Article: What we want most from HR in 2022: The business leaders speak

Strategic HR

What we want most from HR in 2022: The business leaders speak

Build a culture that enables employees; champion employee voices; be strategically focused. We hear from business leaders on their expectations for how HR can support them in the coming year.
What we want most from HR in 2022: The business leaders speak

READ the December 2021 issue of our magazine: Work in 2022: What's Next?

As we enter 2022, one major strategic question HR leaders may be asking themselves is: how can we better support and collaborate with the business leaders, in order to contribute even more strongly to the broader organisational strategy?

There's nothing like hearing directly from the business leaders themselves, and so People Matters asked leaders from several multinational companies for their thoughts on what they appreciate most from their HR counterparts, and what they hope that the HR function can do more of in the coming year.

Create the best kind of working culture

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer Asia and Africa at insurance giant AXA, anticipates that AXA's HR team will place strong emphasis on creating a culture that enables and supports hybrid work, in line with the business strategy to roll out opt-in hybrid work worldwide.

“It is important for the HR team to continue collaborating closely with our people across the region – via coaching with empathy, regular and transparent communication and information sharing – to create a working culture that maximises our productivity, collaboration, creativity, and individual wellbeing, while also being inclusive,” he told People Matters. “This can help managers and leaders to nurture empowerment and trust within their teams by coordinating around clear objectives, backed by strong support and greater flexibility, so as to achieve personal and organisational resilience and meet our customer needs.”The development and propagation of AXA's organisational culture, in fact, is among the work he has found most helpful so far.

“Ensuring we have the right people in the right place has always been a core objective of our HR leaders,” he said. “But these days, there is much more involved in achieving that goal. A big part of it is to facilitate the spread of the company’s culture by supporting and coaching line managers to deliver people solutions and change, while helping to drive business performance.”

The development and propagation of AXA's organisational culture, in fact, is among the work he has found most helpful so far.

“Ensuring we have the right people in the right place has always been a core objective of our HR leaders,” he said. “But these days, there is much more involved in achieving that goal. A big part of it is to facilitate the spread of the company’s culture by supporting and coaching line managers to deliver people solutions and change, while helping to drive business performance.”

Help create consistency and predictability

Shiva Pillay, Senior Vice President for APJ at data protection and recovery multinational Veeam Software, hopes that his HR team will help to create a psychologically safe working environment for employees, one where they can be comfortable enough to do their best work. That safety, he believes, comes from providing predictability and reliability.

"As our work and personal lives continue to become more intertwined, it is crucial for us leaders to champion predictable actions, reliable thoughts and drive inevitable outcomes to construct a workplace culture built on trust and respect," he said.

Consistency also arises from the communications between the HR and business functions, he told People Matters. "I would like to hear more clearly outlined expectations and proactive opportunities from our HR leaders, as these are key to consistent leadership. Setting clear expectations means that your team is fully informed of their obligations – timings for when tasks need to occur and comprehensive details of what needs to be done."

"Proactively sharing opportunities and new ideas, shows an understanding of the key trends shaping our business landscape and in doing so, we can ensure our employees are well taken care of and we can cater to their ever-changing needs. If the HR leaders can be transparent about the high-priority or non-negotiable aspects of the work, this will give employees a practical guideline to follow. This ensures that there are no last-minute surprises and in turn, creates an environment of mutual accountability and respect."

Champion the voices of employees

Toby Rakison, Managing Director Asia for global interior design consultancy Unispace, wants his HR team to keep championing the voices of all individuals and groups across the company, and most particularly to look into how arrangements can be made for employees' unique needs – for instance, he pointed out, the overwhelming majority of women have had their lives disrupted by the pandemic, and are concerned about their career progression.

“In the current climate, varying circumstances and backgrounds of employees should also be considered, especially since the pandemic has affected demographic groups differently,” he said. “Issues around childcare, flexible working schedules and the ability to work from home have increasingly emerged as top-of-mind for working women. Beyond making these benefits available across the business, employers should also focus on education – which takes the form of career planning, investments in learning and development, as well as customised training for the most lucrative and high-demand roles of the future.”

Be a business-centric, strategic function

Alfred Lee, President Industrial Asia Pacific at international automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler – one of the world's largest family-owned firms – wants his HR team to continue evolving away from an operational focus and take a more strategic approach.

“People play a critical role in any business strategy,” he said. “Hence as a bridge between the organisation and employees, HR forms a crucial part in developing the right talent and capability in enabling business strategy. I believe HR leadership is the most effective when they are involved in strategic business decisions.”

This means stepping out of their comfort zone: adopting a business-centric mindset beyond just an HR-centric view of their day-to-day roles.

“It means having a say in evaluating the overall business strategy through the lens of capability and cultural issues and bringing in qualitative data to drive transformative change to meet business challenges and objectives,” he added. “By having a keen understanding of the value and impact they bring towards the organisation's overarching business strategy, the HR function would be better aggregators of talent while facilitating the right approach in engaging people and leaders toward organisational transformation and development.”

Most of all, keep bringing employee voices to the leaders' ears

The leaders we spoke to said they most want HR to continue identifying and raising employee needs so that the business leaders can make the right decisions around people and the workplace.

“Connecting with employees and listening to their feedback on a regular basis is a key part of maintaining ongoing engagement and creating an inclusive workplace culture,” said AXA's Gordon Watson. Pointing to the regular pulse survey that the AXA HR team conducts to gauge employee thoughts on making AXA a better workplace, he said: “Such findings, complemented by practical, strategic recommendations are useful for leadership teams to better understand our employees and prioritise initiatives that truly cater to their needs.”

"To reach shared meaning and attain the ability to co-create, HR leaders must create an environment in which employees can participate in open and honest dialogues without judgment, conducted through active conversations and surveys," said Veeam's Shiva Pillay. HR leaders are uniquely positioned to understand perspectives that the business leaders may not always see, he pointed out. "Moving forward, I hope to better understand the needs of our team members through our HR leaders to drive greater employee satisfaction and drive increased productivity."

It's also critical for talent retention and development, said Schaeffler's Alfred Lee. “HR can facilitate this by being the voice for employees by listening to their challenges and finding a win-win solution to overcome them with the management team,” he noted. “At Schaeffler, there are robust employee engagement frameworks and initiatives in place that encourage dialogues between our employees and leaders from our board – creating a productive two-way direct communication in finding common ground and solutions on critical issues.”

And it helps in personalising the solutions that the business rolls out for individual employees, added Unispace's Toby Rakison. “Across a company’s workforce, there are various worker demographics with differing needs and desires. In catering to these, individual expectations must be considered, and alignment between the people and business agendas should be achieved,” he pointed out. “As employee concerns continually unfold and evolve, HR leaders are in the best position to provide business leaders with insights on their needs and wants, escalate these accordingly, and identify ways for companies to respond.”

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Topics: Strategic HR, #Outlook2022

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