The Digital HR – Opportunities and Challenges of the Disruption

Greater China Talent Management Summit 2017, 23rd June 2017 - Hotel ICON

The Greater China Talent Management Summit 2017

Examining the Transformation of Digital HR

New digital technologies are enabling greater integration and flexibility, giving employees a larger voice in their careers and providing the opportunities to create their own work experiences. To this end, the digital revolution is poised to disrupt and transform human resource management while redefining the future of HR functions. In a related development, the integration of social, mobile, analytic, and cloud (SMAC) technologies is also reshaping the employee experience, making work in real-time easier, more productive and more rewarding while improving the overall work-life balance. The Greater China Talent Management Summit 2017, organised annually by, is highly regarded by senior human resources professionals across the greater China region as a valuable platform for sharing insights as well as practices, and is considered a highly effective event for talent management.

Under the topic of “Digital HR – Opportunities and Challenges of Disruption”, the organiser invited nine top-tier HR and management experts to share and discuss how digital development is transforming HR strategies and challenging the traditional functions.

Developing a Pool of DigiTalents

Kicking off the Summit was Teddy Liu, general manager – Corporate & Talent Development at New World Development Company Limited. “As one of Hong Kong’s industry pioneers riding the wave of digital development, we have unveiled a DigiTalent Programme to nurture an internal pool of digital experts who are empowered to steer the transformation of our Group to become a digitalised business corporation,” says Liu. “The goals of this programme are not only to groom talents, but also to disrupt markets and generate solid business returns. In fact, it is a platform to help enablers bring ideas to life and accelerate the transformation of our employees, business processes, our products as well as the industry overall.”

The New World Group set the scene in 2014 with an array of initiatives, including management conferences, digital symposiums, digital workshops, digital-related taskforces, and others. “After the offering of a total of more than 21,000 training hours, over 75% of staff believe that the learning they received directly benefited their jobs,” concludes Liu. “It has indeed brought about positive results for our business and operation.”

Modern HR Goes Strategic

“Everything is digital now, but the focus is not just on technology,” says Maria Hui, director of Human Resources at Microsoft Hong Kong. “Technology has in some ways caused disruptions and challenges but the key focus should remain on transformation. This means how we grasp opportunities to make changes at the right time, which actually determines whether we would be successful or not.”

In Hui’s speech, under the topic of “HR in Enabling Digital Transformation”, she emphasises that amidst today’s digital trends, HR should play a more strategic role in business performance to serve as partners of corporate leaders. In addition, globalisation, which allows people across different countries to work remotely, requires innovative HR strategies, like setting up virtual communities and learning circles, while competition for talents will also drive HR to adopt a more analytical approach. “When team members aren’t necessary to sit right next to each other, their collaboration becomes even more critical to corporate effectiveness with the support of the advanced digital tools,” she adds. “Moreover, it isn’t uncommon today to see the co-existence of a multi-generational workforce, which demands higher level of flexibility with respect to working styles.”

Focusing on High-potentials

“Development of high-potentials, talent engagement and retention, as well as change management are regarded as the top three HR priorities among many organisations across Asia,” says Alexander Ng, team leader and senior consultant at CEB Talent Assessment Hong Kong. “We need to focus more on high-potential talents.”

Ng mentions three main factors to help identify high-potential staff: aspiration, ability and engagement. “These people usually have a greater motivation to become leaders while also possessing higher levels of managerial capabilities and leadership skills. They also have more opportunities in the job market, so their engagement level in your company is equally important.”

SMAC - the Keys to Thriving in the Digital Era

“Data is the new oil,” says Portia Tang, director of client services, BDO Limited. “ This is because these two elements share common characteristics: crude oil and raw data have unlimited potential, data and oil already form important parts of our daily lives in different ways, and… both are worth a fortune.”

Tang emphasises that SMAC, which refers to self-service, mobile, automation and cloud are the keys to success as we all move towards the digital era. “All of these SMAC elements provide data, which helps generate ideas and aids decision-making.” Based on contacts with her clients, she summarises several things that are expected of a digital HR operation. These include a single HR platform that can integrate policies, processes, systems and operations all together. Another factor is that systems must be available on mobile first apps. There must also be digitalised processes, plus human-centred, experience-driven designs. “Digitalisation can improve operational efficiency and reduce laborious administrative workloads by automating the various HR processes, and more importantly, HR professionals can help decision-makers in their strategic planning with the support of real-time, accurate HR data.”

