As we come close to the end of another successful year, the ChapmanCG China team had our second series of 2017 HR leader roundtable sessions in Shanghai and Beijing. Co-hosted by Tapestry (formerly known as Coach), Novartis, Texas Instruments, and Shell, about one hundred APAC regional and China HR leaders and talent acquisition leaders gathered and had very interesting discussions (and debates, in many cases) about how HR should be evolving for the needs of the future workforce. Despite the fact that these HR leaders come from drastically different industries/organizations and are at various stages of their development, some clear common challenges and focuses surfaced from the discussions.

Digitalization is the Key Word

For this series of roundtable sessions, we kept the umbrella theme broad – How is HR Evolving for the Future Workforce. The idea was to allow people to address it from different angles. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the discussions in various groups all pointed to digitalization. Digitalization is the need for the new workforce. The demographics of different organizations still vary significantly – in one organization within the media industry, the average age of employees is only 27; for some organizations, up to 70% of all hires are campus hires whereas other organizations are still less than 10%. The percentage might be different, but the common characteristics of these new workforces are very clear. They are the generation who grew up in a digital world. To get their attention, you need to be mobile, engaging, and fun. They are not as patient as the older generation and they require immediate feedback. With these loud features and needs, digitalization seems to be the only answer to effective engagement of the new workforce. Digitalization does not only provide an easy and accessible user-interface with them, but also provides massive data behind the screen, which allows us to further understand and optimize their employee life cycle – from recruitment, to services, evaluation, and development.

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Be Bold or Be Out

With the consensus understanding being digitalization is the way to go, we were pleased to hear that many organizations have started their digitalization journey. Some organizations are focusing on the opportunity to address the volume of work within HR services and recruitment by using mobile applications and even robots, while others are even bolder and are exploring the application of AI (artificial intelligence) in high-potential talent identification and development. Pimatrix and Ajinga are two platforms that have been mentioned by several organizations as new ways for campus recruitment or management trainee programs. Common features include easy access (on mobile), efficiency (both for applicants and employers), AI-based assessment, and immediate feedback. While some organizations are just embarking on the journey, others have been testing for a few years and are assessing their user feedback and ways for further improvement. Companies in the technology or consumer industries may have some advantages of running at the forefront of this, but there are also bold leaders in the traditional industries. A European business in the specialty chemical space with 150 years of history has a Chief Digitalization Officer who leads a global workforce to develop a completely mobile-based platform that touches different stages of the employee life cycle. Sooner or later, the level of digitalization will become differentiators for you to attract and retain your talents, and stay competitive in the global economic world.

What Does That Mean for HR?

With the move toward digitalization and AI, will we still need so many HR staff within organizations, or will the HR function even be in existence in 10, 20 or 30 years? These were not questions we asked on Halloween night to scare people, they are real questions that HR leaders are challenged with. In fact, AirBnB has already eliminated their HR department. Although we joked about the need to start practicing baking on the weekend to be prepared, we all agreed that it’s time for HR professionals to start thinking about how the HR function should be evolving in the coming years. Employee experience has become the center of everything we do in HR. The traditional HR operating model needs to change from internally focused to be more external—focusing on driving employer experience, performance culture, and continuous change management.

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When we walked out of these sessions, we can’t say we had all the answers. However, we were all excited that the discussions were around the questions we are asking ourselves and each other. And we also believed that the answers lie in our own hands. As Simon Terry shared in ChapmanCG’s Sydney roundtable session at Accenture, the HR function must go through a journey of transformation and rebirth, and we are glad that we are on that journey together.

Steve Brown, Singapore-based Senior Director, joined the sessions together with Katherine Qu. Katherine is a Senior Director, splitting her time between China and Singapore, with a strong focus on the China market.

Here is what people are saying:

Best practice inspires forward thinking. Glad to meet with HR thought leaders who share the commitment that the future must exceed the past.

Lewis Kuo, Head of Talent Acquisition, Market Area North East Asia at Ericsson

Very exciting meeting, spot on topic regarding how to understand the characters of our future workforce so we can start preparing strategies on how to attract, retain and develop this generation so that we are comfortable to deal the future. Great insights shared by everyone and lots of learning myself!

Anna Fillipsen, HR Executive Director at Novartis

The excellent sharing and exchange of views have certainly given many of us food for thoughts on how to better prepare ourselves, our team and organizations on the exciting future of HR roles!

Siew Beng Low, Director, HR, Asia at Dassault Systèmes

Indeed, great event for learning and networking, with great examples that HR use AI to engage and hire the future workforce, and use robot to deal with massive demand of repetitive work and provide employees with real-time feedback.

Henry Wang, HR Director, China at ASML

I enjoyed the China HR Network meeting organized by ChapmanCG. It was a great session for HR leaders to exchange insights and best practices about Forward Thinking – How is HR Evolving for the Future Workforce.

Echo Zhou, HR Director, J&J