READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: The Digital Culture Reset
Forward-thinking organisations around the world have been investing in digital technologies for years, and have also developed the most effective ways of managing the accompanying cultural changes.
People Matters asked Charlene Tan, Director of Human Resources, Motorola Solutions Asia Pacific, about how digitalisation has been progressing in her organisation and how it's changing workplace culture. With over three decades at Motorola Solutions, she's seen the company's digital journey right from its beginning, and her team has change management well in hand. Here's what she shared.
Could you share a bit about how the adoption of digital technology in Motorola Solutions has progressed? Did it accelerate last year?
We started our journey of digital transformation quite many years ago, and we have been very forward in introducing automation and updating our processes. So when the pandemic struck, we were able to react really quickly. This was very important because we are a mission-critical technology company, and therefore it was really vital that we adapted quickly to the pandemic. Our priorities were to keep employees safe and support our customers, who are essential services such as the police, the fire services, or the ambulance services. Everything else might be chaos, but the support from MSI for these services absolutely has to continue. Business continuity has to be in place; people have to have quick and secure access to their systems.
Our investments in digitisation meant that we could rapidly move our employees to working from home. We have a robust suite of workplace tools from external platforms such as Google and Zoom, and we also have a very robust internal intranet platform. So we didn't miss a beat. In fact, collaboration among our employees improved as more people began to share and communicate on the internal chat platform.
How about the HR processes? What's the progress of digitalisation like there?
We actually invested in a cloud-based HR system about 10 years ago, and we have been building on it through the years to make it more robust and relevant. In fact, the pandemic has made us even more aware and forward-thinking about the importance of investing in technology.
Currently, our HR system automates a great many functions. For example, it allows employees to view and update their own personal information so that they don't have to spend so much time approaching HR staff. Our performance management system is online, allowing managers and senior management to do their own talent review and succession planning. In the last two years, we have also invested significantly in an e-learning platform.
Have you seen digitalisation changing the workplace culture at MSI?
Yes, with this level of digitalisation a lot more trust is needed, especially now that there are much fewer opportunities for face to face connections. When you go on a digital platform, you have to trust your employees and give them much more flexibility, and that comes down to having a culture that accepts and encourages both of those things.
One interesting example took place in our Melbourne Design Centre. The teams there tend to be younger, serving a younger clientele, and they are very digital savvy. Even before 2020 they had adopted Slack to communicate rather than email, and with that comes a much less formal and faster-moving approach that really drives innovation. They've created applications to make many aspects of the workplace—not just the work—much more convenient, right down to tracking whether the washroom facilities are available to use at a given moment.
From that group of younger employees, who just hop right onto the digital trend and use it to change the way they work, we can see how the culture of innovation arises from the technology and how digitalisation happens naturally as a result.
It definitely makes a difference that we already had innovation as one of our core values, and that our leadership team embraces digital transformation as a part of the business agenda.
What kind of strategy works to best guide organisational culture through digitalisation?
The strategy that worked best for us was one that embraced three important Cs—Communication, Consistency, and Collaboration. Senior management has been very consistent in communications with employees, be it through town halls or coffee chats, and the message has been constantly and steadily given that digitalisation and automation are here and there's no returning to manual processes. Similarly, with e-learning, we have been consistent in how we launch programmes and manage the changes.
Flexibility is another key word when talking about digitalisation, especially in the hybrid model. As HR professionals, we have to help managers exercise more empathy—listen more, empathise more with employees' situation, and allow that flexibility at the workplace. We were fortunate to already have that culture in place, but even so, there was a lot of work involved in preparing teams and managers. And as I mentioned earlier, there must be trust, because you can no longer see activities taking place. That affects aspects like performance management, where you have to place more emphasis on outcomes rather than processes.
Could you share a bit more about your change management strategy?
It's important to keep employee development in mind. In order to help them cope with the changes, in order to take them along on this journey, you have to enable their skills. It's not an overnight thing: it's a gradual process of exposing them to the new tools and the new environment, helping them to learn along the way. For example, we used to conduct learning, peer sharing, and team building activities face to face, and when we moved these to a virtual format, people would initially insist that they preferred face to face interactions.
By piloting these virtual activities and events on a small scale and exposing people to the new format in bite-sized portions, we were able to eventually integrate them into the everyday culture.
Another role HR plays is that of a bridge between different groups of employees. With the younger employees who are keen to digitalise and innovate, as in the Melbourne Design Centre example, sometimes there can be a difference in tools and communication preferences between this group and the older colleagues. HR can help to enable better understanding between the demographics.
Finally, where do you see the virtual working environment going in the next few years?
If we think about the virtual working environment as being part of the new hybrid world of work, then we're not going to see any pause. It will simply move forward, fairly quickly. There's no turning back, and whatever we build will have to evolve and adapt.
But one thing we will need to be very cautious about in the near future is employee well-being. With hybrid work, we are seeing longer hours, the blurring of the lines between work and personal time, and the situation is creating a real risk of burnout.
Since late 2020 we have been doing a lot of work on employee well-being, holding webinars to teach stress and time management techniques, encouraging people to take a break and do something different.
Processes will also have to change. It might be just baby steps, like streamlining the claims process to make submissions and payments easier for employees, or introducing different types of leave that are more relevant to the new ways of working.
In fact, we are already thinking ahead to make sure we are prepared for the next wave of changes. How we work, where we work, and how organisations function will all change, and these changes are in no way small—they will impact everyone.