Regional HR Directors Meet to Celebrate the End of a Rollercoaster 2009

The Chapman Consulting Group, in conjunction with Organisation Solutions, hosted a Christmas drinks and networking event for more than 30 Regional HR VPs and Directors in Singapore last Friday evening. We welcomed along the Heads of HR from the likes of IBM, BHP Billiton, Microsoft, Standard Chartered Bank, Energizer, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, Cargill, Johnson & Johnson, ANZ Bank and various others.

In welcoming attendees to the session, Dr Alison Eyring, CEO of Organisational Solutions, commented on the tumultuous year that was 2009. Matthew Chapman, Managing Director of The Chapman Consulting Group, also spoke of the significant change efforts that many Regional HR Leaders in the HR profession went through during 2009. “2009 started gloomily with HR Leaders in downsizing mode but by mid-year many were hiring again. This was on the back of a similarly unpredictable 2008 which had heavy hiring in the first half of the year, significant uncertainty in quarter 3 which saw the brakes on hiring, and then total free-fall in quarter 4. An incredible 24 months”.

In talking with participants throughout the evening, it was interesting to note the following
observations :

  1. HR hiring resumed strongly in May 2009 and many organisations took advantage of the improved economic outlook to re-fill positions that had previously had headcount frozen during the downturn, as well as new positions in high-growth areas of the business.
  2. HR hiring remains as challenging as ever for Regional HR Leaders in various countries across the region including Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia in particular. In these countries the biggest demand has been for the HR practitioners with good quality multinational backgrounds, who haven’t moved around too much and who can balance local HR agendas with regional imperatives.
  3. Regional HR Leaders are starting to travel heavily now, with the majority of companies having their full travel budgets back.
  4. Most companies are adopting a lean approach with their HR structures, with a reluctance to add unnecessary “fat” and a big focus still on ’absolutely-must-have’ HR positions. We predict that there will be a long hangover from the recent downturn.
  5. Quite a number of Regional HR Leaders are nervous about retention of high potential employees now that the market is improving, especially in light of many of these employees receiving poor bonuses and pay freezes during the downturn. Widespread attrition is possible early next year when bonuses are paid. Many Regional Leaders were aiming to try to ‘correct’ pay deficiencies, to the extent possible, in 2010.
  6. Some Regional HR Leaders commented on their impression that high quality HR talent seems scarcer than usual at the moment. We believe this could be due to HR talent in the region exercising conservatism, and not speaking to companies about external opportunities unless absolutely necessary. There was also the impression that a sizeable number of foreign talent left the region (especially Hong Kong and Singapore) during the downturn.
  7. HR Leaders unanimously felt that C&B talent is currently the hardest to come by across the region. Several leaders reported strong demand returning for talent in the organisational development, training and Talent Acquisition spaces.


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