CHRO Singapore: Elevating HR leadership for future-ready workforce

The evolving work landscape, technology, and organisational culture were key topics HR leaders discussed at CHRO Singapore.
By: | December 14, 2023

The CHRO Singapore 2023 conference pulsated with the energy of over 170 CHROs and HR leaders, united by a common purpose: shaping organisational and workforce transformation. Under the theme How CHROs Can Shape Organisational and Workforce Transformation, the event served as a crucible of critical insights and strategic exchange, equipping HR leaders to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of work.

The event commenced with a welcome address by Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth; and Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Singapore; who emphasised the pivotal role of HR leaders in talent acquisition, retention, and workforce development. Addressing the urgency for organisations to adapt to global competition and technological disruptions, she introduced the HR Industry Transformation Plan (ITP), urging attendees to explore its benefits.

Low further highlighted technology’s transformative impact on HR, advocating for proactive utilisation of tools to enhance efficiency and formulate data-driven strategies. Recognising the importance of events like CHRO Singapore, she stressed the role of active involvement in building a resilient HR community. Closing with a call for unity, Low encouraged collaborative efforts, citing the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” fostering optimism for transformative changes in the workforce and business landscape.

Low’s emphasis on proactive technology adoption leads into the opening keynote by Dr Tanvi Gautam, HR Influencer, HR Influencer, Keynote Speaker and Transformational Leadership Expert. In her opening keynote, Dr Tanvi discussed the core themes that she believed CHROs and leaders should prioritise to sustain the surge of success spurred by the pandemic, and the aspects of transformation in the workplace.

Using the analogy of modern cartography, Dr Tanvi compared the art of map design to the standards discussed by HR and discussed how CHROs and HR experts in the industry had to work together to maintain the choices made by organisations to pivot and manage a whole ecosystem of employees. She said, “The value proposition of HR has to change. We must shift the narrative. The whole idea of coming together today is to redraw the maps we have in HR. Change is constant, evolution is not. Evolution is a choice.”

Continuing the discourse initiated by Dr Tanvi’s opening keynote, a panel discussion further illuminated essential facets of HR leadership during transformative times. Dr Tanvi, as the moderator, facilitated a dynamic conversation featuring Ale Ferraro, CHRO, Growth Markets, Accenture; and Sonali Roychowdhury, CHRO, AMEA Kellanova.

Coming from Argentina, Ferraro highlighted the critical role of purpose-driven operations in navigating Accenture’s abrupt shift to remote work. Faced with the sudden challenge of transitioning 40,000 employees to a remote setting, Ferraro emphasised the need to prioritise both operational continuity and employee wellbeing. The shift, she noted, led to a re-evaluation of the purpose of office space, fostering a more network-centric and purpose-driven work culture.

Roychowdhury’s insights resonated with the challenges faced by the consumer goods and food industry. Reflecting on the crisis, she emphasised the need for a paradigm shift in operating models, addressing the unique demands of a workforce predominately engaged in physical roles.

The shift towards a human-centric HR is more evident in the next session headed by ADP. Jessica Zhang, Senior Vice-President, APAC, ADP, shared statistics from the organisation’s People At Work: A Global Workforce View 2023, deemed by Zhang as one of the largest surveys of its kind. Canvassing 32,612 employees in 17 countries, with a concentration of 7,721 employees in Asia-Pacific and 2,209 employees working in the gig economy, Zhang shared some of the more pertinent concerns that employees across the board are looking for, sharing statistics about perceptions on employee welfare.

Around 48% of respondents, for example, did not think managers and employers are equipped to handle discussing mental health, thus shying away from open, transparent discussions about mental health and wellbeing. Three of the concerns that employees prioritised that employers should take note of, said Zhang, included policies that emphasised diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I); mental wellbeing in the workplace; and higher financial compensation.

CHRO Singapore continued its exploration of critical organisational elements with a session led by Dr Jaclyn Lee, CHRO, Certis. Dr Lee’s discourse centred on the integration of people, culture, and data for sustained success, drawing inspiration from successful organisations like Singapore Airlines and Microsoft. Addressing the imperative of digital transformation, she positioned HR leaders as trailblazers in fostering the adoption of digital tools for heightened productivity.

Dr Lee emphasised the evolution of culture in response to dynamic global forces and urged organisations to cultivate a future-oriented culture adaptable to changing times. Highlighting the interconnected nature of employee experience, culture, and data, she underscored the pivotal role of data-driven strategies in aligning these pillars cohesively. In a world marked by geopolitical tensions and demographic shifts, Dr Lee championed a holistic approach, positioning a forward-thinking culture and data-driven employee experience as paramount for organisational success.

Transitioning to the next session, Whatfix explored the adoption of Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs). According to Yang Tham, Regional Sales Director, South-East Asia, Whatfix, the concept of DAPs is still relatively new in Asia-Pacific but gaining traction in Europe and the US. The main goal, said Yang, was to emphasise how DAPs could streamline major employee experience touchpoints such as training and onboarding and employee engagement with the help of automation and reducing digital fatigue as technology systems can change easily every three months. One of the ways to do so includes reducing the number of systems and technological knowledge employees must learn, including a platform that creates guidance for the user to do what they need to do.

“We want to ensure HR practitioners can create content without having to juggle multiple technologies so that anyone can work,” he said. “What’s working? What’s not? How do you know if employees are using the digital investments, you have implemented and are completing the tasks?” This, said Yang, is where CHROs and other leaders can use DAPs and analytics to get the information they need.

