The Road Ahead

As the calendar turns a new page, thus closing the curtains on another year, HR Digest looks back at the challenges, analyses the obstacles that lie ahead and offers solutions for the future.

So 2010 has finally drawn to a close. The year had begun with the lingering fear of an economic Armageddon following the global financial crisis of 2009. Fortunately for Singapore, it turned out to be slightly less dramatic in practice than prophesied. The economy bounced back with the market looking more optimistic than the year before. An overall good year for business one might say, yet it has managed to leave few interrogation marks for HR.

Whilst the market continues to recuperate from the downturn and move forward, the immediate need for fundamental reforms in the system that can make organisations more robust and resilient to exigencies in 2011 is more now than ever before. HR pundits have identified the gaps in the existing strategies that when effectively addressed can translate into higher productivity and better bottom-line results.

Basic Instinct: Being Fundamentally Right
Naturally, as the market rebounds, employers will be looking at using this upswing to their advantage. Growth is clearly on everybody’s agenda, but what is the best way forward?

“In times of crisis we have traditionally responded by being conservative and hedging our bets, but with recent events we are realising that the situation is quite volatile and unpredictable. We have to have the combination of being quick to spot opportunities and act on them and being prudent in other places where maybe opportunities are not so intense. Market-specific adaptation is needed,” Milagros C Perez, vice president for Global HR areas, Philips, says.

Learning points
Therefore, keeping the voice of the markets within hearing distance is key, she adds. HR needs to truly understand not just what the markets are saying but also ensure that these are accurately translated into its plans concurrently. “In HR, we are starting to do this through a disciplined approach to workforce planning, working hand-in-hand with the business in concretising the implications of our business plans and projections into structure, headcounts, capabilities and sourcing. In addition, we intend to review our existing HR practices to see where it makes sense to have market-driven policies instead of global ones,” she underlines.

Star Wars: Talent Attraction & Management
Having said that, no matter how foolproof the infrastructure is, businesses cannot run successfully without managing the talent optimally. No strategy or execution can be achieved without the right people in the right places and HR needs to be relevant in achieving this for the organisation.

Moreover, as Singapore transforms itself into a global hub for technical and managerial expertise, global talent will become increasingly central to its competitiveness, HR leaders point out. The challenge, however, is not restricted to attracting global talent only, but also to find innovative ways to prepare local talent for global roles. Developing a new generation of leaders and accelerating their development is seen as one of the fundamental challenges in the year to come.

“Singapore, like Japan and China, has a rapidly ageing executive pool. The next generation of executives are ambitious and keen to join the executive ranks at a much younger age than their predecessors. The challenge is to accelerate their development and build a ready pool of next-executives who can move into leadership positions sooner,” notes Indranil Roy, managing director, Asia Pacific for Korn Ferry International’s Leadership and Talent Consulting Business.

Besides, the workforce today is a combination of different ethnic and cultural groups, with different expectations and as the job market slowly improves, better work opportunities will surface. Employees may be tempted to leave if they feel that their employers are not giving them enough in terms of stability, growth and developmental opportunities, or they do not feel connected with their organisations, Sureish Nathan, vice president, Asia Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership, observes. “Perks like compensation and career development opportunities play a big part in retaining talents, but ultimately, the most compelling reason for employees to stay is the relationship they have with their immediate managers,” he says.

Long-term solution
As a starting point, fair pay and attractive benefits will have to be in place to reward the employees who have weathered the downturn together with the organisation. Also, it is high time to start coaching your employees and giving them a chance to continue learning. A company is likely to lose its key employees if it does not provide enough opportunities for their development, learning and advancement, HR practitioners share.

As mentioned before, engaging and retaining talents is about how good leaders are. A CCL study on employee engagement conducted in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton found that among those who strongly agreed that they worked for a manager that cared about their well-being, 94% said they intended to stay with their current employer. “The most effective way to engage and retain employees is to improve the quality of managers at every level in the organisation. Companies need to focus on helping managers learn how to be a good coach, give eff ective feedback and provide direction to facilitate the learning and growth of their people,” Nathan suggests.

Never say Goodbye: Talent Retention
Attrition is an issue that remains a major concern for HR whether the market is buoyant or recovering, and so it will remain a dominating factor in HR management in 2011. Human resource gurus agree that retention is linked to engagement and this is strongly correlated with how an individual feels his managers and the organisation are interested in his individual and career development. So why is developing talent a challenge? Andrew Bryant, director, Self Leadership International remarks: “Because it requires an integrated and cultural approach and many organisations are too focused on execution with the minimum cost. In addition, there has been a strong Asian mindset of following establishing procedures rather than finding creative ways to lead and solve problems.”

