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Transforming HR with switch to front-line role

Mr Jason Ho (in white shirt), head of group human resources at OCBC Bank, with colleagues from group legal and regulatory compliance: (from left) Mr Ong Zheng Chao, Mr Ng Chon Hsing, Ms Ng Jie Lin and Ms Chua Wei Xian.
Mr Jason Ho (in white shirt), head of group human resources at OCBC Bank, with colleagues from group legal and regulatory compliance: (from left) Mr Ong Zheng Chao, Mr Ng Chon Hsing, Ms Ng Jie Lin and Ms Chua Wei Xian.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The human resource team should no longer sit in one dusty corner of the office, but be actively engaged with the other business teams from the get go, says a top HR executive.

"Some look at HR as a supportive function, but it's no longer the case. For more than 15 years, OCBC has been looking at the techniques and philosophy behind a progressive HR workforce," said Mr Jason Ho, OCBC head of group human resources.

"In OCBC, it's important our HR colleagues are aligned with what the division is doing from the business angle and to sit at the table when business strategies are being discussed."

For several years, OCBC has had "front-line relationship managers or business partners", now 40 per cent of the HR headcount, who work closely to support business divisions or support functions.

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"The lead relationship manager will play a leading role in guiding interaction with the divisions, and is there to give feedback," he said. It is something other firms can consider when looking at their HR practices.

He also noted that the industry has to adopt new skills, such as using data analytics, as it is no longer good enough just to use instincts honed from experience.

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"That is what we're trying to do from a country's perspective, to set the right training and certification, and those will eventually become the benchmark, to set the framework for enhancing the professionalism of HR."

His remarks come before the HR Industry Manpower Plan is rolled out tomorrow, with a public showcase at the Marina Bay Sands.

The industry has to transform as it is the common link between all other industries.

In the light of that, Mr Ho noted several trends that HR professionals need to be aware of, such as transforming HR to be more digital, ride on a virtual workforce for better productivity and collaboration, and engaging all generations at work.

For instance, OCBC introduced what it calls the HR In Your Pocket app - it comes with an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot - for its employees last month.

Staff have been using it to apply for leave or to check a colleague's contact details on the go, while managers can use it to approve leave applications.

It caters to digitally savvy millennials, but also speeds up HR processes such as claims, said Mr Ho, who is also an HR Sectoral Tripartite Committee member.

Projects are completed quicker these days, using what is popularised as "agile thinking".

"With agile thinking, projects are done within eight weeks - compared with the normal way which takes at least nine months. For instance, we have two teams - the operations and technology team, and the HR team - spending two full days a week, working together. Products can be rolled out first and we can continue to improve them from there."

Effort must also be made to reach out to both younger and older people in the HR journey.

Mr Ho noted the OCBC's latest FRANKpreneurship which was introduced in April. It attracted more than 500 applications from undergraduates at local and overseas universities, and 26 penultimate-year undergraduates were selected.

They have to work on actual problems and design innovative and commercially viable solutions. "We try to engage the young as early as possible; a longer engagement leads to a more meaningful conversation and we have talks about professions and career preparation.

"At OCBC, HR is a driver of business activity. HR used to play a passive role but now it's proactive," said Mr Ho, explaining that that is the only way to get the best talent on board.

The industry must also remember to help older workers keep up with changes in the marketplace, he stressed, adding that the bank introduced a lifelong learning programme for employees aged 50 and older last August.

Mr Ho said: "HR is crucial and we want senior management, chief executives and boards to embrace and endorse this concept. It will go a long way to improve the competitiveness of the firm.

"Having a more robust HR culture and embracing the right principles so people are engaged with you is more important - even though firms have a different way of looking at HR ."

Brought to you by the Ministry of Manpower

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Transforming HR with switch to front-line role'. Print Edition | Subscribe