In the next session, Gianfranco Di Maira, Senior Vice-President, Partner, and Managing Director at BTS Singapore and South-East Asia, delved into the pivotal role of HR leaders in shaping organisational culture to fortify strategy and drive transformative impact. Di Maira emphasised the need for HR professionals to proactively contribute to creating future-proof organisations.

Reflecting on the importance of a distinctive culture, he cited Jim Collins’ research, noting that organisations with strong cultural foundations outperform the market significantly. However, he recognised the common pitfalls encountered in cultural transformation initiatives, particularly the high failure rate. Di Maria attributed these challenges to a lack of alignment with overarching business objectives.

In a call to action, he urged HR leaders to ensure that cultural initiatives are intricately connected to the business objectives, emphasising their role in driving better business. In his words, “Put yourself out of the equation, make sure that your change initiative is a genuine business initiative.”

The importance of being adept in technological tools in HR was also the theme in the next session headed by Jennifer Yuan, HRBP Vice-President, UPS APAC Region, UPS. In the session, Yuan emphasised the importance of harnessing the power of digital tools to drive higher efficiency and competencies. “Digital fluency is not just a convenience for my personal life,” said Yuan, starting off the session. “It has already shaped every fabric of my life from the way I work, live, communicate or even entertain.” Thus, she continued, it becomes imperative to use digital tools so that employees can overcome challenges, celebrate successes, and learn valuable lessons along the way.

Data may act as the foundation for digital transformation, she said, due to its power. Yet only 10% of the success of an organisation can rely on data alone. “People represent your successful digital transformation,” Yuan said. She attributed this as one of the reasons for UPS’ success: placing the customer first, leading by people-centric policies, and driven by innovation.

The subsequent session, led by Adam Gordon, Director at GLOBIS Corporation, delved into the pressing challenges faced by CHROs in maintaining employee wellbeing and retaining top talent. He proposed aligning organisational goals with employees’ life purpose to foster a holistic approach to talent retention and transform HR strategies for positive employee wellbeing and organisational success.

During the session, Gordon shared his personal journey, linking it to the Japanese leadership philosophy of kokorozashi. Emphasising the importance of corporate longevity, he contrasted the average lifespan of S&P 500 companies with Japan’s track record of long-standing businesses. Gordon highlighted the key HR perspective of valuing employees and the role of wellbeing programmes in achieving this. However, he acknowledged that the existing challenge, where despite wellbeing initiatives, employees often do not feel valued. He stressed the need to rethink wellbeing, considering diverse individual needs and focusing on the right factors to overcome associated costs and time constraints.

Building upon the discussion about talent retention and corporate longevity, the session led by Zaid Hamzah, AI & Data Practitioner, Executive Education Fellow, Advanced Computing for Executives, School of Computing, National University of Singapore (NUS), looked to explore the trends of gen AI usage, citing studies that 94% of employees were already using gen AI in the workplace and employees in Singapore topped the ranks of employees across the world that have adopted AI.

“The technology has developed up to the point where AI is easier to use,” said Zaid. With help from co-speaker, Adam Basor, AI in HR Advocate & Practitioner, HR & Talent Expert, Strategy & Leadership Advisor, Zaid discussed how CHROs could harness AI to address pain points and challenges that they face daily, as well as the importance of morality and ethics with the use of AI. Both speakers placed much emphasis on the importance of allowing employees to play around with AI and pushed employers to adopt an AI value delivery system when possible.

Zaid reassured employers that harboured fears over the use of gen AI, saying, “Employers should adopt an AI value delivery system. You don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity of the technology. It will get simpler, and you should adopt it when you can.”

READ MORE: People development driving workforce transformation

As CHRO Singapore drew to a close, the closing panel discussion, led by Philippa “Pip” Penfold, Managing Director of Integrating Intelligence, delved into the anticipated challenges and strategies shaping the HR landscape in 2024. The panellists, made up by Rashmi Sharma, Head of Talent Management, GovTech Singapore; Virendra Shelar, President, OMRON Asia-Pacific and GM, Global Human Resources Strategy, OMRON Corporation; and Eddie Lee, HR Consultant (Chief People Officer), Mewah Group; offered valuable insights and predictions, leaving attendees well-equipped to navigate the evolving landscape of human resources.

Specifically, Lee highlighted the economic concerns for 2024, predicting a potential recession. He emphasised the increasing expectations for HR practitioners to lead in adopting and implementing technological tools, aligning with the evolving business landscape.

Focusing on the changing landscape, Sharma emphasised the expectations for leaders to demonstrate new skillsets and competencies. She highlighted the need for HR to adapt hiring and development approaches to meet these changing expectations, stressing the importance of preparing for evolving leadership expectations and the necessity for HR to stay abreast of these shifts.

As for Shelar, he expressed the need for readiness in the face of uncertainties. He stressed the importance of HR professionals understanding business dynamics and societal changes, encouraging an adaptive approach and preparedness for the unpredictable challenges ahead.

“We need to adapt to the societal changes, adapt to technology, and, most importantly, understand business first. If you understand what your business is doing and how it’s evolving, it will be easier for you to adapt quickly. That’s my take on what’s coming in 2024—it’s challenging to predict the future, but I’m ready for a bumpy ride,” he concluded.

Want to learn from HR thought leaders and gain valuable insights into developing your people and organisation strategies for 2024? Join us at CHRO Philippines 2024, happening on 21 February 2024 at Discovery Primea Hotel in Manila, the Philippines. This exclusive event will be a hub for conversation and collaboration, focusing on how CHROs can shape organisational and workforce transformation in the immediate future and beyond. To find out more, click here.