Article: Adaptability is key to future-proof both business & people: Dean Tong, UOB

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Adaptability is key to future-proof both business & people: Dean Tong, UOB

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In a recent episode of the exclusive video series, ‘Adaptable HR - The Future is Now’, Dean Tong, Head, Group Human Resources, UOB talks about leading in the uncertain future of work with adaptability at the core.
Adaptability is key to future-proof both business & people: Dean Tong, UOB

It is safe to say that amid the pandemic, adaptable organisations are the ones that have been able to transition to the new reality of work effectively. “For many organisations who are built on deep silos, this is something that you find extremely difficult to do,” said Dean Tong, Head, Group Human Resources, UOB, in a recent episode of the exclusive video series, Adaptable HR - The Future is Now! 

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a real test. “The more adaptable organisations were able to deploy resources much more efficiently during this period of time,” added Dean. 

The observation is supported by the latest edition of Alight Solutions’ State of HR Transformation study, in partnership with People Matters, which shows that in this rapidly evolving business ecosystem, adaptability plays a central role in helping organisations navigate the uncertain and ambiguous future.

Adaptability can no longer be ignored

“As HR, we define our role as future-proofing the organisation and our people,” said Dean Tong In that lies the notion of adaptability. Given the fact that there are a lot of variables involved in the future, the chances are that our predictions are not necessarily going to come true. Adaptability, hence, becomes inevitable. If you wish to survive and thrive in the rapidly changing world of work, you can no longer ignore adaptability as a skill, as a culture in itself. 


In the first chapter of the episode, Shaswat Kumar, Vice President & Asia Head - Payroll, Advisory, and Cloud Solutions, Alight Solutions shared the three essential elements of adaptability, “Commitment to Outcome, Adoption at Heart, and Navigating to the Future.”

Based on similar anchors, UOB has also focused on skills like adaptability and enhanced their learning interventions much before the pandemic. 

Dean reminisced, “Last year, we spoke about BetterU and it was all about how we make employees more adaptable for the future.” For most parts of the jobs we don't know, how it's going to change and when it's going to change. “So, the only way to prepare our people is to make them more adaptable and that's why we focus more on soft skills,” he added. 

The five key skills UOB has been focusing on include: Growth mindset, digital awareness, storytelling, problem solving, and design. 

“These are not specific to any job function. We required the same skills sets to often move from one function another and exposure to these skills enhances the employability quotient. This was the bedrock which was aligned with the findings of the study done by Alight Solutions and People Matters,” said Dean. 

The pandemic was a real test for people who had gone through the BetterU training. Dean shared that it indeed helped them look at problems in life with a better perspective and they focused more on building solutions. 

Strategic HR: The need of the hour

When Dean first came to UOB, he built an exclusive department in HR itself: it's called Strategic HR.

“What I wanted to do was actually stitch the business in HR. I wanted the team to understand and provide business solutions, with people at the core.” 


UOB got together people from diverse backgrounds and most of them were from consulting. The plan is to subsequently inject them to different parts of HR pillars and keep the business element intact in every people decision. 

“One of the first parts of people transformation is strategic workforce training. You take the business strategy and translate into people organisation requirements. And you ask questions with a longer term perspective, and in banking we pick three years, anything longer is wishful thinking,” said Dean.

As the study also revealed, “It is critical that HR teams accelerate the change of their HR Service Delivery Model and drive the shift needed in organisations to adapt to the new business model.”

After understanding the business needs, the HR then needs to map the talent requirements. How many people are required? What capabilities are critical? How do we deploy talent? 

The need for reskilling

The COVID-19 situation has accelerated the need for reskilling and a holistic solution. HR has an important role to play here. We have direct influence on many components of this solution. In terms of recruitment, there could be a way that you hire people from outside than ready the internal workforce. It is a way to address the issue from a different part of the value chain. 

UOB is still hiring but strategically. “But before we hire a readymade talent from outside, we always ask if you have identified this talent internally,” said Dean. 

One of the effective ways to bounce back from a crisis efficiently is to enhance internal talent mobility. It helps in creating more employable talent internally and future-proofing the organisation. Dean suggested introducing internal incentive to re-skill and prepare for employees for diverse roles in the organisation and creating a learning ecosystem.

Accelerating the HR function

The world is definitely more digital and UOB has been ahead of the curve to adapt to the change. Dean shared how the bank is investing in a cloud system for HR. Within the Group Human Resources (HR) function specifically, it is in the process of migrating its core HR system to a secure cloud-based system to enable their team to access information and to collaborate easily and securely whether they are working in the office or from their homes. This frees up the team from administrative and operational tasks so that they can address more strategic people and organisational issues such as employee engagement and upskilling.

“As we re-skill the larger organisation, we need to re-skill HR as well. I need more people who can connect the dots,” concluded Dean. 

To download your copy of Asia Pacific’s largest study on the State of HR Transformation 2020, click on this link.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #AdaptableHR

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