In a blog post, Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner, wrote “no one would dispute that 2020 upended business models, priorities and plans as organizations were forced to navigate a rapidly changing environment. HR was at the forefront of initiatives to respond to a wide range of internal and external transformative trends, from employee well-being to new workforce models and social justice.”
One of his predictions for 2021 is a shift from managing employee experience to managing the life experiences of their employees.
What has worked and not worked for HR in 2020?
Peck Yeow Gan: Undeniably, 2020 was an unprecedented year that required HR leaders to re-think how to increase the effectiveness of the function. Despite the pandemic, it was also an opportunity for HR to step up, which made clarity and focus on what is important for employees more important than ever.
Key to this has been a clear focus on understanding the evolving concerns of employees amid a time of uncertainty and responding promptly. At AXA Asia, this helped to secure the trust of employees and communicate empathy and care, which helped teams to remain motivated during challenging times.
In my case as HR Director for AXA Asia, my priorities and focus in 2020 were:
- Enhanced focus on employees’ safety and well-being – This was of utmost importance as 2020 was a period fraught with uncertainty and plans had to be made based on partial information, as nobody knew how the pandemic would unfold.
Despite this, making decisions for the present with employees’ safety and well-being as our top priority worked well.
For example, when the pandemic first started in China and Hong Kong, our employees were unable to purchase masks and there was an overall sense of unease. We worked tirelessly with our other markets to procure masks and have them shipped to Hong Kong. Within weeks, each of our employees received a box of masks couriered to their home, which drew overwhelming messages of appreciation.
- Agility – In times like these, HR needs to be agile in our thinking and adapt to new, sometimes unknown circumstances. At AXA Asia, we understood that some of our employees were concerned about travelling to work using public transportation and modified our benefits to allow for reimbursement of taxi or Uber rides to the office.
Additionally, we allowed for reimbursement of COVID-related items such as masks, hand sanitiser and other items to give employees added protection and peace of mind, such as vitamins and enhanced insurance coverage, knowing that these are essential items during such circumstances.
- Engagement and connectedness – With employees working from home for long periods of time, the need to continuously engage and connect with them became key.
At AXA Asia, in addition to introducing virtual coffee breaks, lunchtime wellness activities, wellness tips and support for working from home, we introduced creative elements such as an Easter Wellness Challenge and Walking Challenge to inject a sense of fun while encouraging our employees to keep fit. We also played virtual games in celebration of Christmas and Chinese New Year to enhance team collaboration and bonding in light of the extended work from home arrangements.
As a result of our efforts, AXA Asia scored 100% on the topic of “Team Connection” in our December 2020 Pulse Survey, with several employees applauding our work.
- Communication, communication, communication – In times of uncertainty, it is critical to communicate continuously with our employees, particularly to address any concerns. The number of announcements, virtual town halls and virtual engagement activities in 2020 far exceeds any typical year, but our transparent and prompt information sharing earned the trust of our employees.
Based on the above, what would clearly not have worked for HR in 2020 is being unresponsive to changing circumstances in an agile manner or having clarity on key priorities during uncertain times. It was also a year when both HR and Business Leaders had to forgo the traditional notion that employees need to be in the office to be productive, instead trusting their teams can stay on track when working from home, out of sight of their managers.
How are CHROs working with C-Suites to improve talent retention and recruitment across the organisation - including millennials?
Peck Yeow Gan: Fortunately, it is encouraging to note that the employee attrition rate has declined over the past year, with employees saying they in fact feel more connected to the company. However, HR must keep up with efforts to continuously engage, motivate and develop our people, as well as attract external talent to join us.
Improving talent retention involves several facets:
- Continuous engagement – Talent is a key resource in any organisation and it is important to ensure that we continuously engage with them. At AXA Asia, we constantly provide opportunities for talent to be featured across various platforms, expose them to conversations with senior regional and global leaders either virtually or when they visit, and appoint them as employee champions to obtain their buy-in and support on key initiatives, to name a few. These efforts give talent the assurance that their feedback matters and that they are recognized as experts in their field.
- Development – Efforts to develop and shape talents should be multi-faceted, including stretch or overseas assignments, lateral moves, and involvement in key projects as a project lead or team member, among other methods.
At AXA Asia, to ensure we manage our talent proactively, we recently rolled out a leadership development program called LEAP, which supports our future leaders in a journey of self-discovery and overall development through leadership capability building programs, fireside chats with leaders and the like, alongside a career management program for participants.
- Training managers – as the saying goes, most employees leave due to their managers. At AXA Asia, we focus our training on managers to ensure they understand how to engage and motivate their team, millennials included, and also to support them with communication skills and on leading high performing teams.
Recruitment and attracting talent need to start from the fundamentals – establishing a sound, credible and compelling employer brand. This means it is important to align HR policies and practices with the company’s EVP and purpose.
Business leaders must walk the talk and ensure that communication is aligned both internally and externally. Only when this is achieved can we properly attract the right talent to our organization.
HR Resourcing or Acquisition teams must also have intimate knowledge of talent in the market, either through extensive networking or through talent mapping and pipelining exercises. In short, CHROs and Business Leaders must work hand-in-hand to both attract the best talent and improve retention of internal talent.
What emerging technologies will disrupt HR/HCM?
Peck Yeow Gan: As an HR practitioner who values interpersonal connection, I am hesitant to think that technology will disrupt HR to a significant extent. Instead, I see technology as an enabler, supporting HR and helping the function to improve and strengthen. There are many ways technology can do that:
- New ways of learning – Today, virtual learning is fast gaining momentum as an effective platform for professional development. At AXA, we leverage LinkedIn Learning and roll out a variety of interesting programs to our employees worldwide.
- Data analytics – HR is typically a depository of data and trends. With emerging technologies, HR should utilize the information we have on hand to improve our data analytics, project trends and make informed decisions to proactively manage our workforce. While HR is able to do this already to some extent, there are certainly opportunities for us to enhance our approach and be proactive in managing the volume of data we have on hand.
- Automating operational tasks – Artificial intelligence has been shown to be effective in automating tasks that are both operational and manual. I foresee many such administrative HR tasks being taken on by technology in the future, enabling HR professionals to upskill and focus on those tasks that can create a more significant impact and to connect these tasks to the bigger picture of the company’s HR strategy.