Winning Secrets: How UPS APAC prioritised culture change as a necessity to drive business growth

Winning Secrets: How UPS APAC prioritised culture change as a necessity to drive business growth

UPS Asia Pacific took home the bronze award for 'Excellence in Workforce Culture' at the HR Excellence Awards 2021, Singapore.

In this interview, Tanie Eio, Vice President, Human Resources, UPS Asia Pacific, tells us how the culture change process starts with leaders – they need to walk the talk, and model the behaviours the company wants to see in its people.

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

UPS’s human capital strategy sets the foundation for ensuring excellence in workplace culture. Five key pillars reflect what we as an organisation believe are essential to creating a best-in-class workforce:

  • Developing future leaders, 
  • Building a high-performance environment, 
  • Enhancing compensation competitiveness, 
  • Strengthening safety culture, and 
  • Elevating employee engagement.

When it comes to workplace culture, it is not a one-and-done activity, neither is it a one-way mandate from HR to the rest of the organisation. It takes years, even decades, to shape a company’s culture towards a shared vision, and it takes everyone’s commitment to make it happen.

My team and I have been laser-focused on several key initiatives to strengthen our collective culture, including developing our very own UPS Asia Pacific Vision Map which was designed to help every APAC employee – or UPSer, as we like to refer to ourselves – understand our region’s goals and aspirations, and how we will get there together. We didn’t just let that turn into a mere poster hung on the walls of our office. We deployed more than 80 local ambassadors across APAC, launched a cadence of activation programmes, and even developed a mobile app to drive employee engagement. 

On top of that, constant engagement through regular activities with several special interest groups including our Women’s Leadership Development group, has really helped advance and embed our culture with UPSers, regardless of where they are in APAC and what they do.

While on the path to effecting culture shift, it can be tempting to lose sight of the tenets we hold dear as an organisation. We made sure we continued engaging the workforce in other equally crucial aspects. These include maintaining a performance-driven environment by promoting capable people from within UPS, ensuring we provide future leaders with tools to succeed through training and mentorship programmes, and building on our region’s diversity, equity, and inclusion achievements.

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? 

Leadership is everything when it comes to bringing our human capital strategy to life for the organisation. But I would add that ownership and partnership play equally critical roles. 

HR doesn’t own the human capital strategy – it is owned by everyone equally, and it’s a two-way street.

So I made sure to sit down with every business leader of every function to help them understand what the human capital strategy means not just for the organisation as a whole, but also how they can incorporate it into their function’s specific business strategies

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? 

Getting buy-in from top leaders is never easy, especially when it often means they need to shift focus from their more immediate day-to-day objectives to prioritise culture change. I had one-to-one conversations with my peers to understand their concerns, and help them frame employee engagement as a necessary element to drive business growth. Because how well we perform as a business ultimately boils down to our people, and people look to their leaders for inspiration and guidance. It starts with leaders we need to walk the talk, and model the behaviours we want to see in our people.

But realistically, I couldn’t do this alone. I also arranged for external subject matter experts in organisational development to conduct experiential workshops on culture change as part of our annual leadership conference – even the pandemic didn’t stop us from rolling these out virtually. I was also very lucky to have a supportive manager who always advocated to leadership at key meetings. 

Setting expectations of our leaders in terms of measurable KPIs such as the ‘likelihood to recommend metric’ also helped keep everyone focused on a common goal. This metric indicates how likely UPSers are to recommend UPS as an employer to friends and family.

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

I’m very happy to see where we are today, and how far we’ve come in terms of our workplace culture. One way we measure success and track progress is by conducting an annual culture survey globally to gauge how our employees feel about working at UPS, and through this anonymous survey we receive a ‘Culture Index’ score. This year, APAC attained the highest improvement in the Culture Index, which is 6% points more than last year, amidst a pandemic!

But what people tend to forget is that when it comes to culture, there is no end game. Culture evolves and that challenge is magnified when you have a global workforce of more than 540,000.

So while we take the time to celebrate our achievements in the area of workplace culture, we also recognise that we’re not done yet. We need to find more ways to tie it back to business targets and goals. We want to be the leading logistics service provider, and we can get there through our culture, by empowering our people to embody what it means to be a UPSer and run with it.

Q 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?

So many come to mind, but here are three of the most important ones:

Empathy. HR is a people-driven practice. We need to understand what makes individuals tick, and what’s important to them. One example of this is when we issued a one-time bonus and pay increment for our employees in 2020, right around the time companies everywhere were laying off staff and cutting costs to keep things afloat. Though seemingly counterintuitive, and although we didn’t know how the business would perform in those unprecedented conditions, we knew that our employees were experiencing a lot of uncertainty. So we went ahead with it anyway because we wanted them to know that their needs are recognised, and that they are rewarded for their contributions in keeping the business moving especially in a time of crisis.

Learning agility, or a growth mindset. The world is changing and will continue to change, with megatrends like AI and the gig economy all requiring everyone, not just HR practitioners, to learn and unlearn tried-and-tested ways of working. It’s no longer good enough to say, we will do things this way because this is how we’ve always done it. We need to remain mindful that what works well today may not give you the same results even one or two years down the road.

Digital savviness. The ability to leverage technology to move ideas and people forward is non-negotiable not just for CHROs, but all disciplines. At UPS, we’ve been taking active steps towards modernising our HR technology stack which not only makes things more efficient, but also allows employees to connect with useful online tools that give them more control over their personal development.

Photo / Provided by UPS

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!  

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

Free newsletter

Get the daily lowdown on Asia's top Human Resources stories.

We break down the big and messy topics of the day so you're updated on the most important developments in Asia's Human Resources development – for free.

subscribe now open in new window