Central Pattana's change journey

Central Pattana, a member of Central Group, took home the gold award for 'Excellence in HR Change Management' at the inaugural HR Excellence Awards 2021, Thailand.

In this interview, Akarin Phureesitr, Head of People Group, Central Pattana, a member of Central Group, shares how the HR team has been working very closely with the leadership team on the business strategy and transformation programme from the very beginning to ensure success.

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

We have been working very closely with the leadership team on business strategy and transformation programme from the beginning. This has allowed us to develop a change programme that is in line with business needs and the leadership team’s expectations.

Our change programme requires a lot of interactions with the community, as it revolves around a three-step cycle:

  • Promoting awareness and understanding of the need for culture change,
  • Creating opportunities (events, activities) for our colleagues to demonstrate desired behaviours,
  • Encouraging recognition by providing a convenient tool (a recognition chatbot) and a stage to showcase role models.

The first important milestone for us was when we were successful in connecting 100% of our 5,000 employees across 35 locations across the country virtually using one social media platform, called Workplace from Facebook.

Without this connection among us, our culture change programme would have stopped in its tracks when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in early 2020.

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

We have been very fortunate that our leadership team believes in the importance of team and culture and lend us their full support along the way.

With our workforce fully connected on Workplace, our leadership team was able to communicate directly with everyone in the organisation for the first time. We cut down the necessity of relaying important messages through the hierarchy of managers by holding live broadcasts and Q&A sessions. Everyone in the organisation can now connect directly to participate, comment, and ask questions.

The leadership team embracing this opportunity to connect and speak with everyone sends a strong signal that we are sincere and serious about this change journey.

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?

COVID-19 threw a big wrench in the machine when we were forced to shut down all of our shopping malls for a period of time, and to send most of our office workers to work from home.

Even if we managed to connect everyone just in the nick of time before the pandemic started, we were deprived of many face-to-face activities which were essential parts of our change programme. This forced us to rethink many parts of the programme.

One notable example was the switch from a traditional recognition programme to building a chatbot that enables anyone in the organisation to recognise a colleague very easily, and at any time, using their mobile phones.

Since the launch in Q3, more than 40% of our community has already experienced the recognition bot, helping us reinforce the positive behaviours that we wish to see in our organisation.

As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? 

One of the early signals, since we started on this change journey, has been the clear uptick in the employee engagement feedback from our employees. We conduct this survey twice a year, once in the middle of the year and again at the end.

In July 2020, when we had the first survey after the launch of the programme, employee engagement swung up by roughly 7%, which was highly significant. And this was still in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In itself, the employee engagement score was not a business result, but it did tell us that we were on the right track. We later observed a drop in regrettable turnover, and this started to have a more direct link to our productivity and bottom line.

We are still early on our change path. The ROI will need to be based on our ability to recover faster post-pandemic and see a rise in our people productivity.

We’re now seeing HR manage portfolios that were previously considered far from their job description. In your view, what are the top three skills and attributes of today’s successful CHRO?

Business acumen would be the first among the top three skills. It enables a CHRO to build credibility with the leadership team through accurate understanding of business direction and needs. 

Strategic orientation is the second one. This helps the CHRO effectively guide a team through a journey that will take time, often beyond many budgeting cycles. Without a clear end goal, and a compelling case why we should aim for that goal, it is very easy for the HR team to get sidetracked along the way by many obstacles which are part and parcel of any worthy change effort. 

Customer orientation (or marketing skills) is the last secret sauce for a successful CHRO. With the mindset and skills that anchor the team on customer needs, the team will be guided towards doing the right thing regardless of occasional failures along the way.


Photo / Provided 

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