Article: 'Engagement is about putting employees at the centre of design thinking'

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'Engagement is about putting employees at the centre of design thinking'

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Siu Ming HONG, Senior VP - Head of Group Rewards and Employee Engagement and Head of HR Business Partnering at Great Eastern Life, Singapore reveals how engagement is all about putting employees at the centre of your design thinking.
'Engagement is about putting employees at the centre of design thinking'

It is a common myth that leaders are a company’s biggest assets. Instead, engaged, enthusiastic, absorbed employees are the biggest assets for any organization today in this VUCA world. Consider for a moment, the findings from Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, which shows that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs – i.e. only 15% of them are emotionally invested in committing their time, talent and energy in advancing their organization’s initiatives. Further Gallop research shows that employee disengagement costs the US more than $550 Bn billion a year in lost productivity. 

No wonder, with 85% of employees disengaged, organizations can no longer ignore this issue. It becomes more important in today’s dynamically changing workplaces. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Siu Ming HONG, Senior Vice President - Head of Group Rewards and Employee Engagement and Head of HR Business Partnering at Great Eastern Life, Singapore reveals how engagement is all about putting employees at the center of your design thinking.

You have a versatile experience in people strategy, culture strategy, and employee engagement. What are some of the current HR trends that are shaping engagement in the APAC region?

Most companies are starting to take the notion of employee engagement more seriously. HR in the past was really more transactional, allowing employees to transact with the employer. However, in the last decade, the role of HR has transformed in a lot of ways. Today HR is thinking about how to enable organizations to activate its workforce so that there can be real, tangible productivity that drives employee behavior. 

How HR is evolving is by using technology to create unique experiences for employees. This is what employees wanted as well. Today we have multi-generational workforces within an organization. Now you have 3-4 generations of people working together. Each of them thinks differently and has different motivations. So how do you create an environment that allows them to collaborate for the greater good of the organization and the business? How do you use data to drive digitization across HR policies and practices?

What are some of the factors which affect engagement within employees in the life insurance, financial advisory, general insurance, bancassurance, and asset management industry? 

In my view, employee engagement is really about expectations. An employee has a certain basic set of expectations. However, if an employee has expectations of an aspirational level, you will have to surpass them to create engagement. 

“An organization has to create an experience beyond an employee’s aspirations to create a wow experience and keep him engaged.”

The insurance sector is very closely linked to the banking sector. The banks have always been ahead of the game in terms of aspirations of employees. The same applies to our industry-it is all about managing expectations and giving them something beyond their aspirational levels to keep them engaged. That’s where the challenge is.

How can technology be employed to increase engagement within this industry? In Singapore, how are companies doing the same?

In Singapore, many people talk about data analytics and people analytics but there are four to five stages before you get to predictive analytics. That is what most organizations aspire for because only when you reach a stage of prescriptive and predictive analytics, would you then be able to make a meaningful interpretation of data to affect employee engagement.

Trend analytics tells you what happened in the past but that might not happen in the future. So many organizations are stuck in this dashboard or trend line phase and are not able to move to the predictive modeling phase whereby they are able to use the employee data to create unique and personalized experiences or what could be called human-centric experiences just like customer-centric experiences.

“Organizations are now thinking if we can create a unique experience for a customer, why can’t we create a unique experience for our employees?” 

Especially for the millennial workforce, who want to create a deep impact on their society? So HR today is focused on creating policies, programs, and business outcomes centered on the employee experience. However, not many organizations have been able to do that because of issues around competency and the fact that HR is still not considered at par with the business units in terms of order of priority.

What are some of the best practices employed by Great Eastern Life in keeping employees engaged?

Our employee value proposition is a tripod model-where we focus on work experience, work value, and competitive rewards. When we internalize the brand proposition for our employees as we do for our customers, our proposition is that we will create an opportune work environment for you to gain meaningful work experience, so that your work value can be enhanced. For you to be independent and take care of yourself, with or without the company, these are lifelong skills you can acquire. We ensure that you are taken care of and skilled enough to do a job very well. And at the same time multi-skill yourself to future-proof yourself.

In this direction, we have launched some initiatives. Two years ago, we did away with a traditional hierarchical setup. We realized one of the issues around engagement is about leadership. In that setup, most employees would progress in terms of delivery and outcomes. But when you start blending in the notion of leadership, there will come a time when you not only expect functional delivery but managerial delivery as well. Now some people might not be equipped on the managerial delivery. But this doesn’t mean that we forestall their progressions. So we thought of the entire career progression model and changed it to where we broke it into particular streams- managerial stream and a professional stream. For a managerial stream, you are measured on how you empower your team. In the professional stream, you are not judged on your leadership skill set as much as your professional track.  

How does HR need to prepare for the future of work as far as employee engagement is concerned? Will engagement become more challenging for HR as digitization increases?

“HR is all about putting employees at the center of your design thinking.”

How do you create processes not around how organizations like to operate but around how employees consume the experience? How do you create a user-centric experience? So how do you personalize all HR processes? How do you create a unique experience to make life easier and more meaningful for employees so that they can spend time delivering valuable business rather than spend time-solving problems. That’s what true employee engagement is. Because that is what people aspire for- creating value in an organization than to do firefighting every other day.

For the finance sector, engagement will become more challenging as digitization increases as the issue of governance will always be there even though we are big on disruption. But we need to remember that today big financial companies are competing with startups that can provide more meaningful and unique experiences. So as an industry we need to evolve and be nimble and balance regulatory considerations to attract young, talented people.

Topics: Global Perspective, HR Technology

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