Follow the leaders
However, not all organisations fall into that category. Employers have formulated all kinds of innovative designs such as workplace flexibility, work-life harmony initiatives, rewards and recognition policies, healthcare benefits amongst others to top up the already existing tools like pay for performance, higher bonuses, career management, training and development opportunities that help retain talent. For instance, NatSteel has found a unique tool to motivate its workforce which has an average age of 42. Protecting the health of its people is key to sustaining productivity and managing medical costs, says Frankie Yung, vice president, human resources, NatSteel. The organisation has done well in this regard, having achieved the Platinum standard for the Singapore HEALTH Award. The organisation has a comprehensive health programme, Yung informs. It conducts annual health screenings for all staff aged 40 and above, and biannual health screening for other staff. “This enables us to arrest any health issue at its early stage. Any employee discovered to have chronic illnesses are managed by our Occupational Health Unit on an ongoing basis. Through this effort, we are able to reap the benefits of having less downtime, while ensuring that staff productivity is not compromised.”

In short, foster a work environment in which employees feel appreciated for their past conducts, see that their present is taken care of and perceive a definite growth for themselves in the future.

Measure the Intangible: HR Productivity
Having said that, it is also time for HR to look into its own mirror image and gauge its functional success. Traditionally, HR professionals talk generally and conceptually about employee morale, turnover, and employee commitment as outcomes of HR efforts. But the HR function can no longer be an expense-generator and administrative function and not a value-added partner. As HR expert Dave Ulrich was once quoted as saying, to fulfil the business partnership role of HR, concepts need to be replaced with evidence, ideas with results, and perceptions with assessments.

ROI-the ultimate checklist
Naturally, the need for measurement becomes vital. HR gurus recommend that as managers, you need to focus more on the money spent on people costs for ROI in terms of dollar and compare the improvement with the previous year. Beyond that, begin putting each of your job functions under the microscope. For example, start with checking the quality of your recruitment skills. Are you hiring the right talent for the right job? Check the performance appraisals of new employees and you’ll know if you are doing it right. Determine the difference between the talent who take jobs offered due to development opportunities and the employees who leave the company because of a lack of a good career path, and you will have clues to many unanswered questions.

Furthermore, do not underrate the organisation’s attrition percentage, employee relations, existing feedback mechanism and employer brand strength that directly/indirectly reflect the direction of human capital management.

Conclusion: The Road to Success
With the emergence of significant regional powerhouses like India, China and Korea, Singapore is no longer an attractive destination for low cost activities. Even for higher-end skills like R&D and technical expertise, China and India are proving to be increasingly attractive destinations. Singapore, therefore, has to constantly set the bar higher for its own workforce to remain competitive. The emphasis has to be on innovation, creativity and higher-end technical skills and governance skills.

Most importantly, markets and economies are changing fast. Most of HR insights are from hindsight and no one can confidently predict what is going to happen. So organisations make choices based on how it views the world and where it fits in it. Whilst as HR, you can plan for those choices you must also know that at any time you may have to change the course because the landscape will change yet again. However, by mapping out some of the anticipated challenges, HR managers may be able to plan their strategies more effectively, thereby ensuring that 2011 runs as smoothly and prosperously as possible.

Key Take Away
• Upgrade your management talent to lead in the new context. This requires careful planning of capabilities needed in the management pool, sourcing of candidates from multiple domains and cultures and finally, working hard to ensure that the diverse pool of managers collaborate and work effectively as a team
• Develop the emotional competence and cultural agility in leaders. You will need to put muscle behind building these skills across levels
• Upgrade the talent management infrastructure – philosophy, governance, systems, practices and skills to effectively
manage the new generation of talent in Asia
• Focus on market-driven policies and be ready to embrace change as and when it happens
• Pay fairly and for merit, reward and recognise talent for being with you through hard times
• Examine yourself critically. Get into the mirror mode and scrutinise feedback carefully to know what works

Global HR predictions for 2011
1. Increased workplace investigation
2. Healthcare reforms
3. Focus on performance management
4. Increased regulatory pressure
5. More innovative retention tools
6. More technology usage to facilitate transactional HR functions

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