For Wilfred Wong, BBS, JP, HR consultant, past president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) and recipient of the HKIHRM Excellent HR Award 2021/22; a career in the people management profession is not only immensely rewarding, it has also created an opportunity to contribute to a range of public service activities.
Drawing on a wealth of knowledge and experience spanning more than three decades, Mr Wong shares his insights on topics ranging from the changing role of the human resources function to reimaging the workplace and the skills HR practitioners need to consider to remain successful.
Mr Wong's Visions and Experiences
Roots and path to HR leadership
Connections with the community
The new work landscape
While a great deal has changed in terms of the focus and scope the human resources (HR) profession has taken since Mr Wong joined the people management profession more than three decades ago, one fundamental factor remains the same, from every viewpoint, HR is always about people and never prescriptive. “Because every situation is different, you never stop learning,” Mr Wong explained. For instance, every organisation is unique in its people management requirements, culture and policies. “There is no one-size-fits all blueprint that can be applied to every situation,” he added, pointing out that this is one of the aspects of the people management profession he finds the most stimulating. “Because HR is constantly evolving, what was relevant five years ago may not be so relevant today, which means I am always learning,” he said, noting the frequently repeated HR mantra that “change is the only constant”.
As the recipient of the HKIHRM Excellent HR Leader Award, Mr Wong said he not only feels deeply honoured, but also feels motivated to try harder to contribute more to the HR profession. “The award is positioned in my home where I can see it every day, which inspires me to look for ways to make an even greater contribution to raise the essence of the HR function,” he said. Even though the HR profession comes with a diverse set of challenges, whether it involves initiating career planning or nurturing company culture, HR practitioners can gain immense amounts of satisfaction from being part of a team that shapes the people management needs of an organisation, which in turn provides an inspiring place to work.
Paving the way for future success
Fascinated by the intercultural dynamics between colleagues, Mr Wong's interest in the HR profession was awakened while he was working in the operations department of Cathay Pacific Airways in the late 1970's. “I was intrigued by the way people from different cultures interacted and the way people came together to get work done,” Mr Wong recalls. However, his interest in people management moved to another level after he enrolled in a one-year Personnel Management Certificate Programme. “I used my work-life balance time to study,” Mr Wong explained, adding that this was the time before social media, on-line games and smartphones became a distraction.
After successfully completing the personnel management programme, when an opportunity became available, Mr Wong transferred from Operations to Cathay Pacific's Personnel Department, the name used before “human resources or HR” became the common term for the people management profession. “It was an entry-level job but I was enlightened and thrilled by the interaction I had with the different people I encountered, learning about different cultures and the diversity of management issues the work involved,” Mr Wong said he was also “astonished” by his first encounter with a Human Resources Information System, the processes and practices within an organisation used to collect, store, use and share information. Eager to learn and hungry to develop, it was the beginning of a vibrant career journey that for more than 30-years has enabled him to explore new horizons, including applying his insights, experience and in-depth knowledge to public service activities.
Expanding horizons through public service
Appointed by the Hong Kong Government to a number of government bodies and committees, either as chairman or as a committee member, Mr Wong believes that competences that underpin the HR profession are equally effectively in a myriad public service situations. For instance, empathy, advocacy, critical thinking, people interactions and listening and communication are transferable to multiple situations. “Applying HR values and principles to public service is not significantly different from the way that HR principles are used in a business setting,” Mr Wong said, pointing out how it is important to be aware of what drives human behaviour, initiate conversations and work towards a future vision that balances better outcomes with what is practical.
Believing that education is one of the most impactful factors that contribute to personal development and the growth of a community, Mr Wong's first appointment to public service was an advisory role that focused on Hong Kong Education Bureau educational programmes. “Education is the bedrock of any society,” Mr Wong noted, adding that a solid education system means that individuals are more likely to be effective which enables them to contribute more to their organisations, seek new opportunities and feel better about themselves, which ultimately benefits the wider community. Finding public service work both compelling and rewarding, Mr Wong's public service roles spans the Hong Kong finance, economic, labour and welfare and innovation bureaus. “The opportunity to see a cross-view of perspectives has certainly expanded my horizons and taught me the importance of being flexible and adaptive,” Mr Wong said.
Serving as a mentor to Baptist University and Chinese University of Hong Kong undergraduate students provides another opportunity for Mr Wong to put his HR experience and perspectives to a wider use. While helping young people to define goals and aspirations in readiness to join the world of work is one aspect of being a mentor, Mr Wong feels it is equally important to encourage young people to appreciate the value of cultivating a positive attitude. “With a positive attitude young people are more likely to develop self-belief and a competitive edge,” he said. This in turn allows them to pursue opportunities instead of being deterred by negative perspectives. Mr Wong also advocates the view that there are no wasted experiences, only opportunities from which lessons can be learned, which could be useful in the future.
The changing world of work dynamics
As one of the most vital and influential departments within any organisation, from a consultant's perspective, Mr Wong highlights how it is important that the HR function is able to respond to any situation. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and its inherent effects on businesses and people provided a prime example of how flexibility, agility and adaptability are integral to the success of an organisation's long-term sustainably. Against a backdrop of pandemic-driven work transformations, Mr Wong believes opportunities have emerged to reimagine a more human-centric world of work. As hybrid and work from home (WFH) become normal practices, Mr Wong suggests HR practitioners could work closely with management to redefine employee medical insurance coverage, benefits packages and wellbeing strategies. “As work and home become increasingly intertwined, it is essential to realign policies and work practices,” he noted, while making it clear he is not suggesting that workflow expectations and timelines should not be implemented. The goal, he said, is to shape policies and expectations that motivate employees in ways that make productivity more effective while connecting the workforce with the organisation's objectives and values.
Another hot topic remote and WFH work models have thrust to the forefront, is the issue of trust. “Trust is paramount,” Mr Wong said. While communicating regularly with the workforce has never been more important, to foster trust, it is important that work-related conversations are not only task-focused. By setting clear expectations and communicating openly instead of micro-managing employees, Mr Wong believes the focus on trust shifts to empowering employees, which is more likely to cultivate a greater sense of ownership and job satisfaction.
While it is vital for HR practitioners to be familiar with technologies and data-driven analysis, Mr Wong recommends that HR practitioners need to properly access data. “It is not just about understanding data-driven HR and the usual metrics, but specifically how HR can connect what the data represents in terms of business objectives and outcomes,” Mr Wong observed. Meanwhile, as organisations look for ways to enhance their employer branding proposition, Mr Wong believes that environmental, social and governance (ESG), corporate social responsibility (CSR) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies could be used in combination to improve the company’s identity and reputation in the eyes of its employees, customers, as well as potential candidates.
With organisations on the way to post-pandemic recovery, which has accentuated the importance of the HR function, as Mr Wong is reminded every time he looks at his HKIHRM Excellent HR Award 2021/22, the world of work is continually evolving and the HR function is leading from a front row seat. As Mr Wong points out, “HR is not only a strategic business partner; HR is a fundamental part of the business.”