ChapmanCG’s HR leaders gatherings moved to China in November to discuss the role of technology and its impact on HR, staffing and talent management. Hosted by Pearson and Dell we had leaders present from a range of industries including Nielsen, Mondelez, Disney, Apple, Baxter, BP, Deutsche Bank, GM, Kohler, Medtronic, SCB and Yum. Both sessions were well-attended and we discussed a variety of strands within the digital umbrella: The emergence of mobile and particularly WeChat as the new technology platform; The growing field of predictive analytics; Social media snowballing in significance; and HR technologies and their role in the changing nature of HR.

WeChat has the power

It won’t be news to many that most organisations in China are using WeChat as a crucial part of their communication and engagement strategy. It has happened organically, so those that have let it flow have become more successful in harnessing its power. However, a top down approach can also be fruitful as long as there is investment in the back-end technology. What we observed is that even if there is a different platform pushed from a top down perspective, ultimately everyone was reverting to WeChat. There are questions about security, but it’s hard to wean people off it. Some of the banks that have banned it will just get left behind from an employee engagement perspective. The more progressive companies are using WeChat not only for communication but also for the certification and training.

China versus the world

From a global perspective, the group agreed it is always a challenge to influence global stakeholders on the power of WeChat. Most global HQs still talk in terms of Facebook and Twitter when discussing a global or regional social media policy. As one HR director put it: “We have a unique social media ecosystem in China, so it’s important for global not to be short-sighted when designing a social media strategy. Not only is it different, but it’s inherent in the way we communicate.”

China does have an advantage as there are often no legacy systems and platforms so it can be more of a blank canvas. “It’s a new frontier and our digital behaviors are leading the curve. Our global business leaders are coming to China to see what the future will look like!” said one HR leader.

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WeChat crowdsourcing

From a staffing perspective, WeChat is an essential platform in China, particularly to augment employee referral programs. There are some new players emerging like Ajinga, which is compatible on WeChat. Ajinga helps to facilitate a crowdsourcing recruitment style process. In one company, with a particular Gen Y weighting in its workforce, all positions can be searched via WeChat. You can apply within one minute. And you can refer any position to anyone you like using WeChat. You can also share it on your moments and it can go viral, embracing the concept of Hongbao, which in turn creates a sense of positivity and happiness. If you share the job and that person applies, you receive 4 yuan in a red packet. There are some large bonuses available, not just for internal people, but also external. If you share it with someone outside the company, and that person shares with someone else, the bonus is split 2 ways. The vendor organizes all of the tax implications. So this helps virality because you can share a big bonus even if they don’t work with the company. They set limits for the number of hongbao that get issued for every job, so that costs don’t skyrocket.

The main concern is security, but Ajinga is the service provider so they will validate the data on their side.

The role of the job description in this new world becomes increasingly important. If it is too technical, people don’t tend to repost it. Therefore, writing the job description correctly is paramount. The general consensus in the group was that the career website and job boards are slowly declining in effectiveness because candidate behavior is evolving in China. It can be a useful branding tool in some respects, and also an information source for candidates researching prior to interviews, but it’s not the focus of the future strategy for many.

One large technology organisation firm are not only using WeChat for social referrals, but also their alumni program. However, they do have the luxury of a separate team who compile all newsletters and communications so they can be targeted. They are also utilising tools like Reppify, which integrates with LinkedIn and highlights people in someone’s network who has the skills that match the requirements of the role. Having flexible systems that are compatible with LinkedIn and WeChat are essential to make life easier. Internal referrals now account for 60% of new hires for this particular organisation.

Digital for large scale resourcing

One interesting case study discussed was Disney’s new park and how they ramped up their resources through a mass hiring process in order to hire 12,000 new ‘cast members’. They received 70% of their applications through mobile and it was a journey to educate those in the US on the power of Taobao and WeChat: if it took 30 seconds for the company website to load, then people simply wouldn’t apply; it had to be instant. They used a tool which simplified the process, fostering a quick candidate application without having to submit a resume. The apps also allowed for candidates to pick their interview slots and the offer process could be handled smoothly online. They essentially created a slick system where you touch people for 30 minutes only and then everything is completed. There was also a period of time where the actual senior guest services managers were performing recruitment roles. They were hired 6 months before they were actually needed and the line manager would be the person doing the hiring themselves in those 6 months. This helped build very cohesive teams at the start, because there was a strong personal involvement.

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Big Data debate

On the analytics piece, the discussion reinforced that there are still two opposing trends in HR. There’s one trend towards big data and automation, but at the same time there’s a continuing trend towards demystifying HR and making it even more human. So on one hand, there is the idea of getting rid of rigid processes such as performance ratings and going towards a more real-time fluid system, but on the other hand, there’s the drive to use hard data to make people decisions. China is no different to the global debate at the moment, and clearly the answer is a balance of human intuition coupled with supporting data. One company did share an interesting case study around using data to support leadership selection in China where there is a particular challenge around building a bench. By mapping and mining every datapoint from career backgrounds, ethnicity, language skills, they were able to cross-tabulate the data and extract three or four attributes that were consistent in strong leadership in China within that organisation. On that basis, they could screen people into the process both internally and externally, based on these traits even if previously they would have been overlooked based on criteria such as performance. As the HR director summed up, “We still need to put some art into the science. However, if we know 70% of what makes someone a successful leader, we can use our intuition and expertise to complement the decision making process.” The group breathed a collective sigh of relief—it looks like the robots will be kept at bay for a few more years.

China produced two energized and lively sessions and we would like to thank our HR friends, Angeline Tucker at Dell and Burnett Zhu at Pearson for hosting.

Here's what participants had to say:

Good to hear that other companies are grappling with similar issues around privacy in the use of social media at their companies, and also discuss the implications to us as HR professionals.

Angeline Tucker, Vice President HR Business Partner at Dell

The topic flowed naturally from HR information systems to the implication of big data and social media, and all the ways to engage employees during workplace change due to advancements in technology… The session brought HR outside of our narrow and comfortable zone and helped us to think more broadly. I really enjoyed the interactive discussion!

Sherry Zhang, Vice President, Human Resources, Greater China at Medtronic

ChampmanCG is a global leader for the HR profession. I was so excited to be the host for the event and learnt a great deal from TA leaders from various industries. This is not only a learning session but also a great opportunity for networking. I look forward to the next event.

Burnett Zhu, HR Director, Talent Acquisition, Greater China at Pearson