How HR can play a pivotal role in challenging the status quo

Chinmay Sharma, the Director of People and Culture at Philip Morris Malaysia, discusses the role of HR in pushing for change.
By: | April 16, 2019


Chinmay Sharma, the Director of People and Culture at Philip Morris Malaysia, speaks exclusively to HRM Magazine Asia about the role of HR in shaking up organisations, and pushing for transformative change.


In today’s context, why is it important for organisations to challenge the status quo?

Organisations today must simultaneously deliver rapid results and sustainable growth in an increasingly competitive environment in this age of digital revolution.

They are being forced to adapt and change to an unprecedented degree: leaders have to make decisions more quickly; managers have to react more rapidly to opportunities and threats; employees on the front line have to be more flexible and collaborative.

For many organisations, a five-year strategic plan—or even a three-year one—is a thing of the past. Organisations that once enjoyed the luxury of time to test and roll out new initiatives must now do so in a compressed period while competing with tens or hundreds of existing (and often incomplete) initiatives.

In this fast-paced environment, mastering the art of changing quickly is now a critical competitive advantage. Philip Morris International is a great example of challenging the status quo where the company is leading the industry transformation towards a smoke-free future where we aim to ultimately replace cigarettes with science-based smoke-free products for those who would otherwise continue to smoke.

This is an unprecedented step for an industry player who has been operating in an environment that has been the status quo for decades.


What is HR’s role?

HR’s role in this age of change and transformation is extremely critical. While the business will invariably focus on day-to-day deliverables, HR should ensure that the organisation as a whole is moving in line with the long-term business strategy.

To enable this, the HR team should,

  • be able to make decisions based on data and analytics. They should place focus on not just giving the right answers but also asking the right questions to solve the problem;
  • play a key role in shaping the culture of an organisation by making sure the leadership styles and behaviours of the company are aligned with the organisation’s cultural transformation goals;
  • proactively map out the capabilities that an organisation needs to implement its strategy;
  • act as a ‘talent scout’ that is able to spot pools of talent that the organisation needs by using both intuition and insight backed by data and assessment;
  • be aware of the rapid progress in HR technology to improve HR processes and analytics capabilities.


What are some practical everyday steps that HR teams can get started with?

HR can do simple things on a day-to-day basis which can shape the culture of an organisation which is trying to compete in a fast-paced dynamic environment.

HR should closely partner with managers on the people development agenda. While HR’s role is of an “Architect” where they design, deliver, coach, and facilitate, the role of managers is of “Owners” who are fully engaged, make final decisions, accept accountability, and ensure follow up.

HR should stop pursuing false glory by solving day-to-day people-related issues for managers which further separates managers from their employees and reinforces a results-versus-people dichotomy. ‘Business’ and ‘People’ are inseparable and HR’s role is to strengthen this bond on a daily basis.


Challenging the status quo is about making change and introducing innovation. How can HR ensure that there is follow-through?

There are a few things that comes to my mind on how HR can ensure that change efforts are more effective and enduring.

Putting a just-in-time feedback system in place. The best feedback processes are designed to offer the right information when the recipient can actually act on it.

Just-in-time feedback gives recipients the opportunity to adjust their behaviour and to witness the effects of these adjustments on performance.

Personalising the experience for each employee. Personalisation is about filtering information in a way that is uniquely relevant to the user and showing each individual’s role in and contribution to a greater group goal.

An easy-to-use system can be an effective motivator and engender positive peer pressure.

Building empathy, community, shared purpose, and sharing progress. In increasingly global organisations, communities involved in change efforts are often physically distant from one another.

Providing an outlet for colleagues to share and see all the information related to a task, including progress updates and informal commentary, can create a community spirit and build a movement.

Some examples are shared dashboards, visualisations of activity across the teams, “gamification” to bolster competition, and online forums where people can easily speak to one another.

At the first-ever HR Festival Asia, brought to you by the combined experience of HR Technology Conference & Exposition (US) and HR Summit (Asia), the event’s dedicated CxO Symposium stream will further explore how HR can challenge that status quo, and enable real change.

For more information, visit