Local firms need to strengthen HR capabilities, says study

Office workers outside Raffles Place MRT station during lunch time.
Office workers outside Raffles Place MRT station during lunch time. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore's human resources sector is skilful in managing paradoxes in a work setting, like balancing the needs of employees and expectations of the customers and investors, but comes up short in other areas, a new study has found.

It listed eight domains within the sector where HR professionals here are falling behind global standards.

This relative weakness explains the Government's efforts to professionalise the sector by putting a qualification framework in place, said Mr Darryl Wee, regional managing director of The RBL Group, which jointly conducted the study with the University of Michigan.

The 360-degree feedback study, which involved 30,000 respondents worldwide and 2,006 respondents from more than 30 organisations in Singapore, found that at a behavioural level, HR professionals were rated highest at ensuring that practices comply with government laws. The lowest-rated behaviour was crafting the right organisational culture to deliver results.

"Having skilled HR practitioners is crucial for any organisation to leverage human capital as a resource," Mr Wee told The Straits Times.

The 360-degree feedback study, involving 2,006 respondents from more than 30 organisations in Singapore, found that at a behavioural level, HR professionals were rated highest at ensuring that practices comply with government laws. The lowest-rated behaviour was crafting the right organisational culture to deliver results.

He gave an example of a good car with an engine that meets the buyer's needs. To keep it running, a good mechanic is needed. The HR team is akin to the mechanic who can keep an organisation going like a finely tuned machine, he said.

Local data in the study was derived from HR practitioners in three sectors: public service, locally grown companies and multinationals located in Singapore.

While the HR sector as a whole fared well in managing the paradoxes, those in the public service scored higher when it came to using technology and related tools to enhance the company's performance or recruit and retain staff. They also scored well in their ability to use analytics and data to improve business decisions.

HR staff from multinationals had higher scores as in being able to create a wholesome reward system for employees, including benefits, as well as work satisfaction.

However, the data did not bode well for HR practitioners in local firms, who scored low overall, and significantly lower in data analysis.

This suggests local firms need to strengthen their HR capabilities, and there are opportunities to learn from those in the multinationals and public service, Mr Wee said, adding that the companies need to invest in their HR teams.

Mr Wee added that it was important for the companies to understand the expectations of external stakeholders such as customers and investors, and then understand how the HR strategy is going to support the overall growth of their company and its goals.

When shown the results of the study, companies here had a positive approach to the problem. Having identified the gaps, they are now eager to plug those holes, he said.

"Most firms have shown inclination towards investing in proper training of their HR personnel, which is a positive sign," Mr Wee added.

He also commended the Government's efforts to put a framework in place to have better-trained HR professionals in the job market in future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Local firms need to strengthen HR capabilities, says study'. Print Edition | Subscribe