“You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.”
― Kristen Proby
Datuk Nora A. Manaf, Group Chief Human Capital Officer, Maybank shared this quote and this analogy as she discussed CHRO’s take on adaptability in HR with Shaswat Kumar, Vice President & Asia Head - Payroll, Advisory, and Cloud Solutions, Alight Solutions in an episode of exclusive video series - Adaptable HR: The Future is Now!
Thanks to the pandemic, everything at the workplace is undergoing a dramatic shift, and what could have been a reality of the future, has now become the present.
“What organisations across sectors were trying to achieve since the last five years, they achieved in ten weeks,” said Manaf.
Speaking of adaptability in today’s context, she shared how adaptability is about knowing how to deal with a crisis.
Adaptability in today’s context
As the third-edition of Asia-Pacific’s largest study on the State of HR Transformation also shows being adaptable is no longer a choice, it is imperative, it is inevitable.
Manaf feels the study is extremely relevant in today’s context. The COVID-19 crisis has brought the HR functions and the professionals on the forefront. They are in demand as people’s safety and their well-being becomes more critical than ever. They are the 3 AM call for the business leaders. They are the ones advising the CEOs and helping them make more people-centric decisions but without undermining business priorities.
“Understanding adaptability in today’s context is about being crisis ready,” said Manaf.
To be able to better deal with this crisis and be more adaptable, Manaf suggests, professionals require a more methodical approach and mindset. It is contrary to the reactive approach and involves more discipline. She said, “The key lesson the crisis has taught us is that every crisis is a business crisis and ultimately, it transcends to two critical pillars: preservation of life and employee and business well-being.”
Manaf further suggested that to build this adaptability quotient, firstly, HR professionals must enhance their awareness and understanding of business needs, the threats and the market opportunities.
As the study on the State of HR Transformation, recently launched by Alight Solutions in partnership with People Matters, also highlights, “It is not about the HR transformation, it is about the business transformation.”
Adaptability in HR: A brief overview
Knowing the business, the threats and the opportunities, is no longer a choice, it is the necessity, the new normal. Secondly, Manaf suggests, HR professionals must know about all the tools at their disposal. Digital tools are not a luxury, they are a necessity. Contrary to popular beliefs all of these digital tools are also not very expensive. For instance, at Maybank they have used Trello for some time now and been able to drive a more outcome-driven people agenda.
Thirdly, having distinguished people skills and the HR knowledge is also essential to bring a unique voice to the table. And finally to be able to adjust the sails through the storm, HR professionals must know where the ship is headed. Know your outcome, the final goal and work towards that.
Defining the way we work in the ‘New Reality’
Putting adaptable HR into action, the present time calls for HR professionals to help the organisation and the workforce transition to the new reality of work, which is ambiguous and evolving rapidly. Currently, in most of the countries in SEA, companies are preparing for the opening up of circuit breakers. However, the fear of the spread of the novel coronavirus still persists. This means resetting the workplace and redefining work to be able to ensure business continuity without compromising employees’ safety.
CHRO’s take on adaptability in HR
Manaf says, “We have got 43,000 people, out of which 23,000 in Malaysia, and 5,000 in the headquarters alone. I can't have all 5,000 people come back. So the business is looking at us for what we do next? How do we not get half of the population back to the building? What do we do with them? Will they be permanently on work from home arrangements?” These are some of the questions not only Maybank but all the businesses are currently dealing with.
The key focus to work in the new reality of work would be on reframing the policies and continuously engaging with the employees to identify and cater to their changing needs. For example, Maybank has over the lockdown phase discovered that it is the working parents who want to return to office space. At home, working parents find it more difficult to separate themselves from children. Another challenge for Maybank has been ensuring how they make all the resources available for the people working from home. As Maybank didn’t start as a digital startup, not all the employees have laptops (pre COVID they worked on desktops), have accessibility issues, and the banking systems can not be accessed from home.
But even amid the crisis and the lockdown, Maybank has ensured that the employees stay productive and the learning continues. “With #learningneverstops, we continued our training, L&D, and employee engagement initiative. Driving learning programs through Zoom, within two weeks we had 17,000 learners. We have never had that before,” she shares. The learning and engagement team was excited with the impact their quick efforts had shown. Manaf thinks they have no plans of going back to traditional mode of training now as they have achieved a great level of reach with the current virtual programs.
As Maybank like other organisations prepare for the new reality of work, there are plenty of enablers and interdependencies to deal with. And Manaf believes that to help organisations better deal with them HR is required to be at the forefront.
Accelerating the HR functions, the Maybank way
Many CHROs may think that to be able to match up to the new reality of work, HR professionals would have to upskill themselves. In fact for three editions now, in the Alight’s State of HR transformation Study, majority of the leaders have been choosing upskilling HR as the top priority.
Manaf disagrees with this majority and boldly says, “It’s not about that. I would rate driving an integrated employee experience to achieve the business objectives as top priority.” Especially, as businesses are in survival mode currently. They are not interested in upskilling HR professionals. They are looking for more integrated solutions and collaborative efforts to achieve business outcomes.
Kumar also reiterated the same and said, “By collaborating within the organisation, HR professionals are more likely to break the silos and bridge the capability gap.”
Maybank had hence started this HR transformation journey to become more collaborative a long time back. “I have got my team going like a sprint team, in tech team, talking to customers, achieving outcomes. They no longer have the mindset that - I am shared services, or I am COE, or I am executive director. They have discovered that they can work more efficiently this way,” says Manaf.
In fact, this approach helped Maybank to better manage the crisis brought on by the pandemic. The HR team was bold and courageous enough to step up and say that although we are essential services we can not risk the lives of so many people by continuing to operate from office. “We could have worked as usual but I actually stepped up and said we can’t because we are the largest banks. We will be contributing to clusters,” shares Manaf. This courage helped Maybank, the industry and the country in a way too.
Adaptable HR has better readiness for future risk. To learn more about it explore the findings of the Alight Solutions’ State of HR Transformation study. Click here to view the study.