Big Data and a Workforce of One

“Big data is a corporate asset as well as a source that acts as a sustainable competitive advantage,” explains Dr. Toa Charm, chief public mission officer for the Hong Kong Cyberport. “Big data is not only used for marketing purposes but is also critical to HR functions.” In analysing the future trends of digital HR, Dr. Charm points out the importance of managing employees as a ‘workforce of one’. This means that HR should treat every single staff member as an individual in order to increase their engagement and make them, especially the top performers, happy. “Today’s younger generation demands customised support and development opportunities catered to their specific needs. Thanks to the expansion of information systems, this has enhanced HR’s ability to track and understand individual employee performance results all supported by big data.”

As digital transformation radically disrupts HR processes, Dr. Charm says that talent management is not an art but rather the science of human behaviours. “Art is what you think, but science is what you know after analysis.”

He adds that the Cyberport community comprises close to 900 digital tech companies operating in the area, including start-ups and leading technology firms. “HR transformation involves not only an inside-out but also an outside-in process. We at the Cyberport are committed to nurturing the creativity of young people, while some of them have come up different solutions to apply big data to understand employees’ motivations and to make more accurate predictions, or adapt VR and AR technologies in staff learning, and so much more.”

Humans are the Cores, Not Technologies

“Over the past century we have seen many new innovations, but one thing has not changed, and that is – human beings,” says Mark Cosgrove, director of training at Dale Carnegie Training Hong Kong and Macau. “So don't treat your employees like resources; they are individuals, they’re people who have specific needs and desires.”

Emphasising the importance of blended education, like 60-minute large group webinars as well as two to three-hour workshops for small groups, together with multi-session seminars that include coaching and practice, Cosgrove explains that learning should extend beyond a single ‘event’, which also saves money by reducing travel expenses and work stoppage costs associated with classroom training, eventually lead to higher degrees of flexibility. He adds that survey shows blended learning can increase knowledge retention by up to 13.2%. “Technology is not at the core of our training strategies, it serves to help us put people in the centre of the company’s training and development programmes.”

The Nexus From Employees to Ambassadors and Co-Owners

C.Y. Chan, head of Talent Engagement & Corporate Social Investment as well as co-owner of the Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) Group Limited, also agrees that employees are not company assets, but rather human talent. To this end, the people who work at HKBN are referred to as ‘Talents’ instead of staff, employees or workers. HKBN’s Co-Ownership Scheme is another engagement initiative in which nearly 340 individuals, representing the majority of all supervisory and managerial executives, have invested their own savings to acquire shares in the Company and thus have become de facto co-owners. “Moreover, the co-owner title is indeed printed on their name cards, making them proud of their identity.”

Engaging Talents via their personal social media platforms like Facebook and WeChat is an important initiative at HKBN. “We offer our Talents a Friday afternoon off once a month to let them play, relax, and enjoy some extra leisure time, or handle family affairs,” explains Chan. “Many would upload photos taken during this extra holiday on their own social media which have attracted many ‘likes’. In this way, they have become Company ambassadors helping us strengthen our employer brand among their friends.”

Increased Engagement with Gamified Business Simulations

Many younger workers are fond of online games for excitement. In view of this trend, Roy Fung, managing director of Tricor Consulting Ltd, brought up an interesting topic for discussion: “Talent Development in the Digital Age: Gamified Business Simulations”. He explains that ‘gamification’ is a digital talent development process in which existing content like training/e-learning programmes as well as assessments are integrated with game mechanics to motivate participants to self-evaluate, learn and practice.

Fung adds that there are many studies showing informal training methods are more effective than formal classroom learning, because employees are much more likely to stay engaged during the interactive training. “There is a three-step process involved in applying gamified business simulations: 1) setting the game plan, 2) allowing participants to advance by winning games, and 3) gamifying the workplace with various interesting challenges and coaching approaches.”

He notes that game-based e-learning should involve solving problems at different levels, which can spark employees’ interests and build an esprit de corps while they play team games. It also helps them apply what they have learned in training in real world scenarios.

Use of Workplace Mediation to Solve Conflicts

Francis Law, president of the Hong Kong Mediation Centre, says that on top of dealing with employee recruitment and retention, HR has many new tasks in today’s digital age such as implementing cross-departmental collaboration policies. “Long-established structures and policies may not fit with today’s highly collaborative environments. Each department sometimes has conflicting rules in place that need to be restructured after re-organisation takes place. HR must consider organisation-wide changes and align varying standards across different departments.” He adds that HR should also formulate an effective internal communication system to improve the flow of information.

Moreover, Law remarks that the emergence of online platforms has brought about many new challenges for HR personnel. “Staff may unintentionally post confidential corporate information, or ex-employees may bad mouth their companies after being terminated, on social media,” explains he. “There are also a lot of other cases like bullying and harassment in the online world.” When dealing with different kinds of crises, it is essential for HR personnel to consider the adoption of workplace mediation policies.

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