Article: Building a people-centric culture for the years to come: HEINEKEN Malaysia's Victoria Ang

Strategic HR

Building a people-centric culture for the years to come: HEINEKEN Malaysia's Victoria Ang

'Soft' aspects of the workplace, from culture to values to well-being, have become ascendant out of necessity. Now they also need to remain in focus going forward, not just because it benefits the organisation but because it's the right thing to do.
Building a people-centric culture for the years to come: HEINEKEN Malaysia's Victoria Ang

The last two years underscored the kind of boost that inclusive policies give to people's ability to work in a disrupted environment, and combined with talent shortages, many companies are now working on strategies to attract and retain employees. Diversity and inclusion, well-being, and flexibility, have become major priorities for many companies going forward.

People Matters spoke with Victoria Ang, the People Director of HEINEKEN Malaysia Berhad, about the steps that organisations can take to build a people-centric culture that incorporates these 'soft' factors. Here's what she told us.

Leadership should be the focal point

While the Great Resignation hasn't really hit Malaysia or other Southeast Asian countries in full force, there is still a trend of people beginning to ask why they stay in their jobs and what they contribute to when they come to work. That will become more pronounced as time passes, she believes – and it will manifest in people becoming more choosy about what jobs they accept.

So what's the key to staying competitive for the best talent? Leadership is how you build the right culture, Ang said.

“We are able to prioritise a people centric culture when leaders focus on caring for their people – when they bring the right energy and they ignite passion in others. This is very important for us, and it's where the focus is now,” she said.

Diversity and inclusion is another very big part of this culture. “That diverse view supported by an inclusive work environment allows everybody to participate and to contribute. It brings about more innovation for the company.”

And of course, there is employee well-being: making sure that employees are taken care of emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Going forward, flexibility will also play a major role in creating a culture that enables all of these. 

Even though policies need to be considered from a productivity standpoint, employees must also be given the freedom and the space to define how they are going to contribute to the achievement of those business goals.

“We have an EverGreen 2025 strategy to future-proof our company, and it's very important for us that those milestones or those goals are achieved,” Ang said. “But I think it's also important that leaders can help employees understand the meaning behind the strategy and the policies that support it – help them answer the questions of 'Why should I do this?' and 'What should I do?'”

HEINEKEN's EverGreen strategy, which was introduced last year, focuses on environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and people – both inside and outside the company.

HR needs to keep evolving as well

As people strategies become more sophisticated, HR also needs to move away from focusing on policies, and look at how the function can provide advice suited to the business context. It's about using information – about behaviours, expectations, needs, and so on – in a scientific way to help the leadership and individual managers make decisions in a more rapid and agile manner, Ang said.

“I think the framework has changed to more of sensing the organisation and providing some hard science behind why we want to do certain things,” she observed. “That's where the direction will be in 2022.”

The pressure has been on HR for some time to become more data-savvy, more familiar with the scientific approach, and overall better aligned with the business. Unsurprisingly, organisations that already have a strong HR team, or that are able to invest in developing their team, do better in this pivot.

Ang shared some of the initiatives she and her team have launched to drive upskilling, and which the HR team themselves are also benefiting from: training programmes specifically designed for growth and development, digital programmes to help employees advance in the function of their choice in a highly structured manner. Because these are so closely intertwined with business development, the HR team routinely participates in regional and global discussions to stay aligned with the overall strategy.

All this is contingent on HR's ability to bring forward a solid business case for technological and upskilling investment, though.

“It's a very real conversation,” Ang said of such discussions.

“Sometimes in a business setting you have a P&L (profit and loss projection) to deliver and you need to make decisions fast. Therefore it's important to put into perspective what comes first.”

Having a very clearly laid out strategy helps here, she added: with something like HEINEKEN's EverGreen plan, for example, leaders across all functions are able to bring to the table a vision of what they want to achieve and what they're prepared to prioritise in terms of resources.

Trends to keep an eye on in the coming year

The evolution of organisational culture, leadership styles, and HR's role will necessarily be shaped by broader socioeconomic trends – much as the pandemic shaped the shift toward flexibility and wellness. For 2022, Ang is taking the perspective that employees are the starting point.

“Without the employee, you can't take any significant action,” she said. “So the first thing to look at is what we can impact for employees, and health and wellness will probably be one of the key areas. Next, you look at your surroundings. HEINEKEN has ambitious goals under our sustainability agenda, and we've actually managed to exceed some of them already – that's the environment aspect. There's also the social aspect: how can we impact the community around us? How can we provide better for people who are working with us but not part of our company: how do we ensure that they are taken care of, that they have a good working environment, that we are paying a fair price for their services?”

All these things, she explained, feed back into the concept of being a good corporate citizen and upholding organisational values – which in turn links to the idea that employees want to  know what their efforts are contributing to.

“I think it's important that we bring life to the values that we have on paper,” Ang said.

“Because when it becomes real, that brings meaning to everyone in the organisation. It shows that we are doing our part to uplift people and create an environment for them to perform.”

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Topics: Strategic HR, #Outlook2022

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