Nora A. Manaf is currently the Group Chief Human Capital Officer at Maybank.
Noras’ illustrious industry experience spanning over 25 years includes leadership roles across the telecommunications, banking and insurance industry.
A member of the Group EXCO of Maybank, Nora chairs several national level committees and holds several Board memberships. Recognised as a Global Top50 Human Resource Professional, she is also an Adjunct Professor appointed by the College of Business, University Utara Malaysia (UUM) and by UKM in 2020.
Nora is actively engaged in the country’s FI, Employers’ and Education circles via the leadership roles she holds. She is Chairman of the Malayan Commercial Banks’ Association, Chairman of the Banking Sector HR Networking Group (HRNG), Council Member of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), a member of the National Labour Advisory Committee (NLAC), Advisory Committee for UUM Master of Science (Finance) and an Advisory Council Member of Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera as well as for the University-Industry Advisory Council Universiti Utara Malaysia and was
Nora actively mentors and is Executive Sponsor for the Women Council of Maybank and a Mentor in the ICAEW-TalentCorp’s WIL (Women in Leadership) programme.
A qualified Chartered Accountant, Nora holds a post-grad certification in Human Resource Development from Cornell University and is a certified Gallup Strengths finder Coach Level II. Nora is also a Harvard AMP Alumni.
In this exclusive interview with People Matters and ServiceNow, Nora talks about the essence of successful hybrid working, minimising productivity leakages, creating business value through sophisticated digital enablers and the rise of bionic organisations.
As a talent leader, what key factors are shaping your outlook towards the new ways of working in the emerging hybrid workplace?
Technology, inclusivity and flexibility would be among the key factors. Getting the technology right and establishing the “rules of engagement” are definitely critical for the success of the emerging hybrid workplace and the way forward. For employees who prefer working at a distance, the challenge is to create an environment that is as rewarding as in-person work. Technology plays a significant role in this and it enables business continuity.
We also need to ensure the employee expectations are met in order to retain the talent. So, we need to build opportunities to allow employees to connect.
The success of a connected workplace ultimately depends on our ability to embrace a flexible culture.
Giving employees control over their schedule plays a role in their overall well-being. Also to provide a conducive environment where innovation and productivity can thrive.
Our recent Employee Engagement Survey has shown that a lack of flexibility at the workplace would be among the top reasons employees would accept an offer from another organisation.
A workplace where people feel they belong is also key. And we have to try to understand better how we can make people feel that “they belong” within hybrid workplaces and mitigate the risk of unintended consequences.
I’ve always believed that successful hybrid work requires intentional and empathetic leadership to steer the organisation in the right direction. Leaders have to recognise the diversity of people in our workforce and facilitate inclusion knowing well enough that this would unlock higher productivity potentials. So the focus on employee engagement is definitely needed as high levels of engagement lead to higher performance and ultimately drive an aligned, thriving and purpose-driven culture. Engagement starts with prioritising employees on an individual level. This also means having policies and processes that truly enable choice, inclusivity.
The whole hybrid work is more than just a policy, mind you – it is about a change in the workforce system and management.
Personalisation, transparency, keeping the workforce informed and engaged as well as providing handrails even on a daily basis have worked for us.
How has the renewed focus on communication, engagement, wellness and productivity impacted your employee experience strategy?
For us, in terms of EX strategy, a strong EX includes transparency, technology, recognition, collaboration opportunities, well-being, and diversity and inclusion. All these will ultimately lead to the workforce getting more involved in their work.
If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work. Employees are tired, and many are grieving. They want a renewed and revised sense of purpose in their work. They want social and interpersonal connections with their colleagues and managers. They want to feel a sense of shared identity. Yes, they want pay, benefits, and perks, but more than that they want to feel valued by their organisations and managers. They want meaningful—though not necessarily in-person—interactions, not just transactions.
For one, providing frequent and consistent communication has been critical to maintaining existing bonds so that our employees feel part of “something bigger” and continue to be driven by purpose.
Accessible leadership plays a key role when working remotely, building trust and ensuring the value system remains stable.
Leaders allocate regular time slots across the week when people can interact with them informally. And, for new hires, leaders and line managers play an even bigger role in communicating the company’s values and cultural expectations. So there’s a conscious increase of that.
Digital transformation has always been a top priority for us and even more so now to enable remote and hybrid work. This also entails reimagining the business model to create value through sophisticated digital enablers – bringing together technology, people and processes for even more shared outcomes.
We have also been formulating new norms and rules for how work gets done. We have always taken an outcomes-based approach to our performance management, and especially as the lines between work and personal lives get blurred, and traditional indicators like the hours worked are no longer applicable. However, work-life balance requires special attention as employees may work longer hours and struggle to “switch off.” Hybrid engagements such as Happy Zooms have helped to collaborate and stay connected.
In terms of wellness, in response to the pandemic, our GHC Staff Emergency Support (SES) team was quickly established in January 2020 to meet the widespread need for assistance during this period of uncertainty. We have policies and procedures in place that address our employees' health and well-being.
We continue to inculcate a flourishing and psychologically even safer environment that thrives on Trust, Respect, Grit, Grace and Openness more cohesively in targeting specific groups and focus areas. This includes promoting and enhancing mental well-being, mental toughness, and mental agility, improving interactions and team dynamics, instilling Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity (DEI) values and minimising productivity leakages and medical costs within a more humanising and sustainable model.
