on.

Manulife provides seminars, e-resources and toolkits for these different areas and, in response to the pandemic, we have additional ones on wellness, leading online teams and working virtually. These are important for team building and corporate culture, particularly with new employees that have yet to meet their colleagues in person.

As we’ve seen over the past year, agility is also very important – being able to act decisively, creatively and quickly when confronted with new challenges. The way we train and nurture employees aims to make agility come seamlessly into the work process.

We also involve people at every step in the process through human centred design principles, as we stay as close as possible to what matters most – our customers. To help us do this, we’re able to tap feedback that we receive real-time through our Net Promoter System.

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)?

We are pivoting away from mainly instructor-led face-to-face classroom training to blended learning – both digital and facilitated – adopting a virtual training approach to match the external environment. The global pandemic accelerated digitisation and technology adoption to enable virtual learning where employees can learn anytime and anywhere.

We believe this balanced, blended learning approach will enable our employees to upskill at speed and scale. We will also invest in facilitated learning for prioritised skills we have identified.

In terms of digital learning, our employees can access the digital learning platforms at their own pace, wherever and whenever they choose, including on their mobile devices. Many of these resources allow our employees to explore content focused on leadership and personal career development, in addition to new workforce technical skills required for the digital age, such as data analytics, programming, LEAN and agile methodologies.

For LinkedIn Learning, we curate learning paths aligned to our organisational values, as well as competencies to provide our employees with targeted resources that match their career development goals.

Later in the year, our AI Learning Experience Platform will be launched, serving as a one-stop-shop for a digital, fun and Netflix-like learning experience. All content on the new digital learning platform will be easy to use and accessible to everyone. Until then, we have a global learning hub to serve similar functions.

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

I joined Manulife in November 2019, and I continue to be excited everyday as I learn about the dynamics of the region and local nuances to get the best outcomes. Most of my work as Asia CHRO and Global Head of Learning, my interactions and my learning, in an unprecedented 2020, has been done virtually. As things gradually open again, there will hopefully be more opportunities for face-to-face interactions, which is important for building a strong culture.

During the past months, and as Head of Global Learning, I’ve been partnering with a large number of global C-suite leaders, whom I met virtually, to create our new learning strategies.

We are also building a global learning team to operationalise and implement the large portfolio of global training programmes and system. Some of these are in the process of rolling out or will do so later in the year.

A critical objective for me will be to ensure their smooth execution and the efficacy of them, which means getting proper buy-in across all our markets. It also means getting as much meaningful feedback and measure system / ROI tracking as possible in order to improve.

Over the past 26 years in HR, I have come to realise that there are so many critical skills which require continuous learning in order to excel.

There are three critical skills for HR to have in and beyond 2021: transformative change management, digital & data analytics, and talent & employee experience development. These all underscore the importance of soft people skills, which is foundational – they include collaboration, coaching, and relationship building.

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?

We know the pandemic will end at some point and that COVID-19 is making people appreciate the value of insurance more and making them more aware of the importance of saving for retirement, as well as health protection, for themselves, their children and families. What we can be even more certain about is that COVID-19 has accelerated digitisation, and digital habits are here to stay.

If I had a magic wand, rather than very specific skills, I would seek broader, higher level capabilities, in particular upskilling digital competencies, which I believe underpin a future-fit workforce. This means having not only a growth, but an innovative, mindset, which translates to initiating disruption ourselves, rather than waiting for external forces to disrupt the industry.

An ideal future-fit workforce would think differently and take on new, elevated levels of ownership; they would be curious and ask questions. They would have the confidence to be inclusive; recognise strengths, weaknesses and perspectives of others; and be generous in sharing knowledge and talking openly about mistakes and learning from failure.

Finally, I would have all current and future leaders understand that what matters most is that their teams are diverse, equitable and inclusive, galvanising everyone to learn and progress forward together.


Photo / Provided [Pictured: Joy Xu, Chief Human Resources Officer, Asia and Head of Global Learning, Manulife]

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