At our recent Brave New Ways of Working event in Singapore, a panel of four regional business leaders and HR experts discussed the best ways to innovate and deal with disruption. All agreed that HR, learning and business managers must work together to achieve success.
We hear a lot these days about disruption, transformation and the future of work. But there’s so much pressure on companies to embrace change that leaders can become confused about what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and how much risk they should be willing to take.
Our panel – moderated by Dr. Tanvi Gautam – have all played a part in leading innovation. Throughout the discussion, each of them shared experiences about how they approach the changing world of work and get the best out of their people.
1. Company culture is central to success
Tech company Microsoft have done their fair amount of disrupting over the years, but that does not leave them immune to disruption themselves.
“According to our research, 86% of CEOs say digital transformation is the number one priority,” says Michelle Simmons, General Manager of Microsoft SE Asia new markets. “Every company is now a digital company. If they’re not, they’re not going to be able to survive or compete effectively.”
So when Microsoft began losing pole position in the hyper-competitive digital tech industry, leaders saw the need to transform the way the organisation worked. However, it was not simply a question of offering new products and services. The whole culture had to change to reflect emerging trends in the workforce, including those from savvy younger generations who were buzzing with new ideas and ambition.
Management understood their people needed greater clarity on the direction of the business, along with support in establishing a growth mindset and the ability to work more collaboratively. That’s why they introduced a programme of development to give people the space to take risks and fully involve themselves in the success of the business, enhancing their capabilities in the process.
2. Have an ambitious direction of travel
One of the greatest challenges facing businesses is that of human capital, according to Steen Puggaard, CEO of 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken. Having a clear and dynamic vision is crucial, he says, but you must also sell this to your people and motivate them to make their own contributions and grow.
Four years ago, Steen was tasked with essentially re-founding the company and knew that he had to build it with people who had the potential and capacity to grow with the business. “We made it very clear about the challenges and opportunities for them,” says Steen. “That way, they could be a big fish in a small pond.”
The whole idea of creating ambition was central to the long-term health of the company. “The company DNA that comes from the founders is diluted when more people are involved,” says Steen. “So, at some point, you have to pull yourself out but leave behind systems and processes that add continuity to what you used to do.” New technology can help to facilitate this, he added.
3. Learning should be a key driver of the business plan
Terry Chua, Head of Jurong Port Academy, set up the academy a few years ago to address the changing needs of the port industry – one that had previously been very labour-intensive and was rapidly moving towards something more technology driven, especially in response to productivity issues.
“Learning is not just a support function,” says Terry. “It has now become a strategy that businesses can use to leverage where they are now to where they want to go.”
To some extent, this means re-skilling people, rather than discarding workers whose skills have become outdated – placing them in ‘the recycle bin, not the trash can’ as Terry puts it!
In order to build capability, management should provide people with a definitive road map in their careers. Terry is keen that learning is put in the driving seat and uses the analogy of a car to make his point: “Is learning the spare tyre at the back? If so, you need to bring it forward, rotate the tyre and give it equal emphasis in your business strategy. And you need to use it or else it could lose air and become useless.”
4. Adapt for the younger generations
Oracle were once famous for being a IT software and hardware company, but when they moved their business model towards cloud computing, management had to make some significant changes.
Anusha Vijayanand, HR Director of Oracle Southeast Asia, noted that they had to look at internal structures as well as their people to make the shift successfully. This meant adapting to the ambitions and mindset of workers from younger generations.
“We have to train for tech disruption across the different generations,” says Anusha. “I’ve read that the attention span for Generation Z is 8 seconds, and they are really the first digital natives. For this generation, along with millennials, it’s all about career progression – they want to work in teams made up of aspirational staff and stay relevant.”
The challenge now is to sell all these messages to business leaders. Too many are reluctant to invest in risky projects, yet they are losing out on potential growth along with initiatives that could help motivate and retain staff.
Moderator Dr. Tanvi Guatam often advises leaders on investing in new projects that seem risky and had some sage advice for the audience: “When I have a conversation with my clients around cost – especially when you’re dealing with intangibles – I always say, ‘Yes, there is a cost of doing this. But what is the cost of not doing it?’ You can cast the conversation in terms of the dollars and cents or you recast the conversation in terms of self-actualisation and growth, and say ‘forget the dollars as compensation, tell me what will happen if you don’t invest in this project’. And if that doesn’t work, find some statistics from competitors who have already invested in the technology and you will get the budget!’
Another pertinent message from the discussion was that leaders should be working alongside HR and learning departments to drive business objectives. Instead of initiatives being decided at top level then delegated to other departments to carry them out, there should be more of a partnership.
That way lies the road to success.
Watch videos and read more on our ‘Brave New Ways of Working’ event page here.