While many job-seekers look directly at company HR policies and career pages online to gain an idea of the work environment to anticipate, it’s an entirely different ball game for HR practitioners. C-suite leaders essentially set the backdrop for how much of an impact HR can make in an organisation and for its workforce. So much research and so many reviews have uncovered the importance of leaders focusing on people in order for their organisation to thrive.
Deloitte’s 2023 Global Human Capital Trends emphasises how leadership in an increasingly boundaryless world requires more use of insight, personal accountability, connection to values, and action—a people-focused brand that partners with workers for greater outcomes toward “making work better for humans and humans better at work”. A people focus, on the part of CEOs and other C-suite executives, will always include a good relationship with the HR team.
This sends the message to the rest of the company that employees are the most important asset, yielding greater morale and productivity. In turn, there can be tremendous impact on company growth: as top management communicates company direction, HR can better identify emerging leaders as well as any skill gaps within the workforce. Likewise, a deeper awareness of worker woes among the leaders can trickle down to accelerated efforts on employee engagement, strategic incentives, and a more vibrant company culture as they work closely with HR to address these issues head-on.
Heidrick & Struggle’s latest global survey of CEOs underscored the deep links between company culture and financial performance. Singapore findings revealed culture as the top factor (54%) in employee retention, ranking above compensation and benefits (50%) and flexibility in work (46%). Almost three-quarters of respondents also highlighted culture as a top factor in positive financial outcomes. As HR is instrumental in driving organisational culture, it is essential that top executives collaborate with their people management departments for strategies that will serve both the business and employees optimally.
This is even more pivotal in Southeast Asia, where the diverse cultural and geographical landscape presents varying challenges to organisations. In Indonesia, for example, HR is struggling to implement effective performance management strategies and technologies. The Philippines is in need of clearer career growth opportunities to maintain engagement among employees; the latter parallels Singapore’s challenges, where a high degree of demographic diversity is spelling different expectations coming from one of the least engaged workforces globally. In Vietnam, there is a need to modernise recruitment practices (peopleHum, 2021). Every nation presents a unique set of challenges to HR, and consequently, to CEOs.
HR plays a key role in helping executives practise people-centred leadership—if the latter will allow. Deloitte’s report shared contrasting views: 96% of respondents said the organisations are responsible for employee wellbeing, but 79% said that wellbeing is not being integrated into the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review, placing humans at the centre of an organisation may look like amassing technological capabilities to elevate human capabilities, broadening the talent ecosystem, or streamlining workflows rather than focusing on just work outcomes. HBR also highlighted the importance of trust, belonging, and confidence in a workplace that is truly optimised for human potential, stating that the key to thriving is to support a vision that focuses on the power of humanity.
The leaders HR leaders want to work with
With these in mind, Chief of Staff Asia conducted a search for some of the best people for HR to work with in Southeast Asia. Through a combination of email interviews and desk research, we sought to discover the personal views of these executives themselves when it came to HR-focused leadership and how to instil company-wide transformation from top to bottom. Annual reports, news articles, and employee reviews were perused to craft a picture of each executive’s brand of leadership. Various resources also allowed us to identify clear priority areas, unique staff development and social responsibility programmes, and deeply rooted values.
Moreover, we dug into how these individuals approached and adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic, shedding light on how they took care of their people and put employee wellbeing and morale first amid circumstances that threatened business stability. Some were challenged by the transition to virtual working setups but strived to provide the best for their workers. For others, their most dire circumstances involved drops in revenue and the risk of financial losses. Whatever they faced, they proved themselves capable of keeping the ship afloat while taking ownership of painful decisions. The first two names on this list were also recognised in our inaugural HR Stars Awards, a region-wide and nomination-driven search earlier this year for models of excellence in various fields of HR.
Thus, Chief of Staff Asia’s editorial team has identified 15 C-suite leaders in Southeast Asia who have successfully created an atmosphere within their company that nurtures employee health and engagement, steers the business onward even in challenging seas, and welcomes the insights and innovations that HR has to offer.
Bold and compassionate; proven resilient and intensely mindful of their own humanness, these HR Champions are being revealed one-by-one. The full report, featuring all 15 Champions, is now available for subscriber download.