Asia Human Resources in 2010 Returns to ‘Normal’ Territory After a Tumultuous 2009
The Chapman Consulting Group today hosted an HR roundtable discussion for 15 select HR Heads. Regional HR Leaders from high-profile multinationals in the Banking, Oil & Gas, Technology, Insurance, Pharmaceuticals, Mining, Consumer Goods, Media, and Industrial sectors met over lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club to discuss how the priorities of HR Leaders had changed in 2010 versus in 2009.
In general terms, the participants agreed that the Asia Pacific Japan region has seen a recent upswing in hiring in all areas including HR. In some cases this has been due to business improvement, however the larger organisations represented at the lunch have been battling against higher than ordinary attrition rates because of their perception as a training ground for junior and middle management talent. Medium-sized companies have been preying on these larger companies to position themselves for further potential growth in the coming months.
With this stretch on HR talent coming back, companies have been looking at increasingly creative ideas to shore up HR teams across the region. Contracting has been used to greater effect, and HR teams have been reorganised to increase efficiencies in service delivery while improving natural internal HR career paths. Some participants reported a small degree of success in transitioning non-HR talent into the Human Resources profession, but many still felt that their organisations faced an uphill battle in positioning HR as a ‘profession of choice’ among its graduate talent pool.
The companies that showed the most promising directions in terms of HR talent were those that had used the downturn of 2009 to either clear out under-performing talent or up-skill their existing HR staff. For some companies, including one medium-sized financial services company in particular, the downturn had been ‘well timed’ to coincide with a period of changing capabilities in HR, and the overall standing and quality of the HR department had been a beneficiary. Most companies, however, had tried to keep change and upheaval of HR strategy to a minimum, and felt themselves lucky to be facing more or less the same challenges that they had faced before the recent economic downturn and subsequent upswing.
Specific National Trends
During the course of the discussion, the participants agreed on a few country-specific trends that they had encountered in recent times. China and India were still taking up a lot of ‘bandwidth’ in the thinking of regional heads. In China the shortage of senior HR leadership is becoming all the more pronounced, as growth of the national economy continues to out-pace the growth of maturity of HR talent. With India, the problem is not so much in terms of HR talent supply, but with ever-increasing expectations in salary. Companies need to match salaries with increasing local or regional responsibilities if they can come close to achieving parity with other parts of the world.
The regional centres of Hong Kong and Singapore were slightly more ‘freed up’ from the constraints of the previous year. More regional roles that had been cut in 2009 were coming back in 2010, so regional staff were under less pressure to double-hat or triple-hat roles and responsibilities. Of the two markets, Hong Kong’s ‘dip and surge’ was more pronounced because of its increased exposure to financial services, whereas Singapore’s industrial mix was seen as more diversified.
As for Japan, more Regional Heads were seeing responsibility for Japan transferring over to them, as the definition of ‘Asia Pacific’ increasingly includes what until recently was the world’s second largest economy. With this has come more focus on integration of standards as well as broad change management practices. Other countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam was also mentioned during the course of the lunch, as these markets have been receiving increasing global attention. And with this attention comes a natural inclination to seek improvement in local practice. We’ll see to what extent that HR in these countries continues to globalise and professionalise.
In conclusion, the rest of 2010 was seen as ‘business as usual’, with more of a focus on incremental upgrading rather that large-scale or wholesale change. With more stable growth seen in the coming years, we expect to see more attention coming back to ‘value-added’ HR services. In particular we foresee the continued reconfiguration of HR service delivery to locate the most business-centric HR services on an in-country level, with more operational HR responsibilities being off-shored to lower cost locations such as the Philippines.