• Perspectives
  • 10 October 2018

Enabling, engaging, empowering your future

Human Resource used to be a department where employees go on their first day of work and their last day. In between, they just expect to be paid on a timely basis and attend courses to enhance their skills.

But HR is no longer just an administrative function but perfoms a key role in developing people, culture and performance in order to enhance the capabilities of the organisation and unleash its full potential

Increasingly, HR is about the 3 Es – enabling, engaging and empowering employees.

At Bank of Singapore, that is exactly how we have set out our HR team to be.

How we enable: Prepare staff for the future

At a seminar I attended recently, one of the speakers said that a person’s skills today could well be irrelevant in just a short span of five years. What a young person learns in school will be obsolete by the time he or she graduates.

Were we talking about data analytics, robotics, digitalisation and agile methodology five years ago?

With the fast pace of technological disruption, automation and digitalisation, how do employees prepare themselves for roles which do not even exist yet?

How do we make the mantra “learn, unlearn, relearn” stick into the collective mindset and consciousness of employees?

The concept of career-long learning takes on new, and more urgent, meaning.

Considering a person’s career typically spans about 40 years – from their 20s to their 60s – that could mean that a new joiner to the workforce today would need to re-skill themselves about seven or eight times throughout their career if they are to stay employable.

This is an important factor for HR practitioners to consider when assessing job applicants.

In the traditional mode of HR hiring, we would look at whether a person’s skills, qualifications and attitude suited the role we were trying to fill.

But now, it is essential for us to think ahead to how that particular role will evolve in the next five years, or 10 years and if the candidate we plan to hire for the current role should also be able to adapt quickly and take on the future roles as well. Or, at the very least, be willing to learn new skills and be “future-ready”.

Hiring must be adaptive and mindsets of hiring managers must change.

We used to be very caught up in how a person must have finance background in his studies before he can be a banker; or IT skills before he can work in IT.

Traditional organisation structures are evolving and flattening out. Employees work less under complex management and reporting layers and more in collaborative teams disrupting traditional hierarchies for faster decision-making and time to market. The employee needs to demonstrate strong social skills, teamwork and adaptability to shifting landscapes.

A relationship manager with knowledge in an area like data science could be very useful in appreciating how big data can better help his clients manage their portfolios.

And could not an accountancy graduate, if he is willing to learn programming and coding, adapt his skill sets to design a computer system or develop an app for the bank’s use rather than look at financial statements?

The key point is that stellar grades, a good degree from a top university and an impressive resume are no longer the vital benchmarks for hiring people.

Instead, increasingly, people who show that they can adapt and are willing to learn new skills to keep up with the times are going to be the ones who are more employable. During interviews, what matters most is the impression created by the candidate. Does the person have the qualities mentioned above to take oneself and the organisation into the future?

How we engage: Making learning fun and interesting

Not every learning experience must be in a classroom setting or in a trainer-student mode.

Every new knowledge we gain can be useful in some way or another.

In 2017, we organised our first learning carnival appropriately themed “Skills For The Future” for our staff to make new discoveries.

We brought in vendors who are educators and are leading the way in innovative education methods.

We also brought in companies with unique products or innovative ideas to showcase to all our staff. The idea is to see what other companies in other industries are doing and try to see if it can be applied to our industry. And also impress upon our employees how fast the pace of change is and how their careers will be impacted.

As HR leads employees into the future, it also shows them that the future is exciting and learning opportunities are limitless.

How we empower: Leaving the choice of courses to our employees

The old model of HR was that we would assign a list of prescribed courses that we think employees should take.

But days of prescribed learning are over. Employees are encouraged to take charge of their own development.

In July, we started offering all our staff access to Coursera for Business courses. All 2,000 of our employees will be able to choose from a wide range of 3,000 courses that cut across a wide range of topics such as investment management, personal development
and leadership.

In this way, we give our employees ownership of their own learning and development journey and choose courses that are most relevant to them or resonate with their career ambitions.

For example, any of my HR team members can even learn about investment management at a measured pace without the pressure of being in a classroom.

I believe this would make everyone’s learning journey more productive and meaningful.

The Coursera courses also work well because employees can access the training materials any time that they want to.

Due to everyone’s busy schedules, it is often difficult to set a fixed time in a day for a lesson for 20 bankers. Or unpredictable events like turbulent markets may distract them.

As such, giving employees the flexibility to take lessons when they are less busy and have some down time from work is more productive overall.

We also recognise that each employee has their own way of learning. For example, some may prefer finishing all the materials at one go while others like to take breaks in between chapters or, if at home, need to step away to attend to personal matters.

This ensures that our staff gets to customise their own preferred way of learning and not have to follow a one-size-fit-all style of learning.

We are also running bite-sized learning programs and lunch-time programs to meet the needs of a dynamic work environment.

This ensures that our staff get to customise their own preferred way of learning and not have to follow a one-size-fit-all style of learning.

Bank of Singapore wants to be at the forefront of what an organisation focused on learning should be.

Now, more than ever, HR must keep in step and be effective and proactive partners to the business.

We do this by anticipating and delivering on what the organisation and its employees need in order to embrace the future.

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