Beng Cortes is presently the Vice President Human Resources at JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation (JGSPC).
With over 20 years of senior leadership experience, Beng is a passionate HR practitioner with an illustrious experience across different industries at both local and regional levels. Prior to joining JGSPC, Beng led human resources at Fonterra Brands, Philippines and Singapore for more than two decades. Her areas of expertise include strategic HR, leadership succession, talent management & development, employee engagement and business partnership.
In conversation with People Matters and ServiceNow, Beng spoke about making business agility and operational excellence a reality for a distributed workforce, and reflected on how JGSPC is tackling digital workflows across functions in an emerging hybrid world.
Read on for highlights from the interaction.
How has the renewed focus on communication, engagement, wellness and productivity impacted your employee experience strategy?
Initially, there was a bit of apprehension or concern on how we will execute plans to strengthen employee experience in a world abruptly disrupted by the pandemic. Suddenly, we found ourselves recalibrating our initiatives: 3months into the pandemic and after learning enough about the virus’s impact to both our personal and professional lives, we quickly pivoted and adapted our employee experience strategy into one that considered the limitations of face-to-face interactions, going fully virtual in most of our employee engagement practices and yet sustaining productivity.
We (HR) became tech savvy and leveraged on existing internal platforms to deliver our mandate. There was no other way but to embrace the new nature of work and even accelerated digitization projects like HR processes simplification and going full swing with our digital Employee Hub. We looked at the situation as an opportunity to reach out to more employees by going virtual with our townhalls, newsletters, training and development, employee relations activities and even team building activities.
While the focus on upping digital capabilities of employees remains a key focus, how are employers responding to the need to up the digital capabilities of internal processes and systems?
Before the pandemic hit, the organization was already gearing up for digital transformation as part of a conglomerate-wide strategy.
What the pandemic did was to accelerate digitization initiatives for key processes and systems. I can say that this is the one upside to the pandemic: it paved the way to organizational agility and innovation.
Our organization supported every digitization effort to improve processes and systems. In HR, for example, despite the current situation, we have invested and will soon be launching a new HR Management System on recruitment, performance management and career development. For it to work, we ensure that the digital capability of our platform is easy to use and accessible to our employees 24/7. I am citing as an example, a performance management system. A perennial challenge for any HR practitioner. Now, we will have a technology that is friendly enough for employees to get excited about, be able to get real and on- time feedback, and allows for holding regular conversations with their bosses. We want to envision technology as true enablers for having more productive and enjoyable work.
How do you see the role of digital workflow solutions in enabling workplace communication and efficiency, especially cross-functional communication?
I think first and foremost, we have to be resolute in our choices and decisions if we embark on a digital workflow solution. Then, to enable efficiency and communication, there has got to be organizational maturity because traditional work will change, so a good change management should work hand-in-hand with any digitalization intervention.
A solid digital workflow solution that is fit for purpose will definitely play a big role in increasing workplace efficiency.
Meanwhile, collaboration tools have been enabling communication even cross-functionally. Having said that, I think once the novelty (of “always on” and “virtual everything”) wears out, people will still go back and look for an actual experience of being with peers and colleagues in a non-virtual environment. We are, afterall, social creatures.
How is JG Summit Petrochemicals tackling digital workflows across functions in an emerging hybrid world? How has technology impacted cross-functional digital collaboration in the organization?
We are tackling it head on. I mentioned earlier that the organization was already gearing up for digital transformation prior to the pandemic hitting us. So now, it is putting the initiatives in place, strengthening existing collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, and accelerating technology and digital adoption. I think because of where we find ourselves currently, technology has really played its role to the hilt in even improving digital collaboration in the organization.
How can employers and leaders strengthen the ecosystem for a distributed workforce to make business agility and operational excellence a reality?
Leaders and leadership need to evolve and not get too comfortable.
Any initiative, which includes culture change, must be enterprise-wide and sustainable.
In our organization, for example, we are looking at an Agile project to transform the organizational culture.
If you could offer one piece of advice for leaders in the new world of work, to improve workforce and workflow management, what would that be?
This may sound like a cliché but in the interrupted and disrupted world, leaders’ ability to adapt, embrace and lead change will spell the difference between surviving and thriving.