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The strategic evolvement of HR role in today’s work culture

Posted on 2021-08-30 08:00:00

Human Resources is more than just about hiring. AmBank (M) Berhad’s Group Chief Human Resources Officer Penelope Gan Mei Lynn tells GRADUAN how the division has evolved strategically to deliver meaningful work environments.

Tell us about the role of HR in a company like AmBank Group.
The role of HR today is about designing and delivering the best employee experience.

Today’s workforce is a melange of individuals going through a variety of personal and professional change. Being at different stages of life and career, with different unique needs and wants, employers will need to rethink their value proposition and recognise that the offering has to be agile, yet robust, in order to fulfil the differing needs.

Amongst the focus areas will be a wide range of employee experiences accommodated or delivered via technology, ongoing instant feedback, career and personal coaching, personal enrichment and growth, as well as greater visibility and recognition.

How has HR changed over the years?
From a traditional personnel administration function focused primarily on efficiency and effectiveness around recruitment, training and employee benefits fulfilment, HR has evolved to be a strategic partner to business units; playing a consultative role and bridging the employee-organisational needs gap by equipping people Managers and people with the right tools and skills to deliver seamless and meaningful work environments that are conducive for optimum delivery, continuous learning and sustainable engagement levels.

Therefore, HR today needs to recognise and understand the needs, wants and motivations of a diverse and multi-generational workforce. HR today also needs to appreciate the pressures, speed of change and a borderless world with globalisation and technology application, and its impact to the workforce.

Lastly, HR today needs to embrace the need for change and educate businesses on the importance of behavioural psychology and behavioural economics in managing people and implementing people initiatives.

Rather than focusing on processing and administrative tasks, it is imperative that HR today focuses more on aligning the corporate culture with business strategies, drive HR initiatives that are relevant and congruent to their corporate culture, and pay closer attention to cues and feedback from the people.

Has the pandemic changed how HR functions in AmBank?
The pandemic has put AmBank’s HR function to a test. A test on agility of our policies, systems and processes, as well as a test on the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the HR team and people Managers across AmBank in response to an unprecedented time with many unknown variables at play simultaneously.

In this assessment that covers workplace readiness and workforce compositions, the experience of responding to the pandemic has sharpened, validated and in some cases, redefined the predictions around roles, skill sets, employment type, work arrangements and our expectations as employees which we had made as designed initiatives in response to preparing AmBank for the workforce or the future, and future workplace over the past few years. Due to the pandemic, we now have first-hand knowledge and experiences around our planned and initiated people programmes.

Our recent experience brought greater awareness on the importance of emotional and mental well-being. We observed from isolation and physical distancing, with work-from-home or remote work arrangements, that when it comes to people, creating systematic and sustainable connections are critical.

We also observed that having shared values and strongly rooted corporate culture is important in ensuring goals and outputs are aligned, where daily face-to-face interactions and non-verbal confirmations are not possible.

How has technology changed how HR functions?
HR technology in itself has evolved with a plethora of systems and apps available in the marketplace today. The functionality extends beyond a HR-function backroom-fulfilment necessity to an employee and manager self-service platform. This evolution – which delivers HR processing and fulfilment activities to the fingertips of individuals – has in turn create obsolesces in traditional processing roles and rise in strategic HR roles as well as HR relationship management roles.

Roles and skill set changes aside, there is a need for a mindset shift in evaluating the core objective of technology application in HR. The system architecture, system functionality set-up and processes that govern it should be robust yet agile – going beyond achieving just efficiency and productivity within HR. Technology today serves as the artery to enable the entire ecosystem across the organisation to work optimally, and considerations for other function’s system interfaces is a given.

Can you single out the most important strategy that has changed the way AmBank or yourself engage with today’s talent?
Given the different and unique needs of the diverse current and future potential employees, AmBank has adopted the omnichannel marketing approach in its employer branding, recruitment and employee experience delivery. This enables us to deliver consistent, personalised experience for employees across all employee touch points throughout the employee lifecycle, facilitated by multichannels carrying different story boards for different employee segmentation.

