HR & Digital Asia Summit: HR Needs to Embrace Transformation or Risk Irrelevancy

Digital transformation is about people transformation. While artificial intelligence and robotic process automation have been discussed by many, their success still relies on having the right people.

This is one of the main reasons why HR leaders are crucial for digital transformation. So according to Brian Sy, head, Career Products and Total Rewards for Hong Kong, Mercer, it is time for HR to get strategic.

“When we talk about transformation, it tends to link to tech words or buzzwords; it is really about people and culture,” he said.

Sy saw transformation having two interlinked goals. First, it is about driving more value to and out of customers. “Second, we want to build a greater foundation for our long-term success, and that links to the people and culture sides of things.”

Sy highlighted four key trends that will shape the future workforce. The first is that everything will be built for speed and greater agility. “It is going to be a more data-driven culture that can nurture or train people faster.”

Next, Sy saw diversity and inclusivity becoming the new normal. “A lot of people are talking about D&I a lot. Some companies are promoting it as part of their branding. We see more initiatives taking place.”

The third trend is “working with a purpose.” “It is about how you want to define the employee value proposition in a more personalized way,” said Sy.

Lastly, flexibility will rule the workforce and workplace. For example, Sy noted that contingent workforce management is becoming crucial as companies look to contract and temporary workers for skills and knowledge. “You need the right tools and platforms to manage these talents in a flexible way.”

Fundamentally, these four trends will shape the way HR organizations are organized. In traditional organizations, many are functional silos. Sy called it “feature-driven.”

More recently, companies are shifting to a new structure where you have business partners, centers of expertise, and shared services. Such a model is already shaping the way HR leaders engage with their partners and other parts of the organizations.

"What is changing is that the strategic and operational parts are separating. On the shared services side, you talk about automation, and how people can do self-service. On the HR business partner side, you want the people to interact with the business a little bit more," said Sy.

In the future, Sy argued that companies would become employee-centric. It will be built on “three pillars: employee experience, employee effectiveness, and workforce design.”

Sy noted that all three pillars need to be studied carefully. For example, in employee experience, he highlighted an example where a senior executive was given international exposure through “a good mobility program.” However, after two years overseas, the individual was unable to build the relationships lost during the absence. It saw the person eventually leave.

HR “needs to define the moment, and to do that you need to put yourself in their shoes,” said Sy.

To drive employee centricity, HR needs to transform and create new roles. Sy cited contingent workforce management, social media sourcing, HR process digitalization, data-driven storytelling, interactive performance management, workforce analytics, and HR gamification are some of these.

In the future, Sy noted that HR organizations need to expand their roles. He saw jobs like an organizational engineer, workforce designer, cultural architect, people, and RPA specialists, career architects, and talent community enablers coming to the fore.

Brian Sy
Brian Sy, head, Career Products and Total Rewards for Hong Kong, Mercer: Time for HR to create new roles to drive transformation.