Regional HR Leaders Discuss Leadership Priorities
The Chapman Consulting Group today hosted an HR roundtable discussion for 19 select HR Heads. Regional HR Leaders from high-profile multinationals in the IT, financial services, FMCG, chemicals, semiconductor, biotech, pharmaceutical, insurance and media sectors met over lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club to discuss the broad topic of “Maximising Leadership Effectiveness”.
Leadership By Example
Participants started off the discussion by addressing their companies’ own internal leadership development strategies for middle and upper management. Solutions varied considerably depending on the maturity and financial stability of the organisation. In one case, an HR Leader discussed a recent experiment in training a new team of internal coaches to target its previously overlooked tier of middle management. Another described new initiatives such as the creation of a select band of ‘Best Bet’ employees that were offered more leadership training than other high potentials, and the introduction of ‘Black Swan Theory’ training sessions, in order to promote critical new ways of thinking.
While these high-touch, labour-intensive approaches had their supporters in the room, recent cost constraints had forced others to adopt more creative measures to achieve similar goals. One leader discussed the rolling out of a new virtual university that had been created in conjunction with a customised Learning Management System (LMS). Another had gone one step further and had recently dismantled their entire talent organisation within the company, replacing the standardised programmes of yesteryear with more technology-focussed solutions. A recent example included a webcast led by very senior global leaders in which they described to other senior managers the means by which they’re managing their own teams in turbulent times. The success of these advanced techniques has ensured that new technology-driven ways of engendering leadership will survive even when there’s no longer the need to cut costs.
Most HR Leaders agreed that they try to adopt a middle-road approach between these two extremes, with one approach for the general population and another for higher management. For the general population, one HR Leader discussed how their company was concentrating on strategies such as management skills training, graduate development programmes, and employee engagement surveys. And for higher management and ‘select’ talent, more lavish leadership development courses are reserved for the company’s top global Â‚lite.
Leadership By Representation
For most regional HR Leaders in the room, a large part of their own ‘leadership’ role was distilled into how well they represent the region to the global headquarter organisation, and how well they represent HR to the local leadership team. Once again, while the participants agreed on this commonality, there was a wide variance between how this was practiced.
1) Local Leadership Teams
For some organisations, HR representation to the rest of the business in Asia was largely achieved by fostering close person relationships, in one case almost like being part of the leadership team ‘Boys’ Club’, where there exists a deep level of mutual trust and understanding among other Business Leader peers. HR’s ability to lead in this kind of organisation was very closely tied in with the interplay of personalities and the continuation of a collegiate style of working. While this set-up can result in highly impactful communication between the HR Leader and their other business stakeholders, the
system is by its nature fragile in that it can just take one change of personnel to affect the entire dynamic.
Other organisations have been toying with more systemic ways to dictate how HR interfaces with itself and other parts of the business.
In one example, decision-making within the entire organisation, not just between HR and the other parts of the business, had recently been simplified using a radical new approach. For every initiative that used to involve a swirl of meetings and communications between people and departments (all in the spirit of ‘collaboration’), there is now assigned a core initiative leadership team, where each person has a defined role, including one ‘approver’ who cannot be overruled. This has led to increased simplicity, less politicking, and a huge reduction in the frequency of meetings.
In another organisation, HR’s relationship with the business was increasingly being dictated by a system of scorecards — measurable checks and balances that can be used to drive results between the business and HR. HR’s influence in this organisation has grown as a result, and no Business Manager can now be promoted above the level of their people management skills, no matter what other financial or business goals they may have reached. This metrics-led approach is, however, highly complex, and the natural course of personal business relationships can be undermined by the scrutiny given to subdividing each such relationship into its constituent parts.
2) With Global HR Heads
When dealing with HR Heads at the global level, the group discussed the dynamic between the Asia region and the extent to which it’s voice can be heard at corporate HR headquarters. One participant who had just arrived into the region from corporate level was able to personally describe how protective corporate HR teams can be in regard to the HR systems that they create. Only through constant to-ing and fro-ing could they ensure that some strategies were tailor-made for the particularities of the Asia Pacific Japan region.
The group discussed whether it was getting easier over time to make sure that Asia gets ‘special treatment’ in terms of customised HR solutions for the region. In some cases, it simply depended on which personalities happened to be sitting in the corporate office at any particular time. But in some cases there had been systemic changes, especially in terms of how to handle particular issues such as diversity and severance in some of the countries of the region. It was interesting to hear that at one company, a senior global executive must have had experience on the ground in Asia in order to qualify for membership of the global management team. This was the strongest indication in the room of the growing importance of the region for most multinationals.
For good or bad, the realistic conclusion to this final point was that the extent to which a corporate headquarter is willing to act on the exigencies of HR in Asia is directly proportional to how much the Asia business contributes to the bottom line. In companies where Asia now contributes 60% of global revenue, HR Heads for Asia do no longer have to ask for special attention — this attention is already being given automatically.
The diverse backgrounds of the lunch participants and their difference in HR leadership strategies reinforced there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach to HR leadership, nor a clear set of key priorities to be addressed across the board. Factors including the size of the company, the importance of Asia in the context of the global business strategy, the business’ expectation of HR, the size of HR budgets and team support, and global HR’s understanding of the Asia, collectively will influence the ‘type’ of HR strategy that needs to be adopted.
And with this, participants concluded the lunch with thoughts from Matthew Chapman that one of the greatest complexities in matching the right HR talent with the right organisation, is not simply about finding individuals with appropriate key HR competencies, but in successfully aligning HR leadership styles with the type of HR strategy that an organisation actually wants to pursue. He also made the point tha
t looking at the audience in attendance, and seeing so many of them having moved through a combination of industries, small and large companies and organisational cultures, that perhaps the greatest attribute of HR Leaders is the ability to evolve and be flexible with their style and ideas.
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