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Transformation and Employee Engagement – Is flexibility the solution?

Hosted by: Deutsche Bank Talisman Energy

The Chapman Consulting Group co-hosted two HR Leaders’ sessions last week at Deutsche Bank and Talisman Energy in Singapore. The two discussions were very different, with the first putting a lens on HR transformation and the optimal models deployed, while the second group honed in on employee engagement and flexible working. Both sessions developed into lively debates underpinned by the impact of technology, which was fitting given our two previous meetings at Facebook and Google! It was great to see such a wide range of attendees including those from HP, Microsoft, AIA, Citi, American Express, Schneider Electric, Unilever, Cargill, Jones Lange La Salle, Pacnet, Parexel, Standard Chartered, Willis and others.

Transformation — No Perfect Solution

In a number of global MNCs the pendulum swings between centralisation and decentralisation when it comes to the HR model. ‘Change and transformation’ and how to find the optimal model provides a ubiquitous debate across HR functions globally. HR Leaders should know that the chosen structure may never be perfect, and they should be prepared for a long journey full of ambiguity. What is clear is that technology is underpinning successful transformations and needs to be embraced.

Jered Hol, our host at Deutsche Bank and Regional Head of HR Optimization, shared, “One of the things we took into account when thinking about changing our HR model today is the development of technology over the last five years. When we looked at the same challenges a number of years ago, the technology didn’t match the need, but now it is far better and enables us to achieve what we are aiming for.” It was agreed that neglecting to invest in the right technology could have a direct impact on the success, as well as a negative effect on the timeframe, of a transformation. Accepting that there will be areas of ambiguity and an optimal pace to implement change – which may be slower than anticipated or desired – is a vital part of the process.

HR Transformation = Cultural Transformation

When the HR model is changed significantly, a cultural transformation also transpires, and it is important not to underestimate the impact that this can have on the day to day for each individual. This view was reinforced by Jayaram Philkana, HR Director, Cargill, who stated, “Change is helping people feel good about what they are doing, even if it’s doing something different. The challenge is shifting the capability gap in different cultures. Some are easier than others.”

According to Syed Ali Abbas, CHRO with Pacnet, it is critical to have a blueprint and over-communicate to the business at the start, mapping where the HR organisation is now and where it wants to go. The next step is to evaluate the case for shared services and the real estate required. Most importantly of all, the evaluation of the case for HR technology is a crucial decision, paying particular attention to the total cost of ownership and examining what is required for each geography and business unit. Tailoring the above to what works for the individual company will be critical to ensuring success. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Employee engagement — HR are not party planners

Transformations can clearly impact employee engagement and this was an area of focus for the next group at Talisman Energy. We started with an interesting youtube clip of a talk given by career analyst, Dan Pink, illustrating the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace. The concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose were identified as more effective tools than financial rewards in driving engagement. To truly move away from a ‘financial incentive culture,’ it is important for management to take more ownership and drive from the top down, as opposed to relying on HR. As one attendee put it, “HR are not party planners.” It is about organisational culture and the buy in has to be deep, but this is only possible if executives are more hands on.


Flexible working can be a very effective tool in driving engagement and a motivated workforce. Not only is it a tool in itself, it enables us to be more inclusive and diverse. With the technology available today flexible working should not have an impact on deliverables, and arguably it can even result in greater productivity. Technology companies are already leading the way in putting outcome over hours at the desk, but other more traditional industries are starting to follow suit. They are embracing this flexibility especially given variable pay isn’t as significant as it used to be.

Whilst embracing this work-life balance, it is also important to be aware of cultural nuances and therefore leverage the global programmes in a local context. One Diversity and Inclusion Director at a major global bank observed that with the increasing demands of a global business, flexibility is really about putting customers and clients at the heart of what the business does, rather than just being an employee benefit. Flexibility may be particularly well suited to certain jobs or certain people, and the conversation about meeting the requirements of both business and employee needs to happen in order to maximise the positive impact for both.

We enjoyed two insightful sessions in Singapore and we’d like to thank Jered Hol at Deutsche Bank and Richard Harding at Talisman for hosting.


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