Flipping the HR Mindset

By Hyma Haridas

Nicholas Ng, Executive Vice President, Group Human Resources explains why a ‘flip in mindset’ is needed for HR to evolve and move forward.

HR has the potential to move to a proactive function – the key lies in the data we store.

One would never guess that Nicholas Ng worked in Human Resources (HR). Clad in a jeans and long-sleeved jacket that covers his tattooed arms, with shoulder-length hair neatly tied in a ponytail, he doesn’t look like a “textbook HR professional”. But, as he points out, HR itself has evolved in the past decade and now transcended to a different level

Nicholas joined Etika Group of Companies (then Permanis) in June 2015 when the company was in the thick of a merger with Etika Dairies.

“At that time, the HR department was very focused on day-to-day processes and personnel issues. My goal was to take HR to the next level by introducing a more strategic approach, aligning it to the overall business goals and objectives,” he says.

By August 2016, the company was rebranded as Etika Group of Companies in Malaysia and Singapore, and has since expanded its footprint regionally with mainstay brands like Wonda, Calpis, Goodday and Pepsi, amongst many others.

That same year, Nicholas spearheaded the company’s “HREvolution”, of which the first stage included putting frameworks in place, solidifying internal processes and getting in the right talents for jobs. The following year, he focused on how HR could improve its internal processes using technology, as well as how they could add and create value for the company.

These efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the industry. In 2018, Etika received the Asia’s Best Employer Brand Awards and subsequently the HR Asia Excellence Awards (Silver) Award in 2019.

Having worked in the HR industry for 20 years in diverse industries – from entertainment and hospitality, to banking and properties; Nicholas thinks that the Human Resources is in dire need of a “flip in mindset” to move forward.

“HR has the potential to move to a proactive function – the key lies in the data we store. Data is everything these days, and we have a lot of potential because we hold a lot (of data), which we can use to predict trends and movements in the company. For example, we can study where majority of our staff are located, what background and which university they come from, which can be useful when we hire talent.”

It was through the use of analytics that Etika decided to introduce the ‘auto-confirmation’ policy for its new hires, which automatically confirms staff who have completed their three-month probationary period, unless red-flagged by the respective boss or hiring manager.

“We realised that majority of our staff were confirmed after three months anyway. So, the responsibility is (now) on the manager to raise any issues they have (with staff), which we will then investigate. Otherwise the staff are confirmed automatically. This has eliminated a lot of redundant paperwork and processes for HR and freed us up to do more strategic work,” explains Nicholas.

The recently-introduced ‘unlimited annual leave’ policy by well-known company is another example to emulate, he says, but requires a massive flip in mindset. He cites the example of “casual Fridays” – or “full casual” in Etika’s case – a concept that was unheard of ten years ago but is now practiced in most companies.

When it comes to going paperless, one of HR’s biggest challenges is the volume of personal information and files it stores, and Nicholas feels that they should follow in the footsteps of insurance companies who have embraced automation and data clouds.

“This not only saves resources, but gives staff more control of their data and frees us up from mundane tasks like printing and photocopying forms. Etika has achieved this to a certain extent where our annual leave, medical leave and payslips are all online,” he says.

He adds that these approaches also resonate with the current generation. “They want freedom, choices, the ability to dictate their lives – these are some simple things that employers can do for them. It’s good for employer branding and good publicity (for us), because indirectly our young people are publicising us for free on social media.”

Other interesting initiatives that Etika’s HR team have introduced include “ME Day”, where staff can take two days off in addition to their annual leave for some ‘Me time’, and the “FivePlus” programme which rewards employees who have stayed with the company for over five years.

Speaking about the younger generation workforce, Nicholas believes that one should “understand and embrace” inter-generational differences rather than fighting it. With 70% of its 1,600-strong staff comprised of Gen Ys/Millennials and 25% of Gen X-ers, one can conclude that Etika must be doing something right in this regard.

“We have no employees, only talents. As cliché as it sounds, we work hard and play hard. Honestly speaking, this is a great place to start and launch your career – not just because of our (company) culture but also the diversity and nature of our business,” concludes Nicholas.

Note: Nicholas has since moved to a Group level, testament of the progressive culture

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