Sophie Smith is HR Director for Experian’s Asia Pacific region. She is a member of the Global HR and APAC Executive Leadership Team. Sophie is accountable for the APAC region’s people and culture strategy and has co-led Experian’s global Future of Work strategy which will result in adjustments to where, when, and how work is performed in the organization.
Sophie has 15 years of HR experience in multiple sectors (engineering, financial services, private equity, and data technology) and geographic regions (UK, EMEA, and APAC).
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
What role will ‘purpose’ play in the world of work after the COVID-19 pandemic?
The purpose of an organization and an employee’s role within it have always been important. Purpose provides employees with a clear reason, direction, and motivation to deliver great work. Purpose also ensures an organization’s resources and time are allocated to what matters most. The pandemic has elevated the significance of understanding, articulating, and authentically operating in accordance with the stated purpose. There is a newfound sense of perspective emerging with many organizations and employees reflecting on the unique value they bring to the world. Organizations will need to ensure their purpose aligns with their product portfolio, performance metrics, people strategy, and decision-making frameworks. Employees will increasingly reflect on whether their core values are aligned with their employer’s purpose. "Purpose" if clearly woven through the employee life cycle can enable an organization to differentiate itself and therefore attract and retain the best talent.
What role do business leaders have in embedding purpose into the business strategy?
A purpose statement carries no value and is seen as inauthentic if it is just words on a page. Purpose needs to be woven through the organization in a very authentic way and employees, customers, and society need to observe purpose in action. Leaders cast a long shadow in an organization with employees looking to them for cues on how to act, think and behave. Therefore, leaders play a key role in cementing purpose through hard coding it into processes, governance frameworks, performance metrics, the behaviors which are incentivized and rewarded as well as which innovation or investment options are given priority and which are declined. Ultimately leaders need to walk the purpose talk, and if they role model this successfully a culture shift will take place across the organization.
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What’s fuelling hybrid-work strategies in 2021? How will the role of the office and work culture evolve in line with hybrid working?
Home has become the workplace of most people over the past year. We know people have benefited from the increased flexibility working remotely has given them, especially colleagues who had long commutes into an office and many people wish to preserve the ability to work from home post the pandemic. Therefore, the purpose of the office will adjust. Offices will increasingly become a place for collaboration and cementing relationships and connections. There will be an increased focus on hybrid working where colleagues blend working from an office and their home. Preserving culture in a hybrid model will be critical, HR functions need to consider how to equip leaders with the capabilities to inclusively lead and engage a team where some are physically with them and others are remote. Thought also needs to be given to infusing the organization’s culture into all areas of a virtual employee life cycle so the lived experience of those working in an office is comparable to those who have embraced a more remote way of operating. It will be important to avoid a split culture where those in an office experience a preferential culture to those working predominantly at home.
What kind of practices and processes do you think organizations will revisit in 2021?
Organizations may need to refine or radically adjust several practices in order to keep relevant and be the place where top talent wishes to work and thrive. Such adjustments are wide-ranging and could include; introducing flexible working policies, adjusting information security practices to support more remote working, defining the leadership behaviors expected, adjusting the capabilities that are developed, shifting reward frameworks to recognize a more geographically spread workforce, redefining the role of the office and rethinking how to virtually onboard colleagues and swiftly embed them into the organization’s culture.
How can employees be more collaborative and productive in a virtual world?
We’ve seen measures of employee productivity increase during COVID-19 and our people have reported feeling more productive. That said, we are aware some people have struggled to switch off and place a distinction between their work and home lives. Collaboration has become more virtual with the increased use of technology platforms to connect, share ideas and co-create new products and strategies. Technology has also been an enabler for keeping the social fabric strong amongst teams through virtual happy hours, team quizzes, and celebrating moments that matter in people’s lives. Many office interactions can take place virtually if the right technology and mindsets are in place and people are helped to develop new skills which enable them to influence, connect and collaborate without being physically in the same place.
What do you expect this year in terms of digital innovations and employee engagement strategies?
Digitalization and personalization of the employee experience are becoming key for driving enhanced engagement. Employees want a tailored experience that respects their persona (i.e their needs, wants, and desires) and they seek consumer-grade experiences within their organization. Therefore, it is important HR functions are forward-thinking and embrace digital service delivery channels like robotics and chatbots, endorse design thinking practices that place the consumer (the employee) at the center of product design and amplify the care and support they provide for employee wellbeing. The pandemic has shifted the importance of wellbeing in all its guises and organizations are becoming accountable for the physical and mental wellbeing of their people. The significance of inclusion has also increased in driving employee engagement, with organizations playing a stronger role in shifting government and public sentiment on topics such as race, disability, and gender balance.
With businesses striving hard to rebound from the crisis, do you think new leadership challenges are looming in the virtual world of work?
The best leaders have navigated the pandemic and delivered strong results by demonstrating heightened vulnerability, showing empathy and connection with their teams, and providing a crystal clear sense of direction and purpose. They’ve also embraced virtual leadership and taken time to preserve the cohesion of their physically distant team. These skills will all be required in a post-pandemic hybrid way of working. The leadership traits that organizations seek to attract, develop and reward have shifted and HR functions need to redefine what ‘great leadership’ looks like.
Read the April 2021 issue of our magazine on the theme 2021: The Year of Continuous Reinvention.