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Rising to challenges: Classified Post HR Conference reveals innovative practices transforming the industry

Published on Saturday, 09 Jul 2016
Conference speakers (from left) Susie Quirk, Kitty Zhao and Rebecca Lucas detailed key strategies that are being employed as the HR function goes through dramatic change. Photos: Chungy Wong and Apple Ho

Over 160 people managers, benefits specialists and business heads converged at the latest Classified Post HR Conference to get an insight into the latest human resources thinking and make new connections within the industry. 

Held on June 29, 2016, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Admiralty, the event opened with a welcome from Elsie Cheung, chief operating officer at South China Morning Post Publishers, before moving on to a lineup of expert industry speakers delivering their thoughts on the hot topic of HR transformation.

Keynote speaker Susie Quirk, partner and head of people and change advisory at KPMG China, said that companies were facing growing challenges spurred by rapid globalisation.

In response, she said, the biggest trends the human resources function needs to adapt to are skills shortages, shifting generational demographics, the need to create an agile workforce using mobile technology, and the rise of new technology urging HR to create bespoke processes.

The future of the industry, she explained, will be underpinned by the development of “evidence-based HR” and will hinge on the ability to use data analytics to link an organisation’s people agenda with its overall business outcomes.

But rather than just passing on numbers, HR needs to be the storyteller “providing the narrative behind the metrics”, she said.

Pointing to a statistic from the US workforce which shows that today’s young workers will have had, on average, 13 to 14 different jobs by the time they reach the age of 38, Quirk also highlighted the retention challenges the industry faced. “It means there has never been a better time to be in HR,” she said. “[It is] challenging, and  opportunistic as well.”

Kitty Zhao, human resources director for Greater China at Baxter Healthcare, described how her company’s overall mission to “save and sustain life” is also applied to its staff to drive employee engagement.

Comprised of wellness programmes, mobility options and flexible working arrangements, Baxter’s HR strategies, Zhao said, aim for a better, healthier workplace.

She pointed to the BeWell@Baxter initiative which helps employees adopt healthy work and life styles. Linked to the initiative are features including a BMI management programme, physical examination and report analysis, exercise challenge months, and regular health lectures.

The company’s theme for 2016, Zhao explained, is “Focus on Family”. “Nowadays, the border is more blurred between work and life,” Zhao said. “Work-life balance plays a critical role in employee engagement.”

Putting wellness into practice, Dr Rhoda Yuen from Aging & Better Care then took the stage and had the crowd stretching, bending and balancing their way to a clearer mind during a short physical “braindance” session.

Greeting a refreshed audience, Rebecca Lucas, general manager of international HR at Telstra, talked about how her company’s “all roles flex” approach has changed the way people work at the international telecommunications company.

She explained that by leveraging its expertise in providing technological solutions that connect customers, Telstra is better connecting its workforce and, in doing so, freeing up their time. “Any role can be worked anywhere, anytime,” she said.

She added that research shows employees who have the flexibility they need have 55 per cent higher engagement, 55 per cent less stress and 45 per cent lower turnover intention than employees who do not.

Key to implementing flexibility successfully is flexible leaders who were open to different ideas, who put trust first, and had a “why not?” attitude to change.

To sceptics of a “flex” approach, Lucas said: “It’s about managing productivity ... [employees] should be able to have the same amount of output.”

Quirk, Zhao and Lucas then joined moderator and Classified Post editor Tom Eves in a panel discussion on attracting young talent.

People leaving university and entering the working world now, Eves said, have very different mindsets and expectations to previous generations. “They’re not afraid to chop and change job roles or even sectors as they search for the position that best matches their core values,” he said, adding that they “place less emphasis on salary and more on work-life balance than their predecessors.”

Quirk agreed, saying that millennials are more likely to seek non-monetary rewards. After pay, she added, “the second reason why an employee in China and Hong Kong will join or leave an organisation is for career development.”

Lucas explained that “they want to see what the opportunities look like, and how they can easily move through the organisation.”

Zhao said that the success of graduate recruitment strategies at Baxter rests on an understanding of the demographic. “They want to own the flexibility, the freedom of their own choice, without liabilities imposed by others.”

During the luncheon conference, Stanley Ngan, CEO of Sun Life Asset Management (HK), gave his insight into the modern MPF market. Sun Life’s research had found, he said, that out all the top-quarter performers from five years ago, no MPF funds had managed to stay in that top quarter consistently over the following five years.

He went on to explain that in order to achieve sustainable long-term performance, there were many benefits in switching from a feeder-fund to multi-manager structure. Insurance clients, he said, want more choices, but also informed advice on these many choices. In response to a complex and dynamic market, a funds manager needs the flexibility to respond appropriately.

“We need to be able to adapt to different market situations ... making sure [the funds] all perform,” he said.

Ending off the day’s events, Edwin Yan, director of retirement and benefits at Aon Hewitt Hong Kong, gave a short presentation on innovative trends in the management of retirement funds.

Conference attendee Brad Emery, founder and CEO of corporate wellness consultancy Aimviva, said he enjoyed hearing about the implementation of hot desks and flexible working in an Asian context.

He also appreciated the chance to network with fellow professionals and discuss trends in health benefits. “Strong wellness programmes lead to better engaged, more efficient, healthier employees,” he said.

Fellow attendee Darren Tay, director at BTI Consultants in Hong Kong, said Quirk’s thoughts on data-focused HR particularly chimed with him and that companies in Hong Kong stand to benefit greatly from evidence-based HR strategies.

“They operate in a very fast-paced environment where accurate information needs to be passed across and decisions need to be swift,” he said. “‘Guessing’ will not cut it anymore. Analytics and evidence play a big part in key decision making.”

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Rising to challenges.

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