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Navigating the New Normal: Accelerating Leadership Success in Asia

A People & Culture Lab

Organisations continue to adjust to the world that is slowly but surely emerging from the dark shadows of the pandemic and trying to make the most of opportunities in rebounding economies and tackle numerous challenges now affecting their businesses.

Earlier this month ChapmanCG partnered with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to host a People & Culture Lab where we brought together over two hundred HR leaders across the Asia Pacific region to discuss how the disruption has reframed the leadership development model and approach in organisations, and what lessons they have learned as they strive to develop their cadre of future-ready leaders. Thanks to our four panellists – Julie Zhu, Vice president, Human Resources Director of Global Sales & Marketing, Texas Instruments; Michelle Leung​, Business HR Director, Asia & China – Pharmaceuticals Division, Abbott Laboratories; Pallavi Srivastava, Global Talent Leader, Kyndryl; Sanghita Bhakta​, Head Group Learning and HR Tech, Group Human Resources, Jardine Matheson; as well as Diana Khaitova​, Regional Sales Director​, Center for Creative Leadership, the session was very insightful. Here are some key takeaways:

The Research

Diana started by sharing with us details from their recently completed research, Navigating the New Normal: Accelerating Leadership Success in Asia. CCL conducted in-depth interviews with 37 Heads of HR/Chief HR Officers (CHROs) from mid to large multi-national organisations, mainly across Asia. One of the primary questions was what does the ‘next to normal’ mean for businesses and HR, particularly its impact on leadership development initiatives in organisations. From this and the rest of the research four top trends were identified are:

  • There continues to be a focus on leadership development;
  • Organisations are seeing more openness to virtual learning (but is that equating to delivery?);
  • Budgets are being reallocated to fit with business requirements, and
  • The allocation is compromising L&D budgets and subsequently budgets to support leadership development.

With these trends in place, to better drive leadership development, HR professionals must ensure that leadership development aligns along four planes: culture, strategy, technology, and process.

Culture is about having a continuous and embedded learning culture across the organisation that encourages employees to develop and learn. Values are often showcased on websites and spoken about during onboarding but how are they embedded and fed into working life.

Strategy is tackling the question of how leadership development strategies are linked with business strategies to ensure the future readiness of the organisation.

Technology is using tech as the backbone of leadership development initiatives.

Finally, process is looking beyond the leadership development infrastructure and content available and set, and to deliberately align them, with the learning processes within a company, “right from aligning with business objectives, all the way to measuring the impact of development initiatives.”

Key Questions to Ask

Within the limited timeframe, in the panel discussion session, we focused on two dimensions – strategy, and technology. From a quick poll of our HR network, 48% expressed that their challenge lies with enhancing talent management processes to better identify talent, manage leadership development programmes and measure their effectiveness.

Question 1
With business context and strategic priorities rapidly shifting, how do we ensure HR organisations partner closely with business leaders to quickly identify new leadership capabilities needed, and quickly our talent management processes to that?

Our panellists highlighted the importance of having a holistic view towards how the long term strategy, the mission/vision/values of the organisation, and the needs of the business determine the type of leaders they need; as well as having a holistic view towards the entire lifecycle of identification, attraction, and development of such leaders. It may take some time, but it is important to ensure sufficient stakeholder engagement to ensure success – to slow down in order to go fast and react when needs require it. There is also a great point about creating an ecosystem of leaders, rather than individual heroes, by focussing on the soft skills of leaders such as resilience and collaboration and focusing on enhancing the strengths of the leaders rather than focussing on the gaps. While using some existing frameworks may help with the exercise, we also need to be mindful about avoiding the ‘cookie cutter’ approach and really contextualise the directions of development.    

Question 2
Many organisations have implemented various learning technologies in order to scale learning and make it more accessible. However, we are yet to see the effectiveness of this approach, with many companies reporting low levels of engagement and completion of online learning as well as difficulty in measuring long term impact. What are some of the learnings about choosing the right solution and successfully implementing it?

While it is critical to leverage technology in today’s climate, the CCL report, as well as our panellists, warned against overusing it as “technology fatigue” may develop. For that reason, HR professionals must not draw a direct relationship between virtual learning and Netflix, which is an idea that stems from how if an individual can spend 40 minutes on Netflix, he can spend 40 minutes on learning as well. Because more content does not equate to more learning. New tech is often seen as exciting but specific programmes should be mapped against a leader’s level and role, and content should be aligned with leader needs, and assessment based on diagnostics and other measures.

To Conclude

Balancing the speed of development, the quantity of leaders and the quality of leaders, while maintaining the key alignment along culture, strategy, technology and processes is a juggle, there were three key aspects of realisation that we can take away from our People & Culture Lab:

  • Businesses may squeeze budgets, but they will continue to ask for future-ready leaders.
  • ‘Better’ leaders, ‘more’ leaders and ‘quick’ development will be the agenda.
  • L&D teams must align with business strategy, available technology and LD processes.

Thank you again to CCL, our panellists and all the participants across the region. See you again in our next People & Culture Lab!

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