Mental and emotional well-being are aspects of psychological well-being that have an impact on how people think, feel, and act. Hence, by using data analytics, the Bank accurately identifies different groups of employees with respect to their mental health state for impactful strategic interventions. Key outcomes include accommodating to employees’ varying state of readiness and willingness to disclose mental health concerns via various support channels as per their preferences.
The sustainable edge Maybank has had is largely a result of the continuous watch on EX and motivation levels.
This consistency has resulted with Maybank Group being included in the Willis Towers Watson (WTW) 2020 Global High Performance Companies normative benchmark for the fifth time since 2010.
Some key initiatives of ours include, continuous employee engagement especially through impactful Conversation with C-Suites (CWCs) sessions by Chairman and Executive Committees (EXCOs) covering multitudes of small employee groups over the years. We have also had the Leaders -On-The Go/EXCO Roadshows too, with the EXCOs going down to the ground, whether physical or virtual drop-ins. Aside from this, we have rolled out many wellness, sports and fitness programmes, opportunities for volunteerism and making time for good in communities, and many more.
We are also big on learning and development and have long since embraced the importance and need to equip our employees with the right future skills even before the COVID-19 pandemic. We launched our "FutureReady" digital upskilling programme in 2018, aimed to increase our employee’s digital literacy as well as to equip them with capabilities that will ensure their relevance into the future. And we continue to invest significantly in enhancing their skills.
With our "Learning Never Stops" programme outlined for employees on a weekly basis, more employees are now adapted to new digital learning, either via Zoom, using a digital platform like Harvard ManageMentor, among others. We also emphasise on learning-on-the-go via innovative tooling which has provided us with tracking capabilities, registration and feedback mechanisms using Typeform, 123Formbuilder & QR Codes technology to support our various stakeholders.
What are some ways employers can make business agility and operational excellence a reality for a distributed workforce?
The potential challenges of a distributed workforce may span from operations to people. From our experience, these are a few of the top challenges businesses may encounter and ways to overcome them.
- Continuous and Inclusive Communication: Communicating across a distributed team requires planned intention. It’s helpful to establish clear policies outlining the ideal frequency and best channels for different types of communication. For example, unless it’s an emergency, no one is expected to respond to communications that are sent after work hours, to respect people’s personal time. Or that documents are shared through a shared drive rather than attached to emails.
- Recharge and Reinforce Shared Culture/Community: Maintaining culture over computer screens requires consistent effort. It’s important to facilitate opportunities for non-work related conversations too. For example, many teams at Maybank host regular get-togethers online where they talk about anything but work. Employees enjoy it because they learn about each other beyond their role at work, which aids in building stronger relationships.
- Open and Transparent Engagement: You can increase engagement by ensuring each person feels valued, heard, and supported. Open platforms such as monthly sectoral townhalls, quarterly Group townhalls, whistleblowing channels, employee pulse surveys, employee engagement survey among others help.
Every team either distributed or in one place works differently from one another. Appreciating the various ways of working is important. It is important that we provide them autonomy on the “how”, but leadership on the “why”.
When 4IR came about, a strong push for reskilling and upskilling the workforce in relevant skills e.g. data analytics, software development, artificial intelligence, agile-scrum became necessary. When the pandemic followed shortly thereafter, it almost felt like a test of how serious and quick organisations were in acquiring these capabilities.
As challenging as the pandemic was, it also proved to be a great accelerator of things that needed to happen: shifting to virtual work, collaborating remotely and online learning arrangements.
We were fortunate to have been one of the few organisations that embraced and implemented agile whole-heartedly prior to 2020. With able scrum-masters and agile advocates placed throughout the organisation, we saw significant improvements in how projects were being initiated, managed and implemented.
As a further extension to that initiative, in 2022 we will be facilitating large-scale (group-wide) organisational development workshops across all businesses/sectors to accelerate all transformational projects/activities towards our five-year strategy M25.
If you could offer one piece of advice for leaders in the new world of work to improve workforce and workflow management, what would that be?
Design policies and processes with people in mind and practise with people in our hearts. In order to achieve this, communication is key and empowerment. Leaders should start leading and not managing. One way is to insist on wanting to get involved only when there is an outcome and not during the process of delivering it. Secondly, reduce the layers of reporting - it only leads to more meetings and PowerPoint decks which drains the team.
More than anything, leaders will need to drive an effective and healthy relationship between workers and technology. Why? Last year saw many organisations invest in technology that enables new forms of work, from video conferencing platforms to workflow automation tools, as well as cloud-based collaboration tools etc. Workers now have many digital tools at their disposal, enabling remote work and flexible work schedules.
These shifts mean employers place an emphasis on creating a "bionic” organisation in which "technology and data fuse together with humanity.” The pandemic has “forced change at an exponential rate," integrating technology into business operations, and changing employee expectations for areas like engagement, flexibility and technology.
A bionic organisation emphasises intellect and sound decision-making, whilst also emphasising on "the heart," or the act of inspiring and empowering employees through culture, through trust.
But managerial and leadership styles have not always evolved alongside these shifts. For e.g. the focus on employees' output of work, rather than just the hours being put in. This needs to change. I believe this will ultimately improve the workforce and workflow management.