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Employee engagement key to business transformation

In the Human Capital Partnership - Singapore Press Holdings (HCP-SPH) forum on employee engagement held on Jan 21, panellists spoke at length on how leadership, culture and talent development are paramount for businesses to thrive. Employers who want to stand out from the competition are taking the opportunity to attract and retain talent by focusing on their human capital. The Business Times finds out what firms in Singapore are doing to invest in their people

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Ms Lee: Opportunity to learn and advance in one’s career is a strong engagement driver.

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Mr Blackburn: For any transformation to be successful, you need to bring the employees along in the journey.

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Mr Koh: Engaged employees provide an edge to the organisation against the competition.

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Mr Schouten: What is becoming more and more critical ... is inculcating a mindset of learning and growth.

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Mr Tan: As we future-proof our businesses through innovation, we need to do the same for our employees.

Why is employee engagement increasingly important in today's corporate world?

Lee Shiau Fei: In this internet age of 5G, the competition for talent is more intense and, as such, insights on the company become a key factor. Employees look at the total employment experience to keep them engaged with the company. When employees are engaged and committed, they go beyond what is required of them and become the company's brand ambassadors. It is therefore important to establish a compelling employment value proposition accordingly to attract and retain talent.

Wilf Blackburn: Businesses today are transforming to keep up with the demands of the digital economy and rising customer expectations. Employee engagement is critical in these times of change. Recognising this, we put a lot of focus on communications during our transformation journey so our people understand why and how we are changing; and that they are engaged in the change process. For any transformation to be successful, you need to bring the employees along in the journey.

Toby Koh: Team spirit, bonding and a common sense of mission create exponential synergies in any organisation. The business world is extremely dynamic in current times. Corporate leadership in various industries changes hands with increasing speed and frequency. One of the most important part of the corporate arsenal is the workforce. The talent working together for a common cause. Engaged employees provide an edge to the organisation against the competition. Engaged employees will more often than not outperform unmotivated staff. Employees are the lifeblood of the company. Acquiring suitable talent, deploying the right talent for the position and effective use and talent retention are the three foremost HR thoughts on my mind every single day.

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Market voices on:

Martijn Schouten: Employee engagement has always been important. Businesses with highly engaged employees see higher customer satisfaction, lower turnover rates, and outperform in terms of ROI, than businesses with lower levels of employee engagement.

But today, employers can no longer afford to neglect employee engagement. We live in a world where the rules of the business are transforming at break neck speed. Companies need employees with new skills, agile ways of working and so much more from their current workforce to help them through these transformations. To add to the complexity, many economies are faced with a shrinking workforce, this is more so a reality for Singapore. An engaged and empowered workforce is better positioned to anticipate and adapt to changing market conditions. It is more critical than ever to focus on engaging and growing our employees to retain them and help businesses grow.

Tan Seng Chai: Studies have shown that employee engagement is not only essential to attract and retain talent, but highly engaged employees have also led to positive business outcomes. At CapitaLand, our vibrant, engaged and talented workforce has given the group a competitive edge, driving our growth as one of Asia's largest real estate companies with a global presence. This is particularly critical as the competition for talent intensifies.

What does your organisation do to engage its employees effectively?

Ms Lee: We engage employees by providing networking opportunities to interact across the organisation. The Recreation Club, a staff-led committee, organises regular employee activities such as movie screening, durian party, family day out at RWS, etc. Quarterly in-conversation sessions with senior management are arranged for employees to engage with and gain insights from senior management. We also provide funding for staff-led CSR initiatives to encourage volunteerism and at the same time foster team bonding. The Wellness@Mapletree programme is a recent initiative created to foster a wellness culture in Mapletree by providing access to health information and activities in the workplace. To make it a "happening thing", this is supported by a MobileApp with community page for like-minded employees to come together organically and organise group wellness activities.

Mr Blackburn: In designing our physical workplace and HR policies, employee well-being and experience are key priorities.

Our workplace is designed to promote collaboration, creativity and autonomy. We have knocked down the walls in our workplace and in turn, created lots of social spaces to encourage greater interaction among colleagues. No one has an office in our workplace, not even myself, because we want to build a culture of openness, where everyone has an equal voice.

Similar to our workplace, our policies and programmes aim to support creative and critical thinking; enable empowerment; and build trust. For instance, we do not have fixed working hours so our employees have greater control over their time. Our leadership team holds regular townhalls and dialogue sessions to build alignment and to drive engagement. Recently, we scrapped the retirement age of 62 so our employees can decide when they want to retire. Giving them the power to choose makes them feel empowered and engaged.