What sort of qualities one would need to work in HR?
In general, one needs to have a balanced outlook and temperament in dealing with people. These soft traits will enable the individual to be an effective custodian of policies and yet having the sensibility and empathy needed to be an effective listener and executor.

With today’s HR demands, individuals would need to be broad, strategic thinkers who are capable of deciphering and converting facts, data and analytics to actionable pragmatic recommendations to support the business strategy. Individuals are also expected to be tech-savvy and nimble enough to deal with an increasingly agile, mobile and remote workforce who expects immediate responses on many varied issues that may arise.

What is the banking industry on the lookout for, when it comes to HR talent?
In addition to the above qualities, a person who is meticulous with an innate need to adhere towards governance and compliance characteristics will be ideal to work in a highly regulated industry like banking and finance.

Why is HR important in retaining talent? What kind of role does it play?
Although retaining talent is a people Manager’s role, HR plays an important part in being a facilitator, where required, and in coming up with the necessary framework, tools, support and people programmes to enable the people Managers to better manage and engage their team members effectively.

What do you think is the wrong impression many people have about HR and how would you like to set the record straight?
HR is often mistaken as a “go to” or “solution provider” for all people issues. At AmBank, we have and continue to educate that HR’s role is one of a facilitator. We create enablers for managers to drive their desired business outcomes through their people (human capital). HR is held accountable for creating appropriate and timely enablers that cover frameworks, tools, and support.

Let’s talk HR strategies - what are some of the most useful strategies that AmBank has or you have come up with?
It starts with hiring right.

With the right skill sets, right roles, right workforce compositions, and right attitude that is aligned to AmBank’s corporate culture and values, you are on the right track to obtaining high engagement levels, productive retention and a healthy bench strength of internal talent pipeline and succession.

What would you say make up for a successful HR strategy?
Co-designing and developing a HR strategy with the business you are supporting and the people would be most important, as it stays anchored to delivering towards the organisational goals and strategy, as well as the people’s needs. This should be done in cognisant of the global trends and changes that are happening at the macro level.

Can you talk about best practices in HR and how this influence the decisions that are made concerning employees?
As with anything, the HR discipline globally continues to have trends and fads such as VUCA, Big Data, Diversity and Inclusion, and many more. Fundamentally, HR’s role is about assisting organisations and people Managers in delivering the best employee experience and fulfilling the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) while remaining relevant and updated with the culture, ideologies, norms and practices that are continuously evolving in the fast changing environment we live in today.

HR from different industries function differently, but what would you say is common of HR across all industries, as in what are important to them?
Whilst different HR models may exist in different organisations depending on, for example, the overall organisational set-up, reporting matrix, maturity and geographies they cover and/or operate in, by and large, the core function and raison d'etre will remain the same.

Some people might not consider HR as a preferred job title. Why do you think this is so and how would you set this straight?
With the HR discipline evolving to be strategic in nature and regarded as an equal contributor in shaping and delivering towards organisational strategic business goals, the perception of HR as a backroom personnel and administration function has been changing rapidly. This change is accelerated with more frontline individuals and professionals with other experiences and qualifications taking the helm of many HR functions in Malaysia and making progressive strides, thus, elevating the professional standards in HR delivery.

How do you prepare yourself for a successful career in HR that will last for years?
Being someone who moved from a non-HR role with an analytical and process driven background mid-career, coupled with curiosity in change management, marketing and communication, has certainly helped to distil and focus on the real issues, craft strategies and frameworks that are data backed, and communicate initiatives and programmes effectively at the individualised level.

Recognising that I am a newcomer in a different fraternity and discipline, I armed myself with a healthy dose of humility, hunger to learn, willingness to listen, readiness to admit my shortcomings, and most importantly, hiring and surrounding myself with the right people who are often more qualified and experienced than I am!

By Mel Sim

This article was published on 2021-02-22 04:00:00

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