Article: From engagement, to shared goals: Income's Juliana Ang on HR's evolution

Strategic HR

From engagement, to shared goals: Income's Juliana Ang on HR's evolution

Just a few years ago, HR's work was about keeping employees happy and filling skill gaps; but now it's grown to encompass building shared goals and predicting the future talent needs of the business. Juliana Ang, Chief People Officer of NTUC Income, shares some thoughts on how this change has come about.
From engagement, to shared goals: Income's Juliana Ang on HR's evolution

Several years back, the HR team at insurer NTUC Income undertook an intensive overhaul of their talent acquisition strategy. The company was digitalising, and they needed to bring in people who could help advance the technological aspect of the workplace—from knowledge to culture to a digital-savvy working environment.

Now that digitalisation has been accelerated by the advent of widespread remote work, HR's strategy has had to evolve again. People Matters asked Juliana Ang, Chief People Officer of Income, where the emphasis lies today. Here's what she shared.

Back in 2018, you spoke about how you and your HR team had to overhaul your talent acquisition strategy to keep up with digitalisation. What's the strategy like this year?

Earlier this year, Income went through a brand refresh that follows our direction to become a customer-led organisation. HR plays an important role to ensure everyone is brought along on this new culture journey.

First, we had to align everyone on a common language about customer-centricity – what it means, why we need it and how we will achieve it. To kickstart this journey, we organised design-thinking workshops organisation-wide across different levels and departments to train employees to solve problems from a customer’s point-of-view.

Then, it is about employees experiencing customer-centricity becoming our way of working. We achieved this by getting staff to experience design thinking via internal hackathons and workshops where staff lead cross-team projects to solve real business problems while leveraging design thinking.

As part of the journey, we also implemented data curriculum workshops organisation-wide, to generate awareness for data appreciation and its application. The workshops are tailored specific to various levels at Income from admin, executives, and managers to C-suites, to ensure resonance and relevance to their work.

While not everyone can become a data scientist, it is important that everyone understands the importance of good quality data and gets the foundation right.

How would you say your input into business decisions and overall business strategy has evolved in the last few years?

We have stepped up on corporate-wide engagement action plans and tightened follow-through and ownership across the management team. A lot of work and effort was invested in building a high-performing team, through equipping managers with the capability and courage to drive performance management so that we can raise the performance bar and bring staff along in accelerating change and to bring about growth.

Another key focus was in managing the tension within the organisation that was brought on by key business shifts. Some roles have been rendered less meaningful following sharper alignment to business and operational strategies, and we worked closely with the management team to build our people’s capabilities so they will not be left out of the future of work. This has sharpened our people’s development plan, and in this regard, we have also curated and introduced a future-proof curriculum that was carefully designed to support the business across the organisation.

Much effort was invested in aligning the senior management and leadership teams to the digital transformation journey so that they can support the organisation-wide transformation effort in a united voice. This way, they can be a key influence for change organisation-wide.

Now that the organisation has good traction in embracing digital transformation, the HR conversation has since progressed beyond staff engagement to drive the future of work, where we empower staff to connect anywhere and to collaborate across teams effectively and efficiently.

Could you share some thoughts around how the needs and demands placed on HR have changed specifically for your industry? What are people looking at differently today as compared to 3-5 years ago?

Increasingly. HR is viewed as a business partner as opposed to playing a supporting role in terms of hiring, compensation, and benefits administration, driving first level staff engagement activities such as celebrations and staff engagement programs. This is evident in the revamp of the HR organisation setup which is more skewed towards HR business partnerships and outsourcing of the HR administrative functions.

HR is no longer an observer in the boardroom but a key contributor in shaping the business agenda as well. Co-creating the people agenda with the business, including organisation design, and cascading organisation goals are key business agendas that HR is required to have a sharper appreciation of these days.

Having the right talent in place is key to designing the right business plan. Quoting the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, the important point is not where the bus is heading, but to have the right people on the bus. Augmenting the right team is a critical role that HR plays, and this goes beyond the senior management team. Talent acquisition is no longer about filling a seat but bringing on board the right talent that can create, innovate, and accelerate growth alongside the company.

Staff engagement has also pivoted beyond just keeping staff happy, but is now to drive them towards the shared goals of the organisation and embracing the right mindset, behaviour, and the right organisational culture. Staff development plans are no longer about meeting needs or filling the capability gaps of staff, but also forecasting ahead of future requirements in terms of capabilities and skillsets.

In short, shaping and balancing current and future needs strategically with the business and not just fulfilling short-term need. The HR profession now needs to keep abreast of the progress in the market and be able to advise and coach the managers in terms of people development and ensuring that the team’s skillsets meet future requirements. 

Finally, digitalisation being the huge sea change that it is, where do you see technology making the biggest difference in your work today? 

Technology has changed the face of the insurance industry and also the way we work. It has become a huge strategic enabler in every aspect of work, especially in our current remote work setting.

Firstly, with digitalisation sweeping across industries, there is a need for us as an organisation to be more agile, innovative, and customer-centric to meet the needs of a digital-first generation today, even in areas of HR work that is business-as-usual. Technology has augmented the Future of Work at Income and today, we are in a good place business-wise and in terms of staff engagement despite challenges posed by the pandemic and social-distancing measures.

For example, technology has improved our productivity. Our AI powered chat-bot, Zoey, has improved our screening capability and improved productivity of our recruiters, especially for roles which face voluminous screenings.

HR processes have also been made more convenient, efficient, and accessible for our employees via the HR on-the-go app. The app allows employees to apply and approve leave and submit claims easily via their mobile phone. The Mobile Access app allows staff to gain access to income offices and printers via a tap of their mobile phones. 

More significantly, we are looking at future technology applications to sharpen HR work, such as upgrading our HR Information System (HRIS) to a more modern cloud solution which will provide HR Analytics capability to improve employee onboarding experience, enhance employee development tracking as well as introducing a HR Chatbot for employees and robotic process automation to make HR processes easy and more intuitive. Further down the road, we could also look at using AI predictive analysis to better understand and design more customised staff engagement activities to sharpen attraction and retention efforts.


This interview was originally published in August 2021.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HRCommunity

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