Themed ‘HR in the Driver’s Seat: Purpose • Sustainability • Future Ready’, the HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2021 took a deep dive look at how the work landscape is evolving and offered solutions for HR practitioners to stay on the cutting edge.
Sharing indispensable insights and experiences, the conference brought forth the importance of the HR function in the next normal.
At a time when the world of work is confronting many changes and unknowns, the two-day HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2021, which took place on 11-12 November, provided a platform to discuss top trends and issues relevant to cross-generational HR professionals.
Featuring an agenda that included concurrent sessions and high-profile speakers from HR and non-HR backgrounds, the conference saw experts delve into hot-button topics from managing a hybrid workforce, reskilling and upskilling to attracting and retaining top employees and delivering wellbeing programmes.
In her welcoming remarks, Margaret Cheng, JP, President of the HKIHRM, commended HR practitioners for taking a leading role during the pandemic and preparing their organisations for the future of work. Cheng said that amid ongoing uncertainties, from facilitating a smooth return to the office to designing long-term remote work policies, the HR function has been pivotal in helping their organisations and their workforce adapt to the lightning speed of change.
In their welcoming remarks, Ian Choy and Teddy Liu, Co-chairpersons of the HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2021 Organising Committee, highlighted how the conference offered an interactive platform to explore "future of work" issues and trends impacting Hong Kong's HR community. The Co-chairs also pointed out how the conference provided participants with in-depth insights to empower and rethink their HR function’s priorities and the skills necessary to support their organisations as strategic business leaders.
In his opening remarks as Guest of Honour at the conference, the Hon Bernard Chan, GBM, GBS, JP, President of Asia Financial Holdings Limited, highlighted the growing correlation between environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials and talent management. Chan said studies show that jobseekers increasingly prefer to work for organisations that incorporate environmental and social principles into their values and operations, even if it translates into working for a lower salary. As a result, he said the relationship between ESG performance and workforce sentiment is a key lever in a time of unpredictable turnover and tough competition for talent. To remain alluring to jobseekers, Chan urged the HR function to play an active role in ensuring their organisations embrace ESG strategies and embed them into the foundations and culture of their business processes.
From processes to people
Delivering the first keynote plenary at the conference, Professor Frederick Ma, GBS, JP, Former Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the HKSARG, focused on areas under the next normal as touchpoints where collaboration among the HR director, the CEO and other senior management can benefit the workforce and the organisation. According to Ma, as the bridge between people and management, the HR director performs a crucial role in aligning macro issues such as workforce planning strategies with business-critical functions, and backing the objectives by recruiting and maintaining a well-balanced workforce. Further to employee wellbeing becoming a high-priority focus, he added, the role also includes paying close attention to talent diversity, human capital-related ESG issues and shaping the principles that underpin employee engagement and purpose.
While the COVID-19 health crisis has brought about many work-related changes, Ma emphasised that human capital remains the heart of any organisation, regardless of the company size or the industry sector. As such, he said the responsibility lies with the HR function to recruit the right talent to keep pace with the changing market environment and business demands. To do this effectively requires HR practitioners to have a deep understanding of the organisation's business ecosystem and its objectives. Looking ahead to a post-pandemic world, Ma noted that well-crafted talent management strategies could help to keep employees healthy and happy, while regular skills development opportunities can keep them professionally satisfied. He added that succession plans also make employees feel like they have a positive future ahead, which is crucial to keeping them engaged.
Building a flexible and resilient organisation
Sharing their vision, knowledge, and experience, the CEO Forum featured a panel of distinguished business executives from various industry sectors who explored talent management topics that can drive performance, relationships, and brand. As wellbeing emerged as a front and centre issue for organisations across the board during the pandemic, the panellists explained how the physical and mental wellness of employees not only needs to be embedded in the organisation's culture, it needs to be implemented with empathy.
Under the next normal, the panellists stressed the significance of building a flexible and dynamic workforce through upskilling and reskilling. In close collaboration with the HR function, the CEOs recommended focusing on what works best for each business function and role, and communicating these approaches with clarity, intention, and transparency. Furthermore, futureproofing for long-term growth requires developing more diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments. Noting how the COVID-19 health crisis had supercharged digital adoption, the panellists highlighted it requires a combination of people and technology to ensure that an organisation remains resilient and future-ready.
Rethinking talent management perspectives
Kicking off day two of the conference, keynote speaker NiQ Lai, Co-Owner and Group CEO, HKBN Group, explained how the company considers profit to be a subset of purpose, the focal point of which is to “make our home a better place to live”. As a business aiming to create value for its customers, employees, and communities, Lai said investing in and empowering Talent (at HKBN the workforce is referred to as ‘Talents’ with a capital ‘T’) is fundamental to the company's ability to make an impact, a strategy HKBN dubs “legal unfair competitive advantage”.
Lai explained that in place of the HR function, HKBN has a Talent engagement team. He also explained how HKBN's employer/employee relationship model challenges many of the traditional concepts of the employer/employee relationship model. For instance, HKBN’s workforce is viewed as an elite sports team instead of the often used “extended family” comparison. Highlighting another difference to the traditional employer/employee relationship model, instead of work/life balance initiatives, HKBN advocates a life-work priority, which incorporates flexibility for personal and family wellbeing. However, Lai pointed out, while the Talent-first approach to business drives capabilities to innovate and stay competitive, HKBN promotes a culture where Talents hold themselves accountable.
Cultivating an age-diverse workforce
As pioneers leading their organisations, the Next Gen Forum panellists provided firsthand examples of building a cohesive multi-generational workforce during a period of rapid change. For instance, while a workforce comprising employees from different generations may pose challenges, led by the HR function in close collaboration with senior management, organisations can create a competitive advantage by capitalising on the strengths and values of staff across the age spectrum.
Easier said than done, the panellists noted one of the key challenges of managing a multi-generational workforce is encouraging each generation to acknowledge and respect the unique attributes of the other. To inspire employees from different generations to connect, collaborate, and innovate, the panellists said it is necessary to look beyond stereotypes and focus on what motivates people to work together. Another way to help foster cross-collaboration is to pair younger workers with older workers to learn from one another in the areas of technology, communication, and social media. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, older and young workers alike have proven adept at teleworking, providing a platform to share viewpoints and suggestions and helping people feel like they belong. As work becomes less about where and more about how, when it comes to recruiting talent, the panellists suggested hiring individuals with a flexible mindset that grasps the opportunity to work as part of a multi-generational team.
An expanded role for the HR function
As architects of talent management solutions, panellists shared their experiences and insights at the Senior HR Forum. At the forum, they explained how the HR function had acquired more visibility at the top management level as a result of the humanitarian initiatives and workforce solutions that helped their organisations continue operating amid COVID-19. While this creates multiple challenges, the panellists pointed out it presents a unique opportunity for HR leaders to shape the future of work in ways not previously considered.
With shifts among remote, hybrid, and purely office work here to stay, HR teams need to explore innovative ways to work together with employees and managers to develop a workforce which is comfortable and adaptive with the unknown. As such, the advent of the next normal has meant that HR teams need to evolve the way they identify, attract, and retain critical skills and redesign work to enhance employees' sense of purpose. In summary, the panellists said while the HR function is facing challenges as never before, HR practitioners are providing an invaluable service to their organisations and the people that work for them.