Mr Koh: There must be clarity in purpose, in common goals, rules and regulations. This will tend to weed out the ones who may not fit the culture and work style. Engagement is best done face to face and with shared experiences. This is why I invest heavily in team-building events like annual corporate dinners, sporting and leisure events, town-halls, feasting sessions and more. When employees share more experiences together and have a better understanding of the challenges of their colleagues, they tend to work closer and with more synergies. Constant communication is vital, not just of work but of other non-work matters too.

Mr Schouten: People across our organisation understand our purpose, which is to build trust in society and solve important problems. In having a strong purpose, it provides meaning to the work that people do. Our people also understand the values and behaviours that are required to deliver on our purpose.

In addition, coaching is an integral part of the culture in PwC. The strong coaching culture is ingrained through formal processes we have in place to provide a conducive environment for real-time feedback. Staff have two coaches - a career coach that helps them navigate their journey in PwC and an on-the-job coach that guides them through the more technical aspects of the projects they are on.

There is also a strong focus on flexibility that is all-encompassing - from where and when we work to the way we dress. In line with this focus on flexibility, we have introduced programmes such as FlexSpace (where people can work remotely instead of having to come into the office) and FlexDress Everyday (a revised dress code which simply calls for employees to dress appropriately). There are also many digital initiatives that have been introduced to make everyday activities more efficient.

Mr Tan: To encourage an open and collaborative culture within the company, CapitaLand actively engages its staff through various avenues. These include:

  • Open office and work stations, a social and collaborative workspace concept to enable interaction among staff.
  • Quarterly staff communication sessions held by senior management to update company performance, and ensure an alignment of business goals, priorities and objectives across our workforce.
  • Questions and answers via an online platform, via email, or in person with the senior management, offer suggestions or clarify their doubts during these staff communication sessions.
  • Regular employee review conversations for performance and career development.
  • Informal gathering through regular events and activities for our employees throughout the year such as teambuilding events, department outings, breakfast with CEOs, annual dinner & dance, family day, CapitaLand Volunteer Day, festival celebrations, etc.
  • Employee wellness programmes including family-friendly initiatives, annual medical check-ups, flexible work arrangement and leave, flexible benefits and vacation accommodation.

As we future-proof our businesses through innovation, we need to do the same for our employees. To promote an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, we need to ensure that our people are agile in learning and have the competencies to cope with the rapidly advancing technology.

What are the benefits in developing your human capital?

Ms Lee: The company invests considerable cost and effort in attracting and recruiting talent, hence it makes sense to develop and train them so that they can contribute their best to the organisation. In addition, opportunity to learn and advance in one's career is a strong engagement driver. When employees see such opportunities in the company, they are more likely to stay and be engaged at work. Commitment to developing our human capital is part of our employment value proposition to prospective candidates and help to attract and recruit talent.

Mr Blackburn: We invest significantly in developing our human capital because we know we are only as good as the people we have. Getting our employees future-ready is key in ensuring the continued success of our company.

This is why we spent thousands of hours developing our employees in the areas of leadership, strategic thinking, creativity and digital skills. These training hours were complemented by a S$70 million technology investment to help our people work smarter and more efficiently.

We have also introduced programmes to drive internal mobility and to support employees in their personal and professional development. All these to help our people stay agile and adaptive to the changing business and customer needs.

Mr Koh: Continuity is very important for a growing company. It is common knowledge that on-boarding a new employee takes time before positive contribution. Some may not fit in and leave within months, thereby sacrificing time and resource. Existing talent who are willing and able to grow with the company and contribute more is certainly the preferred choice rather than an outside hire. Promoting from within also creates a feel good culture, recognition and prospects. Why look outside if the opportunities are available in the company? Employees will tend to stay if they feel fairly treated with room to grow.

Happy engaged employees are the best spokespeople any organisation can hope for. They are the ones who will be the first to recommend talent whom they feel can contribute. They will also be proactive in on-boarding new colleagues and also helping to sift through the ones who may not be suitable. An engaged employee will always do their part to protect the culture that they are accustomed to.

Mr Schouten: With intelligent automation, artificial intelligence and other disruptions, people development is no longer a nice-to-have; it's a business imperative. People will have to focus on continually developing new and enhancing existing skills like complex problem solving, leadership, critical thinking and creativity. This will allow them to easily adapt to changing and new roles and remain attractive and competitive.

