From left: Amy Benger, Bin Wolfe, Leonie Valentine, Bhavya Sehgal and Jenny Pong

By Wilson Lau

In today’s fast-changing business environment, many corporations recognize the need to innovate in order to remain competitive in a world full of disruptive changes. The implementation of an effective human resources strategy is a key focus among senior managers of major corporations globally. The drive for increased capability in a disruptive environment requires a significant shift of mindset that is more willing to take risks and embrace change.

The issue of human resources has become such an important part of driving corporate success that many companies have considered hiring HR specialists to run individual business units, notes Bhavya Sehgal, Senior Vice President, Strategy Research (Asia) at ORC International. “They will let the HR guys operate some units of their business for three to four years before eventually taking over the operations.”

An increasing number of corporations also purposefully tap the knowledge and experience of HR professionals coming from other industrial sectors to initiate swift change, he adds. “Chief HR officers are hired from other industries to change the status quo.” That’s because innovation requires a change in mentality and somewhat of a different skillset among employees, many of whom in Asia are quite risk-adverse.

Noting a case in which a medical device producer was confronted with the challenge of a slide in sales of devices through the established channels, Sehgal recalls having to build a new key performance index (KPI) to find out the causes. “In the process, we found out over 85 percent of the company’s workforce were not innovation-minded. [To turn things around], we needed them to have the appetite for risks and be ready for disruptive changes and innovations.”

The appetite for risk-taking, however, depends on the nature of the business, says Bin Wolfe, Managing Partner, Talent (Asia Pacific) at EY. “If you are successful in a highly regulated industry, you’ll tend to be more risk-averse. When you have a clear idea about what you’re able to do and have clear communication with all stakeholders, you can then look at the possibility. You need to be very thoughtful about innovation.”

In terms of leadership, “we want people with resilience and agility,” she says. “They should understand the business well and see the emerging trends in different sectors … We look at diversity and inclusion so that people bring in diverse perspectives. We develop high-performing teams with methodology to accelerate the process.”

To obtain sustainable business growth, Jenny Pong, Group Director of Human Resources at JTH Group, believes it is essential to recognize and reward the achievement of employees. “[To gauge their performance], we set clear objectives and goals for individual employees at the start of the year and introduce comprehensive balance score cards covering specific targets, customer satisfaction, and other measures.”

“Our performance appraisal matrix was changed three years ago, and we re-introduced a grading system and provided skill-enhancement training,” she recalls.

Senior leaders have a significant role to play in driving effective change, notes Leonie Valentine, Managing Director, Sales & Operations Hong Kong, Google, citing the case of Whirlpool’s success in adopting changes initiated by top management. “It was the leader who suggested getting ideas from everyone on improvement; they made their suggestions while several teams processed the information before ideas were implemented. This required strong committed leadership.”

“Sustainable change management can span over several business cycles before results become apparent,” he adds. “In a disruptive environment, it is important for companies to focus on customer feedback and suggestion. This can help create value and save costs in the long run.”

The bottom-up approach is a viable way to deliver change and innovation, Pong agrees, noting her company once held some 30 focus groups across different countries. “We had town hall meetings with our staff and generated many ideas concerning work process, customer experience, and improvement ideas. This is an annual exercise because we believe innovation comes from the employees.”