Article: Jenie Lim on HR stepping up and stepping into new shoes

Strategic HR

Jenie Lim on HR stepping up and stepping into new shoes

Head HR at Shopee, Jenie Lim in a tête-à-tête with People Matters on the need for HR leaders to step up to their evolving roles and not stand in the corner waiting to be involved in business.
Jenie Lim on HR stepping up and stepping into new shoes

As the Head of Human Resources at Shopee Indonesia, Jenie Lim leads a workforce of over 3,000 employees. Shopee has offices across offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore. The following is based on excerpts from her conversation with People Matters as she sheds light on the nuances, challenges and unique potential of the ASEAN region.

HR today has moved from role of a rector to a partner and finally an anticipator and integrator in the business. How can HR leaders ensure that they have a say and be equal partners in business? 

In numerous companies, the challenges and opportunities will normally revolve around people. It is always linked to people. As a head of HR, you cannot wait for the management to talk to you about the problems or issues but you have to step up. One needs to have a holistic understanding of the company even if you do not delve deep into it but you must know the business side of the company. That way, you can open your eyes to the issues, areas of development and thus have a standing in the business. We can no longer be just business partners but be instrumental in initiating processes instead of just waiting in the corner.

With that changing role in mind, how is the relationship between the HR heads and board members evolving? 

Our world of business today is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and therefore we need flexible and dynamic HR processes. We also need to ensure agility and nimbleness in our workings and be brave enough to take calculated risks and to still be able to face the bureaucracies and formalities of the board. In our VUCA world, having the trust of the board is even more essential and if you have that trust, you can solve problems in an easier way and be more agile in your processes. However, if you limit yourself to being a personal confidante, these shifts would not be possible.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in reinventing the future of work?

Nowadays, the stress is on data and every decision being made across the levels of the organization requires data. That said, if we are so focused on numbers, figures and statistics, HR would not be human anymore. As an HR leader, you still need to play the human side and to lead by compassion and empathy. Irrespective of how dependent the world gets on data, we still need to cultivate the human side of business. It might be challenge to maintain our human nature in the working environment but it is a requisite for the future.

Speaking of the future, how can HR professionals harness the power of digital technology to innovate, unlock new sources of value and transform the business? 

Today, there are multiple tools and software that are available. Even a simple process like onboarding has been transformed. Whereas earlier, new joinees would have to fill in countless forms, which would then be entered into the system by the HR, now with the presence of the right tools, new employees can fill in digital forms that are automatically fed straight into the HRIS. That saves a lot of time and my HR admin who used to do data entry can now work on something more strategic. 

Even leave management is now digital and all on HRIS, which allows the reporting manager to track and approve leaves in seconds. We also have tools like Trello through which different departments can collaborate and that allows the use of a single platform with a transparent view of how the projects are moving. This also increases agility. To enable more effective communication, we have instant messaging apps for internal use where you can time the visibility of your messages. When it comes to employee engagement though, we still believe in being human with that.

What, according to you, should HR heads focus on to operate and deliver within the complexities of this shift from age-old HR models to the incorporation of new-age technology? 

Firstly, the Head of HR should be a business leader and not only a business partner. We have to be role models to people and to project the human aspects of business. Talent development is a key area that needs to be focused on because we live in an age where the question is whether AI and bots replace humans and I feel that it is imperative to preserve the human touch. We thus have to develop our employees to be irreplaceable. People who can collaborate with each other are important because today with mobiles, apps and software, people tend to be focusing on themselves whereas in order to survive, we need to collaborate. We need to be able to work with other people and not just with tools.

What are the challenges that you face while hiring the right talent for the e-Commerce industry?

Young people often move from one job to the other and this is not just today but has been there before as well. The ecommerce industry is young in the market and in Indonesia, it is barely a decade old. As a result of that, there is only a niche group of talent pool who are well versed with ecommerce. Hence, every talent that we tap into, we need to develop them internally. So, without such robust talent in Indonesia, where it is not that talent is rare but rather just not ready, we need to keep looking for who fits us best and can be developed. A lot of ecommerce businesses here today are trying to attract overseas Indonesian talent. We also have the GLP (Global Leaders Program) to engage the local talent. 

When it comes to developing talent internally, what kind of training programs do you practice?

Managers here develop their own subordinates. Apart from that, we also enable internal mentoring from individual departments. There is the availability of technical training as well as guidance for soft skills development. We have a wide curriculum available and advise employees to engage in at least two hours of training every six months. Our L&D team prepares engaging training sessions for a variety of concepts from people skills to leadership to communication.

Which level gets the most focus in terms of hiring? 

We do hire a lot of fresh graduates. It is easier to fill a blank page than a page that has been written all over.  

In order to build a competitive advantage, how different do the HR functions in your industry need to be versus that of traditional organizations?

The industry of ecommerce is still growing but it is a very new industry and thus most of the management levels are also filled with millennials. In Shopee, for example, 52% of our leaders are below 30 years old. The company itself comprises 84% millennials. Therefore, they are the ones shaping the workspace.

We focus on three things for this young workforce:

Physical wellbeing: We encourage them to achieve work-life balance by exercising and focusing on physical health in the office

Financial health: Besides free food, we provide employee benefits like comprehensive insurance, healthcare and specific need-based benefits for married employees

Psychological wellness: Talent development and training programs enable psychological growth of every employee. Even GLP which is a two-year program, where you get to rotate within the different departments and one of the rotation allows overseas exposure, is aimed at preparing future leaders.

Most universities here still do not have ecommerce major courses so the development of their talent is provided through such training modules that really prepare them to be leaders.

What are the core values and competencies that you look for while hiring for Shopee?

In Shopee, we have five values – we serve, we commit, we run, we adapt and we stay humble. So, if we were looking for a person, we always look into whether they can follow these values or have that character in them to follow these. Across the partner functions, we also look for people with resilience and creativity since the industry is young and all the shifts and movements are not always in a linear pattern as it is an environment that is constantly changing and upgrading – therefore we tend to look out for fast and agile learners.. We also look out for fast and agile learners. 

What are the lessons that you have learned in your time with Shopee? 

There is a lot of smart talent out there but we think that someone who can fit into our culture should have the right attitude too. It is necessary to have the right skills and to be smart but that alone does not ensure good performance within Shopee.

Have you adopted any new technology that has helped you? 

When I first started with Shopee in 2017, there were 400 employees and we were just using Google Sheets to track applicants but now, at more than 3000 employees, we have implemented an online application tracking system. We also avail of video interviews and online tests. Even with performance management, we are trying to get more automatic and digital.

What are some of the policies followed by Shopee to boost gender diversity and inclusion?

In Indonesia, we are in a country where there is already a lot of diversity. Therefore managing diversity in our company is critical to drive workplace diversity and inclusion. This commitment is reflected through the numbers in our management, where 40% are female and 60% are male while looking at the organization as a whole, we have 55% women and 45% men. Our employees are from all over Indonesia and we enjoy that diversity.

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Topics: Strategic HR, HR Technology

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