Mr Tan: CapitaLand has an integrated human capital strategy to recruit, develop and retain staff. This is important to build a sustainable pipeline of talent to support the business' growth strategy.

We have identified the core skills and the competencies required for the future of a diversified real estate business which we operate. Bridging the skills gap and building the competencies of our talent are essential to strengthen our capabilities for the future. In the last three years, about 95 per cent of CapitaLand's employees attended at least one learning event, and the average number of training hours completed by each staff for the year was more than 59 hours, well above the recommended industry guide of 40 hours per annum.

Developing human capital results in a more engaged and effective workforce which helps to drive the company's growth and deliver better value for stakeholders.

What are the biggest challenges that employers face in talent development and how can they be overcome?

Ms Lee: Talent development for a diverse workforce is a challenge. Firstly, multi-generational workforce would have different expectations and priorities, and it is difficult to implement one-size-fits-all framework. Companies have to explore creative ways to cater to the different demands and customise for relevant needs. Secondly, as businesses expand globally, there will be talent acquisition across various geographies, with language and cultural differences, and often with complex labour law requirements. Employees should be developed to think globally and work with teams of different nationalities. The organisation's culture and values need to be articulated clearly so that employees are consistent in how they behave and get things done in the organisation.

Mr Blackburn: As digitalisation alters our landscape, we need people who are willing to learn and have the ability to adapt to the fast-changing needs of our customers. Putting the right person in the right role, and ensuring they have the right skillsets and importantly the mindset to succeed is key.

To build adaptability and resilience, we provide our employees with plenty of opportunities for continuous learning through in-house and external trainings and education sponsorships.

We also encourage our people to take on new roles and experiment with new ways of working as part of their professional development. I am proud of all our employees who courageously took on new roles as the company transforms to meet the needs of a new and growing segment of digitally-savvy consumers.

Mr Koh: The first and biggest challenge is attitude and mind-set of the employee. This is why attracting the candidates with positive attitude coupled with a strong desire to learn is vital for talent development. The second challenge is to foster a learning and personal growth culture within the organisation. I believe that an employee who continues to learn, grow and feel challenged will inevitably contribute positively and stay on. The responsibility of constant learning and self-improvement rest with the reporting officer.

Mr Schouten: What is becoming more and more critical from a talent development perspective is inculcating a mindset of learning and growth. It's about getting people to appreciate that learning is pivotal to stay relevant in the complex world of work we're living in and that learning and development is something that is not a one-off experience, but something that is dynamic, ongoing and has an important place in everything we do. Employers need to encourage people to embrace challenges, overcome obstacles and learn from feedback.

Related to this challenge is another one, which is the ability of leaders and people managers to establish that mindset of learning and growth in their people. To deal with the complex workforce challenges of today, organisations require leaders and people managers that are able to generate personal and organisational transformation; the so-called transformational leader. In 2015, PwC found that less than 10 per cent of leaders have the appropriate capabilities to successfully drive personal and organisational transformation. So developing, growing and nurturing leaders with the right capabilities require time and attention too.

Mr Tan: In a large organisation like CapitaLand, our workforce is diverse, comprising employees of over 80 nationalities and from diverse demographics.

We perform regular training needs analysis to be attuned to our employees' needs. This allows us to provide the most effective learning and development opportunities through both internal and external training centres, to enhance their capabilities as required by the individual employee and business sectors.

We also offer internal opportunities with job rotations, overseas exchange programmes, as well as career advancement opportunities across functions, business units and geographies.


PARTICIPANTS:

  • Lee Shiau Fei, Head, Group Human Resource, Mapletree
  • Wilf Blackburn, CEO, Prudential Singapore
  • Toby Koh, Group CEO, Ademco Security Group
  • Martijn Schouten, Singapore People & Organisation Leader, PwC South East Asian Consulting
  • Tan Seng Chai, Group Chief People Officer, CapitaLand Group

What is the Human Capital Partnership programme?

THE Human Capital Partnership (HCP) programme is a tripartite initiative comprising a community of exemplary employers who are committed to develop their human capital and progressive employment practices in place in their organisations. The HCP programme aims to achieve three major outcomes:

  • Develop a stronger Singaporean core by investing in the development of local employees across all levels;
  • Foster stronger complementarity between local and foreign employees;
  • Facilitate skills transfer from foreign to local employees to enhance capabilities

For more information about the Human Capital Partnership Programme, contact the programme office, Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, at:

Contact Number: 6302 2782
Email address: hcpartner@tafep.sg
Website: www.tafep.sg

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