With a gold win for Excellence in Workplace Wellbeing and bronze for Excellence in Retention Strategy at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, the team at ARA Asset Management has evidently focused on strategies and policies that create a conducive environment to keep employees engaged and committed. Find out about their winning strategy in this interview with Priya Veeriah.

Q What is your organisation’s wining HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

The key to our HR strategy lies in putting our people at the heart of what we do. At ARA, we believe that our people are our biggest asset, and this leads us to focus on strategies and policies that create a conducive environment to keep our employees engaged and committed.

We have designed a holistic approach in HR management, putting ourselves in the shoes of our employees in their ARA journey from the day they join us. This makes them feel like joining a big family, not just starting another job.

The ARA journey begins with onboarding, where all work amenities are well in place to take away any hassle. We have an induction programme and recently added a buddy system to help the employee to acclimatise quickly. The Group CEO hosts a personal lunch for all new employees and listens to ideas from the new joiners.

Throughout their tenure in the company, there is a wide range of corporate activities to engage the staff. Some of the activities are company-wide, and others are at departmental or smaller team level. We also have inclusive activities involving the employees’ family so that their family appreciates the work environment and connects with other employees. We have plenty of lunchtime talks on wellbeing and annual health checks, which are always well-attended.

Communication is crucial too. Besides global townhalls hosted by the Group CEO, there are in-house newsletters, announcements on important events, and staff surveys to get feedback. The close communication and transparency have proved to be critical in giving our employees peace of mind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, we have formalised our HR beliefs in diversity, inclusivity and fairness in our corporate policy. This is especially relevant for our global workforce. The HR awards reaffirm our efforts to make ARA the employer-of-choice in our highly competitive industry. This award from HR Online will motivate us to do even more for our employees.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

I am thankful to our Board and senior management in supporting our HR strategy. Without their support and guidance, ideas would just remain as ideas.

The staff journey in ARA never ends. We strive to make continual improvements for our employees. This is only possible with the support of the board and senior management. Resources were committed to HR as well as other areas which contribute to a better workplace. For instance, from an e-HRMS, we have expanded to a smart workplace enabled by technology. This not only makes work more productive, but it allows staff to focus on higher value work that is more satisfying. This has enabled us to ride through COVID-19 safely with minimal work disruption.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

For HR, systemic barriers are relatively easy to overcome as long as we try hard enough to find solutions. The more challenging aspects for HR come in two dimensions – the individual desire to ascend the Maslow pyramid and cross-cultural differences in a global workforce.

On the first dimension, we not only work hard on staff engagement but want staff to feel that they are upgrading their skillsets. We purposefully instituted a mandatory training regime so that employees can upgrade both their technical skills as well as soft skills, such as leadership, inter-personal and thinking skills. In addition, staff are given opportunities for lateral movements to new positions.

Managing a global workforce is no mean feat. Fundamentally, we must recognise and embrace differences in culture and creed. But to bind everyone together in the company, we inculcated an important commonality – our corporate values that have served well in the last two decades, viz. respect, excellence, integrity and teamwork. Within the bounds of the company-wide policies, we gave our in-country CEOs sufficient latitude to manage their respective team.

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your game plan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

While I doubt there is a good singular measure of ROI, I would look at a number of indicators, both quantitative and qualitative.

Although we measure well in terms of attrition rate and service tenure, I would also look at several sub-indices, such as attendance in corporate activities, survey participation rate, etc. It is also important to track multi-year trends to ensure that we are progressing in the right direction.

Qualitatively, I would look out for staff-initiated activities and ideas. Another important measure is the openness of staff’s feedback when they leave us. Most heartening of all is the willingness of staff to approach HR for their work or personal problems. This demonstrates the trust and success that our HR team has built over the years. 

Q What are the biggest business drivers or game changers that have pushed you to constantly come up with new ideas and raise the bar for workplace wellbeing and retention?

Today, ARA and its associates have gross assets under management exceeding S$110 billion and a global presence spanning 28 countries. The pace of growth in the last two decades has been astounding.

As ARA continues its dynamic growth, the HR team needs to support the business strategically through effective change management, ensuring competitive compensation and benefit packages, managing diversity, increasing engagement and strengthening relationships. The team has to look beyond the Asia Pacific region, learn new cultures and regulations, and use global benchmarks to keep ahead of the curve.

While challenging, it is also exciting to expand our own horizons and mindsets as the Group grows globally. There is no one-size-fits-all formula, especially with the difference in cultures across the world. It is important to maintain an open mind and a flexible attitude. We also empower our overseas offices to introduce creative engagement and wellness programmes that work best for their workplaces and cultures, while keeping aligned with ARA’s overall vision and shared values.

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